Liam Cahill’s Gear of the Year 2023 | A failed racer’s kit collection

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Hi, I’m Liam, BikeRadar’s road and gravel presenter, and so far in 2023 I’ve spent almost zero money on entering bike races. Wow. That was hard to say.

Aside from a few hill climbs in October and the best bike event I’ve ever been to in spring, I’ve spent my time riding for fun and commuting, alongside running and picking things up before putting them down again in the gym.

2023 has also afforded me the opportunity to ride a gravel bike in some wonderful places.

I got my first taste of ‘proper’ gravel in Portland, OR on the Shimano GRX trip. Southern Portugal then showed itself to be a jewel in Europe’s crown when I went to see SRAM Force.

There were the rugged mountains above Denia on the East Spanish coast, where Robyn and I went pro cyclist spotting and, most importantly, the ever-wonderful mixed bag of gravel riding around my home in the South West of England.

Much to my bank balance’s horror, I’m planning on diving back into cyclocross and then getting back into some off-road competitive action for 2024.

So, this is a list of products I’ve discovered, loved and cherished in my racing sabbatical.

Specialized Crux Pro

Specialized Crux Pro gravel bike
If you want a lightweight gravel bike that climbs like a dream, this is it. – Scott Windsor / Our Media
  • £7,000 / $8,200 / €8,000

The Specialized Crux has always been a cyclocross race bike in my eyes, but when it became a gravel race machine, I saw it only as a good thing.

Most recreational riders such as myself have limited budgets, so having a bike that can be used for both gravel and cyclocross is good value.

Those recreational riders won’t typically have multiple bikes to swap between in muddy races, so if your bike makes it through an hour of racing, you’ll do better than if the wheels stop turning.

Specialized Crux Pro gravel bike
The Crux Pro offers plenty of tyre clearance. – Scott Windsor / Our Media

Key to this is tyre clearance and the Crux Pro has space for 45mm tyres, which I took full advantage of when racing the Battle on the Beach in the spring, a ridiculous mass-start race where the best gravel bikes meet the best cross-country mountain bikes for a sandy squabble.

The Crux benefits from a super-lightweight frame design that took learnings from Specialized’s Aethos road bike. Combine this with a long and low geometry and you have a very capable race bike.

The Crux is best suited to smoother gravel and faster riding speeds because the frame is quite stiff. But if you want a lightweight gravel bike that climbs like a dream, this is it.

Castelli Competizione Bib Shorts

Castelli Competizione Bib Shorts
The Affinity Pro Lycra is supportive and is showing no signs of wear after plenty of use. – Scott Windsor / Our Media
  • £110 / $140 / €100 / AU$168

The price that some brands – Castelli included – charge for top-end bib shorts can make your eyes water more than mistaking your deep heat for chamois cream.

Aside from my race team kit, I don’t think I’ve ever parted with money for top-end shorts. I prefer the model that is a few price brackets down and this year I’ve been reaching for the Castelli Competizione shorts more than any other.

Oscar thought the appearance and performance of the shorts were among the best he’s seen and I’d agree. The Affinity Pro Lycra is supportive and is showing no signs of wear after plenty of use.

Castelli Competizione Bib Shorts
If you’re spending a long day in the saddle, you can’t go wrong with the Kiss Air 2 seat pad. – Scott Windsor / Our Media

Castelli’s Kiss Air 2 seat pad is perfect for long days on the bike and the Giro4 leg grippers keep everything comfortably in place.

In fact, they’re so grippy you can dial in some razor-sharp tan lines if that’s your thing.

The £110 RRP is a lot of money to pay out for cycling kit, but they’re still a much better deal than top-end models and you can often find them reduced in price.

Look X-Track Race Carbon pedals

Look X-Track Race Carbon Pedals
Look’s X-Track pedals use a cage design that is very similar to Shimano’s. – Scott Windsor / Our Media

When it comes to pedals, I’ve always chosen Shimano’s SPD models for gravel and cyclocross duties.

The ground and trails in the West Country require pedals that you can trust to clear mud, so Shimano’s design was the one I stuck with.

Look’s X-Track peals use a cage design that is very similar to Shimano’s and it works very well.

Look X-Track Race Carbon Pedals
After plenty of use and jet washing, the bearings show no sign of distress. – Scott Windsor / Our Media

The pedals’ biggest test was the recent South Regional Cyclocross Championships at a very muddy Keynsham course.

An ungodly amount of running through a technical part of the course saw my shoes and pedals quickly fill with tacky mud, but despite a number of small stones thrown into the mix, they continued to clear well enough to get my feet in.

The bearings show no distress, having been subject to plenty of jet washing, and the pedal body looks to be in good condition too.

Nopinz Pro-1 All Season Skinsuit

Nopinz Pro-1 All Season Skinsuit
The Nopinz Pro-1 has a hydrophobic coating, which helps to retain heat and fend off some rain. – Scott Windsor / Our Media

The limited cyclocross racing I’ve done has seen me reach for the Nopinz Pro-1 All Season skinsuit.

It’s intended for use in the colder months for cyclocross, road racing and time trials. The main body of the suit is ever so slightly thicker than a regular skinsuit and it has a hydrophobic coating too.

This helps to retain heat and fend off some rain, but I wouldn’t call it warm or at all waterproof.

It is best layered with a technical long-sleeve baselayer for cold conditions, and in the depths of winter I used it with leg warmers too.

Nopinz Pro-1 All Season Skinsuit
It is intended for use in the colder months for cyclocross, road racing and time trials. – Scott Windsor / Our Media

The long legs give excellent coverage, while there are grippers on the hems of both legs and arms to keep everything in place.

A dense pad is thick at the front end to make on-the-rivet efforts a little more comfortable and the number pocket in the back means no more pin holes in your nice new skinsuit.

It is comfy to stand up in, making running sections of a course slightly less uncomfortable.

And if you ride for a club that gets its kit through Nopinz, the custom option enables you to spec a shoulder pad for even comfier shouldering of the bike.

On CloudRunner shoes

On CloudRunner shoes
The On CloudRunners use CloudTec Phase technology, which is claimed to give noticeable cushioning. – Scott Windsor / Our Media
  • £140 / $149.99 / €159.95

I’ve taken up running. There. I’ve said it.

Going for a run after work or at lunch is much more appealing to me than indoor bike training. I think it might be something to do with spending my working week sitting inside writing about bikes.

It also adds in some impact training for a bit of bone density that cyclists often lack and becoming a runner doesn’t really require much equipment. Aside from shoes.

Having dabbled in the dark arts (running) previously, I wanted to start with a decent set of shoes to have the best chance of being able to walk in the days following my first, second and pretty much every subsequent run.

A quick gait analysis at a well-regarded running shop showed no weird things were happening with my feet, so it was into numerous pairs of ‘cushioned’ running shoes.

I settled on the On CloudRunner, naturally selecting the most expensive shoes I’d tested.

They use CloudTec Phase technology, which is claimed to give noticeable cushioning. I would fully agree with the claim – they are easily the softest running shoes I’ve ever worn.

On CloudRunner shoes
Using the On CloudRunner shoes, I have been running pain-free for several months. – Scott Windsor / Our Media

The only downside of the design I can find is that the sole squeaks quite badly.

This is mitigated by regular cleaning, but because these also act as my footwear of choice for airport days, it can be quite annoying.

On an odd note, the sales assistant in the running shop wouldn’t allow me to order in my preferred white colour choice.

It’s a strange sales tactic because I wouldn’t buy a bike if I hated the paint. Her reasoning was running shoes should be seen as a tool.

I briefly considered telling her about my meticulously organised tool box, but decided arguing wasn’t worth the effort.

The good news is I’ve been happily running pain-free now for several months and my distance is building. I might even do something whimsical, like join a running club, or enter a marathon.

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