This year, Pinkbike's editors decided to take a page from the CyclingTips playbook and put together a few “Some Stuff 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 on us over the last 12 months.
While Mike Kazimer's list will probably have all sorts of boring things on it like tube straps, funny looking shoes (what time is the space-ball game, @Mikekazimer?), and platform pedals, my 2020 best-of list is a bit more eclectic... For better or worse.
The Grim Donut
This year, it's the Grim Donut that's right at the top of my list. You know when someone comes up with an idea that sounds too good to be true and then that's exactly what happens? Me too, but that's actually not what happened this time, which was a surprise to all of us involved.
When we started the Donut project, the plan was to make a tongue-in-cheek video poking fun at the idea that if long, low, and slack is good, then surely longer, lower, and more slacker must be more good, right? So why not just jump ahead a decade and skip all the humming and hawing? To underline how serious this undertaking was, we came up with a foolproof way to figure out the geometry we'd obviously be using in 2030; we looked at the difference in geo between 2010 and 2020, then just applied that to today's numbers! I thought this was supposed to be difficult...
Our joke of an enduro bike popped out with a 57-degree head angle, 83-degree seat angle, 500mm of reach (ugh, way too conservative), and a bottom bracket height that tried to kill me every few minutes. Did it work? Of course not; it rode like total shit everywhere I wasn't pointing straight down while off the brakes with my eyes closed. But then Yoann Barelli got on it and, well, the Donut sure worked okay for him - he set his quickest-ever time down our test track
! The right amount of stupid? Maybe. Honestly, I thought he'd either be comically slower on the Donut or walk out of the forest with it in two pieces.
What's next? Who knows, but it won't happen anytime soon. Price:
TBA?More information: Video: We Went to Taiwan & Made a Bike from the Future - The Grim Donut
This one's also a no-brainer: It can't be all bikes all the time and when it's not, it's cars. I picked up my blue Mini a few years ago and it's been in various states of fun since then, with it now sporting a modern Honda engine in place of the original A-series, welded-in roll cage, upgraded suspension all around, and this not-so-quiet voice that's constantly saying, ''Let's go to the twisties!
Like a lot of you, one of the many reasons I love mountain biking is that I don't think about much else besides riding while I'm doing it, and that's the exact same thing I like about my otherwise useless little car. I can head out for 30-minutes and only think about rev-matching, how amazing those last few corners (were despite my crappy line), and maybe what the hell was that scary noise? It's also a relatively unfamiliar thing to me, having not grown up completely immersed in car culture as I was with cycling. That means I'm always learning something, be it behind the wheel, with some wrenches in my hands, or hours deep researching something I probably shouldn't buy but definitely will buy.
Next up: Some lessons on the track and maybe a black wrap so it's a bit more discreet. Oh yeah, it sounds like an angry chainsaw with a megaphone, which I loved at first but now I (predictably) find it to be a bit much. Same goes for the can't-miss-it blue paint job that needs to be covered; it's a much better strategy to blend in. Price:
Who cares?More information: Steveston Motor Co
The BMC URS Gravel Bike
While mountain bikes have filled all of my days (both spare and paid) for the last few decades, there was a time before that when all I did was spend endless hours exploring pavement and gravel on my road bike. I didn't own much cycling clothing that wasn't skin tight, and the quill stem on my blue and silver Lemond Zurich was slammed as low as it'd go. While that was twenty-something years ago now, that curly-bar mindset from my teenage years won't ever disappear; I'll always love (ish) training, being fit (ish), and long, hard climbs.
Thankfully, the curly-bar riding these days is way more fun than when I was aboard my old Zurich and Giant TCR road bikes with 23mmm wide tires inflated to 120 PSI. What were even doing back then?
Earlier this year, both Pinkbike and CycingTips converged on Sedona, Arizona, for a semi-joint Field Test; we were evaluating mountain bikes, of course, and they were on gravel bikes. That's where I first saw the BMC URS Three, a very blue, $4,299 USD machine based on a carbon frame that looks like it's from the future - here's Dave Rome's review on CyclingTips
. The least expensive URS gets the same frame as the fancy version, including the Pro-Flex-ish 'MTT' elastomer softtail rear-end that's said to supply 10mm of squish. That's not a new idea by any means, nor is it meant to be rear-suspension, but rather just to take some edge off choppy gravel roads, especially when you're six hours deep into some soul-searching death march.
Another reason I've gelled with Big Blue is that BMC has combined a longer reach number with a shorter than usual stem (for a gravel bike) to move the rider's center of gravity farther behind the front axle. Sound familiar? That means that I don't feel like I'm about to get tossed out the front door as often, and it makes for a much more confident ride.
One thing I see many riders do, especially around here, is to try to turn their gravel bike into a shitty mountain bike by using huge tires and a dropper post... I have a mountain bike that I can crash for that, so why do it on my curly-bar rig? Instead, I plan on keeping the BMC in speedy-ish gravel mode. Has anyone seen my white bib shorts around here? Price:
$4,299 USD More information: www.bmc-switzerland.com
The Roval Control SL Team Issue Wheelset
I know they're not inexpensive, and they surely don't make much sense for the large majority of us, but damn, Roval's 1,283-gram Control SL Team Issue wheels have blown my mind since they arrived last April. I mean, not only are they impossibly light, but they're also 29mm wide internally rather than some piddly size to save more grams, and they've been nothing but faultless for the last months of abuse on terrain and bikes that are probably a bit rowdier than they were made for. Not only have they been reliable, the 4mm wide rim beads have surely saved me from wrecking a tire or two by being too wide (and therefore dull) to slice through a casing when I run straight into some rock I should have seen but didn't.
The price makes them ultra-chic and completely unneeded in any way whatsoever, but there's no feeling like a super lightweight wheelset, especially if they're also reliable and compatible with wide trail bike tires as the Rovals are. A luxury item, for sure, but impressive nonetheless. Price:
$2,650 USDMore information: www.specialized.com
The Crazy Looking Structure SCW 1
I bet that fancy telescoping fork on the front of your bike works really, really well. How often do you find yourself saying, ''There's gotta be a better way to do this whole front suspension thing?
'' Me neither, but there are definitely some clever folks out there who've been thinking about precisely that. Case in point: Structure's wild-looking SCW 1, a full-on production mountain bike that integrates an anti-dive linkage fork (with increasing trail) into its front triangle, all made using carbon fiber.
Because the SCW 1's fork requires such long linkage arms and provides a whopping 7-degrees of head angle change when the fork and shock are both bottomed, Structure needed the real estate that only their own frame could provide. In other words, no, it probably couldn't be made to look less strange. The carbon contraption seems to be half praying mantis, half mountain bike... And it works exactly like they say it does. The funky linkage practically eliminates small impacts in a way that made me think it was drastically under-sprung, but it wasn't. It stands high in its travel like it was over-sprung, but it wasn't.
The most notable advantage, however, is how the bike's handling feels like it remains constant regardless of where the fork is in its travel
. More control means more speed, which might be enough for some of us to look past the bike's, er, odd appearance.
The SCW 1's proprietary front-end was impressive, but its 27.5" wheels (#294lyfe), chunky weight, odd looks, and high-end price tag mean that's it'll likely always be sold in relatively small numbers. Regardless, throw a leg over one if you get a chance - it might not be for you, but you'll be glad someone is thinking differently. While we're here, shoutout to Moorhuhn, AcotFive, Pole (I'm still dreaming of a 120mm Stamina), and anyone else out there doing something different and not obvious. Price:
$6,995 - $9,250.00 USDMore information: www.structure.bike
Topeak Shuttle Digital Pressure Gauge
Tire pressure is the single most important thing that you're not checking often enough, especially as it has a massive effect on your bike's performance, and even more so now that most of us are running quite low pressures. Let's say, just as an example, that your weight, tire, and terrain mean that 25 psi would be an ideal pressure. So you usually prefer it at 25 psi, but now let's say that you don't ride your bike for a few days... Can you actually just go for another ride without checking it? I hope not, because you could have a very different experience if your tires have lost as little as just a few psi, let alone way more. The heavier the rider, or if they're relatively lightweight tires, the more the pressure differential will matter; it's especially important if you're using low-volume rubber with flexible sidewalls.
Am I crazy? Maybe a little, but there hasn't been a single ride over the last decade or more where I haven't checked or adjusted my tire pressure before heading out. To do that, I use Topeak's $65 USD Shuttle Digital (there's an analog version as well) gauge. This little guy has a rotating head, air bleed button, a valve lock to help hold it on, and you can even connect your pump (which I never do) for an inline system. I keep one in my gear bag that comes with me on road trips, another in the car, another in the Jeep, one by the front door, one in my shop, and one in the washroom. Price:
$65 USDMore information: www.topeak.com
The Hans Dampf Tire
Yeah, I know your WT Minions are really, really good. And yeah, I know the Assegai is stickier than hot glue. But I also know that when it comes to trail bikes, you might be
better served choosing something that offers a more fitting balance of weight, rolling speed, and traction. I'd also argue that putting too much tire on a bike is one way to ruin its character; picture 1,300-gram rubber on your 120mm bike that never sees worthy terrain or speed to make the most of your tractor tires. Congrats, your bike is not only slower pretty much everywhere, but also more difficult to get off the ground. There are exceptions (reliability, of course), but it's kinda like how you don't want to over-tire your sports car. Or like how putting 2.0" cross-country tires on your downhill bike would end badly.
Aaaaaanyway, my go-to 29" tire for doing all the things on my trail bike is Schwalbe's Hans Dampf, preferably in a 2.35" width (because that's all you need) and in the softest compound. I'm always thinking about versatility, especially when it comes to tires, and Hans gives me the right mix of weight, rolling speed, and traction for where I ride. I can put on a set in the middle of a torrentially wet spring season and not be let down, or I can run them through the summer as a mid-weight all 'rounder. The casing is also versatile enough for me to run low psi when it's slow and slippery, or up too high without them feeling terrible. There are better tires when it's muddy, or if you're going mach-enduro over pointy rocks, or if you only care about descending, but that's not how I think.
Thing is, tires have to be the component that gets in our head the most; I've had riders much slower than myself ask how I'm even still alive, meanwhile they haven't checked the pressure in their bald-ass whatevers for six months. The cons list is short, but there's no getting around the fact that I tend to slice 'em more often than those Maxxis tires I joke about. And both brand's tires cost too much. Also, not being more of a specialist tire means they're not the best at anything. Price:
$89 USDMore information: www.schwalbetires.com
Smith's Attack Max Glasses and Forefront 2 Helmet
Okay, a disclaimer here: Smith sponsors the Field Tests and supplies us with helmets and glasses, including the ones I'm about to gush about. But if I lost my Forefront 2 and Attack Max glasses tomorrow, I'd head down to Corsa, my local shop here in Squamish, to buy them.
To be honest, while I'd rather not wear glasses at all, I'd also prefer to not lose an eye. While I'm not hot on the name - is it supposed to be inspiring? - these are one of the few glasses that don't make me feel like either a total jackass named Chad (sorry Chad) or someone who exclusively drinks tiny, expensive coffees and wants you to know it. Instead, I just look like a dorky cyclist wearing functional, dorky glasses. I'm cool with that because of the functional part; they barely ever fog and quickly clear if they do, it takes seconds to swap lenses, and the adjustable fit is, umm adjustable.
There are lighter and windier helmets than the Forefront 2, but as long as I'm not in the middle of a cross-country race on a hot day, I'm probably wearing a black and green Forefront with MIPS. First and foremost, it's comfy and provides more protection than the visor-less lid race lid @brianpark
prefers me not to wear to photoshoots (''It looks like a bird on your head.
'') He's not wrong. Speaking of that, I like that the Forefront doesn't look like a typical bike helmet, with more edges than curves and that strange 'Koroyd' stuff in the vents. Downsides: That's over $500 USD on a helmet and glasses when there are plenty of more economical choices out there that are just as effective. Price:
$259 USD (Attack Max), $230 USD (Forefront 2)More information: www.smithoptics.com
The Race's Podcasts
Much like everyone else out there, we started our own podcast this year
and it's been fun seeing it grow, so I'm going to shout-out one of my personal favorites. One of my preferred things to do is an early morning Monday walk after a Grand Prix weekend, rain or shine, because that's when I listen to The Race's (confusing website name, I know) post-race podcast. There are a bunch of different F1 podcasts out there (including F1's own that records three times each event) that all offer some sort of insight, but it's hard to beat the boots-on-the-ground coverage from Mark Hughes and the rest of their team. I've been following F1 since my early teens and haven't missed a race in over twenty years, and I devour any and all English-speaking coverage that I can find, but there are still times when I'm thinking, ''Wait, what in the F-duct just happened?
'' The crew at The Race always sorts it out without further confusing me, though, which isn't an easy feat.
They also do a great job of non-race podcasts covering tech, rules, politics, and anything else going on, as well as also doing the tech-focused Gary Anderson Show and retro-minded Bring Back V10s podcasts. If you're an F1 fan new or old, you'll enjoy The Race's podcasts.Price:
$0 USD More information: www.the-race.com