It's been a weird and (mostly) wonderful year for mountain bikes. To be honest, I don't feel great about the frenzied consumerism that makes these lists popular, but that makes me a massive, gear-loving hypocrite. So rather than just an "X products I loved" list, I've tried to balance the tech out with some of the other things I've been excited about this year.
1. King Cage Titanium Side Loader
Yep, leading this off with a bottle cage. It's non-stop rock-n-roll over here.
Durango-based King Cage sent up an early version of their new titanium side loader cage this summer, and I absolutely love it. The design allows you to choose left, right, or middle entry (my sample didn't have holes for middle mounting but they've been added for production). It doesn't load from quite as wide an angle as the ubiquitous Specialized Zee Cage, but it's close. It's also light, holds bottles well, looks great, and hasn't marked up my bottles. Being able to swap sides is especially great if you're moving it to your seat-tube on a bike with multiple cages (or a gr*vel bike).
Don't get me wrong, the Zee Cage is great, but compared to the carbon S-Works version the King Cage is $5 less expensive and only 5g heavier. I'm a fan of its adaptability and classic looks, so it's become my go-to cage. I should probably buy a couple more.Details
• Mounts for left, right, or centre access
• Two mounting heights for good fit in most frames
• 3-2.5 Titanium tubing
• Doesn't mark up your bottles
2. Women's freeride having a moment
I absolutely love that women's freeride has blown up this year. Events like Formation
and Darkhorse, and pioneers like Casey Brown and Vero Sandler have inspired a hell of a lot of people. Judging by the submissions we're getting to #pbwmn
, it's clear the movement has reached a critical mass—rad people doing rad shit, encouraging other people to do rad shit, encouraging other people to do rad shit, and so on. I'm excited for us to work on a few women's freeride projects in 2022.
3. Matterhackers Pulse XE 3D printer
You didn't think I'd skip sneaking a 3D printing thing into this list, did you? I've had the Matterhackers Pulse XE for about a year, and I honestly can't imagine not having a 3D printer now. I've improved the cable routing on my RAAW, tried some long and narrow flat pedals, made a bike rack
to carry my kid's Strider bike on my cargo bike, prototyped a shifter adapter, and way more. It's been amazing. All the engineers reading this are rolling their eyes, but I still have childlike wonder when I mess around on the computer, press a button, and then an actual thing just... exists. It's wild.
I'm obviously unqualified to judge a 3D printer and I have no idea how it compares to others, but the Pulse XE has been great. The learning curve was easy, the design is optimized for printing stronger materials like carbon-fibre NylonX out of the box, and the Matterhackers
folks are super helpful. They're also mountain bikers so they humoured lots of my dumb questions. Thanks David!
If you're thinking about getting a printer, do it! Send me photos of all the weird shit you make, I'm a huge fan.Details
• Based on the Prusa i3 FDM design
• Able to print abrasive filaments like NylonX (carbon fibre) or stainless steel out of the box
• Build Volume: 250 x 220 x 215 mm
• Layer Height: .03mm to .35 mm
• Auto print leveling w/ 25 point BLTouch sensor
• 24V heated bed with LayerLock Garolite build surface
• Bondtech BMG Extruder with E3D V6 HotEnd
• Made in USA using their own Ryno filament
• Price: $899 USD (for the one I have, but lots of cheaper options available too)
• More info at matterhackers.com
4. Pocket NC V2-10 desktop 5-axis CNC machine
Yeah yeah, I'm a huge nerd. I set out to learn some CAD stuff last year, and that spiralled into 3D printing and then 5-axis CNC. The folks at Pocket NC
were originally inspired by how 3D printing was making manufacturing so accessible, so they kickstarted a 5-axis desktop CNC machine business for everything from prototyping, to dental work, to education, and were kind enough to send a loaner to learn on.
Wrapping my pretendgineer brain around 5-axis CNC was exponentially more difficult than the 3D printing stuff, but it's massively rewarding too. So far I've only made a few small parts, but the most successful one was an adapter for Trickstuff brakes to a Shimano i-Spec EV shifter. I 3D printed a bunch of prototypes above, got the shifter to the right spot, and then broke my head with the 5-axis CAM process.
Typical 3-axis CNC machines go up and down, forward and back, and left and right, while 5-axis machines add rotating and tilting. Programming the right tool to remove the right amount of material from the right places with the right strategy from each angle of the part is not an easy thing for me to think about. Thankfully Cedric Eveleigh (of the Lal Bikes Supre Drive
) is an actual engineer, and was kind enough to walk me through the basics. 6+ hours of machining later (it's a tiny machine) and I had an actual thing. And even more shocking, it works great.
As basic as what I've been able to make is, I'm super proud of it and I learned a lot. The Pocket NC is probably too small and light for production level bike parts, but it's an amazing introduction to 5-axis machining and capable of making lots of things—seat collars, adapters, derailleur hangers, flip chips, top caps, derailleur pulleys, etc. Cedric even used his to do a lot of the work on his prototype drivetrain. It seems like the kind of thing more engineers should have on their desks for trying things in the real world.
For me personally it's really easy to forget about the manufacturing side of the industry. Parts for my bikes come out of boxes in stores, and I rarely think about all the steps that it took to get them there. It's been a big help for me to look at the parts we review and think more about their design choices from a production standpoint. I've got a lot to learn!Details
• 5 axis simultaneous movement
• Tiny machine footprint of 17.5" x 12.5"
• Capable of cutting delrin, aluminum, softer steels, and even G5 titanium
• Travel: 5" x 4.5" x 3.5" (realistically makes things under 3" cubed)
• Rotation: 25° to 135° (A) and continuous rotation (B)
• Accepts standard G-code
• Uses Pocket NC Simulator
for simulating parts prior to cutting
• Spindle speed 2,000-10,000 RPM
• Recommended part tolerance ±0.005in (.127mm)
• Made in Belgrade, Montana
• Price: $6,300 USD
• More info at pocketnc.com
5. The model year dying a slow death
I loved seeing some brands
keep it simple, stupid this year. The industry is facing a lot of challenges with product availability right now, but I'm glad to see a few of them react by further eroding the tradition model year cycle.
On one hand, it's nice to keep track of things with model years for things like reviews. We still say "2022 Transition Spire" when it's the new frame platform coming out late in the 2021 calendar year. On the other hand, not doing specific model years gets away from inflated margins to offset bikes being devalued when next year's colours arrive in shop, and brands can be more agile in updating specs. Less false closeouts, less forecasting issues, less... headaches in general.
6. Lake MX241 shoes
I've got wide, high volume feet. I run flats on the big bike and have some good options there, but for my XC bikes I've struggled to find comfortable clip-in shoes. I've tried wide versions from most of the brands out there that offer them, with varying degrees of success.
The Lake MX241 endurance wides have all but solved my issues. Having two separate BOAs to dial in forefoot and ankle tension independently is great. They feel super secure and the last fits me well, even without heat moulding the heel.
Some might not be too excited about their ~800g weight, but that's a small price to pay for comfort. My only real complaint is the cleat position could be slightly further back on the shoe, but I'll solve that with a dremel sometime.
I'm a big fan of being comfortable so I love these shoes. Highly recommended for anyone with EEEE feet looking for an XC/trail shoe, and I'm betting their regular width one is great for people with hard to fit feet as well.Details
• MX Competition Last features a larger toe box & tighter heel with slightly more overall volume
• Lake Race 100% Carbon Fiber outsole with Mountain Race X Real rubber sole
• Helcor abrasion resistant leather upper, with full grain leather, and Nufoam lining
• Heat moldable carbon heel counter
• Dual side mounted push/pull IP1 BOA lacing system with releasable lace guides
• Sizes 38, 39–47 in half sizes, 48–50
• Price: $380 USD
• More info at lakecycling.com
7. Boot dryers
Pretty much just self-important hairdryers, but damn if a boot dryer hasn't been a revelation this year. I got this Hotronic Tech Dry
boot dryer last year and it's been amazing. The obvious part is that it dries your shoes after wet (or sweaty) rides. It's also quiet, goes up to 70 °C, has auto start and stop functions, and an overtemp switch off so I don't burn my garage down.
If there was any question about Pinkbike employees being so soft we break the Mohs scale, this should answer it. This winter I've started putting my cold riding shoes on the boot dryer before my rides too, while I prep my bike etc. Laugh all you want, I'm shopworn and will take small comforts where I can.
8. Brage Vestavik
9. Zéfal Magnum Pro 975ml bottle Two
hydration-related things on this list? I know, my life is very exciting.
There are a lot of rides that don't need two bottles, and a lot of bikes that can't carry both of them anyway. I am a big fan of Specialized Purist bottles, but they top out at 26oz (765ml) so I picked up a few others. So I've been on a quest for a good large bottle this year.
The Elite Fly Elite
(not a typo, just a confusing name) holds 950ml of water and is ultralight at ~69g, but deforms too much and has an annoying drinking valve. It also doesn't fit as securely into some cages—I think it'd be a lot more home on road and gravel bikes.
The Zéfal Magnum Pro is even larger at 975ml, sits securely in all of my cages and has a great valve. It's a little heavier at 120g, but it feels more like a normal bottle and has great uhhh squidge-ability? Also, unlike the huge 1125ml Soma Further
bottle it doesn't feel like two regular bottles taped together and still fits into a lot of frames.
The only major downside I can see to the Magnum Pro is that it doesn't seem to be readily available in North America. Anyone have a source? Details
• High 975ml capacity
• Double-closure system for watertightness
• Compatible with most bottle cages (they recommend using open cages rather than closed ones)
• Odourless, BPA-free polypropylene
• Dishwasher safe
• 270 mm tall (measure to see if it'll fit in your frame)
• Made in France.
• Price: 8,40 € if you can find them
• More info at zefal.com
10. Vecnum Nivo dropper post
Seb Stott already wrote about this one
in his list, so go read that. I'll just add that mine has been trouble free for over a year as well, I love having full drop even as a short guy, and it's the lightest long-travel dropper by a long shot. More info at vecnum.com
11. Keeping the same bike next year
Raaw announced a new, refined Madonna V2.2
this year, so my 2.0 is practically garbage now. Despite the indignity of having a bike that's a couple years old, I'm keeping it. Since my bike check
last year I've replaced a few things (another set of Magic Marys, an EXT shock to try out, North Shore Billet Daemon pedals, and a new set of Trickstuff brake pads), but I'm blown away every time I ride it.
Lack of availability is frustrating right now for so many people, so having the bike I want and not coveting any upgrades is an amazing, privileged feeling.
12. Dumonde Tech Original chain lube
I couldn't take a photo for this one because I don't have any left. Dumonde Tech's Original chain lube isn't readily available in Canada and I haven't left BC much this year, so I ran out last month. I'm a huge fan of the Original Lite in the summer and the Original in the winter. I've used pretty much everything over the years and am definitely on team Dumonde Tech.
It can't be shipped anywhere because of the VOCs, and I assume that the low-VOC Pro X versions they sell in Canada don't work as well. I'm sure the Pro X versions work well, it's just the psychology working on me—whether it's mosquito spray or chain lube, the more warnings something has the better it tends to work.
To be clear I'm 100% definitely not suggesting anyone smuggle some Original formula up for me. That would be wrong.Details
• Forms a low-friction plating
• Bonds to chain and can’t be washed off
• Components stay cleaner, last longer, and run quieter
• Designed to be applied sparingly
• Price: $20 (4oz)
• More info at dumondetech.com
13. The bike industry finally having a bit of environmental self awareness
The irony of lauding chain lube and then highlighting the bike industry's 'hubristic self-congratulation' (as Henry would say) of environmentalism... I accept that mountain biking plays only the most infinitely small part in our world's problems, but it's still nice to see brands beginning to take environmental initiatives seriously
I don't care whether anyone's motives are pure either—whether brands are being more environmentally conscious because consumers demand it, they have deeply held beliefs themselves, or just less packaging saves money. I'm sure it's a bit of column A and a bit of column B. The important thing to me is that people are thinking about it. As consumers it's important to vote with our wallets, and for those who feel strongly about it to keep the pressure on.
There's a long ways to go, and it's easy to be cynical with so many problems facing us... but I appreciate the work that's been started and I think that's worth saying.
Update: also @Jimmy0.