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. The Pinkbike Awards, which are decided by a panel of editors, are on the way, but in the meantime you'll also be able to read about our personal favorites, the items that left a positive impression on each of us. The concept was borrowed from our colleagues over at CyclingTips - you can read their lists here.
Kavenz VHP 16
2021 was a year full of high pivot bikes, and I spent time on new options from Cannondale, Devinci, Norco, and Forbidden. It was the Kavenz VHP 16
that got the party started last winter, and it ended up being one of my favorite bikes of the year.
I'm a huge fan of the raw aluminum tubing and the overall industrial look of this VHP – there's something very appealing about its utilitarian appearance. The fact that Kavenz offers semi-custom geometry is a nice touch, allowing riders to get a dream machine welded up with their preferred numbers.
On the trail, the VHP 16 was impressively quiet, and an absolute blast to ride on tight, steep trails, which just so happens to be the type of trail that I prefer. It also offered up a ton of grip, something that tends to be in short supply here in the Pacific Northwest, especially when the ground is covered with a layer of slippery slime. Overall, Kavenz did a great job with their first bike, and it'll be interesting to see what they come up with next.Price:
Price: €2,495 - frame only, no shockMore information: 77-store.com/Store/Kavenz
Troy Lee Designs Skyline Pants
I know, there's nothing to see in the above photo, but just imagine that it's a picture of some of the comfiest mountain bike pants in existence. TLD's Skyline pants are light and well ventilated, which makes them wearable on all but the hottest of days. The fit isn't overly baggy or ridiculously tight, and there's plenty of room to accommodate knee pads.
Personally, the main reason that I've started wearing pants as much as possible when riding is the ease of post-ride cleanup. My fall and winter rides tend to be muddy more often than not, and with pants there's no need to deal with muddy knee pads or trying to scrub your legs clean before going inside.
I want to also extend an honorable mention to POC's Consort waterproof coveralls. Yes, they're crazy expensive. And yes, the fit could be less baggy in some places and snugger in others. But you know what? Those thoughts never even crossed my mind when I was out riding during the atmospheric river events that have been occurring with alarming regularity this year. Instead, I was very, very happy with how dry I was, and how the coverall design kept mud and grit from finding its way down the back of my pants. Price:
$109 USDMore information: troyleedesigns.com
As fun as it is to ride big squishy enduro bikes, it's nice to be able to mix it up with a speedy little bike every once in a while. This season it was the Transition Spur
that took on that role, the bike that I used for my longest rides of the year, and for those after-work hot laps where I wanted to cover as much ground as possible before the sun set.
I built it up fairly light without going overboard in order to make sure it could descend almost as well as it climbs – yes, grams could be saved by ditching the Code brakes, or going for the Stepcast version of the Fox 34, but I hate being underbraked, and the Grip2 damper in that fork works very well.
After a full season of use it's still going strong, and there are plenty more muddy miles in its future this winter. I'll probably swap out the tires for something with a little more meat to deal with the slop, but otherwise there's nothing else to change – there's a reason this ended up on my list of favorite things. Price:
$3,199 USD (frame only)More information: transitionbikes.com
It looks like there's a bit of a theme going on in this list, and it involves finding traction on steep, loose trails. For that task, the new Maxxis Shorty
is one of my top picks. The revised version is more predictable on hardpacked sections of trail (think rock slabs and roots), with plenty of grip for loose terrain, whether that's from mud or dust.
As I wrote in the review, “the Shorty comes into play when the mud gets deep enough to overwhelm the Assegai - its square knobs and more open profile allow it to keep digging in after the Assegai would have tapped out.” For me, the Shorty sees constant use from October until April, and then takes a break during the drier summer months. Shorty season means there's less focus on going fast and more focus on staying on the bike, and even that can be a challenge at times.
I like those perfect summer days as much as anyone, but I also take a slightly perverse pleasure in heading out in wet, nasty conditions just to see what happens. More often than not, a good time ensues despite the dark, dreary weather.Price:
$83 - $100 USDMore information: maxxis.com
Silky Big Boy 2000 Folding Saw
Not only does this folding saw have one of the best model names in the business, it also cuts incredibly well thanks to its 14” blade. I haven't found any human-powered option that cuts smoother or faster, which is why the Silky usually makes its way into my pack after a big storm, just in case I come across some blowdown that needs to be taken care of.
I also treated myself to an electric chainsaw this year, the Ego Power+ 18. That saw's been super handy to have for the bigger stuff, but it's the Big Boy that sees the most use due to how easy it is to transport, and the fact that it's almost unnoticeable when it's in my pack. Price:
$75 USD More information: silkysaws.com
Schwalbe Big Betty
The Big Betty
returned to stake its claim in Schwalbe's lineup this year, where its strong braking performance and good longevity earned it a place on my list of favorites. No, it's not the lightest option, or the fastest rolling, but I'm willing to overlook those traits due to this beefy tire's ability to dig in and hold on when things get loose. Price:
$94 USD More information: schwalbetires.com
Specialized 2FO Roost shoes
For years it seemed that Five Ten's hold on the sticky rubber market couldn't be broken. Stealth rubber has become the benchmark that all other flat pedal shoe sole compounds are compared against, and for good reason. Recently, we've finally seen a few options emerge that are on par, if not stickier than what Five Ten offers. For the record, I've had good luck with Five Ten's shoes, it's just that part of me worried about what I would do if they ever left the mountain bike world. That's not exactly a reason to lose sleep at night, but it was still a concern that would flit through my brain every once in a while.
With the introduction of Specialized's 2FO Roost
shoes I'm no longer worried. The SlipNot SuperTacky rubber is actually sticky, and the tallish hexagonal lugs provide plenty of traction, even on pedals without super tall pins. I'm not totally sold on the suede finish of this particular model, but they have been holding up reasonably well, although I did have to use a dab of Shoe Goo to fix some delamination on one of the toes. That seems to have done the trick and allowed me to put them back into regular rotation.
I'm sure Specialized have more options in the works, and now that the sticky rubber code has been cracked I'm excited to see what else gets released. Fingers (or toes) crossed that a model with a lace cover and slightly higher inner cuff is in the works... Price:
$120 USD More information: specialized.com
Oh, Canada, how I missed you. One of the reasons I moved to Washington was to be as close to Whistler as possible, which made the border closure in 2020 a hard pill to swallow. As the summer of 2021 began I started to think that I'd need to come to terms with the concept of another summer without any A-Line or Dirt Merchant laps...but then things finally started to change.
The border restriction relaxed, and I was able to get over to start making up for lost time. The North Shore, Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton – it felt amazing to be able to have those riding zones back in the rotation again.
Here's hoping that things continue to return to some form of normalcy. Bentonville, Akansas, may claim it's the mountain bike capitol of the world, but for me British Columbia is the rightful owner of that crown - I haven't ridden anywhere else that comes close to convincing me otherwise.
Books & Music
Last year I had Robert Caro's The Power Broker
on my list, and was amazed by how many people contacted me to say they'd read, or really wanted to read that book. It turns out that reading isn't totally dead, which makes me very happy. This year, I continued my Caro kick and finished the first volume of his massive Lyndon B. Johnson biography, The Path to Power
, which also makes it onto my recommended reading list. Some of my other favorites from this year, in no particular order, included: West With the Night
, Beryl MarkhamBeyond
, Stephen WalkerHidden Valley Road
, Robert KolkerHomesick for Another World
, Ottessa MoshfeghMoonglow
, Michael Chabon
My dream job (other than the one I already have) is to be a correspondent for NPR's All Songs Considered
– I'd happily listen to new music all day and then discuss it on a podcast. There was no shortage of good music this year across all genres. Mdou Moctar popped up a lot, and recently I've been on a 200 Stab Wounds kick. I'm not usually the biggest death-metalhead, but this Ohio-based band absolutely shreds. Plus, not only do they have an amazing band name, their albums have titles like Piles of Festering Decomposition
– I can appreciate their dedication to the genre.