List-making experiences a dramatic increase in popularity in the months of December and January. Best-of lists, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa wishlists, lists of New Year's resolutions, lists of groceries – around the world, everyone seems to be writing down a bunch of items in an orderly fashion. Not wanting to miss out on all of the fun, I've compiled a list of my own, a list of the bikes that I'm excited about riding, or at least seeing in person this year. As always, there will be plenty more interesting bikes announced this season, but at the moment these are the ones that have made me take a second glance.
You'll notice that the majority of these bikes are being manufactured by smaller companies, or even by one single person. That wasn't really a conscious decision on my part, but I have always been a fan off the scrappy upstarts, the garage operations that decide to take matters into their own hands. So, without further ado, here's are the seven bikes that have grabbed my attention recently:
Sick Bicycles Gnarpoon
I've never met Jordan Childs and Tim Allen, the duo behind Sick Bicycles, but the way the brand is presenting itself reminds me of the original Spooky Cycles, a small outfit out of NYC in the late 90s that did things their own way, for better or worse. (I still kick myself for selling my Spooky Junebug – pistachio green, with a red Marzocchi Z2 and an extra-high BB for that proper East Coast geometry).
The guys at Sick seem to have adopted some of that same punk rock attitude, making bikes that they want to ride, rather than pushing out another four-bar lookalike. They've unveiled a few unconventional-looking designs, but it's the Gnarpoon that really caught my eye. Handmade in the UK with a steel front triangle and an aluminum swingarm, this behemoth will reportedly be available in a 27.5+ version with 150mm of travel, and 29”-wheeled version with 180mm of travel and a 62-degree head angle. Big-wheeled freeriding? Count me in.
Commencal Supreme DH 29
Yes, the Supreme DH 29 may be getting more than its fair share of press lately, but just look at that thing. I was a fan of the 27.5” Supreme DH's super-quiet and smooth handling when I reviewed it in 2016, but I wanted a little more length in the cockpit. It looks like that request has been answered, and with 29” wheels to boot. Naysayers often try to pigeonhole 29” wheels as taking away the 'fun', but I don't buy that for a second - those big wheels combined with a high pivot suspension design have the potential to be an absolute riot out on the track, especially in the rough stuff.
Pole gained a little extra internet notoriety after their rant against carbon, but the new Machine isn't built out of organically grown, locally sourced bamboo – it's CNC'd from a two solid chunks of aluminum. Environmental touchy feely stuff aside, it's another entry into the 'smash through all the things' category, with the long reach that Pole are known for, 29" wheels, and 160mm of rear travel. What good is all that length? Other than the oft-touted stability benefits, those sprawling dimensions create room for carrying not one, not two, but three water bottles.
Whistler's chairlifts might currently be in use for transporting skiers, but it's never to early to start dreaming about some summertime DH laps. And what better way to stand out from all the Sessions and Demos than by rolling up on this carbon beauty? The made-in-Poland Darkmatter has 200mm of travel a high-pivot suspension design, and a price tag that'll make your eyes water (it's 4950 Euro for the frame alone, and that's without a shock). Does its performance match the price? I don't know, but I'd sure love to find out.
Knolly is on ever-shrinking list of companies without a 29er in their lineup, but that looks like it's going to change when the Fugitive arrives. With 120 millimeters of rear travel, 140mm up front and a relatively slack head angle, it falls into that all-round party-bike category – there's just enough travel to keep things interesting, especially in the techy bits. The Fugitive is expected to debut sometime in the spring, and according to Knolly, they have other 29ers in the works. Better late than never, as the saying goes.
Lost Bikes Lemonade
Based out of Bellingham, Washington, Lost Bikes are small company that are entering the mountain bike world with their HardTrail 29, a chromoly hardtail, although the Lemonade is the model that's piqued my curiosity. It's still in the pre-production stage, but the official launch is planned for this spring. The aluminum machine has 140mm of rear travel, 27.5” or 29” wheels, and the de rigueur long, low and slack geometry.
Starling Beady Little Eye
Tired of all the 29ers on this list? Me neither, but for those that are, how about this Starling Beady Little Eye? It's not exactly brand spanking new - early photos surfaced towards the end of 2016, but I learned of its existence fairly recently.
I like the prototype's rusty, rat rod finish, and with the single speed drivetrain it's a prime candidate for being ridden hard and put away wet. Is it practical? Not really, but this isn't a list of practical bikes. This is a list of bikes that make palms sweat and hearts pound a little faster, bikes that inspire a second, third, and fourth glance. Just looking at this 90mm steel ripper makes me want to go out and carve in a muddy grass slalom track somewhere and make left (and right) turns all day long.