It's tempting to think of 2019 as "the year of gravel/adventure", but that might suggest that the gravel scene has peaked, and that's far from true. What we have seen is the maturing of this still relatively new sector, which is now firmly established as one of the most interesting, exciting and most of all versatile parts of the cycling world.
So, it'll come as no surprise that a healthy smattering of gravel/adventure products feature in our highlights of the past year. But there's also been a continuing emphasis on versatility and adjustability across all disciplines.
The never-ending quest for "stiffer, lighter, more aero" might seem to risk monotony, and it's true that some common themes continue to emerge (for example the prevalance of dropped seat stays, giving a more compact rear triangle for improved power transfer and added seatpost flexibility for comfort). Despite this there's no sign of a slow down in innovation, and we've seen a wealth of distinctive, exciting new bikes each of which bring something new to the table.
It's never an easy choice, but here are our picks of the best of 2019 - selected by the Bespoke team:
If 2019 has been the year of gravel/adventure then there's no better ambassador than the OPEN WI.DE. (WInding DEtours). OPEN have already proved to be masters of the sector with their UP and UPPER models, and the WI.DE. takes things a step further with the ability to run tyres up to a whopping 2.4in wide in 650B (46mm in 700c).
Those distinctive double-dropped chainstays give maximum clearance whilst still permitting the use of road, rather than MTB, cranksets, keeping the q-factor nice and compact. This, together with some pin-sharp handling, makes this a far more versatile bike than you might expect from the chunky tyres (in fact, pop some 35-40mm slicks on there and you have a brilliant long-distance mile muncher for road use).
We've seen many brilliant OPEN builds this year, which really show off the versatility of the frame, and it's a bike that simply looks 'right'. In a year that's seen a huge amount of technical innovation across all disciplines, the WI.DE. stands out as a unique take on the gravel/adventure theme.
This relatively small, independent brand (their motto is "Working hard to stay small") draws on the combined experience of design supremo Gerard Vroomen and industry legend Andy Kessler to build the kind of bikes that they want to ride themselves (something that they share with our other favourites, Parlee). In doing so they've created some real stars, of the kind that bigger brands might overlook, and we can't wait to see what they do next.
Meanwhile we're looking forward to our next WI.DE. build, every single one is unique (check out just a few of the many options in our interactive online Bike Builder).
Moots Routt RSL
Another gravel champ that's just as happy covering long distances on the road, with the natural flex and durability of titanium providing comfort without compromising on performance. Moots handbuild each frame at their home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, from US-made titanium tubes, and their impeccably neat, precise welds are a thing of beauty.
The RSL is the lightest, stiffest Moots "multi-surface" frame, with a racy geometry, room for tyres up to 40mm wide, and 3D-printed Ti disc brake mounts. We just love the ride quality of this bike.
Specialized Shiv Disc
It's not all gravel, of course, and the Specialized have seriously impressed us with their latest Shiv triathlon bike. Adjustability is the key here - this is a cutting edge design with some impressive aero features giving it a uniquely aggressive look, but it's also a pleasure to fit (and correct fit, after all, is at the heart of everything we do).
Check out this recent full-on 'dream build' for an example of just how far this speed machine can go.
Specialized Turbo Creo SL
E-bikes have turned a corner this year, they're no longer solely the preserve of the casual cyclist. The Turbo Creo SL is the perfect example - a proper road bike that looks, feels and handles like any other high-end machine - it just happens to have smooth, range-extending power built in when you want it.
Dave Arthur took it for a spin up Box Hill and was suitably impressed. We're finally at the stage where you don't need to worry about being an "early adopter" - e-bikes have matured, and we're going to be seeing a lot more of them in the coming months.
They launched back in 2018, but this year has been when they really took off... ENVE's G-Series gravel/adventure wheels have featured on a lot of our builds, and for good reason.
Taking ENVE's long history and experience with carbon, both on and off road, the G23 (700c) and G27 (650b) are both incredibly lightweight (in fact ENVE's lightest carbon clinchers to date) and super strong, with their trademark smooth ride quality.
They can be a little fussy about tyre pressures, thanks to the hookless rim that provides added protection against pinch flats, but that's a small price to pay for a true all-terrain wheelset with a 23mm internal rim diameter (ideally suited to 35-45mm wide tyres) that weighs in around the 1300g mark for a complete pair of wheels.
Get a pair of these built up on Chris King R45 hubs and you have a bombproof wheelset that spins up beautifully, or there's now the option of ENVE's own in-house hubs which represent great value and are nicely engineered.
DT Swiss GRC 1400 SPLINE
ENVE don't have it all their own way, and DT Swiss have also impressed us with their take on the aero carbon "all road" wheel. They're not as ultralight as the G-Series hoops, but that's only to be expected - the GRC 1400 are 42mm deep (compared to 25mm on the ENVEs) making them a true aero rim. They're also a healthy 24mm wide internally, so make no mistake, these are proper gravel/adventure wheels. The perfect complement to something like the OPEN U.P.P.E.R. or Cervélo Áspero, for those who don't want to slow down simply because they're heading off the beaten path.
Indoor training used to be a chore, with noisy friction-based mechanisms and a distinct lack of real-world bike feel. Thankfully that's no longer the case, and Wahoo have been at the forefront of the new generation of turbo trainers, partnering with the latest online services to build a complete training package that's both more useful and more enjoyable.
The KICKR trainer is quiet, compact and vibration-free and forms the core of a family of products which allow you to mix and match, and expand over time. The CLIMB module is genius - attaching to your dropouts instead of the front wheel and providing a simulated 'grade' (incline or descent) that makes training significantly more realistic, and can tie in with the likes of Zwift to replicate real world terrain.
The HEADWIND tackles another of the bugbears with conventional indoor training - heat buildup. It's easy to overheat when you don't have the benefit of the wind to keep you cool. The HEADWIND is a smart fan, that integrates with the rest of the Wahoo system to provide variable speeds (auto or manual) and a precisely targetted airflow. Yes, it's a luxury, but it's one you'll really appreciate.
We have a complete Wahoo demo setup in store at Bespoke Gresham Street - come in and take a look at this versatile, mix and match system.
Gore-Tex have long been masters at the art of waterproofing outdoor clothing, and in recent years they've turned their attention to the world of cycling with great success. Cyclists have very different requirements from hikers, with breathability always of importance but also the need to avoid overheating. Gore's latest ShakeDry fabric is a real game changer. Ultra light, fully waterproof and exceptionally breathable.
Castelli have made fantastic use of this material, including fully waterproof stretch panels, on their Idro Pro 2 jacket, used to great effect by Barry on the epic Two Volcano Sprint.
This is one that we've fallen in love with all over again, and makes an appearance on many of our staff bikes, not to mention those of our customers. The Seat Roll Premio is quite simply one of the most convenient, well-made, well thought out ways to carry your on-ride essentials. The BOA locking mechanism is a touch of genius, bringing the quick and easy adjustment usually found on top-end cycling shoes and using it to create a rattle-free and extremely quick method of attachment. With capacity for mini tool, CO2 inflator, tyre levers and inner tubes up to 45mm in size this is a great all-rounder whether you're riding on road or gravel - and if you need something larger, the Premio's sibling, the Grande Americano, handles tubes up to 29x2.5" (700x62mm).
Vittoria Corsa Control tyres
Yes, a road tyre! An endurance one, but road rather than gravel focused. The Control takes the 320tpi lightweight finesse of the the Corsa and adds an extra level of toughness - this is the one the Pros turn to for the cobbled classics. Vittoria have been at the forefront of materials technology in recent years, and the Corsa Control uses no less than four different compounds across the tread to optimise grip and handling. A regular appearance in our Build Gallery this year, these have rapidly become one of the go-to choices for high performance endurance bikes.
Supacaz Bar Tape
Another regular feature on our builds, Supacaz are bar tape specialists, and it shows. Their Super Sticky Kush tape provides just the right amount of cushioning without adding excess bulk, and is superbly grippy. Their attention to detail is obvious in the accompanying colour-matched alloy bar end plugs, a cut above the usual plastic offering. A huge range of colour and pattern options, from understated to seriously bling, is the icing on the cake.
In a year that's been particularly good for new and interesting bikes it takes a lot to stand out. I'm a huge fan of the OPEN WI.DE. but for me personally there's been an even more exciting arrival.
Coming straight out of left field, unexpected and bold, is Cervélo's first gravel bike, the Áspero. This is a Cervélo with soul, combining their race-focused DNA with real off-road ability to create a unique take on the adventure bike. As a long-haul endurance/bikepacker the Áspero shouldn't, on paper at least, speak to me - it's not intended for carrying luggage, ir's aimed at speed both on and off road. But there's something very appealing about the "flat out" nature of this bike, combined with a healthy dose of comfort and some gorgeous aesthetics (the fantastic range of colour options doesn't hurt, either).
Despite a lot of love online it's been a bit of a sleeper hit this year. This is my top tip for a not-so-hidden gem in 2020. Give it a look in our bike builder.
Barry's been getting into his ultra-cycling in a big way this year, and a big part of his longer-distance racing has been the S-Works Roubaix Team.
Bringing together the endurance bike comfort and shock absorption of the Roubaix and the aggressive geometry of a Pro Tour race bike, this is another fine example of the mash-up of genres that 2019 has brought us.
You can read Barry's report on the BikingMan Ultra event here on the blog, where the Roubaix Team proved to be the perfect companion for 950km of racing. And he takes a closer look at the this unique S-Works model in his review, here.
Specialized make huge claims for this bike: More aero than a Tarmac. Lighter than a Venge. I can't decide if that means you need all three, or if one bike will do it all! If it's the latter, I cant think of any current frame out there with as broad a range of skills as the Team Roubaix.
As we look ahead to 2020 we're eager to see what new bikes and technology the industry will have to offer.
E-bikes are shaping up to be the next major breakthrough, with the latest high-performance road models such as the Specialized Turbo Creo breaking free from the "leisure" label and giving a real range-extending option to the serious road cyclist.
The world of indoor training is getting shaken up a little, too, with the introduction of "complete" training bikes from all the leading brands. These complete packages remove the need to tie up one of your existing bikes by integrating an adjustable frame within the trainer itself (similar to one of our bike fit jigs).
At first glance this might seem like nothing new - gyms have had complete bikes for years, after all - but this new breed is very different and far more advanced. Full adjustability means you can precisely replicate the geometry and position of your regular road bike, with swappable contact points and realistic feedback making this as close as you can get to real-world cycling indoors.
Whatever the new year brings we'll be here to guide you through it, and as always to provide the perfect fit.
Our "Most Looking Forward To..." award goes to the Parlee RZ7. They were launched this year, but we're only just starting to see the builds coming through. Legendary Parlee ride quality with proper aero road credentials - what's not to love?
Already a contender for next year's awards, especially with their superb in-house custom paint options - just check out our recent build:
Barry has been bitten by the Ultracycling bug, and his latest challenge was the biggest yet - the truly epic Two Volcano Sprint. Join him as he digs deep...Read more
A new addition to the OPEN lineup; the WI.DE. (Winding Detours) is a 'more than road' bike that can take up to 2.4in wide tyres.Read more
Specialized have given this gorgeous Team Edition Roubaix frameset a proper Pro attitude. Barry took it for a spin...Read more