Sign up for our newsletter

Joe Robinson's Gear of the Year 2021: Specialized Tarmac SL7, Hunt 50 wheels, a ceramic tagine and more

22 Dec 2021

Digital editor Joe Robinson picks his gear of the year including a Miltag jersey, an alloy Cinelli and a ceramic tagine

Words: Joe Robinson

While many of my colleagues have begun to stray away from the world of road cycling towards off-road adventures on gravel bikes, in 2021, I have found myself almost doubling down on my love of tarmac.

Don’t get me wrong, I am partial to the odd off-road smash up but nothing comes close to that liberating feeling you get on a long, sun-drenched summer road ride. The ones when you’re in your best kit, your legs are freshly shaven, your tan is on point, the whoosh of carbon wheels urge the group ride on faster and your legs feel so good so can't help but attack on every climb.

Those rides are made even better by the fact that in January this year I resurrected my first ever road bike, an alloy 2014 Cinelli Experience, with a complete rebuild. I’ve never been so in love in my life. More on that below.

I also managed to get abroad for a bit of riding this year too. After being grounded in 2020, I travelled to Lake Como to ride the mighty Passo dello Spluga as well as the mythical Madonna del Ghisallo. I also headed to the World Championships in Flanders where I found time to make a definitive list of the best five cobbled climbs in the region.

Add that to my time talking to Greg LeMond in early spring and taking Romain Bardet to the pub, and I’d say this year’s been pretty good as far as cycling goes.

I’ve also enjoyed quite a few non-cycling highlights, all of which seem to be football related. I was awarded Clubman of the Year at my amateur football team Old St Mary’s FC, as a nation we reached our first major tournament final since 1966 and my beloved West Ham became absolutely massive. Honestly, after being mediocre at best for seemingly my entire life, I’m genuinely struggling to believe what I’m seeing from David Moyes, Declan Rice and the rest of the lads. The bubbles will burst soon, I know, it's even written in our song - 'they fly so high, nearly reach the sky, then like my dreams they fade and die'. But I'll enjoy it while I can.

Anyway, less of that. You’re here to read about my gear of the year so without further ado...

My 2014 Cinelli Experience rebuild

This bike means the world to me. It was the first road bike I ever owned and I bought it with my own, hard-earned money back in 2014 as a poor university student who was working every Saturday and Sunday at Charles Tyhwritt, the high street suit shop.

Back then it came with some clunky Miche wheels, Campagnolo’s pedestrian Veloce groupset and a tacky white saddle. It was heavy, it wasn’t aero and my ignorance towards bicycle maintenance meant it was often making strange noises. Nevertheless I loved it because it was my bike.

As time went by, and I got a job where I’m paid to ride and write about bikes, my Cinelli found itself in my parents’ shed gathering dust, mould and rust. Until January this year, that is.

With lockdown still restricting our freedoms, I set myself the project of rebuilding my former pride and joy and with the help of Welling Cycles, here it is.

To start, I stripped the entire bike back down to just the frame and fork – almost all the components were beyond saving save the shifters which I gifted to a local bike shop. From there, I used T-cut on the frame to give it a proper clean.

I then added the groupset of the distinguished gentleman and woman, Campagnolo Record, Hunt’s 50 carbon wide wheelset (which are discussed further down), 25mm Continental GP5000 tan wall clincher tyres, a Bontrager XXX aero handlebar and seatpost, 130mm Zipp Service Course stem, a Brooks C15 saddle, Rapha Classic bar tape and two Elite Ciussi bottle cages.

It weighs a touch over 7kg, relays almost every blemish in the road through my backside and hands, handles like a lunatic and leaves me with a slightly sore back if I ride more than five hours. And it’s for those very reasons that I absolutely love it.

Albion ABR1 bib shorts

An update of the frankly excellent ‘Albion bib short’, the ABR1 bib shorts are the second generation creation of the good folk at Albion based down in Deptford, south-east London.

The overall four-way stretch gives off a compression fit for plenty of comfort on long rides, the increased thigh gripper locks the shorts into place securely and the excellent Ultra chamois has even the harshest saddle feeling like a much-loved Chesterfield armchair.

Albion is also one of the brands paying attention to sustainability. These shorts rely on 80% recycled nylon in the main fabric and 73% recycled nylon in the bibs and better yet, the brand offers a free lifetime repair policy on all items too. And let’s not sleep on the simple branding, that small patch on bibs left left. Stone Island vibes just without the football casual silliness.

Whenever I’m going for a big old ride, these are my bib shorts of choice without fail.

Hunt 50 Carbon Wide Aero wheelset

I refuse to accept that the rim brake is dead. Whatever you may read from the industry, including words from my own esteemed colleagues, there is still a place for the humble rim brake and from what I see while out riding at the weekends, plenty of you are in agreement with me.

So while all of the progress being made in the wheel market is coming from the disc stable, there is still plenty to shout about from its rim sibling.

For example, the Hunt 50 Carbon Wide Aero wheelset. Tubeless-ready, their 27mm external and 19mm internal rim width have made them ideal partners for 25 or even 28mm tyres meaning they are bang on trend. The High TG resin brake surface is among the best I’ve ever used on carbon rim brake wheels and at 1,537g, they are pretty light considering they're a set of deep section aero race wheels.

And above all else, these wheels offer massive value at £779 offering a genuinely affordable upgrade that is guaranteed to make you go faster.

Miltag Peter Blake jersey

Full disclosure here. All of my journalistic integrity gets dumped out of the window when it comes to my beloved hometown, Dartford. From the Rolling Stones to the Stage Door pub, this little commuter town best known for a tunnel and a bridge is the greatest place on Earth – no wonder it's one of the fastest places to sell a home in the UK!

Among the many things it has given to the world – myself included – is wonderful pop artist Sir Peter Blake of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band by the Beatles and Stanley Road by Paul Weller album cover fame.

Earlier this year, London-based Miltag made a jersey in homage to the great Mr Blake, inspired by his bold, dazzle graphics synonymous with the 1960s pop art movement. It was one of the best jerseys I’d seen in a very long time.

I loved it so much that I didn’t even do that usual journo thing of calling it in for review and keeping it. No, I bought this jersey with my own, hard-earned money.

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7

Yes pedants, the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 did launch in 2020 and this is a round-up of my favourite gear of 2021 but look, Covid stopped me riding this bike at launch and I didn’t get a chance to give it a go until this September, ok?

Now that’s cleared up, onto the bike. Its predecessor, the S-Works Tarmac SL6 was widely heralded by many in the Cyclist office to be the best bike we had ever had in for tests. It was the complete package, fast, light, comfortable, precise, the epitome of an all-rounder.

Now the new Tarmac SL7 doesn’t surpass the SL6 in terms of performance, in my opinion, but it does match it which is no mean feat.

The latest iteration is ridiculously quick in a straight line, forgiving enough to be a perfect partner on long rides and, most noticeably, it climbs like a rocket – I rode to six Strava PBs on Flandrien cobbled climbs using this bike and it would be remiss of me to lay credit solely at my improved climbing ability.

Sure, there was the recall issue due to a faulty headset system and that is quite concerning, but Specialized claims to have corrected this with new components.

When all is said and done, this probably is the best mass-produced all-rounder race bike on the market currently.

Emile Henry ceramic tagine

The biggest investment I made in 2021 was the purchase of this Emile Henry ceramic tagine.

Owning a tagine has been a lifelong dream of mine and having moved into my first place last autumn, I put the wheels in motion to secure this essential piece of kitchenware.

Initially I was looking at buy from Le Creuset but after literally minutes of research I quickly discovered plenty of fellow cookware manufacturers offering quality products at more manageable prices.

Eventually I opted for this 32.5cm ceramic red tagine from Burgundy-based Emile Henry. It’s the perfect size when cooking for two with the flame ceramic suitable for gas, halogen, electric and ceramic hobs as well as the oven. It’s also a lovely statement piece that sits proud on our kitchen side.

My favourite dish I’ve made so far has been a Lamb Shank, Date and Apricot tagine with buttered couscous.