MY FAVORITE CYCLING VALUES OF 2021
It’s been a good year for some cycling things. The return of group rides, cycling events, races, and some really good new products.
For other cycling things, not so much. Finding the bike you want, the wheels you want, even the freaking chain and other basic parts you need has been difficult, frustrating, and, at times worthy of a short, expletive-laced rant.
Then again, I’m just happy we can still have riding to turn to in the midst of all the challenges to our health, economy, climate, democracy, and society going on.
I’m also happy that there seemed to be more value coming through in cycling products in 2021. Yes, lower-priced gear and kit but also good performance and quality from trusted brands to go with those lower prices.
So this year, instead of giving you a list of my favorite cycling things, I’m sharing with you my favorite cycling values.
While you can find products with better performance, the ones I write about below perform nearly as well for most enthusiasts but cost a good deal less with the same warranty and product support as the best products.
All of that is what makes these cycling things great values and my favorites for 2021.
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Zipp 404 Firecrest Road Wheels
Nearly as versatile though not with the breadth of performance strengths you’ll get from the US$2550/£2800/€3300 ENVE SES 5.6, the Zipp 404 Firecrest tubeless road disc wheelset introduced in 2021 and sold for US$1900/£1600/€1800 is a great value.
It’s fast on flats as you would expect a wheelset with its 58mm depth to be. It also climbs and rides across rolling terrain and handles crosswinds as good as many more expensive wheelsets that are 10mm to 15mm shallower. The freehub gets a little buzzy but most won’t mind and some will prefer that.
The 404 Firecrest is almost an aero and all-around wheelset in one on a budget. For me, that’s a good deal. You can read more about this Zipp wheelset in my full review.
To get one delivered to your door in the US and Canada, use this link to one of my top-ranked stores Competitive Cyclist. If you live in the UK or a European country, you can order it at recommended store Tredz (front and rear) where you’ll also get a 10% discount by using the exclusive In The Know Cycling reader code ITKTDZ10.
ENVE AG25 Gravel Wheels
I tested the gravel road-dedicated US$1600 ENVE AG25 wheelset in 2021 back-to-back with one of my long-time favorites, the US$2550, ENVE SES 3.4 AR paved and gravel road wheelset on a mixed surface, multi-class gravel route on several occasions over a couple of months.
Despite trying really hard, I couldn’t tell any performance differences between them off-road.
I also found the AG25 more responsive and a better climber while providing the same or better comfort and handling as other carbon gravel wheelsets I’ve tested in the $1000-1600 price range from Hunt, Roval, Reynolds, Zipp, and Bontrager. The AG25 gives you a feeling of riding with smooth energy on gravel.
You can read my full review of the AG25 and with more performance comparisons to the others I’ve mentioned.
Recommended store Performance Bike has it in the US. For whatever reason, ENVE sells it at nose-bleed prices in the UK and Europe. The Bontrager, also reviewed at the link above, is a better value if you live there.
Shimano RX8 Gravel Shoes
Staying with the gravel theme, the Shimano RX8 gravel shoes were one of my favorite cycling values in 2021. Yes, it came out in 2020 when Nate and I tested and compared a lot of gravel and MTB shoes at different prices. But I rode the RX8 even more this year and in a handful of big events and it continued to grow on me.
Sure, Shimano’s XC9 shoes are the best performers of any we tested if you ride both gravel and mountain bikes. It also carries a $425/£320/€370 price tag.
But at $250/£220/€250, the RX8 is a dedicated gravel shoe value that combines stiffness, comfort, and walkability in shoes that are lighter and provide a fit with plenty of arch support and toe box room. All of that kept my feet quite happy in a couple of tortuously tough gravel events.
Wahoo BOLT Bike Computer
The Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT has been a favorite of mine since the first version was introduced several years ago. I switched from the same-sized Garmin Edge unit back then because the BOLT outperformed the Edge on the key things – its display, setup, operation, communication, battery, and price.
Garmin introduced the Edge 530 a couple of years later and BOLT introduced a new BOLT this year.
The new BOLT is still better than the Edge 530 and Hammerhead Karoo 2 on all those performance criteria and matches or betters the Edge on a lot of core navigation aspects (road maps, uploading speed, starting a route, routing, and rerouting). And the new BOLT’s screen is sharper and brighter than both of its direct competitors.
At US$280/£260/€305, the BOLT (available at Competitive Cyclist and Chain Reaction Cyles) is priced marginally below the feature-rich Edge 530 and considerably less than the navigation-focused Karoo 2. And I think it’s a better all-around road cycling head unit than both.
Unless large head units or a specific feature you can only get on a Garmin, I don’t see any reason to spend a couple hundred more for a Wahoo ROAM, Garmin Edge 830, or even larger bike computer.
Favero Assioma DUO-Shi Pedal Power Meter
One of the remaining hurdles to being able to train with power was cleared this year when both Garmin and Favero introduced power meters based on Shimano’s dominant SPD-SL road pedal design whose patent has expired.
A pedal power meter is the easiest type of power meter to install and transfer between bikes, is compatible with any bike, and can give you all the power data you need or could want. Bringing those benefits to the most popular type of road pedal was something a lot of enthusiasts were waiting for before getting a power meter.
Garmin created and added Shimano-like pedal bodies to their successful Vector power meter line and rechristened it the Rally. Favero made the spindles of their successful Look KEO-based Assioma power meter pedals compatible with Ultegra and 105 pedal bodies many of us already own into the newly appended Assioma DUO-Shi.
As with the earlier power meter pedals from these two, Favero Assioma’s DUO-Shi at roughly US$600/£555/€665 (prices vary) is hundreds less than the comparable dual-side power sensing Garmin Rally RS200 US$1100/£969/€1160 and even beats the US$650/£580/€690 price of a single-sided Rally RS100.
Don’t have Shimano road pedals? Their Ultegra R8000 SPD-SL pedals cost only US$200/£133/€129 and keep you still far below the cost of the Rally RS200.
There are additional considerations in choosing between the Garmin and Favero power meter pedals mostly around battery type, battery life, and Q-factor but none that I see that justify the added amount you would pay for Garmin. I go into all of this in my power meter review.
ALE’ Men’s and Women’s Bib Shorts
Ale’ bib shorts pulled off a daily double in our men’s and women’s bib shorts tests this year. I judged the men’s R-EV1 Hammer and fellow tester Aiyana picked the women’s R-EV1 Future Race bib shorts as the best value in our reviews of 10 men’s and 7 women’s bib shorts.
The women’s pair topped all the rest in performance as well as value while the men’s bibs ranked second in overall performance. You likely know the names of the competitors and may own a few yourselves – Assos, Castelli, Endura, Velocio, Le Col, Gore, Santini, etc.
In addition to price, we compared them on a handful of cut, fit, and comfort criteria. You can see the ratings and reviews of men’s bibs shorts and women’s bib shorts that we conducted wearing them this spring and summer.
If you’ve seen enough, you can order the Hammer for US$102/£87/€104 at ProBikeKit and the Future Race for US$122/£94/€112 at these links to Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles. Most of the others we compared the Ale’ against will cost you twice as much.
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Thanks, and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve