Emma Cole’s best cycling tips of 2021

2021, the year I joined Cyclist – do I have to say more?

Okay, if need be, this year has been a storm, not only in terms of the wild weather conditions and restrictions related to the yo-yo coronavirus, but also in the world of women’s cycling.

Paris-Roubaix Femmes, which Lizzie Deignan won very nicely, was a historic moment, while Marion Rousse took us through the stages of the first Tour de France Femmes 2022 was another important moment.

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

On the Cyclist podcast, we chatted with Fiona Kolbinger about her epic victory at the 2019 Transcontinental Race and I also really enjoyed picking the brains of ultracyclists Omar di Felice and Ulrich Bartholmoes.

There have been some remarkable track and road records this year as well.

Joss Lowden broke the women’s hour record, Josh Quigley set a new record for the longest distance traveled in seven days and Mel Nicholls set the hand cycling record in Britain.

All impressive in themselves.

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

Looking ahead to 2022, I can’t wait to see the return of the TCR (racing, not cycling), the gravel bikes getting even more gnarled, and hopefully heading to Georgia for a friend’s wedding.

When I lived in Kazakhstan, I discovered the delicacies of Khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread) and ajapsandali (eggplant stew), and I can’t wait to taste the real deal with a glass of Georgian wine after a day exploring the intoxicating heights of the Caucasus Mountains.

Any recommendations of places / routes to explore please send them to me.

But for now, while I dream of Georgian food (and wine), it’s the kit pieces that have become staples in my cycling wardrobe over the past year or so.

Universal Colors Chroma Thermal Merino Plus women’s bib tights

Made from a blend of nylon, merino and elastane, these bib tights are comfortable and warm, and the perfect companion on a cold winter hike.

They’re flattering, pleasant on the skin, and make you want to ride 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 provide a pain free experience.

My favorite part, however, is the comfort snap feature which is a subtle little zipper on the back of the tights. Frankly, it’s awesome, and I don’t know why more brands haven’t implemented it.

I also really like the ankle zippers to help you put them on or cool off, and the reflective details are functional and look cool.

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

There is also a men’s version that has a supportive mesh upper brace.

Fourfive CBD Thermal Joint Gel

I’ve been having trouble with my feet for a while now (I was too excited to train for an ultra-marathon and now I’m paying the price), and this CBD joint thermal gel is a welcome addition to my painkiller concoction.

Infused with 300 mg of CBD and with added glucosamine and arnica, the gel smells of Deep Heat but with a touch of herbs.

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

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

I am not an athlete, but I appreciate that the gel is BSCG certified which means it has been certified drug free and therefore according to the brand should pass WADA testing.

Fourfive CBD Thermal Joint Gel feels like deep heat… just better.

Rapha Explore Down Jacket

It is a great jacket for getting on and off the bike.

The coolest thing about Rapha’s Explore Down Jacket is that you can tell exactly where the down is coming from.

You can see which countries the down comes from, fill power, and a full breakdown of the actual contents of your coat.

And it’s not just the traceability that appeals to me.

Rapha’s Explore Down Jacket has a hood, two zip pockets and an endless amount of warmth and comfort with its adjustable flip-flops.

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

Like most down jackets, it can be scaled down to next to nothing and weighs next to nothing (but yes, it costs something).

I see it as a bikepacker coat paradise, because I could happily sleep after spending long, hard days in the saddle.

DexShell waterproof socks

I know it’s a “gear of the year” thing, but it’s a “gear of life” item. I’ve 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 for soggy feet while cycling, they are 100% waterproof.

This often comes with a disclaimer that I mean they might not be waterproof or would be very uncomfortable, but that just isn’t the case with these DexShells.

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

The socks also do not lose their shape after many uses and washes.

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

I recently wore these ruffles through the puddles and trails around the New Forest and they worked wonderfully.

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

What I read (apart from Cyclist Magazine)

I really like books, especially the ones that make you vibrate.

There were two standouts for me this year, Underland: a journey through time by Robert Macfarlane and Walking: one step at a time by Erling Kagge.

Granted, neither is new for 2021 but they have made a huge impression on me this year and I highly recommend them.

Underland: A Journey Through Time by Robert Macfarlane

This beautifully illustrated book is a truly mind-boggling tale of journeys to the deepest and darkest depths of the earth.

From a spent nuclear fuel repository in Finland to a starless river in Slovenia and the discovery of the Maelstrom in Norway, Macfarlane offers new perspectives by exploring difficult spaces.

It is not only the physical environment that is remarkable in this book.

Often with deep affection, Macfarlane shares the stories of those who help him negotiate these secret places, of those of old and of those who did not come out of the depths.

Something that struck me is the story of Neil Moss, 20, who was choked by his own breath during a caving incident in 1959. His father requested that the tunnel be sealed with cement so that no one risks their life trying to recover their son’s body.

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

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

He uses words that I never thought would work well side by side, and yet 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 summit of Mount Everest on foot, it’s safe to say that Erling Kagge had plenty of time to think about the act of putting one foot in front of the other.

Walking: one step at a time is deeply deep. It deals with the simple joy of walking and draws our attention to the restorative power of movement and the outdoors.

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

I didn’t expect to find so much meaning in a little book on walking, but Kagge’s sparse writing style and his philosophical outlook on life are powerful.

I read it one afternoon, sitting in a garden, in the sun, and I suggest you do the same.

About Robert James

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