At TWC we see a lot of gear come through the door. Bikes and clothing mostly, probably because our specialty sits in women's kit and as yet there's been no need to develop a female specific wheel (alas).
Every piece of kit is subjected to multiple rides including at least one long trip and a high intensity beasting, washes if applicable, and we like to put technology such as lights and computers through the 'drop test' (intentionally or otherwise.) Then we write it all up - the good, the bad and the ugly.
Of course, there will always be pieces of kit that stand out - here's a look at my favourite kit picks from the year gone by, starting with bikes...
Specialized Ruby Road Bike
When introducing the brand new Specialized Ruby with front end suspension, the big bucks American brand invited a host of female journalists out to test the bikes on the roads of France. Keen not to let my review be tinged by this experience alone, I put the Ruby through its paces at home in Surrey too.
Whilst the men's Roubaix has 'grown up' to sport a more aggressive geometry (like the Tarmac race bike), the Ruby retains a more relaxed sportive fit. That decision was based on data and information from men and women having Specialized Body Geometry fits. You can't argue with numbers, and I appreciate the honesty with which the big 'S' relayed that information.
This isn't a race bike or a sprint bike, but it is a fast bike. The comfort provided by the 20mm travel suspension does mean the bike glides over lumps and bumps, and it's said to be the lightest bike in their range (despite disc brakes). The Ruby jumps and accelerates as you'd like it to so it doesn't lose its 'snap' despite the comfort element. All round, a really fun ride. Prices start from £1900.
Ridley Jane SL Road Bike
Hot off the press! I've not written the review of this bike yet because I'm still riding it, but I've put in enough miles to formulate a pretty concrete view.
It's the women's model of the Ridley Noah men's race bike and I am in love. Flowers, dancing hearts in my eyes, can't stop riding it (even in the rain - sorry guys!) sort of in love.
When Ridley first told me 'our women's frames are exactly the same as the men's because we don't think women need anything different' I argued with the poor PR guy for a good twenty minutes, keen to understand why they'd whacked a shorter stem on if women didn't need anything different. Now I'm testing one, I've whacked my own longer stem on and I really don't feel I need anything different (NB: whether you need a women's specific geometry is an individual choice!)
This is a race machine, with a lot of adjustability for a low front end if you want one, some pretty sturdy tubing that feels stiff and appears to be aero (I can't really quantify that) and it's fun to ride if you don't want a cushion. So far my only criticisms are the not-great-tyres, toothpaste colour paint job and personally I'm not sure an aero seatpost is worth the hassle (with love, Micro-adjuster x )
HOY Fiorenzuola 002 Track Bike
The aluminium frame has been designed with input from Sir Chris himself to be a 'proper tracky' track bike. It's stiff, accelerates beautifully, and if you go with the 002 version comes with Shimano Dura Ace cranks and hubs so you can feel shiny and special.
The initial set up came with massive drop bull-horn bars and a 51 chainring (92 inch gear when paired with the 15 rear), which I swapped out for more beginner friendly components. However, I'll soon be swapping the chainring once again and it's a bike that can grow with the rider, which is a good thing when you're paying over a grand for a bike with no brakes or gears.
Boardman Team Carbon Women's Road Bike
What impressed me about this bike was that though it's comfortable, it's not boring to ride and still boasts a lot of life in the frame. The groupset is Shimano Tiagra, but being the latest addition this means you enjoy shifters shaped much like current 105 offerings and a longer cage on the front mech which makes for quicker shifting.
The frame is still designed around that which Nicole Cooke used to race to Olympic glory in 2008, though ironically the women's version has been tweaked slightly to suit women who aren't quite as aggressive as Cooke herself on the bike.
FWE 500 Lumen Rechargeable Light
I've always been a really big fan of the Exposure Diablo when it comes to riding at night. This kicks out 1200 lumens and allows you to speed round country lanes. It's also got an RRP at £199.99, which is kind of worth it if that's what you need for the ease of use and durability you get in return.
If you don't quite need a kilo+ of lumens? This FWE light from Evans Cycles provides 500 lumens, will light the road ahead, and has a quality aluminium body and is mega easy to use. It's USB rechargeable and has a battery indicator light on top. A rubber bungee attaches the mount to your handlebars, the body snaps into the plastic, and away you go.
All of that, for £34.99. I even dropped it from a height onto the floor to see if I could break it, and I couldn't.
Giro Factress Techlace Shoes
These Factress Techlace shoes were unveiled to us ahead of some riding in Switzerland before Eurobike 2016 and I've been wearing them ever since. Unfortunately, the Factress isn't actually available in the UK, instead Giro rolled out the Raes Techlace which is slightly lower spec but uses the same closure system (RRP £199 as opposed to £289 for the Factress - more info at ZyroFisher. ).
Giro wanted to provide the sort of movement allowed by laces at the front of the shoe, as well as the quick adjustment of a Boa dial. So they flung it all at one shoe, using Velcro to fasten the laces.
Contrary to initial suggestions, this doesn't create an over-complicated process, you just slide the shoes on, stick the laces down using the Velcro and tighten the Boa. The result is a pair of shoes that are mega comfy and to be honest, look great. Stiff Easton EC90 SLX II sole and breathable upper come as standard.
Alé Cyclocross Skinsuit
This Alé Cyclocross Skinsuit (£165 at Paligap) is designed for... cyclocross. Obviously. I wore it for early season time trials instead, and it did the job nicely. The fabric was breathable, yet warm in February racing conditions, it clung to my skin as a skinsuit should and the leg grippers fitted nicely.
Finding a women's skinsuit off the peg is actually really hard. And since most custom orders require a threshold quantity of 10 or 20 - and not many cycling clubs host 10 women after a skinsuit - we're actually more likely to need or want an off the peg one too. Oh the frustration.
This year, my troubles were sorted by Alé - and I wore the Speedsuit come summer too, as it's made of a lighter fabric - the Cyclocross Skinsuit is only really suitable up until early March. My only gripe would be that the fabric isn't very durable, pulls in the material appeared quickly and 'Number Safety Pin Holes' developed in the Speedsuit. But the great fit and comfort rendered all of those niggles fairly unimportant.
Alé have also developed some new summer shorts, which I'm a pretty big fan of too, more on those in the new year...
Specialized Power Saddle
The Specialized Power saddle wasn't new in 2016 - it came out in 2015. But it was new to me and I liked it, so it's here.
Choosing a saddle is a personal battle and one that's generally solved by examining the problem areas, plus trial and error. However, the Power - which was developed as a unisex saddle but with the help of Evelyn Stevens - has pleased a lot of bums.
As a long term ISM user, a noseless saddle works for me, as does one with a large cut out like the Selle Italia SLR Flow. However, the Power has a lovely flat surface, a narrow nose to cater for my not-tiny-thighs and being thinner in terms of padding shows no signs of softening to create an uncomfortable 'recess' over time.
Howies Little Haven Rucksack
Firstly - THANK YOU - to those who emailed in after I published this to ask not where you could buy the backpack, but where you could buy my t-shirt. Unfortunately I bought it seven years ago (I know...) from a market stall in Brighton. Sorry!
On to more pressing matters. This little backpack is amazing. I could fit my brick-like laptop, charger, dictaphone, notebook, etc into it easily. The mesh straps were a nice addition, and the stretchy pockets either side are fantastic for carrying empty coffee cups when there's no bin around.
It even comes with a 'pass on the right' bag cover, to give drivers a little hint and encourage them to give you extra room on the road. All for £39 - a mega hit.
Rapha Merino Breton Jumper
Sure, it is a £100 jumper. However, it's also insanely warm, yet breathable. The long length means you can pull it on whatever your mood - either styling it out with skinny jeans and heels or slobbing it out on trainers and a leather jacket.
The cuffs peel back to reveal reflective wool which can be used to draw extra attention when indicating about town, too. Merino doesn't pick up whiffs, so you won't have to wash it too much, but it is a handwash only item and does require special care when going through the laundry.
I'm sure there will be plenty more to come for 2017...
This year we rounded up twenty favourite brands in women's cycling, based on the loves of the TWC team and our contributors. Check them out here.