Riding on the road and getting outdoors in 2020 presented both challenges and opportunities. For those lucky enough to get outside regularly and ride - we found a new appreciation for the sport and freedom to ride. For those that spent more time indoors (which I also did), we found different ways to itch the racing bug and became tactical trainer riding wizards. Hell-bent on finding the perfect cobbled classic to accompany your zone two trainer rides. No matter what your riding or training regiment was for 2020, we all needed to roll with the punches. Many different things helped me keep it together in 2020. I would like to say that cycling and family we’re at the very top of that list. Here’s some of the gear that made my days just a little bit brighter and got my inner roadie stoked!

Full Speed Ahead WE Disc Groupset

In the battle of the groupsets, there have been only three major players, and with the tide of electronic shifting coming in - I can see more on the horizon. FSA's WE shifting group has been in the peloton since 2018 as a rim brake version and more recently has found success with its disc groupset taking its first grand tour stage win in 2019 under Ángel Madrazo (Burgos-BH) in stage 5 of the Vuelta a España.

Performance-wise - FSA's WE group can take the hits that road and gravel can dish out. The lever feel is right on the money for me. The feeling is a concrete mix of Shimano and Campy hood ergodynamics with a lean toward Shimano brake performance. The shifting has gone through a small update since the initial launch. Shifting faster and more precisely than versions we tested at trade shows. The groupset has tons of gearing combinations for gravel, road, cyclocross and is respectively light at 2,057g for the whole group

My favorite part of the group set has to be the brakes. They have a consistent stroke and reliable power. I've never experienced brake fade on long descents or piston problems after miles of dusty gravel. For me - the FSA WE Disc group's performance is fantastic, and it blew my expectations of what this group was. After many, many rides on nearly all-terrain (cyclocross included), I can say - this group is legit. The ability to launch a groupset and shake up the top three order is something that's been a long time coming. I can't wait to see what the newest iteration of the WE groupset will bring.

Price: $2,607.00 (Including crankset)

TACX NEO2 Smart Trainer

Like many of you, I spent lots of time on the trainer this year, but with great TV (FLO Sports) and help from Zwift - I tricked myself into riding more on the trainer this year than I ever thought. The main driving force (pun) in that effort was the TACX NEO2 smart trainer. I've had many trainers and smart trainers over the years, but the TACX stands out. Not only because of the shape and cool aesthetic but the overall experience delivered with the unit. The NEO2 boasts several features; wattage with great accuracy, can fit many QR/thru-axle designs, etc... The most impressive to me was the need for no power while using the unit. The NEO2 stores a charge, and you can ride while getting power data, transmitting to Zwift, or your head unit, all while the plug isn't connected. It's fantastic stuff, not only from a conservation standpoint but from the warm-up and traveling perspective as well.

Besides that, the NEO 2 offers real-life cobbled and wooden (think the boardwalk on Zwift) sensations while virtually riding. That means when you hit the cobbles, you feel the cobbles, same with the brick roads in Richmond. It's a novel feature, but when you're spending a lot of time riding virtually, small sensations like this energize you and break up the ride. I didn't need to employ a platform on the TACX NEO 2 either, another great feature of the trainer. The flywheel body has a slight side to side movement to allow the rider to rock side to side without a large platform or balance balls. I credit the booming amount of indoor training and virtual riding I did this year to the TACX NEO 2, products like this can take your training to the next level.

Price: $1,399

Specialized S-Works Vent

Shoes are personal, and I've personally worn Specialized road shoes for the last couple of years, and they fit my feet well. On those super hot summer days every now and then, I felt my feet getting super hot even with indoor riding.

The Specialized Vents are the right mix of ventilation and stiffness in a pedaling platform. The design mimics the last and overall fit of the S-Works 7. The cut-outs in the sole, more open toe box, and vents on the shoe upper give this model much more breathability. The problems I experienced with the S-Works 7's was that the BOA dial was so powerful I could over-tighten and cause hot spots. These hot spots dissipate after a proper break-in period but can still be annoying.

The S-Works Vents felt broken in from the beginning and the airflow on hot summer days is fantastic. Yeah, they require some overshoes in the fall earlier than most cycling shoes, but they feel great and are strikingly light at 223g with the standard ti-hardware. So if you get super hot feet, or just like a shoe that has toe-wiggling ease about them - the Specialized S-Works Vent is worth a slip-on.

Price: $425

Garmin Varia RTL515

The Garmin Varia is much more than a light or a radar. It's a slight bit of control that I can have over where vehicles are and how I can be safe. Garmin released an updated version of its radar in 2020, with longer battery life, Bluetooth-phone integration, and a slew of brighter lights and blink options. If you're familiar with the Varia, Garmin employed its radar technology in its fishing guidance and developed a unit that alerts the rider of upcoming cars and traffic. The Varia uses a phone or Garmin unit and alerts you via a loud beep and a small dot of a vehicle approaching from behind. The dots appear on the screen in; green, orange, or red. The colors reflect the speed vehicles are traveling and the proximity to where they are in conjunction with the rider. As the car approaches, the Varia will track the speed and allows you to see in real-time when the vehicle is passing. I love this unit and have used the RTL510 when it first came out and considered it revolutionary - especially for riders that frequent the drops and are focused on the watts and not what's around them.

Price: $200

Chrome BLCKCHRM 22X BRAVO 3.0 Bag

It's been years since I've had a new big messenger bag. After my messaging days, I retired my trusted Kremlin and went back to a standard size bag. The new Chrome BRAVO has me stoked on big bags again, it has all the compartments, and it's not like the Chrome pack of years past. You know, the kind where you put something you need in, and you'll see it a month or two later because the bag is a connection point to another dimensional wormhole. Well, I had my socks blown off when I opened the BRAVO and noticed not only did it have all the goodies I've grown to love over the years with my Chrome bags, but it has usable compartments. Places that you can store gear that is waterproof, scratch-resistant, and even better yet - padded. The best feature (IMO) is the removable tote bag that lines the larger compartment. This tote is excellent as a stand-alone product but is perfect for taking all the contents of the bag out at once, so you're not digging around aimlessly only to notice your cell phone is in your pocket.

I don't do tons of commuting anymore, but when I do, I'm hyper-aware of the gear I'm using because it's drastically different from what I usually ride in. The BRAVO has an evenly placed feel on the back, and the weight is evenly dispersed. The pads on the shoulders can be a bit much on warm summer days, but if you load the bag up with groceries or mail orders - yeah, you respect the padding. I like the transformer nature of the BRAVO and found that it suited my needs with the easy change of tie-downs on the front. They double as a super solid helmet holder, too - I can't wait to try this bad boy out on my next flight, whenever that is.

Price: $200.00

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