MY FAVORITE THINGS OF 2022
It seems to happen earlier and earlier every year.
No, I’m not just talking about cycling’s cyber shopping season or the flood of clearance sales, or even the justifications we enthusiasts come up with to convince our partners why we need to buy something for our cycling selves before the year is over.
Instead, it’s the list of my favorite gear, kit, and other cycling things that I’m excited to tell you about before the cyber shopping season, clearance sales, and tall tales start rolling.
Sure, I’m cranking out new and updated reviews for you throughout the year that tell you what my fellow In The Know Cycling testers and I think is the best gear and kit in each category and where to get it at the best prices and stores.
But before the holiday shopping energy gets your finger twitching above that “place order” button, I wanted to weigh in one last time with my annual Favorite Things post, and just like everything else, a little bit earlier this year.
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Bottoms that are back on top
The Assos Mille GTS CT C2 is my current favorite for short and long rides among more than a dozen men’s bib shorts I’ve tested over the last two years. Its chamois pad remains unmatched and I rate it as good or better than all of the top models from other brands on every one of the 11 fit and comfort criteria I use to rate bib shorts.
Add to that, its price of US$220/£125/€150 is competitive with or less than those from other major brands.
For women, Assos redeemed themselves with the new Assos UMA GTV C2 that replaced their prior top model which had an even sillier name and a wretched single strap design. Aiyana rates these new Assos bibs as the best performer for her longest, hottest, and fastest rides in a field of 10 women’s bib shorts from different brands that she’s tested.
And this new Assos also looks like it was designed by a woman. It has a nature-break access feature that few top performers even offer and that works quickly and effectively.
What’s old is new again
ENVE updated their mid-depth, all-road SES 4.5 AR wheelset this year with the introduction of the ENVE SES 4.5. They added about 1.5mm of outside rim width, tuned the rim profiles a bit, dropped some weight along with the “AR” suffix, and refreshed the graphics.
The rest of what made the original 4.5 AR stand apart when first introduced in 2016 – the 25mm inside rim width, different rim depths and profiles for the front and rear wheels, and a stiff, fast, and comfortable ride – is largely unchanged in what has been one of my top all-around wheelset performers since then.
It does so well in so many ride, race, terrain, surface, and other situations that competitor wheelsets from leading brands and consumer-direct sellers have spent the years since coming up with similar designs.
When I rode the new 4.5 again this year, I remember all that thrilled me about the originals and still make them my go-to wheelset for all but the steepest climbing days.
The ENVE SES 4.5 price has gone up to $2850/£2850/€3100 and is available using these links to recommended stores Competitive Cyclist, Merlin, and directly from ENVE. It’s hard to justify – you’ll need to make peace with your own budget demons – but it’s also hard to say no to a wheelset that still stands above its competition.
Save money and time while keeping us rolling
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Extra 10% off price of most everything in the store
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We all want a deal on the gear or kit we’ve decided we need to have. Some of us spend a lot of time searching around to find even a modest amount of savings from whatever store is selling it at a discount.
Well, above are three stores where you can save money and not worry about where you just bought your gear. Each is offering at least a 10% discount across most items in the store, has a great selection of enthusiast-level, current gear, and is one whose independent customer satisfaction ratings are among the highest of all the stores I track.
Competitive Cyclist is offering 20%-50% off on bikes and major brands in nearly every component and kit category
Tredz in the UK is offering 10% off on almost everything in the store including bikes, frames, and nearly every brand of gear, and does so year-round, exclusively for you as an In The Know Cycling reader.
Power Meter City, which sells power meters (duh) and trainers, bike computers, drivetrain components, and a ton of other gear to roadies, gravel grinders, and MTB riders around the world also offers In The Know Cycling readers a 10% discount on nearly everything in their store.
These are some of my favorite stores. Why? Well, they make it easy for you to save money, time, and worry while also enabling you to help keep the wheels of reader support turning here at In The Know Cycling at no added cost to you.
Go get yourself some cheap sunglasses
There’s an old Keith Bontrager quote about cycling components that goes “strong, light, cheap, pick two.”
Well, I think the analog for cycling sunglasses has always been something like “versatile, stylish, cheap, pick two.”
When I reviewed the Tifosi Rail this year, it felt like that quote didn’t apply and I had hit the trifecta. Coming with either the photochromic “Fototec” lens or a set of three interchangeable, differently tinted ones, these sunglasses perform well in a full range of light conditions, look similar to the max-coverage sunglasses that are so popular now among cyclists, and sell for half to a third the price of those from the leading brands.
Guess I should be quoting ZZ Top instead. “Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.”
So good that they’re hard to find
While most cycling gear is flowing through supply chains again, some are still frustratingly scarce. Yes, alternatives are often available, but it can be hard to go with your second choice sometimes.
It took me a while to get there but the new Continental Grand Prix 5000 S TR became one of my favorite tubeless road tires this year. Its aerodynamics, road feel, rolling resistance, and ease of installation are all among the best. That was clear to me and fellow testers Nate and Miles from the start.
Its high price and limited availability in the 28mm width along with some of Conti’s overblown claims remain a bit of a turn off. But my cyclo-shrink and I are working on it and I even saw some 28mm ones for sale below $70 for a short time in October.
Judging from my regular tire searches this year, these links to Competitive Cyclist, Planet Cyclery, Amazon, and Merlin give you the best chance of finding the Grand Prix 5000 S TR in the size you’re looking for.
For mixed paved and unpaved surface riding and on all but the most technical gravel sections, the Specialized S-Works Pathfinder tires we rode this year stood out among all of that fellow tester Conor and I have grinded on to date.
It combines a narrow slick center strip, closely packed small-knob treads on either side of it and out across its shoulders, and an ample 42mm width that together create unmatched versatility among most other small-knob gravel tires.
As Conor put it, “If I had to pick one tire to go fast in just about any condition, this would probably be my top pick. They feel lightning fast on pavement and smooth gravel, but they really handle much rougher conditions quite well.”
Unfortunately, since finishing the review, I haven’t found these tires in stock at a store whose online customer satisfaction has been rated by independent service TrustPilot or Google’s curated service. And note, the Pathfinder Pro that is available is a very different tire intended for different surfaces than the S-Works Pathfinder we’re talking about here.
There are two other tires we like and recommend for a similar range of surfaces where the S-Works Pathfinder excels. You can find them in my review of the best gravel tires and they are both available.
Shimano-compatible but better
Despite its dominance, Shimano certainly has competitors in the component world. Most, like SRAM or Campagnolo, take an alternative approach either because of Shimano’s patent protections or because their engineers just think differently.
LOOK’s X-Track Race Carbon pedals for mountain and gravel bikes, however, take Shimano head-on and beat them at their own game. The X-Track pedals are fully compatible with Shimano’s SPD cleat design, one whose patent has expired, but use a larger and more supportive platform than the Big S’ top MTB and gravel XTR PD-M9100 pedals. The X-Track’s bearings have also held up well, the release range is wider, and they clear mud very well.
Modern styling meets classic design
I really enjoyed riding in and looking at the Rapha Pro Team road shoes I reviewed this summer. They have a very modern, knit-looking upper that’s actually a strong, woven polyester, a well-padded, wide tongue, and a snug yet comfortable fit that’s all part of a classic design.
And they perform as well as any shoes I’ve worn with a decent amount of arch already molded into the rigid sole and no pain points.
While many dual-Boa shoes have gone super wide to emphasize comfort or have burrito-like wraps instead of tongues or have uppers that look like they were designed by engineers rather than stylists, the Rapha is more of a fresh take on a design that has worked for years.
Why wide works
This past winter I unpacked and tried to explain in simple terms, albeit in a long post, how wide wheels and wide tires can make you faster.
By doing primary and secondary research on the separate questions of what makes wide wheels faster, what makes wide tires faster, and what makes them faster in combination, I was able to analyze and recommend to you, my fellow cycling enthusiast, what combination of wide wheel and tire choices can make you faster given your riding profile.
In the process, I described how rolling resistance can be reduced more by choosing the right tire inflation level than by picking between the best tires. My research also revealed that the so-called “rule of 105” was more of an observation of the wheels and tires of 20 years ago that hasn’t been used by engineers in the development of wide wheels and tires.
Sharing that learning and guidance was also one of my favorite things in 2022.
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Thanks and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve