For the last few years I’ve published a list of the best products I’ve reviewed with a few of the ones I’d most like to review in the future. 2017 was different than normal for me though. A back injury in April saw me effectively off the bike for 6 months of the year. Unfortunately this meant I had to say “no” to testing a few bikes and products this year. It also made it difficult to review some of the ones I was sent as I spent April to October off the bike. This means to put it politely, I’m a bit behind on reviewing a number of products. Of course, it also meant the end of most of my riding plans for 2017 as I missed the summer in it’s entirety.
Being off the bike for so long was a mental as much as a physical challenge and the most helpful thing I learnt during my time of the bike is my …..
Best wisdom of 2017
James Spragg of Spragg Cycle Coaching told me that if you’re injured, your recovery process becomes your new training plan. James told me that whoever is helping you with your rehabilitation, their instructions and exercise routines, should completely replace any riding plan until you’re better. Step number one of getting back on your bike is taking and following the advice of medical professionals. I found this difficult advice but invaluable and it helped me finally give up any illusions about getting back on my bike before I was no longer in pain.
James also told me that if you’re not dealing with specific sports medicine practitioners that their goal will be to get you moving not to get your back to your best fitness. It’s an important difference and I saw this over and over again as I tried a number of different physios. The majority didn’t understand my cycling regime, nor were particularly bothered about it, they simply looked at attempting to get mobile, which is very different to being ready to train hard again.
The final piece of advice from James that I found very helpful, was to not be afraid to change physios until you find someone who “gets you” and your needs around your cycling. However that last piece of wisdom doesn’t nullify the first piece….. that’s the key to work forwards from.
If you’re pondering coaching or want someone to review the training you do, I’d recommend having a chat with James. I think you might be surprised at how much you get out of it.
Without further ado ….
The girodilento product of the year for 2017 is Zwift!
I think Zwift is a game changer for road cycling and having spent many hours in it’s virtual world this year, I have no hesitation in awarding it the girodilento product of the year for 2017.
Why does it win? Well, there are a lot of reasons.
Zwift has been a key part of my recovery from injury this year. Thanks to my lower back injury I had real difficulties reaching forward to ride on the hoods so using a turbo trainer was very helpful in allowing me to sit up whenever I needed to and not put and shock or jolts (over bumps in the road) through my back.
Zwift gave me a fun, engaging, social and entertaining way to take my mind off my back pain and slowly get my body moving again.
I’ve become a fan of group riding in particular and regularly attend the Pack Sub 2.0 group rides, which happen 3-4 times a week with often over 300 other riders.
There are already lots of different ways you can use Zwift, from solo rides, to group rides to races, to workouts, to group workouts. There are an increasing number of structured training plans too. There’s a good variety of courses and rides, there are new maps and extensions on an increasingly regular basis. There are people to ride with from all over the world 24 hours a day. There are people of all ages riding on Zwift from kids to people in their 70’s. Not only all ages, there are people of all weights and sizes and all abilities and experience riding on Zwift, so there’s always someone riding at your level, whatever that might be. There’s also a decent gender split by cycling standards, with it looks like good numbers of women riding. There are challenges including an Everest challenge and there are a range of achievements to work to unlock from riding distances, to pushing big watts, to connecting your Strava account.
You can personalise yourself, your bike, and your outfits and collect a veritable virtual garage of bikes and kit to ride.
All of this is wrapped up in a platform that awards you points for every kilometre/mile you ride, which in turn helps you move up from level 1 to currently level 25.
But it doesn’t end there. There are 3rd party websites that deliver race results (Zwift Power) or that analyse hardware to help you choose the right components to build your perfect Zwift computer (Zwiftalizer). Zwift has helped blogs like Zwift Insider, Platinum Geek and Youtubers like Shane Miller, develop big followings following their early embrace of Zwift. The big publishers have rushed to support Zwift too, noticing a big rise in the number of people who’re at least dabbling with it. Bikeradar, GCN, Road.cc and others have all begun creating Zwift content to grab more views and follow the public.
Perhaps the most famous Zwift story is that of Mat Hayman who won Paris Roubaix after only training on Zwift following breaking his arm 6 weeks before the race in 2016. It’s a fantastic watch:
Zwift has also helped create and spur the development of Smart Trainers. I doubt the Tacx Neo would have been the amazing product it is without Zwift. Nor probably would the Wahoo Kickr, Elite Drivo/Direto or any of the others. Wattbike might not have needed the Atom. Zwift has helped deliver a big jump in indoor trainer quality and that’s something we can all benefit from regardless of our platform of choice
Over the last year I’ve ridden getting towards 2,000 km on Zwift. Now my son’s on board and my wife is giving it a go too. I was already converted to indoor training thanks to my Wattbike experience (which is currently continuing with the Atom) and Zwift has become my virtual platform of choice. I can see competitors responding to this growth in the popularity of Zwift. For example, I’ve just begun trying the Sufferfest app and there are new players emerging as well as established ones like Tacx bringing new software too. Zwift has been fundamental (like Trainerroad) and Wahoo in creating this new indoor training marketplace and I’m sure there is more to come yet.
Even without my injury, I was finding it easier to find an hour for an indoor training session and this is now often on Zwift. I’ve spent a lot of time on Trainerroad, which is probably a better platform for structured training (and has lots more workouts and training plans) but it isn’t as fun and it’s much more “lonely” to use. Zwift fits with my life and commitments often more than riding outside does and I don’t have to worry about angry drivers either.
So what’s the downside of Zwift?
You are still riding indoors and even after spending towards 8,000km doing that over the last few years, it’s not the same as a good outdoor ride. But it’s much better than it was. There’s the cost of running Zwift £8/$10 per month for now but rising to £13/$15 at the end of this year. However as I outlined above, I feel like I’m getting plenty (and more to come for my money). I do wonder if it will become a little like a streaming service in that in my house, we only have the money to subscribe to one and for us, Netflix is our winner. For music it’s Spotify. I suspect that for cycling, it will be Zwift (at the moment I also have Trainerroad and Sufferfest accounts)
Another downside is the money I’ve spent improving my Zwift experience. You can read about this here but I’ve bought a Tacx Neo, a £250 graphics card, converted an old PC to a dedicated Zwift machine in my garage and am on the verge of ordering a 40” TV to partner it with …. also for my garage!
But overall I think Zwift is a transformational product and for all of the reasons above it’s the girodilento product of the year for 2017.
It’s not just Zwift that stood out to me this year, there are also a number of other products I’ve been impressed with during 2017 and these are outlined below in my runners up awards. These are all great products that have really stood out to me over the last year.
Runners up products of the year 2017
If you’ve not already checked out my review, it’s worth reading if you’re considering a smart trainer. To me the Neo represents the state of the art. It’s super quiet, it looks great, it has accurate power. Thanks to the design it’s very controllable by software, so much so, that Tacx have the ability to mimic different road surfaces (which works on Zwift). It’s expensive but it’s a fantastic product.
Lezyne Super GPS
I think that Lezyne’s current Super GPS represents fantastic value. I’ve been using one for the last year and have been really impressed with and for £130 retail (before you shop around), it offers a lot of features/performance for the money. One of the standout features is the battery life which is way longer than anything I’ve used before. You could end up with 20 hours plus out of it. Lezyne have issued regular firmware and accompanying app updates, so the Super GPS has continued to work better and better over time. Early in it’s life, the turn by turn navigation wasn’t working and thanks to my back injury I haven’t been able to go and test it during the last 6 months but I believe it now works fine. I’m not aware of a better product for the money and hopefully during 2018, I’ll get a chance to write a more detailed review.
You can check out the extensive features list here …. And then remember that the retail price is £130
To prove my point about updates (as of January 15th, 2018), Lezyne have just launched another major firmware upgrade, which you can find here: http://www.lezyne.com/gpsroot/gps_downloads.php#gpsmanuals .
Note: that when you do update – you need to delete any Bluetooth connections between your phone and the Lezyne GPS before you update (then re-pair them afterwards)
Although it’s been a while since I reviewed the Trek Crockett, because I liked it so much that I bought it, I’m still slowly ticking up the miles on it. This is a bike that’s never failed to be a joy to ride. Yes, it’s not perfect (the wheels are a bit heavy) but this is a fantastic bike. I’ve used it a lot on my Tacx Neo through my back recovery as it has geometry that gives me a bit more forgiving riding position than my aero bike. I’ve also ridden it regularly outside and several times through the Christmas holidays. Off-road I’m constantly surprised by how the bike helps keep me out of trouble and the more I trust it, the better. I still manage to crash it here and there but I love this bike. The new version released for the 2018 model looks even better apart from an obvious fail, which is no mudguard mounts, killing off a key advantage of the one I have. The Trek Crockett is a bit of silver bullet. It’s a great ride on or off road, it’s hugely versatile – The new model can be built single speed, 1x, 2x, mechanical or DI2. It can now also fit up to 40mm tyres, making it properly gravel friendly too. If you’d like a fun, capable all-rounder you can also race on, this is a great option. A truly excellent bike and one that’s available as a frameset from £750 or as a complete bike with two different 1x builds available. I definitely recommend the Crockett – it’s a terrific bike.
Maxxis Padrone Tubeless Tyres
The Maxxis Padrone TR tubeless road tyres are another thing that fell in the hole thanks to my back issues. However, they make this list as I passed them to my friend Damien who put over 500km on them and says they’re equally as good as the Schwalbe Pro One’s he was on before and after. The Padrone’s beat me when it came to getting them onto the Hunt Wheels I have. I tried and tried and cursed and swore, even getting a nice Pro tubeless inflator but just couldn’t get them to seat on the wheels. A visit to a local bike shop, a second layer of tubeless tape and a compressor saw them go on. Since then, they’ve been perfect. Fast, comfortable, grippy and showing little signs of wear. They need a tubeless top up but they’ve been a terrific tyre and are staying on the bike for 2018. Not many miles outside for me, means the Maxxis will be getting plenty more use. They’re well worth trying if you’re in the market for tubeless tyres. For me, they were difficult to fit (part of the black art of going tubeless) but once on the bike, they’ve been faultless and are an easy recommend.
Sportful R&D Zero jacket
The lastest Sportful R&D Zero jacket is an evolution of the original and I believe it’s one of the finest winter cycling jackets avaialbe. The original R&D Jacket brought PolarTec’s Alpha fabric to the winter jacket. It’s a fantastic material, lightweight, great insulation, keeps it’s warmth well when wet and dries well. It was matched with a windproof outer and super warm even in the coldest of conditions. In fact for some riders (not me as I’m skinny and hate the cold) it was too warm. So this next evolution of the jacket toned down the Polartec Alpha fabric a touch, used a new weave, and switched to an outer fabric that allowed a touch more air to flow through.
Overall, what Sportful did was take a great jacket and make it better. It looks great, it’s warm riding down to freezinig conditions, but it has enough breathability including zipped vents on the ribs to allow you to adjust the temperature as you ride. On the original version of the R&D I found that over about 8 degrees Celsius I started to get pretty warm, with the new R&D Zero, you can be comfortable in a wider range of temperatures. Thanks to the change in the outer fabric, which lets more air through, the new R&D Zero can feel a touch colder when you start a cold ride but it’s now a better jacket and one that’s become a favourite.
In my experience of reviewing clothing, Sportful make some of the best cycling kit out there and the R&D range is at the cutting edge. The matching R&D bibtights are my absolute favourite winter tights too.
On my wishlist for 2018
There are always a lot of products I’d like to try and that I spend time researching for the fun of it. Sometimes, brands agree to help out and loan me something to try but not always. Whilst this site gets a decent amount of viewers, manufacturers often focus on the big media houses and I understand why that is.
The Cannondale Synapse looks fantastic to me. A light fast endurance road bike with bigger clearances, mudguard mounts and a range of build options. As much as I like race bikes, an endurance bike is a better option for me but I still want a bike that’s light fun and fast. The new Synapse looks almost perfect and I’d love to try one. I say almost perfect for a couple of reasons. Firstly I wish there was a Hi-Mod Ultegra build (ideally Di2) and secondly – BB30. I’ve never heard anyone say anything good about them (who didn’t work for Cannondale).
Trek Emonda SLR Disc
Like the new Synapse the new Emonda Disc is another bike that shows that disc bikes have come of age. It’s super light with an improved ride/performance over the old model. In the SLR spec (if you can afford it), you can now get a disc brake bike weighing under 7kgs, so there’s no longer a weight penalty. Add in Trek’s lifetime warranty, sensible H2 geometry and the Emonda SLR Disc looks like a fantastic option that can fit fat tyres, so be used for all kinds of road riding across all kinds of surfaces. Video via Trek:
Canyon Endurace Disc – carbon or aluminium
The Endurace isn’t a new bike any more but it remains a fantastic endurance race bike range that runs from £599 for an aluminium frameset to over £5k to a top of the range build weighing in at just over 7kgs complete. I was about to go and see Canyon in 2017 to try one when I hurt my back. I’ll be looking to rearrange this for 2018. On paper for me the geometry of the Endurace looks spot on, so it’d be great to try one.
Garmin Vector 3
The new Garmin Vector 3 pedals are an exciting product that I’ve written about here. With a new, better looking pedal design, no external pods and no specific torque requirement at installation makes them more compelling than ever before. For anyone with more than one bike, they might well be the perfect power meter as they offer similar accuracy as a crank based system but can be easily moved from bike to bike.
I’m waiting for a pair to test at present and hope to able to write more about them soon.
Whilst there has been a range of exciting new products in the smart trainer space over the last few years such as the Tacx Neo already mentioned in this post through to the more recent Elite Direto or Wattbike Atom, Wahoo have been consistently improving the product that launched the category – the Kickr. Now it’s 3rd evolution, I’m keen to try this classic product and see how it fits into the landscape. Hopefully Wahoo will be able to help me out to do this soon. I’ll keep you posted.
Zipp NSW Wheels
Zipp’s NSW range are the best of the best from the US Aero experts. This makes them very interesting indeed. Enhanced rims and new cognition hubs should bring marginal gains to already compelling products. As we’re slowly switching to disc braked bikes, I’d love to try the state of the art Zipp 303 NSW Disc wheels to see how good they ride. Having spent a couple of years riding the Reynolds 58 Aero wheels, I’d also love to try the 404 NSW caliper wheels to give them a comparison against the Reynolds. There are lots of good wheels out there now but Zipp’s longstanding reputation as a leader make them a brand I’d love to spend some time riding.
Many of my favourite products of the year were also spotted at the Cycleshow and feature in this post: https://girodilento.com/2017-cycle-show-highlights-favourites/
If you’ve spotted any other fantastic products, please let me know, I might be able to get a loaner to try and write about.
Thanks for reading and here’s to a great 2018 for riding (and no injuries!)