Cycling is more popular than ever, and with a variety of bikes in many niches, there are health benefits, and shorter journey times available to all.
Having owned many road bikes, mountain bikes, commuters, and everything in-between, as a keen cyclist for the last 20 years, I’ve watched with curiosity, amusement, and perhaps even disdain, at the coming of the “e-bike”.
When the first examples hit the market, they were expensive, heavy, short-ranged, and sucked up some of your power in each pedal stroke when they weren’t contributing, in short, they barely overcome their own burden. Such has been the inexorable march of technological improvement though, that a watershed moment has been reached.
As a purist and fanatic, I was a tough crowd for an e-bike, but my head has been well and truly turned by the bikes that follow, and though initially, I included them benevolently, more for completion than anything else, they turned out to be so good, and so fun, that for sure, my next bike is an e-bike.
Here, you'll find my edit for the ultimate biking experience.
It should come as no surprise to anyone, that a £12,000 bike is a great bike, and this S-Works is the most fun I’ve had on two wheels. Technologically, it’s a tour de force, made from Specialized’s most premium carbon fibre, and dripping in the best componentry available.
At around 12.5 Kilos, it’s one of the lightest e-bikes ever made, and keeping the weight down is where most of your money goes. SRAM’s sensational wireless XX1 Eagle AXS drivetrain is paired with their Red level shifters, giving you a fast, clean and reliable 1 x 12 system.
You can, of course, dive into the accompanying apps to adjust the SRAM’s features, shifting mechanics, and do over-the-air updates, whilst Specialized’s app allows you to tinker with the motor’s power, assist levels, and grunt. It’s all beautifully integrated and works as flawlessly and seductively as you might expect of the top offering from one of the world’s most prestigious bike brands.
Whether you’re on the road, or throwing it off some beaten path, the S-Works is all the fun. Its modest-sized battery at 320Wh and svelte 1.1kg motor is designed to be light and unobtrusive, rather than provide the punch-in-the-spine grunt of some other powertrains. This means, it’s quiet, and so beautifully engineered and integrated, that the riding experience is second to none, the power feathers in and out very gracefully.
The S-Works just makes everything you do on it more fun. On the flat, it gives you a gentle push that presents itself like you’re just having a strong leg day with a helluva tailwind. On the downhills, it rides like a premium gravel bike, unencumbered by its motor, with no hint of watt-sucking from the pedals, but it’s on the inclines one reaps such benefit.
Put succinctly, it puts the fun back into uphills. It’ll help you to the tune of whatever you put in, up to 240 watts, and 35 nms of torque. This means, if you expect to merely turn the pedals over and fly up the hill, you’ll be disappointed, this isn’t that. This keeps the rider engagement intact, if you put in moderate effort, you’ll sail nicely up a hill, and if you give it everything, you’ll positively zip.
To me, this was the best of all worlds. I came back from my usual circuit just as out of breath and expended as on my non-electric gravel bike, but I was home a little quicker, and my split time up the climes was considerably faster. I put in the same 100%, I felt as tired, I just noticed I didn’t dread the hills, my effort and the clever bike got me up them fast enough to make them fun, and that’s the power of this bike.
If you want to saunter somewhere, you can, you’ll get where you’re going faster than you would on a normal bike, and if there’s a hill involved you’ll have had some fun, and be less sweaty. At a saunter, the S-Works flattens hills, and turns everything into a gentle downhill. Everything’s fun on this bike. But it rewards effort so consummately too. Because it’s so screamingly light, it’s a nimble bike that just wants to be thrown around, and wants to go fast all the time, and help you to wring every smile out of every ride. What more can one say, the best fun I’ve had on two wheels.
Additionally, I was fortunate enough to benefit from Specialized’s new bespoke delivery service. Launched earlier this year, Specialized now offers a premium delivery service in-line with their high-end bikes. The S-Works Creo turned up in its own Specialized transport fully assembled, and with a Specialized mechanic to ensure a perfect fit, to complete the setup of any electronics and of course answer any questions. I love going to my local bike shop and seeing what’s new, comparing products and getting expert opinions. Specialized stress this doesn’t detract from or replace that experience, but oh wow, a dedicated technician delivering your new pride and joy in a ‘white glove service’ turns out to be a tremendous fanfare event befitting the premium sticker prices.
It’s the cycling equivalent of getting your supercar delivered to your home in a big liveried trailer, complete with all the regalia, and boy, does it add to the Specialized brand buy-in and evangelism.
Tern’s Quick Haul is their newest e-bike, and the first e-bike I tested for this review. All the axioms about ‘never forgetting your first’ and falling hard ‘the first time’ are unequivocally true about this cargo bike.
I wasn’t expecting to become quite so besotted with the Quick Haul, (which they pitch as a car replacement for city dwellers,) but I have to say I fell hard and I fell fast. Let’s start with the carrying capacity, the rear rack will carry 50 kilos, and in combination with the 20 kilo capacity of the front rack, the frame and fork is rated to easily carry the maximum 150-kilo gross weight. The beauty of this bike is that it made journeys enjoyable, even when carrying a lot of kit. And by ‘kit’ in that sentence, I actually mean ‘child’.
The Quick Haul was my 16-kilo 3-year-olds first taste of cycling, and he fell for the Quick Haul just like I did. The sturdy rack accommodated his simple-to-fit child seat and held him snugly. Being a long-tailed bike, it also meant he wasn’t rammed up against me with only a view of my back, but instead had plenty of space and a great view. He loved cycling on it. He loved the wind in his (helmeted) hair and he loved the speed and the bumps.
After a few rides, my ribs were sore from him prodding me telling me to go faster, like some diminutive cox encouraging, or a jockey spurring his steed onwards. And faster was easy. The Quick Haul comes fitted with Bosch’s deeply impressive performance line motor that adds 300% to whatever you put in, with a really punchy 65Nm of torque. We live at the bottom of a lot of hills, and even with the bike’s considerable loaded weight, one simply sails rapidly and in comfort up these steep inclines.
In fact, I took my son and the Quick Haul to the garden centre, and we stocked up, including a huge container of soil, weighing 25 kilos or so, and up the hill the Quick Haul merrily shot, completely unfazed, unperturbed, and seemingly unaware of the heft it was hauling. Storing it was brilliant, it sits upright on its tail, occupying the same space as a generous pot-plant perhaps.
The Quick Haul is both fast and supremely comfortable to ride, and it was deceptively enjoyable to ride for such a tank-like solid beast. Its small wheels, wide tyres, and stout brakes made it accelerate and stop with eagerness and force, and it had a nimbleness that quite belied its size. Given the pitch as car replacement, a car analogy is perhaps ironic, but here goes: the Quick Haul is a Range Rover Sport. Stout and sturdy, strong and powerful, it’ll carry you, yours, and some luggage in comfort. But of course, it’s completely green though, and for the journeys for which we used it, much much faster than a Range Rover.
My nursery run is a twenty-minute walk each way. In a car, dependent on traffic, it’s between 7 and 12 minutes each way. The Tern is unfettered by traffic, and the journey time was a reliable 4 minutes come empty roads or gridlock.
Distributed by Moore Large. Find your dealer here.
Cannondale is one of my favourite bike brands, and I’ve been an owner since 2007, though this was the first mountain bike of theirs I had tried, and the first full suspension e-mountain bike I had spent serious time on.
Like all other niches of cycling, adding an electric motor to a bike frame ups the weight, cost, and complexity. In return, the idea is that you get more fun out. And because mountain bikes are pretty burley and heavy compared to road bikes anyway, their starting weight is already higher. Add in huge suspension forks, massive tyres, and upgraded brakes to handle yet more weight of a huge battery, (nothing svelte here) and a huge torquey motor, and these e-bikes start to become really substantial machines. Manhandling the Moterra out of a few doorways, I was quickly pessimistic about the ‘e-advantage.’ And then I got on it, turned it on, and everything changed.
The instant comfort of those huge tyres, and sprung ease of the long travel suspension caused a smile, and within a revolution or two of the pedals the smile had become a grin, and that grin stayed planted until the moment I got off an hour later. The motor provides more than enough oomph to compensate for all the extra weight the e-system engenders, and it’s channelled unflinchingly into the fun quotient.
The Bosch motor is hugely and impressively grunty, meaning acceleration on the flat is tremendous, and even up hills is prodigious. Big heavy full suspension non-electric mountain bikes aren’t ridden by people solely interested in getting fit; they’re fun precipitating machines, with fitness as a bonus. But their very nature means you’ll dislike pointing them uphill, it’s not what they’re designed to do, they’re designed to be plush, which means, heavy, which means painful uphill. Add in a punchy motor, and the full suspension Moterra finds its zenith form, the Neo. Suddenly, uphills aren’t to be feared or avoided, they’re to be enjoyed.
Much like the Specialized, on flats and downhills, the extra weight of the electric ecosystem is unnoticeable in the presence of the assistance, but on the uphills, you just fly. Whereas the S-Works motor wants you to forget it’s there, the Moterra Neo is always reminding you it’s there with a good hefty push. It’s the first bike I’ve ever done big jumps on, whilst going uphill. And there’s the magic of it, if you have only an hour to ride one evening, instead of only getting a rush for half of it, and slogging uphill the other half, on the Moterra Neo, it’s all rush. You’ll find at the end of your ride, that you’re just as tired, but you’ve gone further, gone faster, and had more fun, all of the time.
The Moterra Neo is a wonderful bit of kit. It’s plush and comfortable, you can choose from several builds if you prefer your shifting handled by Shimano or SRAM, and it gets lighter and more ‘carbony’ the more money you throw at Cannondale. It’s got a relaxed head angle and long wheelbase, meaning it feels planted and stable when the speed increases. The huge rotors combined with the chunky nobbled tread on the wide tyres means stopping becomes an adventure: it’s so steady and forceful, becoming astonishingly brutal and fierce if you really squeeze.
I’d certainly never experienced the like before, and you need your wits about you. Finally, being a Cannondale, there’s a certain holism to the bike that their marketing calls ‘proportional response.’ It means that every size bike is considered and designed just for itself, they don’t make a small bike a size bigger by adding an inch all round, they sweat every piece in every size. It means it feels holistic and complete, which is one of the reasons Cannondales just ride brilliantly. In design terms, they’re always interesting, often unconventional, and reliably innovative.
If you like the idea of a gravel bike for road duties, and light off-roading, but also like the idea of full suspension, Cannondale has just launched the new Topstone Neo Carbon Lefty: it’s part twin-suspended gravel bike, with just 30mm of travel both ends, but also part drop bar wide tyred road machine, but with the really torquey motor more usually found on a mountain bike than a road bike. Could this be the ultimate quiver-killer all in 1? I’m looking forward to finding out.
Lastly, I tried the Open WI.DE, (Winding Detours) which is our only non-electric bike in this test. I have so much love for this brand and this bike, they’re everything plucky and innovative and great about a brand that’s having to fight really hard against their own success to stay small and ‘un-corporate.’
Open was founded by cycling heavyweights Gerard Vroomen and Andy Kestler, Gerard founded Cervelo, and Andy also cut his teeth there before becoming CEO of BMC. Open launched the UP and UPPER nearly a decade ago, a drop-bar road bike lookalike, but with an oft-imitated dropped chain-stay, which gave room for unseen before wide tyres on a ‘road bike.’ They effectively launched the Gravel sector of cycling, which is currently the fastest growing and most successful niche.
The UP & UPPER were do-it-all bikes, at home in the chain gang on a fast club road ride, but at any moment you could confound your road mates by dropping off onto a bridleway, or wooded path to tear up the undergrowth. They featured disc brakes, a wide range cassette, compliant carbon builds for lightness and comfort over the rough stuff, and they were all the fun and nimble you could ask for.
The WI.DE was launched a few years ago and is the UP raised to be even more at home off the road. It’s still a svelte offering, but it’ll accommodate everything from skinny tyres (if you must) to full blown mountain bike tyres (sure!) to make this the go everywhere fast, do everything paradigm.
In typical Open fashion, they’re so successful and so coveted, that they can barely make them fast enough, and the brand cache is second to none. The WI.DE is a comfort king, compliant and springy over roots and down drops, whilst still being taut enough to go where you point it, and for you to not feel a hint of flex if you stand on the pedals and give it all the beans.
Periodically, they release limited edition paint jobs and builds if you want something very special and numbered, but you’ll have to be quick. As the only non-electric bike on test, it really must be special to elbow its way in here. It’s just so very consummate, it's comfortable and friendly to a novice, and would be sensational as an everyday commuter, yet an equally powerful tool to anyone wanting arguably the best gravel bike currently available.
My pick for cycling computer this year is the Hammerhead Karoo II. The upgraded version of the much-loved original, the Karoo II takes a different approach from the competition; whereas other computers are sort of hubs, collating information from sensors, text messages from your phone, and farming out some duties to apps, the Hammerhead goes the other way, and puts itself in the centre. It doesn’t rely on a cellular connection from your phone, (though of course, it can connect to your smartphone) instead it has its own 3g and 4g antenna.
It’s this thinking that makes it rather different and more natural to use, you don’t feel like you need to connect to phones or websites on your computer to get the best out of it and sync data and routes across, it’s completely self-contained. That extends to customising the look and feel of it too, you can scroll through gorgeous layouts to choose the one that suits you best, and everything is powered by a punchy quad core processor that makes the computer feel positively zippy.
Now the two headline features for me though, are the screen, and some clever anticipatory software. Let’s start with the screen: Though I might sound like Tim Cook, it’s ‘gorgeous.’ It’s big, it’s edge to edge, it’s bright and colourful, it feels snappy to use, (like a smartphone screen) and the pixel density is twice that of the next closest computer at 292 PPI. Were this an apple device, this would earn it the Retina display moniker. Secondly, I love the fact that I can just start cycling, with no route programmed, and the computer will warn me of upcoming hills and their gradient and length.
This seems like a simple thing, but once you had the information presented to you on an exploration ride and felt the utility of knowing that the climb you’ve stumbled across, though terrifying looking, ends swiftly just round the next bend, the idea of going without it seems barbaric. In a world where there’s only so many ways to present fields of data to a rider, Hammerhead distinguishes itself with the feeling of its operation, that gorgeous screen, and some clever software that like all good things, seems too simple to have ever been done any other way.
With property, the axiom stands that it’s all about location location location. With cycling shoes, it’s all about fit fit fit. Or perhaps that should be comfort comfort comfort? When it comes to Lake shoes, they’re sort of interchangeable, or one leads to the other.
If you’re not literally in the tour de France, comfort and fit are the only thing you should care about, and it’s here the Lakes excel. I’ve never had a pair of cycling shoes that were comfortable, it always seemed that companies build a stiff, responsive shell, and wove some fabric around it, buckled it and that was what you got.
Lake starts with the interior, nestles your foot, and then builds the outer around that protected space. They had more room in the toe box than I’d found before, and genuinely felt more like trainers than high-performance stiff-soled cycling shoes, and they just seemed to articulate in exactly the right places for my oddly shaped feet. So how do they do it? Well, the fit, starts with the fitting.
Lake has 9 different lasts, (foot moulds…) in 3 different widths and 19 different sizes. By my calculations, that’s 513 different ‘size & shape’ shoes. You don’t choose the style you like aesthetically, then see if they have them in roughly your size. Instead, they start by measuring your foot very precisely and then suggesting (and you should listen) which style would best accommodate your foot shape, width, and size.
There’s obviously a choice in styles (and their proprietary matrix considers use, and conditions and will help you select) between road and gravel and mountain, and the prices go all the way up for the very carbon ones. However, everyone on most budgets should get the most comfortable cycling shoe they’ve ever owned.
And again, once you’ve had a shoe suggested as an appropriate fit, and found it to be so very good, you’ll wonder why you ever made shoe buying decisions predicated on other irrelevant information.
Lake is distributed by Moore Large. Find your dealer here.
There are two types of people; those who love pedals you clip into (confusingly called ‘clipless’ pedals, or in this case SPDs) and those who just haven’t tried them yet. The idea of being physically locked into your bike may be terrifying to the uninitiated, but can you imagine trying to ski without being locked into your skis, or ice-skate without any laces? Once you’ve felt the complete control these pedals give to your cycling, you’ll never go back.
For me, the XTR version of Shimano’s pedals, their lightest are their best. I had an older pair that were in uncomplaining service for about 10 years with nothing more than some lubricant on the rare occasions I washed the bike.
Shimano has been sensible enough not to muck around with anything ‘big’ on this new version: it’s a little more reliable, a little lighter, and a little swisher. The engagement into this double-sided peddle is about the easiest to locate just by feel, and it’s a solid, reassuring unambiguous ‘click.’ There’s a little float (lateral side to side) movement to save your knees, but again you can feel where the float ends and the ‘disengagement’ begins. It takes about 15 minutes of riding, and a few practices to get used to kicking your heel out to release from the pedals, but it becomes second nature quickly. The connection to the bike and control you get is night and day different from riding without them.
For gravel, mountain biking, or even just commuting to work, just buy this pedal and thank me later.
The Prevail Vent II is to my mind, the best helmet you can buy. Pun is very much intended. It’s light, comfortable, breezy, as pretty as a helmet can be, and according to the boffins who test them, redoubtably safe and certified. It has the highest Virginia Tech Helmet rating, it’s MIPS certified (for helping prevent concussions in the case of a crash) and its multi-density EPS material helps mitigate kinetic energy during impacts.
Even more technologically innovatively, it is ANGi ready, which means you can fit Specialized’s ANGi crash detection sensor directly to the Prevail II, and it’ll pair with Specialized’s Ride App, and evaluate the impact of any crash it detects, and if necessary, send a text to a contact with your exact location. All pretty nifty.
However, all the tech in the world isn’t going to protect your head if you don’t wear the helmet, so Specialized paid extra attention to making the Prevail Vent II more wearable. I had its older predecessor for many happy years and was delighted when I slipped this new version on. It felt at once familiar, but also such a seismic improvement over something I thought already so good, in terms of fit and comfort; the MIPS system is clever and agreeable, and there’s just so much channelled airflow, that the cooling was noticeably better.
I’d never heard of PB Swiss tools until I started digging, looking for the best of the best tools. But the experts, amateurs, and the zealots on the forums I found would sometimes whisper reverentially, and often shout about them. They were allegedly where you went when only the best would do. Intrigued, I sought them out. And wow do they live up to the reverence.
Yes, they’re expensive, but they’re better made than any other tool I’ve ever held. It’s a strange thing to hold a screwdriver bit, or Allen key, and get the feeling you’re holding something incredibly precise, into which a very great deal of thought, design, and cutting-edge technology has gone.
The metal of the bits shimmers with different colours, making for easy differentiation between types, and the edges are so sharp and hard that they grip screws and bolts more securely than anything I’ve used before. This prevents screws and bolts heads from becoming rounded and unusable, or threads from being stripped.
Their hex key set is just beautiful, ridiculously strong and the edges of the hex so sharp and defined, they feel so very premium. Their portable bike kit for taking on rides has everything you may need come technical emergency mid-ride. The tyre leavers are robust and hardy, (and plastic so won’t kill your beautiful rims), and as I said, the bits grip and bite like a Doberman. The bit connector is magnetic, so firmly grabs the bit and key, and holds them tight, and when you’re done, it all snaps together with the affirmed solidity of a safe door closing.
If you don’t think you can feel the difference between even some very good tools, and some PB Swiss tools, go prove yourself wrong and pick up a set. They’re something special.
Shokz has launched their bone conduction headphones that leave your ears open and transmit your music to your inner ears via vibrations on your cheekbones/skull. Now in their 9th generation, they’ve refined their clever design, and drastically improved their sound quality, particularly the bass, and the battery life.
The first time you try them is rather magical, you can hear your music but without your ears being covered or filled, you can hear everything around you as normal, and the music seems to originate in your head. So whether you run or cycle in these, you’ll be present and aware of the world around you. Furthermore, as they have an IP55 water resistance rating, (They’ll stand up to low-pressure water jets from every direction) they’re unfazed come rain or shine, and sweat-proof too.
These Bluetooth headphones are good for about 10 hours of listening before needing a recharge, (with a fabulous 5-minute ‘quick charge’ yielding about an hour and a half of listening) and of course, pairing easily to your smartphone, they’ll handle any calls you take to add that heavy breathing motif to your conversations, and the twin noise cancelling microphones do an excellent job of isolating traffic noise.
Music whilst you run or ride is a real luxury, and Shokz is simply the only sensible way to do this.
Chrome bags are practically urban icons, their ‘seatbelt’ material aesthetic and clasp are distinctive and unique. However, they’re very much more than style over substance. I don’t just cycle for fun; cycling is also my commuting.
Chrome bags are made for cycling, and I’ve got two. For busy days where I need a laptop, charger, gym clothes, and perhaps a camera, microphone, and tripod, I use the Tardis-like Citizen Messenger bag, in the very techy BLCKCHRM 22X fabric.
It’s a highly weatherproof multi-layered fabric, resistant to the elements as well as tearing and abrasion. Derived from performance sailcloth, it’s the lightest and strongest fabric Chrome use. The cavernous, yet svelte 24 Litre bag will swallow and coddle anything up to a 17inch Laptop, and any other kit you need to haul for your day.
There are all sorts of bike-oriented details, like reflective compression straps, and mounting loops for attaching carabiners, locks, or lights. Finally, I love that in this rather awesome stealth black, it’s smart enough to not disgrace you if you’ve got to go somewhere looking presentable, where it seems quite at home as a black shoulder bag, without a hint of ‘bike messenger.’
When I don’t need to lug a laptop or gym kit, I use their Kadet Sling in the same awesome fabric. It’s a 9-litre lightweight that you forget you’re carrying within seconds and is large enough to take my mirrorless camera and Gorilla-pod, and even an 11 inch iPad, (and assorted ‘dad’ necessities for trips with junior).
My favourite feature is the U-lock carrying loop, and the extra underarm strap to really secure the sling if you need to hustle and hurry (just like its bigger brother). I’m rarely without one of these two Chromes, and both come with the ultimate reassurance of a Lifetime Guarantee.
When a company stands behind its products to the tune of, ‘forever,’ it’s something very special and engenders a great deal of that valuable commodity; brand loyalty. As you may have guessed, I’m something of a Chrome zealot, and once you try them, you will be too.
I fell in love with the Tern Quick Haul for many reasons, but partly because my son could come too, and he loved it. The Quick Haul made me long for the ability to put his seat on my carbon gravel bike, but carbon, though strong, is compressionally too brittle to clamp a normal child seat on, and no carbon bike is rated to carry one. Additionally, all other racks I found when mounted to the carbon frame mounting points would only carry a few kilos.
Then I stumbled upon Old Man Mountain, who had come up with a genius way of mounting a rack. Rather than attach it to the fender mounting points in a frame, they created their own axles that extended an inch or so on each side beyond regular flush axles and mounted their sturdy Divide rack to that. This puts almost no strain on the carbon fibre, and just transfers the weight of whatever you’re carrying directly to the wheels, and the bike sees no difference between your weight and whatever else is on the rack. So long as the total weight is still within the weight limit of your bike, you’re good!
I love when clever engineering solves a very real problem. Made from 6061 Aluminium, it’s light stiff, and strong, and where most racks will carry a few kilos when axle mounted, this willl carry over 30. And it’s not a static 30 either, they encourage you to mount this to a full suspension mountain bike and throw it and your load around.
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