2021, it’s been a long time. While for some the year has flown by, I would be lying if I said that was the case for myself. It’s been a wild ride but also one of my best yet, if I may say so myself. It started out in Europe before coming over to the United States of the Northern Canadias. In my mind, I have to keep reminding myself that I started the year in Portugal, it all seems so long ago.
But here are the products or things that stood out, for one reason or another.
Yes, I’m going to bring up the Spire that I reviewed in the enduro bike field test,
how could I not? This is a bike I seem to be on the campaign trail for and I renew my vows of dedication every time I ride the thing. I just love it. Honestly, think of this how Brian Park thinks of his 3D printer - yes, I know you don’t care and yes, I’m going to tell you about it anyway.
It just fits me well as much as anything. It just has all the dimensions I would like in a relatively lightweight and seemingly reliable package. I’ve ridden this bike most days for a long time now and it’s still going well. For me, with my seemingly always off-beat riding style that's more about hitting things than floating over them, the 170mm 29er seems to give my riding a much needed nip-and-tuck to make it appear so much better than it is. If I’m lugging around big wheels and all that travel that’s exactly what I would expect, but that’s not to say all bikes in this bracket deliver that.Price:
Transition Spire GX Carbon - $6000More Infomation:transitionbikes.com
Another product that I’m on the campaign trail for is inserts. Very specifically though, it’s the Rimpact Pro. My conclusion from the two part insert group test
earlier this year was that you run an insert in the back for reliability and in the front for performance. Having lived in Squamish for the last six months, that hasn’t really changed. The only notable exception is the security afforded to me for riding rock features for the first time.
I still haven’t really accepted just how slow you need to ride these things and often default back to off the brakes and let the bike do the work. This has its time and place, but some of the front wheel compressions I’ve gone through while living here have been truly horrific - yet I haven’t sliced a tire yet or killed a rim. To be honest, I feel that I should have and would have without inserts.
I hate running downhill tires. I’ve now settled on 900 - 1000 gram weight bracket for my rubber with inserts front and back. With this spec, it's really helped me in my bid to just close my eyes and hold on when riding rock features and, I’ve got to say, it’s my favourite set up to date for all-round riding too.Price:
$100 per setMore Infomation: rimpactmtb.com
Shoes for Normal People Sucking Less
I've long been frustrated with flat pedal shoes. Why for so long have they looked like early 00s Osiris skate shoes? Why can't you have a flat pedal shoe that is also technical and not skate-inspired? Who are they making them for? Bart Simpson? It's the same with waterproof shoes - why can't they just be sensible instead of always looking like a ski boot? Do normal, non-XC racers not want dry feet too? Well, finally it seems both these problems are being tackled.
In recent years flat pedal shoes have definitely got more technical. New models from Five Ten, Specialized, and Crankbrothers amongst others are not about trying to get a shoe that just looks cool but one that also works well.
You'll also see companies like Fizik making waterproof clipless shoes for people that have no interest in chugging three litres of IPA in between laps at a cyclocross race, but rather to satisfy trail riders. You know, like a lot of people who just enjoy riding their bike in the wetter months.
There is also the new Trailcross model from Five Ten. I've just got some in for review and early impressions are very good. It's like the zenith of flat pedal shoes. It's technical, it's light, it's a mountain bike shoe first and puts function over form. It feels like what I've been waiting for. My only question is, what took so long?Price:
Not cheapMore Infomation:
Every time somebody says that a product is inherently good or impressive because it's been in development for X number of years I always think to myself - It's been nearly 10 years since the Marsh Guard style of mudguard came out... and we've only just got fenders that don't require cable ties.
I'm glad they're now here but, my word, we've waited long enough.
That's not to say things shouldn't take a long time, but rather the cycling industry is a warped place where some simple things take a long time and some game-changing things come out of the blue. I just don't think it's really that suitable of a reference or a denotation of something being really impressive. I remember a colleague who worked for a large suspension company telling me just how long it took from prototype to production. It certainly wasn't spritely and, put it this way, it wasn't measured in weeks or months.
But they're here now and they're awesome. They look clean enough to never even take them off and they work so well. I think the angular looks of the RockShox fender complement the arch of the fork and it actually looks better when it's on than off. The same with the rounded profile of the Fox options. Top work!Price:
1000 bitcoinMore Infomation: sram.com
, all the people I forgot.
Vittoria Mazza Trail 2.4
Speaking of tires, the Mazza in a 2.4” trail casing was something that I tried running before but it never really gave me what I needed - the trail casing was just too thin for hard riding. This isn’t a Vittoria problem, but rather the limitations of a sub-1000 gram tire. I ventured up to 2.6” in the UK, but I found that although it was great, I was getting the extra weight of a thicker tire but not all that much more grip, or at least not a noticeable amount. That said, it did look mightily capable on the front of the bike.
The Enduro casing Mazza 2.4” is a great tire also. I think the sidewall is a great blend of everything you’d want a 1200g tire to be. Would I rather have a 1000g tire with an insert or a heavier tire without one? For me, it’s the former.
Running the Mazza in that setup has just been so rewarding. The way the insert supports the tire means that it improves a tire that already offered huge amounts of a grip and a gradual transition between edges that inspires huge amounts of confidence.Price:
$69.99More Infomation: vittoria.com
Okay, okay, okay - I’m not an e-biker, truthfully. I can ride one and tell you if it’s any good, but I’m not somebody that wakes up in the morning, throws open the curtains and thinks, “I simply can’t wait to put out 72W and cruise up a climb in my lululemon activewear.” It’s fine. Do what you want, but it’s not how I choose to spend my free time.
But, and it’s a rhinoceros’ backside-sized butt, this Yeti eMTB was something pretty cool. The suspension was just fantastic. The small bump. The mid stroke… the end stroke ramp up! It had it all. Its geometry was a shade conservative for my liking, but I got informed recently that, and I know this may shock all of you as it shocked me, but I’m not actually center of the universe - who knew? Either way, I’m sure it will suit some people - even if I would love to see this platform with a slacker head angle, 200mm of travel, maybe a downhill fork… and no motor.Price:
Not exactly cheap considering I don't want the battery or motorMore Infomation: yeticycles.com
I’ve long known POC for their helmets and clothing - it wasn’t until relatively recently that I began to really use their eyewear. However, I think I’m now converted.
The Ora is about as good of a goggle as you could ever hope for. It’s comfortable, flexible enough to allow for easy lens changes and has nice, low key looks. Then, once you factor in the dual-lens optics it really begins to come into its own. They steam far less on cold days than other single-lens goggles. In fact, they work so well that on a recent cold uplift day at Prevost while trying a new model from a different brand I ended up reaching for these halfway through the day.
The main item that I use every single ride is their new POC Devour Clarity sunglass. These things look slightly outrageous and are wildly oversized. In fact, I would say it gives coverage comparable to a goggle. They’re well ventilated, have a flexible frame and are adjustable. My only qualm would be that the large lens and deep-fit of the POC Kortal helmet don’t work very well together, often pushing them down your nose. As a stand-alone piece though, the Devour’s are a genuinely well-executed piece of kit and I think they're just brilliant.Price:
$196.00More Infomation: pocsports.com
Small Forks That Deliver Big Performance
When I started to really get into riding it wasn't uncommon for people to run a Fox 32 or Rockshox Revelation at up to 150mm of travel. I know the wheels were smaller then but it's still quite strange to consider. I think a lot of the initial forays into progressive trail bike geometry were hampered by forks that quite simply couldn't keep up. I remember riding a Whyte 146 that was unbelievably light with a 66ish-degree head angle and a lot of the things we take for granted on modern enduro bike - it had a one-by drivetrain, was designed around a short stem and wide bar and was a bike that actively tried to challenge the established ideas around what a bike should be. However, riding it was a strange affair because the fork was just so flexy.
Fast forward ten years and it feels like we're in a golden age of suspension. Everything is just so good. The 36 and the 38, much like the Lyrik and the Zeb are just magnificent, and that's not even mentioning the offerings outside of the big two where there are also products that really deliver. However, the thing that really blew me away this year was the SID and Fox 34 that featured on bikes in the downcountry field test
. Gone are the days of inflating your forks to 73 billion PSI just to stop them diving - they were consistent, well-damped and would take so much abuse and come back smiling.Price:
1.5 kidneysMore Infomation: sram.com
GT Force Carbon
There were two bikes that really stood out during the enduro field test for me. The aforementioned Spire, which I won’t shut up about, and the Norco Range. Both bikes were just fantastic, even if I did prefer the Spire.
The GT Force was a little more low-key and I would argue more versatile than its brother in arms in the war against low pivots - the Range. It’s got slightly gangly looks and combined some tubes that are bulbous and some more slender. The mid-high pivot bike did have the geometry to make a statement though. It felt great to see GT doing this so well.
I didn’t entirely get on with that bike in every single regard, but it did set a new standard for me of how I want an enduro bike to track the ground while off the brakes. Honestly, it was just sublime. It followed the ground with such ease and the faster you went the more it came alive. As with all bikes, it wasn’t without its foibles but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a very
good bike. I would love to try that platform on a downhill bike.Price:
GT Force Carbon Pro LE - $6000More Infomation: gtbicycles.com
Self-satisfied, adamant, opinionated and an apparent chronic lack of self-awareness… no, not me - Morrissey!
This song was my most played during the year on Spotify, and by some margin. Every day in Lousã I would try and do two laps of the bike park. Thanks to the national lockdown in a foreign country, I got it done more often than not. At 750 meters of vert a pop, it left a lot of thinking time and I would be clamoring for the repeat button on this song. I like to have my own thoughts, but at that time this seemed far more interesting.
I’ll often think back to that lonely road, and how amazing it felt to just be there on my own, letting one pedal rotation follow the former. There was this motley crew of wild dogs that lived on that mountain. Apart from them occasionally scampering onto the road or me being overtaken by this unaccountably reliable early 90s Fiat Panda, I was all alone up there.
That massive listen count doesn’t even factor in how often I listened to this version on YouTube. It was almost a near-constant when at home. Leaving Morrissey’s personal sentiments to one side, he’s one hell of a performer. I think to love him for being anything other than pantomime and pompous misses the point entirely. He’s a caricature of the man that once headed the Smiths. I once heard Russell Brand describe him as something like “the poet laureate of the dispossessed”. A fittingly silly yet apt description for the man himself.Price:
An ethically sourced vegan burger that's never been within 100 miles of a battery farm.More Infomation: themandoesntcare.com