This year, Pinkbike's editors decided to take a page from the CyclingTips playbook and put together “10 Things I Loved” lists of our own. Think of it as a more personalized version of the Pinkbike Awards, a place to recognize the bikes and equipment that left a lasting impression over the last 12 months.
I'm sure Mike Levy's list will probably have all sorts of linkage forks and ultralight carbon wheels, and but mine's skewed a little more towards products that are practical and functional. My favorite products are ones that fade to the background and just work, ride after ride after ride. I'm constantly switching bikes and components, so it's nice to have a selection of gear and apparel on hand that I know I don't need to worry about.
Occam Design's Apex Strap
Occam Designs' Apex strap is one of those items I didn't know I needed until it showed up. Sure, you can strap a tube and tire lever to your bike with a ski strap, or even use electrical tape if you're a heathen, but just look at this thing.
It's only 28 grams thanks to the use of a light and strong material originally developed for sailboat racing, and uses a BOA dial to cinch everything down. Combine it with one of the lightweight tubes out there from the likes of Tubolito or Schwalbe and you've barely added any weight to your bike while still being fully prepared to fix a flat. It's also super easy to move from one bike to another, another one of the reasons that earned it a place on this list.Price:
$34.99 USDMore information: occamdesigns.com
Commencal Meta TR
I've mentioned it numerous times already, but I might as well mention it again: Commencal's Meta TR is a damn good bike. With 140mm of travel and a 160mm fork there's not much it can't handle, whether that's hitting a big jump line or blasting down a chunky descent. Sure, it's not exactly light, but that stout aluminum frame is part of what gives it such a ready-for-anything demeanor.
The geometry is fully modern – the size large has a 490mm reach, a 64.5-degree head angle, and a 78-degree seat tube angle. It's a big bike, but the short chainstays keep it snappy and ready to manual or slap a berm at a moment's notice. Could it be used to race an enduro or two? You bet. Bike park laps? I wouldn't think twice. Long rides with lots of vertical? Sure, as long as the descents were worth it.
Lately I've been using the Meta TR as a test bed for various suspension components, which has given me plenty of opportunities to appreciate the 8mm hardware that holds the rear shock on. Most riders won't spend as much time switching out shocks as I have, but it is nice to not need to worry about fiddling with tiny bolts that want to strip out if you look at them wrong. MSRP as shown:
$4,799 USDMore information: commencal.com
Shimano ME702 Shoes
I typically ride four or five days a week all year round, which means a comfortable, reliable pair of shoes is a must. I switch back and forth between clips and flats depending on what needs to be tested, but Shimano's ME702 shoes have become my go-to SPD-compatible option lately, replacing my trusty AM7's
after nearly 3 seasons of loyal service.
It's the overall fit that keeps me going back to Shimano's shoes, especially the fact that most of them have a fairly low sole height, which keeps my foot nice and close to the pedal. With the ME702's, the lace cover adds an extra layer of protection from the rain and puddles I'm constantly encountering, as does the neoprene ankle gaiter. The speed lace system and ratchet strap are easy to operate even with frozen, muddy fingers, and the deep lugs on the sole help keep me from falling flat on my face during tricky hike-a-bikes.
Looks are at the bottom of my priority list when it comes to mountain biking shoes – give me a good fit and function over anything else – but it's hard to go wrong with all black, and I'm a fan of semi-futuristic aesthetic of these shoes.Price:
$200 USDMore information: bike.shimano.com
EXT Era Fork
Okay, so the EXT Era fork might be something of an outlier on this list of practical, fairly reasonably priced items, but I enjoyed its performance so much that I simply couldn't leave it out. It felt better out of the box than any fork I've been on in recent memory, with an impossibly supple initial stroke and plenty of mid-stroke support to keep it from diving too deep into its travel. I'm always on the hunt for products that provide an advantage in wet, slippery conditions, and the Era fits the bill perfectly.
There are two positive air chambers chambers, which makes it possible to individually adjust the feel of the fork at the beginning of its travel and towards the end without needing any volume spacers. There's also a unique crown shape that's intended to help prevent the dreaded CSU creak, and so far it hasn't emitted the slightest unwanted crackle or pop. After putting in a bunch of miles on the Era I sent it up north where the testing process will continue - I wanted a few other test riders to be able to experience just how special this fork was before issuing a final verdict. Price:
1480 EuroMore information: extremeshox.com
Giro Source Helmet
Giro's Source helmet isn't the absolute lightest or fanciest helmet in their lineup, but it still ended up being my favorite new half shell helmet this year. It's extremely comfortable, relatively light, and is equipped with a MIPS liner to hopefully help reduce some of the rotational impact forces that occur during a crash.
My all-time favorite helmet honors still go to the Specialized Ambush, but the Source offers a similar exceptional fit at a lower pricepoint. The ratcheting dial at the back is super easy to use for fine tuning the fit, and there's plenty of ventilation for hot summer rides.
The Source has worked well with all the sunglasses I've used it with, and the adjustable visor makes it easy to find the perfect position – I prefer setting it somewhere in the middle, right between 'cool' and 'kook.' It might be lacking things like an integrated camera mount, or rubber inlays on the back for goggle straps, but I don't really think those features are necessary anyways. Teletubby camera mounting has fallen out of fashion, and most goggles stay in place just fine without any grippy bits on the helmet. Price:
$120 USDMore information: giro.com
Thule Rail 0 Hip Pack
These days, the only reason I wear a backpack on a ride is to carry a saw
for clearing blowdown after a storm. Otherwise, I wear a hip pack, and this year it was Thule's new Rail 0 that accompanied me on most of my rides.
The two side pockets make it easy to keep a snack and a multitool close by, and the dedicated outer phone pocket is a clever touch – no more digging through half-eaten Clif Bars and random tools in order to get your phone out to capture a pretty sunset or a Friday Fail. I prefer carrying a mini-pump instead of relying on a CO2 cartridge, and the Rail 0 can accommodate Specialized's Air Tool Mini pump with room to spare for a windbreaker or more food for those extra-long rides.
I'm also a fan of the waist belt design – it's just the right width, with a good range of adjustment, and once it's cinched down the pack stays securely in place no matter how rough the trail. For anyone out there who's still on the fence about trying a hip pack, this is a good place to start.Price:
$44.95 USDMore information: thule.com
DT Swiss XM 1700 Wheelset
I had three different test bikes show up equipped with DT's XM1700 wheel in 2020, and in all instances the results were the same – they were well tensioned and true from the start, and remained that way throughout the test period, free of any dents or unwanted wobbles. The use of DT's Competition spokes and Pro Lock nipples plays a part in that reliability – those are the parts that I'd choose if I was building up a wheelset from scratch.
A workhorse aluminum wheelset like this may not set hearts aflutter the same way an exotic, super light carbon wheelset might, but the XM 1700's price, weight, and performance ratio is tough to beat. That 350 hub just keeps on ticking, and the proven XM 481 rim is sturdy enough for all sorts of hard riding. That 30mm internal width works perfectly with today's 2.4 – 2.6” tires, and getting everything setup tubeless is a breeze.
For riders who are extra tough on their rims, DT also offers the EX 1700 wheelset, which uses the beefier EX 511 rim. MSRP:
$885.90 USDMore information: dtswiss.com
The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro
Hard as it may be to believe, I do more than just mountain bike and write about mountain biking, and reading is one of those things. It's my escape from electronic screens, something that I need even more than ever these days.
I'm not exactly sure how I stumbled upon this book, which was published in 1974, but once I started I couldn't stop working my way through it. It's the best biography I've ever read, the story of how Robert Moses basically controlled New York City during the mid-20th century as an un-elected official. It's full of tales of corruption, the ruthless use of power, and provides a fascinating look into the forces that shaped New York City into what it is today. Caro's depiction of Moses is incredibly well written, and it's well worth taking the time dig into this hefty tome. Price:
Your local library or independent book store.
Ergon SM Enduro Saddle
I know, saddles aren't exactly the most exciting mountain bike product out there, but Ergon's SM Enduro is deserving of some extra recognition. The shape is excellent, free of any hard edges, with a nice flat portion that provides a comfy perch for those sit bones to rest, along with a generous pressure-relieve depression in the center. I've been on the no-chamois program for the last few years, and the SM Enduro is a saddle I know I can trust to keep my backside comfortable no matter how long the ride.
There are two different widths to choose from, and three different rail options, including an oil slick and a titanium version. Price:
$79.95 - $179.95 USDMore information: ergonbike.com
Nukeproof Sam Hill Horizon Pedals
I spent time testing over a dozen different flat pedals
earlier this year, and it was the Nukeproof Horizon pedals that ended up being my favorites. They're slightly concave, with a wide but not ridiculous platform, and the lack of center pins helps give them a very secure feel underfoot.
There isn't one really one specific detail that makes them stand out from other options on the market - instead, it's the way that Nukeproof have hit the mark in multiple categories that made these my pick. As I mentioned in the review, this is my Goldilocks pedal, the one that strikes the perfect balance of grip and shape. I can re-position my feet when necessary, but there's plenty of traction to keep them from getting bounced out of place on rough sections of trail. The overall shape, the pin profile, and the fact that they're still spinning smoothly after months of use earned them a spot on this list.Price:
$119.99 USDMore information: nukeproof.com