Throughout 2020, cycling — and the entire world — was thrown unanticipated challenges. Those who were lucky enough to temporarily escape lockdowns and be able to ride bikes outside might have been able to temporarily forget COVID things if only for the duration of a ride. I was one of the lucky ones in this way.
When congregating restrictions were lifted mid-year, and social distancing became a fact of everyday life, I rode with just a few friends. And we were carefully social, outdoors on bikes. We all missed racing and watching races in person, doing gran fondos and other mass-participation events. Instead, we grappled with logistics about how to have a post-ride beer together in a low-risk environment.
For a variety of reasons, I spent more time in the saddle in 2020 compared with some recent past years. I developed a greater appreciation for being safer while riding and was supremely appreciative of a supportive and like-minded wife who was my ride partner for nearly every single ride indoors and out.
These are the 10 things that stood above the rest, for me, when riding bikes in 2020.
Having been previously hit by a car on more than one occasion while riding bikes, in 2020 I appreciated and valued safe cycling spaces like I had never before. A month into the early stages of the pandemic shutdown, a park road — also a traffic artery — very near where I live and frequently ride was closed to motor traffic. Normally, this road is only closed 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends during daylight savings to allow for safe recreational use, sans cars. But with the massive increase in outdoor recreation when gyms and spin studios closed, the city decided that this particular stretch of road would remain car- and truck-free to all but service vehicles from last March until further notice. Estimates indicated that more than 5,000 people daily used this nearly 8km stretch of riverside road.
I hope the local government determines that going forward the best use of this stretch of road is safe recreation and will continue to keep it closed and free from motorized vehicles, even after COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror.
Trek Madone SLR7
Until I finished my second ride on the Trek Madone SLR7, I did not know what I was missing. I had opted out of riding the previous generation of Madone in favor of a bike from a particular company based in northern California. When I came back to Trek, I was instantly sorry I did not do so earlier. This bike allowed me to really feel the road — when to back off and when to just go for it — with confidence. The precision handling and sublime feel rank the 2021 Trek Madone SLR7 as one of the most fun bikes that I’ve ridden. This Madone was one hellafun bike to ride.
Garmin Varia RTL515
The Garmin Varia RTL515 was the next best thing to having eyes in the back of my head. The visual and audible alerts to traffic approaching from the rear were easy to configure and then read on screen, and it worked just as well with a Wahoo Elemnt as it did with a Garmin Edge. The only time I did not feel naked without the Varia RTL515 active was when I was on a road closed to motor vehicle traffic, or on a dedicated multi-use path.
Wahoo Kickr Core
While I’ve had a Wahoo Kickr Core for several years, I really grew to appreciate it in 2020, when I spent more hours on a trainer in a single year than I had ever in my life. During the early part of the pandemic lockdown — and again, most recently — when daylight was limited on either end of the workday, I rode my Wahoo Kickr Core a lot. My longest streak was 45 successive days, and the Kickr Core held up, handled what I threw at it, experienced nearly no signal dropouts, and worked nearly flawlessly with Zwift.
Zwift significantly changed how I rode my bike in 2020. During the spring and late autumn, I rode in the virtual world a lot due to limited daylight, dicey weather, and non-cycling life commitments. And when I was sidelined with an injury that prevented me from riding outdoors, I continued to be distracted by Zwift in my pain cave. The thousands of others like me riding inside, in front of a screen for entertainment — and dare I write enjoyment — always made for camaraderie.
Riding bikes outside offered more varied experiences than riding in Zwift — like flat tires. Prior to inflation, Tubolito tubes (center) occupied a fraction of the space in my diminutive saddle pack compared with latex tubes (left) or standard butyl tubes (right). I was able to easily stuff three Tubolito tubes in a space that barely accommodated two standard tubes, and still have room for an appropriate number of CO2 cartridges, and tire levers, and an inflator. As far as feel: Tubolitos were nearly on par with latex, which is to say that they ran quite smoothly, and worked well with my preferred Conti tires.
Rudy Spinshild Sunglasses
Of the current crop of big sunglasses, I thought the Rudy Project Spinshield looked the most stylish and elegant. They offered unimpaired peripheral vision, didn’t fog, and kept the wind out of my eyes even when bombing extended, steep descents. And for glasses of any size, the Rudy Project Spinshild felt so remarkably light and comfortable, which had me reaching for them regularly.
There’s no doubt in my mind that I was able to log so many miles in the saddle this year because of proper preparation. The application of Cycle Glide before every single bike outing became a pre-ride ritual. Even when I was only riding for an hour, I “sticked up” as I knew that riding successive days was only possible if I was not chafed. The no-mess, deodorant-stick-like Cycle Glide applicator made for mess-free application.
Flying Fish Brewing Co. Salt and Sea session sour
I lost track of just how many Flying Fish Brewing Salt and Sea session sour beers I had after rides this year. While I love robust Belgian ales and hoppy IPAs, sometimes all that alcohol was just not what I wanted post-ride. The Salt and Sea session sour was not overpowering; the mildly sour, light body (4.3 percent ABV) with hints of strawberry and lime made this my go-to adult post-ride beverage, no matter the season or how much time in the saddle.
Like so many other cyclists did in 2020, I took it upon myself to explore new-to-me routes and roads, do back-to-back longer rides, and make an occasional attempt at a KOM. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of races and most group rides, I had committed to a new chapter of life on and around bikes in 2020; the pandemic only forced my timeline. I took the unexpected realignment of plans and expectations sometimes with a grimace, but more often than not with a smile because riding bikes is fun! And finding new and different things about riding bikes just kept the fun rolling along all year.
One of my takeaways from 2020 was this: to keep challenging myself through exploring new and different perspectives by getting out of my comfort zone, both on and off the bike.