James Spender

28 Dec 2022

In another bleak year for Britain and the world, this stuff has kept me smiling

It feels egregious to be picking out my favourite cycling gear – gear costing many thousands of pounds – at a time when millions of people can’t afford to heat their homes. And this on top of a year jam-packed with the very real effects of climate change (hottest summer on record and failing crops anyone?), a year of ongoing war and a year of ongoing displacement of people.

But hey, let’s not get too bleak, it’s nearly Christmas after all and I’m sure there’ll be a James Bond to fall asleep to on Boxing Day.

I’m also sure that in order to prevent the world going to hell in a handcart, we need to be effective humans, and to be effective humans requires, from time to time, finding respite and rejuvenation.

For some people this will come from watercolour painting. Other people, it is darts. For me, it is cycling. So here are the things that have brought me the most peace and joy this year.

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1. Argonaut RM3

Yep, it’s a fourteen grand road bike and I’ve been harping on about the winter of poverty gaps. But it can’t be denied that when I look back across the year, the made-in-USA Argonaut RM3 is the best bike I have tested by a fair way, and if I look back over the last ten years, it just edges it as the best racer I’ve ridden. Ever.

The reason is the ride feel; it treads a gossamer tightrope between stiffness and flex that is only possible through a tuned layup afforded by meticulous custom design.

That said, this bike wasn’t custom-built for me, but it’s close enough for my weight and power, two key criteria that Argonaut builds its bikes against. Other brands may change stiffness characterisitcs across bikes, but they do it per frame size (bigger frames = more stiff) whereas Argonaut creates custom layups for a riders irrespective of frame size (which is custom too, though 12 stock sizes are available).

But there’s more, because the ride quality, I’d wager, is just fantastic anyway due to the tube shapes, which in the main triangle are skinny and pretty close to round, two things that in my experience make for smooth yet lively bikes.

OK, I can’t resist any more, this is a carbon bike that rides like a steel bike.

Only better as it’s lighter, it is – as mentioned – stiff, and it corners like a dreamboat on buttered rails.

Also, you can stick in 35mm tyres, which will happily see the RM3 turn its hand to some all-road riding. I also love the way it looks, though I’d never choose a matt-white paint scheme, it’s a devil to keep clean.

I would also never dream of spending this much on a bike (even if I had the cash), but if I were to, this is where I’d put my hard-earned.

2. Litelok Core Plus

Photo: Litelok

Due to the nature of London, I ride everywhere, and due to the nature of London there are bike thieves everywhere.

Do I sound paranoid? Well I’m not, I can’t be, because I have complete faith in the Litelok Core Plus. It’s Sold Secure Bicycle Diamond and ART 3 rated, with Diamond being Sold Secure’s new highest rating (replacing Gold) and ART ratings based on a 1-5 scale (ART is Netherlands based; Sold Secure from the UK).

It’s hard to discern precisely what Diamond or ART 3 mean as Sold Secure and ART doesn’t publish testing criteria, but I’ve yet to see a more highly rated flexible bike lock (Litelok’s new X-series D-locks are higher rated).

The outer casing helps make grinding and cutting harder, but it does inhibit flex along with the steel core itself. Still, the Core Plus can be manipulated around awkward angles in a a way a D-lock can’t, and it can also be worn round the waist using the supplied clips.

Weight is decent too, this 75cm version weighs 1.9kg, while a longer 100cm version weighs around 2.25kg.

3. Vittoria Corsa N.EXT tubeless tyres

This is Vittoria’s answer to the Continental GP5000S TR, and it’s every bit as good.

In broad strokes, this is the Vittoria Corsa 2.0 but a with nylon carcass, not cotton. That means thread count is lower, the cotton Corsa boasts 320tpi whereas the N.EXT is 100tpi, and that means the N.EXT is marginally less supple than the Corsa 2.0. But it’s not by much, and certainly the N.EXT feels supple and grippy like its big sister.

Where it bests that tyre, though, is longevity. Nylon tends to last longer (cotton is more susceptible to cutting or rotting than nylon), but moreover nylon tyres are vulcanised, not glued together, and it’s this vulcanising process that creates a more robust tyre.

Some grip is sacrificed, but it’s negligible and it’s a happy trade for a tyre you can run all year as I have, and intend to throughout the winter. These guys are racking up the miles and show no signs of abating.

4. Giro Chrono Elite jersey and bib shorts

What makes the Giro Chrono kit so brilliant is what makes this write up so short. I just like it. I like how it looks, I like how it fits, I like how it feels, and I like that it doesn’t cost the earth (in kit terms at least – have you seen Assos’s £610 jacket?).

I’ve also worn the Chrono kit a lot this year and it’s holding up really well.

5. Utah

Now, I have become increasingly concerned by my carbon footprint in this job – we travel to bring you stories that we hope will promote cycling, which is green.

But I’m no longer sure how long-haul flights to promote cycling balances up. Maybe it does, probably it doesn’t.

We’ve certainly tried to do less travel this year, and we are working much harder to use local journalists to write stories as opposed to sending our own to different countries.

But still, I am a hypocrite, as there I was preaching about climate change at the beginning of this piece and here I am saying one of the best things about my cycling this year was a trip to Utah that involved an 11-hour flights and driving a 19mpg truck. However, I did go back in October and I can’t escape the fact it was an amazing place.

The disappearing horizon roads, the towering mountains, the deep canyons, the colours of the trees in fall [it’s pronounced Autumn–Ed.].

It is America at its best: vast, rugged and with that wonderful endless feeling to it all. It is nearly the size of the UK; the Great Salt Lake outside its capital, Salt Lake City, is wider than the English Channel.

I have never eaten a bigger bowl of granola and I have never seen anything more stunning than the snow covering Bryce Canyon that greeted us when woke up early to watch the sunrise.

And I also fulfilled a childhood dream – I rode Slickrock in Moab on a mountain bike, this the red-rocked, bulbously smooth moonscape I’d seen so often in mountain bike magazines as I was growing up. One of those places I just never even dreamt I might one day be.

We rode for two glorious hours against a setting sun, and it was precisely what I needed. Time out with utter clarity, mind focussed entirely on the experience. Even in the darkest times, it’s all about the bike.

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