From the aerodynamics of both the bike and body to limiting drivetrain friction and tire rolling resistance, the sport is ripe for constantly developing products. And there are so many supporting products, from bike racks to safety gear. And finally, let’s not forget about style on and off the bike.
As the cycling editor of GearJunkie, I get daily pitches of the “next big thing” and “game-changer” items. Some are eye-rollers, some outright make me angry, and some are humorous. But every year, as I don long sleeves and bib tights for our short Texas winter, I reminisce back through the year and think of a few standout items.
This is my list of favorite cycling gear — that I was lucky enough to test — in 2023. Some items launched this year while some might have been around, but I didn’t test them until 2023. I’ve written reviews of some, which are linked, and some will have reviews in the future. And there are always products that don’t warrant a review or editorial, but are personal favorites nonetheless.
Step out of your pedals, kick off your cycling shoes, and read on. Hopefully, something will stand out for you too, and improve your experiences on your favorite two-wheeled wonder.
Favorite Gravel Bike: Revel Rover
Gravel bikes are the hottest segment of a depressed industry. For me, it was the category that brought cycling out of the mental doldrums. Amid a year of not-so-good news about sales and the health of many brands, gravel bikes continued to sell well.
I can ride gravel out my door and do it more often than other kinds of cycling. I know every bump, rain rut, and any rock baseball size or bigger in my hood. Getting a feel for how a gravel chassis and wheels respond to the surface has become second nature.
And the Revel Rover won me over. After initial hesitations about how stiff it might feel based on the frame’s appearance, I was pleasantly rewarded with a vertically compliant ride that got the racy versus stable algorithm correct for me.
The Revel Rover delivered a snappy ride while still being comfortable and stable over rough, hard-packed clay roads. It also cornered well on less-than-desirable surfaces, delivering the confidence I needed to feel like a dirt-devouring hero. These handling characteristics were the most significant factors for inclusion in my favorite cycling gear of 2023 collection.
This was especially surprising as the Revel Rover has “old-school” seat stays, a seat stay bridge, and the burliest fork crown I’d ever seen. Another contributing factor to the magical ride feel could be Revel’s FusionFiber recyclable wheels. These hoops use thermoplastic as the bonding agent instead of epoxy, making for a more compliant rim.
With a Shimano GRX Di2 build, my Revel Rover tipped the scale at 19.5 pounds. This low weight contributed to how racy it felt, especially on my area’s short, steep power climbs. Throw in the universal derailleur hanger and threaded bottom bracket, and you have the base of an all-around gravel steed that wants to go fast.
Favorite Mountain Bike: Pivot Mach 4 SL
I’m a fan of whippy, light, short-travel mountain bikes. I love to ride on faster, windy, singletrack with drops or ledges up to 2 feet tall. I like to get into a flow of pedaling and effort and lose track of time as my mind settles in and “slows” everything down.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love sportier drops and more difficult obstacles of trail riding, but my road racing roots beckon sustained, consistent efforts.
And no bike won me over as hard to make the favorite cycling gear of the 2023 listing as the new Pivot Mach 4 SL World Cup XTR Edition (MSRP $9,899). In stock form, right out of the box, this bike was a rocket on CX-style trails. It had a lively, snappy feeling on tight, fast tracks that begged me to go faster.
The wheels felt planted on hardpacked trails with embedded rocks, especially under power, thanks to the super-efficient DW-link rear suspension. And the transitions from flat to climbing didn’t feel like a power suck.
When the going got a little rowdy, the 24.2-pound (size L) Pivot Mach 4 SL World Cup skipped, hopped, and skimmed like a champ. It was point-and-shoot from the initial ride. I felt at home immediately, and the bike was never unpredictable at speed. The only time I deliberately focused attention was picking through a rock garden, but this was trail bike territory, not race bike terrain.
Fortunately, the Pivot Mach 4 SL will stay in my clutches as a long-term tester for race-oriented wheels and components. I’ll have a full review of the stock machine soon.
Favorite Road Bike: ENVE Melee
There used to be only road bikes. Now, you may “need” a road race bike, a climbing bike, and an endurance bike. Which, again, used to be just a road bike. Extrapolate that into matching wheelsets, kits, shoes, etc., and your GearJunkie bike editor starts spewing like one of the old muppets in the balcony poking fun at the antics on stage.
I was surprised when ENVE launched the Melee (from $5,500). The Utah-based brand has always produced impressive carbon wheelsets and components. Its many wheelsets specifically address all the subcategories of road, mountain, and gravel, with a full spectrum of aerodynamics, weight, and compliance.
ENVE definitely attacks each niche group with top-tier offerings that have garnered a prestigious ranking in the high-end component wars. But ENVE describes the Melee as a road race generalist. What? I only “need” one road race bike?
I’ve been testing the Melee with various wheels and cockpit components for a year, and it has become my one and only personal road bike. It’s not a full aero bike, but it nods heavily that way with truncated airfoil shapes but no tall profiles in sight. It’s not a climbing bike but has a respectable 850g frame weight in 56 cm. And it’s not an endurance bike, but it accepts tires up to 35c and, aghast, comes with threaded fender bosses front and rear.
But the most significant attribute was how fun it was to ride from the first few pedal strokes. Like on other high-end carbon road race bikes, the frame felt stiff and efficient laterally, and my pedal strokes felt directly connected to my rear wheel.
The ENVE Melee didn’t beat me up on the rough chip-seal roads around my house like many carbon aero bikes. It wasn’t twitchy but cornered with confidence at high speeds. And as the miles piled up, the spot-on fit became more and more apparent.
ENVE offers the Melee in seven frame sizes with five different fork rakes to keep the handling consistent. It wasn’t the sometimes overly aggressive fit of an aero road race bike. Nor did it deliver some endurance bikes’ upright, short feeling. It was the perfect middle ground for fit and supremely comfortable for the duration of my longest saddle stints of the year.
The ENVE Melee was my Goldilocks bike of 2023, making it a shoo-in for my favorite cycling gear listing. Aero, but not too aero, Stiff, but not too stiff. Light, but not too light. The fit was incredible, and the build quality upheld ENVE’s impeccable reputation. Mostly, it was a lot of fun, and I never missed the specialization of a climbing or endurance bike.
“Rolling chassis,” which includes a frame, integrated stem, handlebar, and seat post, goes for $5,500. Full builds start at $8,100. Look for a long-term review in the first quarter of 2024.
Favorite Cycling Innovation: Classified Cycling Powershift (From $1,499)
Although internally geared hubs aren’t new, Classified Cycling introduced a high-end, wireless, and 99%+ efficient version to the market in 2020. I finally got a Powershfit test unit last month. I put it on a gravel bike and also plan to test it on a mountain bike.
The advent of the modern 1x drivetrain opened the opportunity for Classified. Even with 11 to 13 cogs in the back, a wide-range 1x system appropriate for gravel or MTB has relatively large jumps between gears. Going 2x with a front derailleur and double chainrings eliminates this issue, but the complexity of the 2x system combined with the rough terrain of gravel and mountain bikes can mean other problems.
Dropped chains, inefficient chain lines, and frame design limitations and clearances are a few of the issues. Having a planetary gearbox inside the rear hub that is electronically and wirelessly actuated seems to solve every issue as long as it’s efficient. And this is what Classified Cycling promises.
I’ve only done a few rides on the Classified system, and all I can say right now is, “Wow.” I immediately knew it would make my favorite cycling gear of 2023 list. Shifting was quick, silent, and superb under power, an antithesis to front derailleurs.
But it’s not perfect; integration with electronic drivetrain shifters is the one big improvement I would need to fully commit all my gravel bikes to Classified. But the 1:1 and 0.7 ratios of the rear hub combined with Classified’s tight cog set nullified every complaint I had with 1x.
I am excited about wireless shifter integration. Surely, Classified or maybe a third-party brand will resolve this issue. Or maybe, hint, hint, hint, a component brand will acquire Classified. That would give the brand a huge competitive advantage for gravel and mountain bikes, in my opinion. Classified offers systems for gravel, mountain, and road bikes.
Favorite Wheels: Forge+Bond XC 25 Cross Country Wheelset
I tested so many wheels this year. And yes, the higher-end carbon models from established brands are all amazing, and seeking out differences was very challenging. But one wheel brand stood out this year for a reason unrelated to on-bike performance.
Forge+Bond is a brand under CCS Composites. CCS supplied its Fusion Fiber to brands like Revel Bikes for the industry’s first fully recyclable carbon rims. This one attribute alone won me over. I’ve contributed my fair share of carbon fiber frames, components, and wheels into landfills. Carbon fiber’s sustainability is for sh!t. And I hate that about cycling.
Fusion Fiber offers hope by using thermoplastic as the bonding agent for the carbon fibers instead of toxic and permanent epoxies and resins. The resulting carbon fiber matrix can be heated and broken back down for use in other products. Forge+Bond offers some swanky tire levers as proof of this recycling concept. However, the industry needs to catch on to make the reuse of Fusion Fiber scale to a beneficial amount.
The thermoplastic resin did have one performance advantage. It was “softer,” damping vibration and square edges better, making it especially advantageous for gravel and mountain bike riding.
Forge+Bond currently offers four wheelsets: three for mountain bikes and one for gravel bikes. I’m currently testing the XC 25 Cross Country mountain bike wheels, and I absolutely love them so far.
Forge+Bond wheels also made our GearJunkie Gear of the Year list in addition to my collection of favorite cycling gear of 2023.
Favorite Bicycle Tool: Altangle Cycling Hangar Connect Portable Bike Work Stand
I love outdoor items that do double duty, especially tools. For 2023, the clear tool winner for me was the Altangle Cycling Hangar Connect Portable Work Stand ($265). It’s an elegant execution of a simple idea: make a double clamp that connects to a stationary object on one side and a bicycle on the other. If said stand is burly enough, it can be used as a home stand and a portable workstation.
And that is exactly what Altangle Cycling does. The high-quality CNC aluminum vinyl-coated jaws open to 3 inches, easily clamping a seat tube on one end and a van rear ladder or similar on the other. At home, the clamp can attach to anything in the jaw’s range, but I screwed an Altangle Home Base ($28) to a 4-by-4-inch post on my porch. This created the perfect home stand for use right before I head out.
The Hangar Connect’s jaws rotate 360 degrees, allowing all sorts of attachment options. The 14″ x 6″ x 2″ unit weighs only 3 pounds, making it easy to travel with and store in a vehicle. At an MSRP of $265, it’s a good value considering the price of bicycle work stands that only do single duty.
The multimodal use of the Hangar Connect made it an easy choice to include on this list. Look for a complete review soon.
Favorite Cycling Kit: Attaquer Race Bib Short and Race Jersey
Attaquer made my list for one reason: the incredible choices of fit. The Australian brand offers four levels of relative compression and closeness of fit. From the ultra-slim, high-compression Race Ultra+ to the generously cut and relaxed compression A-Line. Each level of fit comes with sleeves and legs of the appropriate length. I tested the Race Bib Short and Jersey, second in line for compression and tightness of fit.
The Italian-made kit oozes quality in both construction and materials. From leg grippers to the just-right chamois, the Race Bib Short ($245) and Jersey ($155) felt smooth, extremely form-fitting, and didn’t hinder motion in the slightest. The breathability served me well during the hot Texas summer, and the colors and textures have held steady through weekly washings for 4 months.
But again, look into Attaquer for the incredible fit. Everything else is a bonus.
Favorite Cycling Helmet: ABUS Airdrop MIPS
It looks strange, but we have a lift-served bike park near Austin, Texas. As you can imagine, donning a full-face helmet along will all the appropriate protective armor for downhill MTB in the summer Texas heat is hard to do — but safety first. Even at the crack of dawn, starting temperatures are above 80, and we won’t quit until the lift seats start to burn skin.
Of course, I look for the most airy and ventilated options in every piece of gear. And the far and away winner for a full-face MTB helmet this year was the ABUS Airdrop MIPS. Eleven massive intake vents, six matching air outlets, and deep channeling in the EPS liner sucked and exhausted far more air than any other full-face helmet in my expansive collection and flowed more air than many of my trail helmets.
As the name suggests, onboard MIPS attenuates rotational forces, while breakaway bolts lessen the visor’s potential leverage on the head. Padded areas on the lower edge of the helmet are designed to soften the blow to the collarbones.
Finally, ABUS adorns the Airdrop MIPS with what it calls Ambient Sound Channels (ASC). Two holes above the ears and indents in the EPS are intended to allow sound to pass through. I thought this was another marketing ploy flexing yet another anacronym, but the system worked remarkably well. I could hear so much better than in any other full-face MTB helmet. Hearing my friends giggle in front of me was on par with open-face trail helmets.
The ABUS Airdrop MIPS displayed the right combination of performance and features to earn a favorite cycling gear of 2023 vote.
Favorite Bicycle Tire: Pirelli Cinturato Gravel RC
Because I tested so many wheels in 2023, I also tested a lot of tires. Tires are one of the most cost-effective upgrades that can change how a bike feels and performs.
I ride more gravel than any other form of cycling. And have found such a wide array of tire characteristics and correspondingly varied performance and feel. But one gravel tire stood out this year by making the bike feel so much smoother, faster, and more planted on both flats and corners in almost all conditions.
The Pirelli Cinturato Gravel RC wowed me with its supple feel on bumpy hardpack, cornering traction on gravel-laden turns, and reasonably fast rolling on smooth hardpack and chip seal pavement. The tire was a rarity, as it performed well in mud and in the wet, something I hardly say about tires that worked well on hardpack.
The only drawback is their relative heft. They are heavy for high-end gravel tires at 540 g for a 40c (also available in 35 and 45c). But you don’t have to swap tires with the changing seasons. The Pirelli Cinturato Gravel RC can handle it all, earning a spot on my favorite cycling gear of 2023 list.
Favorite Bicycle Saddle: Selle Italia SLR Boost 3D Kit Carbonio Superflow
You read that right; almost 500 bones for a road saddle!
Famed Italian saddle brand Selle Italia pulled out all the stops for their flagship road saddle. The SLR Boost 3D Kit Carbonio Superflow has all the tech and material goodies you could ever want. The saddle boasts 3D-printed padding, carbon rails, a cutout shell, a verified weight of 172 g for the larger 145mm width, and the prestige carried by the brand.
I scoffed at the price and uttered negative phrases about how inaccessible cycling was becoming. But 5 minutes down the road, I knew I was aboard the most comfortable road saddle I had ever tried over 4 decades of cycling. So, despite the astronomical price, the Selle Italia SLR Boost 3D Kit Carbonio Superflow road saddle makes my list of favorite cycling gear of the year.
Favorite Cycling Shoe: Specialized S-Works Recon
I’ve experimented with several pedal and shoe combinations for gravel riding. One side of the coin has a mountain bike pedal with a mountain bike shoe capable of hiking. The flip side is a road pedal and road shoe, giving up walking for lighter weight and more pedaling efficiency via a stiffer sole.
After years of going both ways, I decided I wanted the lighter weight and stiffness of a road shoe but with minimal walking ability and better mud clearing via a mountain bike pedal and recessed cleat. But a road race-like shoe that accepted a two-bolt MTB cleat didn’t capture my attention until Specialized released the S-Works Recon ($450).
The S-Works Recon answered all my needs straightaway. It felt like a high-end road shoe, stiff, light, and easily adjusted via two high-end BOA dials. The cleat is recessed between pontoons, allowing the minimal walking ability I demanded. It had the low-profile feel I prefer in my cycling shoes. And the fit was impeccable for my low-volume foot with a wide forefoot.
When I am not specifically testing a shoe for gravel biking, I reach for the Specialized S-Works Recon every time.
That’s a wrap! We hope you enjoyed our favorite cycling gear picks from 2023.