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Emma Cole's Gear of the Year 2021: From bib tights, to waterproof socks and mind-tingling books

Emma Cole
26 Dec 2021

A round-up of the stories and gear which caught my eye in 2021

2021, the year I joined Cyclist – need I say more?

Ok, well if I must, this year has been a stormer, not just in terms of the wild weather and yo-yoing coronavirus restrictions but also in the world of women’s cycling.

Paris-Roubaix Femmes which Lizzie Deignan won in fine fashion was one for the history books whilst Marion Rousse taking us through the stages of the inaugural 2022 Tour de France Femmes was another momentous moment.

On the ultracycling side, Lael Wilcox and a group of 25 women completed the Torino-Nice rally, 700km with 15,000m of climbing through the Italian and French Alps over seven days, to show that there is a place for women in endurance cycling.

On the Cyclist podcast we chatted to Fiona Kolbinger about her epic 2019 Transcontinental Race win and I also thoroughly enjoyed picking the brains of ultracyclists Omar di Felice and Ulrich Bartholmoes.

There have been some noteworthy records on the track and road too this year.

Joss Lowden broke the women’s Hour Record, Josh Quigley set a new record for the furthest distance cycled in seven days and Mel Nicholls set the record for handcycling around Britain.

All impressive in their own right. 

I also had the fortune to go behind the scenes at Rapha and chat to soon-to-be-ex-CEO Simon Mottram and Head of Social and Environmental Impact Duncan Money about all things sustainability.

Looking ahead to 2022, I am buzzing for the return of the TCR (the race, not the bike), gravel bikes getting even more gnarly, and hopefully heading to Georgia for a friend’s wedding.

When living in Kazakhstan I was introduced to the delights of Khachapuri (Georgian Cheese Bread) and ajapsandali (aubergine stew), and I just cannot wait to taste the real deal with a glass of Georgian wine after a day of exploring the heady heights of the Caucasus mountains.

Any recommendations for places/routes to explore please send them my way.

But for now, whilst I dream of Georgian food (and wine) these are the pieces of kit which have become staples in my cycling wardrobe over the past year or so.

Universal Colours Chroma Thermal Merino Plus women's bib tights

Made from a mix of nylon, merino and elastane, these bib tights are comfortable and warm, and the ideal companion on a cold winter ride.

They are flattering, feel good against the skin, and actually make me want to go riding in the cold which is quite a feat in itself.

The bib tights feature a chamois made from recycled and pre-consumer materials and I have found this to deliver a pain-free experience.

My favourite part, though, is the comfort break feature which is a small subtle zip at the back of tights. Frankly it is brilliant, and I don’t know why more brands haven’t implemented it.

I also really like the ankle zips to help you get into them, or cool down, and the reflective detailing is functional and looks cool.

These bib tights come with a swig of goodness as they are made in a BlueSign accredited factory – essentially they are made in a way which is safer for the environment, workers and customers.

There is also a men’s version available which features a supportive mesh upper brace.

fourfive CBD Thermal Joint gel

I’ve had issues with my feet for some time now (I got too excited training for an ultra-marathon and now I'm paying the price), and this CBD thermal joint gel is a welcome addition to my concoction of pain relievers.

Infused with 300mg of CBD and with some glucosamine and arnica added, the gel smells like Deep Heat but with a herbal twist.

It's soothing and I find it really helps to relieve the pain in my feet.

fourfive was founded by two ex-professional rugby players who wanted an alternative to prescription drugs and to create CBD products which athletes could trust.

I am no athlete, but I do appreciate that the gel is BSCG certified which means it has been certified as drug free and so according to the brand should pass WADA tests.

The fourfive CBD Thermal joint gel is like deep heat… just better.

Rapha Explore Down jacket

This is a great jacket for on and off the bike.

The coolest thing about Rapha’s Explore Down jacket is that you can track exactly where the down fill came from.

You are able to see which countries the down came from, the fill power, and a full breakdown of the actual contents of your coat.

And it’s not just the traceability which I like.

Rapha’s Explore Down jacket has a hood, two zip pockets, and unending amounts of warmth and comfort with its adjustable toggles.

The down insulation is treated with a durable water repellent coating so it retains its shape and warmth even in damp conditions and there are reflective logos subtly placed on the back and chest.

Like most down jackets, it can be scrunched up into nearly nothing and weighs next to nothing (but yes it does cost something).

I see this as a bikepacker's paradise of a coat as I could happily sleep in it after spending some long, hard days in the saddle.

DexShell waterproof socks

I know this is a 'gear of the year' thing but this is a 'gear of life' item. I have had these DexShell waterproof socks for a few years now, and they are a game changer.

Technically called 'running socks', these socks are the perfect remedy to soggy feet when cycling, they're 100% waterproof.

This often comes with a disclaimer by which I mean they might not actually be waterproof, or would be super uncomfortable, but this simply just isn’t the case with these DexShells.

The Porelle membrane is waterproof and breathable, and the polyester and merino wool inner lining makes them warm and comfy too.

The socks also don't lose their shape after many, many wears and washes. 

In the depths of winter, I would recommend wearing a pair of socks underneath for added warmth.

I recently wore these flying through puddles and trails around the New Forest and they worked a total treat.

I also wear them running and hiking. Essentially, whenever I run the risk of trench foot, my DexShells come to the rescue.

What I’ve been reading (apart from Cyclist Magazine)

I really love books, particularly the non-fiction type that makes your mind tingle.

There were two standouts for me this year, Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane and Walking: One Step at a Time by Erling Kagge.

Admittedly, neither of these are new releases for 2021 but they have made a huge impression on me this year and I highly recommend them.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane

This beautifully illustrated book is a truly mind-blowing account of journeys into the deepest, darkest depths of the earth.

From a spent nuclear fuel repository in Finland, to a starless river in Slovenia and finding the Maelstrom in Norway, Macfarlane offers new perspectives as he explores difficult spaces.

It isn’t just the physical surroundings which are notable in this book.

Often with a deep affection, Macfarlane shares the stories of the people who help him negotiate these secret places, of those from time gone by, and of those who didn’t make it out of the depths.

Something that has stuck with me is the story of 20-year-old Neil Moss who was suffocated by his own breath in a caving incident in 1959. His father requested that the tunnel was sealed with cement so that no one would risk their life trying to recover his son’s body.

I also particularly liked how he challenges our conceptions of language, showing how height is celebrated and depth seen as much more satanic.

If you have read any of Macfarlane’s other books, you will know that his prose is utterly transcendent and captivating.

He uses words which I never thought would work well side by side, yet somehow they come together to produce a literary masterpiece.

Walking: One Step at a Time by Erling Kagge

As a Norwegian explorer who was the first person to reach the North Pole, South Pole and the summit of Mount Everest on foot, it is safe to say Erling Kagge has had much time to think about the act of putting one foot in front of the other.

Walking: One Step at a Time is deeply profound. It discusses the simple joy of walking and draws our attention back to the restorative power of movement and the outdoors.

In 164 pages, Kagge succinctly communicates how those who walk go further and live better lives.

I never expected to find so much meaning in a little book on walking but Kagge’s sparse writing style and philosophical outlook on life is powerful.

I read it in an afternoon, sat in a garden, basking in the sunshine, and I suggest you do the same.

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