"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be"
2022 marks 10 years since the M820 groupset was released. 10 years, 10 gears, and everything just works.
Yes, bikes have moved on, but the Saint groupset still keeps pace and is just fantastically reliable. Maybe a comparison to an AK-47 would be too close of a venture to cliche-strewn waters, and maybe a fairer comparison would be Jeremy Clarkson's Hilux or how reliably Levy's Mini used to balance on its bricks in his garden
Old does not mean bad. I've heard rumors of a 2025 new Saint groupset, but to be honest, does it really matter? To keep with the times, I'm sure the mechs will be more angular than a Cillian Murphy portrait painted by Picasso, but will these death-by-papercut changes affect the ride on a downhill bike? Probably not. It'll probably move to 11 or 12-speed spacing, but for racing that again is somewhat inconsequential. Maybe they'll be a raft of changes ushered in by a big move from Shimano, but I doubt it. It'll probably just be an evolution of what is still the best downhill groupset.
Saint was fantastic nearly a decade ago and it's still great now.Price:
DependsMore Infomation: shimano.com
Mountain Biking Clothing Getting Better
Mountain bike apparel has got better - again! Last year I talked about decent waterproof trail shoes. This year, I'm going back to basics, and maybe even back to the start.
Mountain biking clothing and shoes have historically been crap. I'm not asking for skin-tight lycra or another reason to stuff my pants with a half-crescent of conveniently malleable avocado, but I would say that compared to other disciplines it's pretty laughable how rubbish mountain biking clothing has always been. That jersey that's a 'technical tee'? $100. That baggy jacket that's not only shaped similarly to but also has the same breathability as a sandwich bag? $300. What about some cargo pants that look like Korn wore them at Woodstock 99? Naturally including massive unzippered pockets, and maybe a combination of both belt loops that you won't use and velcro that won't work. All of it coming in turquoise or orange so you definitely can never wear them off the bike. Ah - perfect.
Honestly, mountain biking clothing was so bad for so long. Everyone was going around like a nu-metal band that was on a day trip to the beach, but it's gotten a lot better recently. Racers not wearing kits that will not act as a boat sail may well have played their part, but we're moving to functional, well-fitting clothing across the board.
Now, I as much as anyone don't want my pink wobbly bits on display for the world to see, and I don't want figure-hugging ensembles that risk to tease a flash of ass-crack or, worst yet, translucent synthetic material that gives passers-by or fellow cafe patrons an absolute eyeful while they have their mouths full, but mountain biking kit, especially when it's expensive, should at least be functional.
Trousers are slim fitting, jerseys have abandoned 3/4 lengths that make you look like Smash Mouth's roadie, and the backpack seems to have finally died a death - and shoes have got better again. I want a decent set of gravity shoes to be a blend of low weight, protection on the toe and heel, and functionality on the pedal. What they absolutely don't need to have is extra-thick padding and a sole chunkier than a Tesco brand choc ice. There are now plenty of good shoes and clothing to choose from (save for the very tall or very short but that's another story for another time). And what do I have to say about that? About bloody time!Price:
Infinity, and beyond.More Infomation: I'm here to help
Unior Bearing Kit
I like working on bikes, but I wouldn't say I'm that
into particular brands or models of tools. In fact, I would say I'm far more concerned with having my tools organized than what they are. I think, for me, accessibility is key, as well as ease of replacement. Everything should be able to be accessed with one hand. As long as that criteria is fulfilled I'm quite happy using whatever.
When it came to stocking my own toolbox, I got the bulk of it from Unior. I visited their factory in 2018 and it just blew me away. I always thought they were the smaller, less-known blue bike tool brand. However, once I got there, I realized that it's completely the other way around - it's one of the biggest factories in Europe, and is responsible for making automotive tooling for some very big players indeed. They have these amazing stamping tools that bring down the force of 10,000 kilos. Honestly, I think inside all of us is a little Fred Dibnah, and my inner Fred was going absolutely bananas at the sight of these incredible machines and the skilled operators using them.
There is also an understated ingenuity to some of their tools that I just love. Their bearing press is a particular highlight because you can disengage the threads on one of the levers. This means you can slide it on, right up to the bearing, then engage the threads to drive the bearing, before disengaging them and sliding it straight off. It sounds small, but when you use it often, especially when doing jobs in hard-to-access areas around the linkage, it's really great. It's just an absolute pleasure to use.
I got this press in 2019 and it's still going very well. It's not cheap but it does make you smile every time you use it.Price:
$299.99More Infomation: uniortools.com
Santa Cruz V10
This year, while wrenching for the Pinkbike Racing team, I spent a lot
of time taking apart V10s and putting them back together again. A dozen race weekends, two riders, and two team camps meant that Santa Cruz's downhill juggernaut and I got to know each other very well, and very quickly. To work on, this bike is a pleasure, and a genuinely sensible race bike - if it had an oval headtube to take an inbuilt three-position reach to adjust the headset it would be absolutely perfect. Its 56 mm round headtube isn't bad by any means, and it's better to have the option of adjustment up front than not, but it does mean that reach-adjust headsets need aligning and are sometimes thread-locked into place to stop them from coming out of alignment with the triple clamp fork.
At the heart of the V10's charm is the linkage, which is just so easy to work on. Not only is swapping any bearing a doddle thanks to them being on the easy-access links, but the bearings and hardware themselves are so well sealed to begin with. The V10 also covers off-bases where other downhill bikes might be vulnerable - the whole bike is easy to clean, reliable, and robust, and it doesn't rely on the shaft of the shock to provide stiffness, which is one less thing to worry about on a race weekend or keep on eye on over a season.
I like the V10 to ride, too. It just seems to do everything well. The geometry is well-balanced too. It might not be the longest bike out there, but thanks to the shorter-than-most-reach figure and the long rear center, it's amazing how planted to the front is. Maybe there is an argument for a steeper seat tube, but all in all this bike is just as fantastic as when it broke cover several years ago.
Yes, there are bikes out there that do some things better, but I think Santa Cruz has made an incredibly well-rounded downhill bike. To work on, however, they've played a master stroke. Now, all it needs is neat internal routing for that rear brake, that works whichever side you ride it on, and to call it a day.Price:
$4,299 USD (frame only)More Infomation: santacruzbicycles.com
Enduro 2 and Alps Riding
We're all products of how we were raised. Growing up on a farm in the 90s, right in the sweet-shit-spot between BSE and foot and mouth disease, meant that I remember getting the impression my parents, who both tended to the livestock full time, were almost always overworked, stressed out, and completely exhausted. And, the thing you quickly learn when you grow up on a farm is that the animals always come first. I think from the years between 1995 and 2007 we were consistently late to any event, gathering or social function without fail.
Although I understood it, and the reason was that there just weren't enough hours in the day, no matter how hard my parents worked, I often felt embarrassed and frustrated to be late for everything. Even if we were actually going to be on time for something the universe would conspire against us - whether it was cattle escaping their enclosure, local kids setting fire to hay bales, or maybe a ewe going into lamb, we would always, always
be late. Now, I know that in the vastness of space and time being five minutes late for a vol-au-vent or some crisp and dip is rather inconsequential, but it left an impression on me, and, ever since, I've hated being late and really really hated people being late with me. Five minutes is absolutely fine. Ten minutes happens. But fifteen or twenty and that's just not on.
"To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is totally unacceptable" - especially if you aren't even ready to go when you get there.
It's the reason I hate group rides. I've expressed this and some people have said "Henry, you haven't done it right! They're the best". Well, no, they're not. They're absolutely awful and I hate them. However, there is one man in the world who is full of much bile, misery, and hatred for the One Show as I, and a week's riding with him in the Alps culminating in the Enduro 2 in Meribel was probably the best riding I did all year. In fact, it was probably the most fun I've had in five. Just imagine doing 500 meters of descent and then
dropping into the Meribel World Cup track on one continuous stage. Lungs gulping air, brakes pulling to bar, hands screaming. muscles screaming. You - literally screaming. Incredible.
The 10 days we were in the Alps was full of non-stop complaining, bike breakages, pizza, and one incident where Matt got perilously to the one-meter exclusion area while working on his bike for him, and thousands upon thousands of meters of timed runs - and the best part is - you got all the social aspects of riding in a large group, but within the race, you were on your own schedule and never had to wait for anyone (except all the waiting Matt did for me but that was at the bottom of runs, so it doesn't count, right?). However, it managed to do all this in a great no-bravado culture and environment. Honestly, we had just a fantastic time.Price:
I can't remember exactly but it was pretty reasonableMore Infomation: enduro2.com
Topeak Pressure Guage
One more tool shout-out, from that man that just told you he wasn't that into tools. It's unglamorous, and I know there are some pressure gauges that look like a hand-crafted pocket watch of a Victorian train conductor, but I've had one of these for years and always loved it. Reliable, with long battery life and can fit both Presta and Schrader. What's not to love? It's not the most exciting piece of kit but it's the first thing I would put down if I was speccing out a toolbox.
There are of course those who prefer to measure their psi to decimal places, but I believe this to be pointless. One psi is definitely close enough. Setting up your bike should be about consistency to alleviate anxiety and bring reassurance, not chasing tolerances so small they'll fluctuate straight away and undermine the whole exercise. Maybe fat bikers would find it useful where 0.5 of a psi can play a bigger role - but it isn't for me.
I don't know what else to say. It's a pressure gauge and it works.Price:
$47 USDMore Infomation: topeak.com
Finally, cranks are getting shorter, and although I still don't think enough brands have adopted them or have truly considered the wider benefits they could bring, it's great to see them becoming more common.
I remember last year, and we had 175 mm cranks on some review bikes. It's just absolutely bizarre, and an anachronism of the sports road-cycling roots. They belong in the exact same parts bin as rim brakes, unified rear ends, or QR axles.
Currently, I have some e13 LG1 Race carbon cranks on my downhill bike and they're just fantastic. However, at 160 mm, I think this is only the beginning. I think 160-165 would be my preferred length for trail and enduro bikes, and maybe even 155 for downhill.
You see, the benefits aren't just about ground clearance when pedaling, but they also mean we could design frames and bottom bracket heights with shorter cranks in mind. There is also another big bonus for me - why do we want long cranks that demand greater glute recruitment in the final part of the stroke? As cyclists, most of us have overdeveloped quads - at this point, we might as well lean into it and use the bloody things. A shorter crank feels almost closer, and certainly more in range. Going back to longer ones always feels like you're trying to scrape mud off your outstretched toe and at the end of the stroke - it's just no good.
Shorter cranks also mean that the hip is more open at the top of the stroke. This again could have changed our seated position because it will free up bio-mechanical real estate. That's not even factoring in foot position. Most riders, whether flat or clips, tend to have their foot over the pedal more compared to our tarmac-loving cousins. Not always, but often. Shorter cranks give more freedom in this regard, too.
I'm all riled up just thinking about how stupid long cranks are. If you need me I'll be on the campaign trail as a single-issue independent candidate. I want to take this to the very top. Or, failing that, at least Ottawa.Price:
ethirteen LG1 Race Gen4 Cranks - $429More Infomation: ethirteen.com
Internally Routed Headsets
I understand why internally routed headsets seem daunting and asking for trouble - but I think they look great. And, I assure you, riding a bike that looks that clean is a big bonus. In fact, I remember having loan of a bike with the feature just as spring broke cover and I couldn't help but feel I was commanding the starship Enterprise. In fact, the feeling was maybe heightened by my buddy wearing one of those Specialized Gambit helmets, which does look somewhat Klingon.
Now, are the looks of your bike the most important thing in the world? No, but that's not to say they don't matter.
As I've explained before, I've never understood the 'mechanic's sympathy' card. If you work on your own bike, then say about it how you wish - I can imagine not having a work stand making the whole affair a shitshow. However, bike shops are there to maintain your pride and joy and should be expected to be competent with releasing three bolts and retightening them. I imagine cars would be far easier to work on without body or interior panels. When somebody levels the criticism of them being overly complicated I understand, but when people say they're overly complicated while also trying to signal that they've come to this viewpoint from a position of technical proficiency it genuinely makes me cringe. More so, I often find that people are just pandering to the masses and scoring lucrative internet points - which in some families can be cashed in for real rent for a spot of the sofa bed in your grandmother's basement apartment. "Inside cable bad. Outside cable good." Jesus wept.
It should also be said that the latest Scott bikes come with Shimano brakes and I don't think this is a coincidence. A bucket bleed takes about 3.6 seconds and if that's too much then I don't know what to say.
I think some people just reject aesthetics being a priority as if it's moving away from a purist ideal of what a bike should be. To that, I say that it's not internal headsets that are nonsense but that attitude. It doesn't make a mountain bike less of a serious endeavor for them to look good and we shouldn't be embarrassed to say that.Price:
Occasional bouts of angerMore Infomation: Don't shoot the messenger
Rapha Trail Knee Pads
Rapha's streamlined pads aren't the ultimate kneepad for all-out protection - however, if you're looking for something well-fitted, minimalist, comfortable, and light enough to never give you a reason not to wear them, then they should definitely be on your shortlist for your next pad.
Admittedly, I think they look kind of goofy with shorts, and the lack of side protection around the lower sides of the knee might well put you off, but they also don't suffer from any unnecessary bulk and fit really well under riding pants.
The material breathes well and the grippers strike a great balance between staying put without being constrictive or wearing marks. They've been my go-to pad for the majority of the year and I absolutely love them for all things pedaling.Price:
$110 USDMore Infomation: rapha.cc
In late 2020, in a move that definitely wasn't a nervous breakdown, I went to Portugal and lived alone, without seeing another person to so much as chat with for a few months. Sure, I made the odd phone call and I was still working, but I felt I had something like a spiritual retreat, albeit without the trust exercises, singing around the campfire, and those really baggy trousers that people insist on wearing. We get it. You dropped acid in Thailand - good for you.
During that time I played a lot of computer games, ate fish fingers, and tried to average a mile of elevation every day. Although it was a strange time in so many ways, and perhaps even a trifle eccentric on my part, it was also a tremendously meaningful time for me as I defragmented my brain and reordered my thoughts. With all that gaming, and all that pedaling, music was a big factor, and I would sit there wrapped up in a blanket and wallowing in my own self-enforced exile as I ignored the world around me. Maybe wallowing is the wrong word - I was swimming in the serenity of its solitude, and enjoyed a previously hitherto untouched level of mental health. Maybe it was the pure omega-three running through my veins from the daily-family-value-pack of fish fingers. Maybe it was the gaming. Who knows? (Just joking - it was a truly eye-watering amount of therapy and I have the invoices to prove it).
I'm somebody that tends to think in long-form conversations with myself. If you ever listen to me speak on a podcast and curse the inescapable tedium as you wait for somebody else to interject, well that's what I'm dealing with twenty-four-seven. For that reason, I love playing strategy games as I put the blinkers on and just shut the world, and my own thoughts, out for a few hours.
Sometimes I listen to Radio 4 (Alexei Sayle's and Rob Newman's shows tread the perfect line between philosophy, humor, and surrealism and you finish them realizing that by comparison you've never said anything noteworthy in your entire existence). The funny thing is, my sensory system is so overloaded with information from the intensity of defending my in-game kingdom that I normally have to listen to a half-hour program several times to feel like it's gone in.
I've also had my eyes opened to the amazing mod communities that exist around strategy games - people who literally take a functioning game, rebuild it into something completely different, and then just give it away for free. My current go-to is the Lord of the Rings: Total War mod. Honestly, it's a work of art and I highly recommend it.Price:
Free, assuming you have the right software the mod runs on.More Infomation: moddb.com