January—it’s that very special time of year when editors around the world get all navel-gazey and ramble on about the crap that mattered to them over the course of the previous 12 months. Keeping that noble tradition alive, here are ten things that struck a chord with me in 2016. Shimano XT 1x Drivetrain
At the risk of flogging the hell out of this dead horse, I’m starting this thing off with Shimano's XT (M8000, for the nerdier of you out there) 1x11 drivetrain. There are lighter groups out there, groups with more range, groups with greater overt sex appeal. I don’t care about any of that because I can buy an XT shifter, rear derailleur, chain, crankset and cassette—everything I need to make a bike go—for a bit more than $300 USD. To put that in context, you could spend more than that on a cassette or a pimped-out crankset. Or maybe you couldn't afford to, which is where XT enters the picture. But there’s also this: XT is more than just a bargain, it's also a stellar performer, banging off solid, precise shifts that stay
remarkably precise after months of mud and grit and abuse.
In a world of grossly, perhaps stupidly, expensive components, this particular flavor of XT is a breath of fresh air.
Camelbak Skyline 10 LR
Freehub's Snapshot Series
The guys at Freehub have been producing an astounding number of stellar videos of late. Their Snapshot series, in particular, impressed me. Each of the four videos in the series tells the story of an innovative photographer—who they are, what motivates them, why they’ve devoted so much of their life to capturing that perfect two-wheeled moment. The videos, however, also capture the essence of the places these photographers call home—I particularly liked this episode on Reuben Krabbe and Squamish. Check it out, it’s well worth the click.
Strapping a mountain of stuff betwixt your shoulder blades is a crappy idea for oh so many reasons—it screws with your center of balance on the bike, and three or four hours into a ride it flat out doesn't feel good. Sure, you’re by now you're probably used to humping that load up there, but it could be better; that was my realization this year when I first donned the Skyline 10 LR. Suddenly I was asking myself why I'd been lugging all that weight on my shoulders for decades when this hydration pack lets you get away with bringing a ton of tools and a large bladder of water on your ride without feeling like you’ve got a house atop your back.
Ibis Mojo 3
The key is placing the load low on your back. Instead of a tall, skinny hydration bladder running the length of your spine, the Skyline LR contains a wider, short bladder that rests just above your waist.
The Camelbak isn’t without its flaws--it could use a bit more storage space and the supplied hose needs trimming--but the Skyline is the one pack I reach for on every ride. It's like a fanny pack, but you can store tons of water and tools in it, and--bonus points here--it's not a fanny pack. And for the record, calling those things "bum bags" doesn't stop them from looking like something you found on the floor of your gran's closet.
As an editor, you get to ride a lot of promising bikes. While there are plenty of solid rigs bumping around right now, this one really impressed me. Maybe the Mojo 3 stuck out for me because I wasn't expecting it to--certainly not in plus-size mode. You can run the Mojo 3 with either "normal" tires or anything up to a 2.8-inch tread, but this thing is amazing
when it's wearing the 2.8 Schwalbe Nobby Nics--a grin-inducing combination of snappy, quick-footed handling and ridiculous traction. The Mojo 3 is the only bike I've ridden to date that I flat-out prefer in plus-bike mode. Is it perfect? Nothing's perfect. The Mojo 3 could use more mud clearance (there's scant breathing room with those 2.8s in there), but that's truly my only complaint. Here's Levy's review of the bike.AeroPress Coffee Maker
The world can piss off until I've had my first four espresso shots of the day. At least that's how mornings unfold when I'm on the road. When I'm at home, the one thing I can't live without is this dubious-looking coffee press. Yes, it appears to be some kind of cross between a bong and a penis pump (note to the marketing people at AeroPress--I'm trademarking that slogan), but the AeroPress also bangs out the perfect cup of coffee, every damn time: It's thick, curl-your-toes stuff with a bit of crema atop. Think of the end product as something akin to a very strong americano.
The AeroPress is dead simple to use, worlds faster than a French press and--bonus points--it costs about $30
(USD). I've had this one for about eight years, during which time it's saved me loads (no paying for overpriced, barista swill) and brought me no small measure of happiness. Does pouring a ton of hot water into a plastic tube strike me as a good idea? It does not. Despite the fact that the AeroPress is made from BPA-free plastics, I harbor a strong suspicion that I'll grow a sixth toe or sprout a testicle from my forehead at some point in the future. The coffee it makes, however, is so damn good that I consider the spare teste a worthwhile tradeoff.Specialized Boomslang Pedals
The Specialized Boomslangs have been around for awhile, but I only wound up getting a pair this past season. In a word, stoked. The Boomslangs offer ridiculous traction and a platform shape that simply feels right—regardless of which shoe I’m running. The thing fairly bristles with pins—nicely spread out—and should you shear off a pin or two, the Boomslang harbors four spare pins inside the pedal body. Ingenious. And did I mention bulletproof? The Boomslangs are absolutely bomber. True, it’s no lightweight (440 grams) and it costs a tidy bundle ($180 USD), but the wide platform, thin profile. and over-the-top grip and durability make this pedal a favorite of mine.Cranked Magazine
The Internet is a magical, wondrous place. Is there someone holding a gun to your golden retriever's head demanding you drum up a recipe for shrimp tom yum goong in five minutes or else the dog goes to puppy heaven? Well, the Internet delivers the perfect blend of ginger, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass and fish sauce in less than five seconds
. Take that
, dog-hostage-holding madman! Need to hone your understanding of the ethical implications of advanced stem cell research? The Internet has your back. Need to watch videos of cats fighting with light sabers? The Internet was designed expressly for that very thing!
So, yeah, viva the digital age and all that jazz. I am proud of what we deliver online every day. I am, however, also a fan of sitting down with a beverage and a good read. More often than not, Cranked
magazine fits the bill. Sharp writing, great photography, a willingness to take risks and a dedication to telling the stories that too often get overlooked. Seb Rogers and a long list of other great writers populate these pages and take no prisoners. It's good, long-form stuff that stands the test of time. If you haven't checked it out yet, you should.Trailforks App
I hesitated including this app because it’s something Pinkbike produces and that sort of smacks of “Hey, guess how awesome we are!”, but Trailforks has truly blown my mind and saved my bacon more times than I can count.
The Increasingly-Versatile, Short-Travel Bike
The tagline is "70,000 trails in your pocket" and that is, in fact, what you get for the cost of…nothing. It’s free. Moreover, it’s the best trailfinding, route exploring, get-back-home trail app of its kind. There are still corners of the globe that aren’t included, true, but the database is constantly growing.
Rolling into some new territory and wondering how to get to the trailhead, which trails are the most popular, what the trail conditions are like today? Trailforks answers all of that. It is, simply, amazing. I’m still just skimming the surface of what this smartphone app can do, but it’s already proven a game changer for me.
It’s long been an adage—you can’t pigeonhole a bike by its travel. Simply adding squish to a bike doesn’t make it a downhill demon. Similarly, subtracting a few inches won’t endow it with magical Everest-scaling abilities. Fair enough. That true-ism, however, has only gotten, er, truer, of late. I’m talking about the crop of short-travel bikes that are way more capable and fun to ride than you might guess.
The Santa Cruz Tallboy, Pivot Mach 429 Trail and Kona Hei Hei DL (to name just a few) are all models that are light and efficient enough to crush long miles at speed, but are also a blast on the descents. These bikes provide you with a lot less margin for error, of course, but pushing your limits and getting loose is obscenely fun on these bikes. Sometimes you don’t want to bring a gun to a gunfight. Sometimes you want the knife. These super-capable, short-travel bikes oblige. It’s a good thing—less compromise, more versatility, more fun. Getting Out There
My motivation for getting into mountain biking was never to schralp, per se. Radness wasn't my priority. I just wanted to escape. To turn circles in the dirt, get lost and then find the long way home again. Somewhere along the line, I lost sight of that. Most of my rides are of the short and dirty variety--a couple happy, frenetic hours snuck in every day, in between work and all the bills, broken water pipes and assorted bullshit that accrues with the years. I love my daily ride, but I have to admit that I'd like to get away for a week or so at a time. Long days, few to no other people, a tent, my backpacking rod....silence. While it's hard not to roll your eyes at the trend du jour in the bike industry, I'm genuinely happy to see more attention being paid on getting out there and pushing the limits of our maps, our technology and our bodies. If bikepacking is a trend, it's a trend I can wholeheartedly get behind. I want more of that for myself in 2017.