As 2021 comes to a close, it's time once again to take a look back at the products that stood out above the rest. Unlike the Pinkbike Awards, which are steadily being published and are decided by a panel of editors, these are individual - so I get to include whatever cool trinkets, paragliding wings, and melodramatic songs personally carried me through this year. Oh, and bikes. Definitely bikes. The concept was borrowed from our colleagues over at CyclingTips - you can read their lists here.
Wolf Tooth Components 8-Bit Kit One Multitool Set
It's a surprise, even to myself, that one of my favorite pieces of gear this year is a comprehensive, all-in-one 22ish-function multitool. Are you someone who likes to be prepared for any situation that comes your way? Do you carry sufficient or even extra water on the majority of your rides? Do you have a tendency to plan ahead? If you answered 'yes' to any of those questions, you and I are not the same.
I've never carried much more than the bare minimum on a ride unless I'm going way the f*ck out there, so I wouldn't point to myself as the target market for fancy multitools. Still, when I started playing with Wolf Tooth's new multitool system
, I became a bit enamored. It's just plain cool. It's bigger than any trail tool I've used in the past, but it packs a pretty significant punch. It's built around Wolf Tooth's 8-Bit Pack Pliers
, and the two new pieces - a tire lever / rim dent remover and a chainbreaker / utility knife / tire plug kit - nest together with the pliers thanks to some clever machining and well-placed magnets.
I love the neat nesting solution and how many ways Wolf Tooth has found to incorporate tools such a wide variety of tools while keeping the product tidy, relatively small, and user-friendly. Plus, it's machined at Wolf Tooth's headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.Price:
Price: $139.95 for the kit, parts also available separatelyMore information: Wolf Tooth Components
PNW Components Rover Hip Pack
Speaking of smart designs, I have some glowing things to say about the new PNW Components Rover Hip Pack. The organization of the Rover Hip Pack is so satisfying. With a large main compartment, an outer pocket, and two small pockets on the hip straps, there's storage for both big and small items without the risk of losing anything, plus there's a removable water bottle (or burrito) holder. There are also internal mesh pockets, a key clip in one of the hip strap pockets, and padded mesh backing that's ridiculously supportive and comfortable. When the pack is snug - which it always is, thanks to its two "wing" adjustment straps on the sides to fine-tune the fit in addition to the main hip strap - it stays secure, not wanting to bounce or slide around during the ride. In short, it's just really well done.
The Rover Hip Pack is also water-resistant and comes with a lifetime warranty. The color I have is called Stardust, and it's also available in a color that PNW calls Dark Matter, otherwise known as black. At $69 USD, the Rover Hip Pack is also the least expensive piece of gear on my list.Price:
$69 USDMore information: PNW Components
I've been spending a whole lot of time on the Propain Hugene lately, and I have to say once again that I love that bike. Of all the trail bikes we tested at the Fall Field Test, to me the Hugene best exemplifies what a trail bike is supposed to do. It climbs well. It descends well. It's just plain fun to ride. The energetic feel of the bike works excellently for me and keeps me coming back for more.
I have all kinds of good things to say about the Hugene - just check out the review here
. All in all, the takeaway is that Propain nailed it with this one.Price:
$4,199 - $6,737 USDMore information: Propain Bikes
Sticking with the Field Test theme for a minute, I was quite impressed by the Rapha gear we wore. Now, it's important to note that Rapha did sponsor the Field Test, so I didn't pay my own cold, hard cash for these clothes, but I'd put Rapha near the top of my list for clothing to spend money on. The pants, jerseys, and jackets are lightweight, comfortable, and (at least in my opinion) good-looking.
Did I feel like a little bit of a tool going to the coffee shop in Pemberton every morning with Levy and Henry all wearing our matching Rapha hoodies? Yeah, a little bit, but cozy counts for a lot, and I couldn't make myself take that stuff off.Price:
$90 - $180 USDMore information: Rapha
Norrøna Fjørå Flex1 Pants
Love me a good pair of Euro pants. These things are lightweight, have abundant pocket space, and yes, are colorful. Also, they earned a place on this list in part for their durability. I took them on a multi-hour bushwhack that destroyed my bare arms and face, but these pants and therefore my legs came out unscathed.
For what it's worth, the jersey and gloves are great too, but the pants especially stand out.
The Norrøna Fjørå Flex1 Pants were good to me this year. As some of my most pedal-friendly pants, they have side zip vents on the outer thighs and an adjustable waistband to keep the pants comfortable and in place. They also have reinforcement on the knees and seat. I do find that they run a bit large, so size down if you're considering a pair and are on the fence about sizing.Price:
$199 USDMore information: Norrona
Level Flame 13 Light Speedwing & Ozone Swift 5 Paraglider
Note the Euro pants above - they're good for more than just biking. The Level Flame 13 Light has been a great part of my life this year, so it has definitely earned its place on this list. As the name implies, it has 13 square meters, is lightweight, and is a great time. It has nimble speedwing handling but a better glide than most speedwings, meaning that it can be flown in a variety of terrain. This year, it took me to some cool mountain launches and saw me throw my first barrel rolls, always with a smile on my face. Here's a fun launch video
. In short, flying it basically every day the weather permitted made my year a whole lot better.
I can't write about flying without also mentioning the full-sized paraglider I've been flying this year too, an Ozone Swift 5. I don't have many (any) good photos of it in action, but just trust me that it's downright beautiful. It also went on some cool adventures with me, namely a trip to Utah (here's a neat flight visualization
), now Christmas in Mexico, and a little cameo appearance at Field Test in Pemberton. Plus some playing around over a lake
Ugh, I don't want to talk about itMore information: Level Wings
2021 has been a rough one on my brain, so I'm going to recommend my trusty meditation app, Insight Timer. The basic version of the app is free and includes access to 120k meditation recordings, ranging from short, beginner-friendly meditations to much more esoteric soundtracks. I've messed around on some of the other meditation apps - Calm and Headspace - but at least for me, I used up whatever I could on those ones for free pretty quickly, and I didn't want to pay for actual membership. Insight Timer gives you more for your (lack of) money.
Lots of categories. I'm especially fond of the sleep section.
I'm not going to say that Insight Timer is a cure-all, because then I'd be lying to myself and to all of you, but it does offer some tools to help cope with just generally the fact that we have to exist and be people. Anyway, it's worth a download if you're intrigued by meditation.
The app also has a simple timer function for the purists out there - you can choose a length of time, any sounds you might want, and off you go.
All of that said, Insight Timer has been making some updates lately and seems to be trying to expand into something almost like a social media platform, so we'll have to wait and see whether my love for the app and this recommendation stand the test of time.Price:
Just a few clicks on your smartphone! The basic version is free. The premium version costs $9.99 per month and gets you access to more stuff. I don't really know what. The free version is pretty good.More information:
Wherever you get apps
I'll join Mike Kazimer
and Henry Quinney
in recommending my favorite music this year. This year, Tash Sultana was my #1
played artist on Spotify, so I'll have to go ahead and recommend her, as apparently I spent 1,804 minutes listening to her on Spotify in January through November.
Here's one I can't stop playing lately:
And another, in case you're in the mood for a melodramatic, gritty, dysfunctional love song. Throwback to our Sadboi Sessions™ in Pemberton.
The Trans Cascadia was the most fun I've had in a while. Four days of racing, lots of hanging out with great people, camping in the woods deep in the incredible Cascades, big bonfires, plenty of shenanigans, and so much more. Like everything else in this article, I have some nice words to say about the Trans Cascadia: see here
Events like the Trans Cascadia make me thankful for our mountain bike communities. It's pretty special when riders can come together to do trail work, have some laughs while riding bikes, or just have a big old party. Mountain bikers, as a whole, are pretty lucky people. Merry Christmas, kids. Love y'all.