Each year, we test, try and see a lot of new bikes, components, gear, tools and tech. Each of us has different riding styles, preferences and opportunities throughout the year to try different things. Going forward, in lieu of our usual holiday wish lists and gift guides, we felt it was more appropriate to honor the brands and products that we believe represent the best options in a category, the most forward thinking technology, or ideas that are moving bikes and components forward. Which means, if you are looking for gift ideas, you’d be hard pressed to find better gear than this. Each of us will be creating our own Editor’s Choice list, and here’s mine.
To put my selections into perspective, here’s a bit about me: I’m an all ’rounder, riding road, gravel, cyclocross and mountain bike in almost equal parts. I like it all, and I appreciate gear that helps me pack light, both in terms of bulk and weight, as long as it functions well. I also love when a company is fearless in pushing forward and testing the limits of what can be done. Fearless in revamping their line for continuous improvement. And not afraid to make products for the few rather than the many in pursuit of doing something different and better.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: The True Grit Epic was the first mountain bike race I’ve done in a while. While a 50-miler has been on my list of things I wanted to do for a while, my motivation was low because most of these types of races my friends have done involve long miles of gravel roads and connectors interspersed with bits of singletrack here and there.
Not so for the True Grit Epic. Located in St. George and Santa Clara, Utah, the race course is equal parts gnarly, technical, fast, flowing, swoopy and awesome. And it’s about 90% real trail. There’s a mix of singletrack and slick rock, drops and ledges, and more. This is a mountain biker’s mountain bike race. The location is awesome, with plenty of restaurants, bike shops and lodging, miles upon miles of trail (that 50-mile lap? It’s one single lap…and there’s plenty of trail that’s not being used). It’s also close to Hurricane, UT, which also has amazing trails, and is an easy drive to Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks if you want to make a vacation out of it. Throw in excellent race organization, a killer vibe, and solid but friendly competition and you have an event that should be on any mountain biker’s bucket list.
HONORABLE MENTION: Volunteering. It’s free, and it’s fulfilling. Whether you’re teaching your daughter’s Girl Scout Troop proper cycling safety, coaching (or just wrangling) the local NICA league, or helping set up the kids’ course at your local race, it all helps. Not only does it set a great example for the young ones, but it gets them out riding more. Many communities also have non-profit or volunteer groups that assemble and repair beater bikes for people who need transportation to get to and from work or school, too. Helping out there, or just donating your old parts, can literally change someone’s life for the better.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Italian startup Exept is maybe a year old, but their ambitions, progress and bikes suggest they’ve been in business much longer. They’re taking full advantage of the founders’ years of combined cycling and automotive industry experience. The speed with which they’ve been able to create something so unique and so good is what makes their first model so impressive and my top pick for road bike of the year. The Exept Allroad is a custom carbon monocoque frame, with geometry specific to your body and riding style, made in small batches, all in Italy.
But it’s more than just a custom bike. Everything from their process, the design, to the people behind the brand are awesome. I visited their headquarters, saw how they developed their layup, and brought home a bike made for me that rode and fit perfectly from the first pedal. You can read about them in more detail here and here, and a full HQ tour is coming soon. If you’re looking for a custom bike that marries big data with bigger passion, they’re worth a look.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Look 795 Blade RS earns the French brand praise for being willing to buck tradition in so many ways and bring together a lot of great features into a sleek, reasonably light, well-rounded road bike that checks so many boxes. Designed to offer improved rear compliance and aerodynamics, the bike also gets disc brakes, Mavic’s SpeedRelease thru axles, a Token thread-together bottom bracket, wide tire clearance, and fresh new paint options that go well beyond the brand’s typical black, red and white. There’s also a rim brake version with a clever rear caliper mount, and their upcoming gravel bike looks killer, too.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Once again it seems like Zach, Cory and Steve went to all the off-road launches this year. I feel that’s important to note -I wasn’t the one riding all the new mountain bikes this year- but it shouldn’t detract from the La Sal Peak’s status as a top notch trail and enduro bike. Fezzari broke their mold with this model, completely rethinking the geometry to come up with something that at first glance (and first pedal) feels a little weird and different, but it works.
So many brands are stretching the top tube out and pairing it with ultra short stems and long offsets. The Fezzari La Sal Peak gets the modern stem and fork, but uses a very upright seat angle that effectively shortens the reach. The result is a commanding position on the climbs, but one that’s easy to get low and behind on the descents. Throw in efficient pedaling, great small bump performance and big hit support (not to mention their pricing), and it’s a compelling option for anyone needing a long travel bike.
HONORABLE MENTION: The updated BH Lynx 5 comes in two versions, one with slightly more travel on the front end and burlier spec. But the important part is the rear end, which is shared between them. That combination of a floating rear shock and Split Pivot concentric rear axle pivot remains one of the smoothest systems I’ve ridden for small, rapid fire stutter bumps. Like those braking bumps that plague bike parks…this comes as close to to erasing them and returning control to the rider as anything I’ve ridden.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Haibike has long been focused on e-bikes, and lately they’ve upped their development game to better integrate the motors, batteries, lights and other electronics. They’re pushing beyond add-on systems from Bosch, Yamaha and Brose (all of whom make fine e-bike drive systems) and co-developing their own. And it’s a monster. The new Haibike Xduro lineup will feature TQ FlyOn drive systems with a whopping 120Nm of torque and a 630Wh battery. That should be good for hauling anything, including arse, for somewhere around 80+km per charge! There’s a mountain bike version, too, that comes with 180mm travel and no more excuses for waiting in the lift line.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Earlier this year, Rotor revamped their entire crankset lineup into a wholly modular ecosystem. That means you can swap virtually any arms, spindle, 1x or 2x chainring onto any other part. Their direct-mount chainrings use their OCP design to offer micro adjustments for their oval chainring’s peak position, or you can run standard round chainrings. They have ultralight one-piece 2x road and gravel chainring combos, or a traditional spider so you can run whatever rings you want.
Need power measurement? They have single and dual leg options, all stealthily concealed inside the spindle, and starting at just $799 for a complete power meter crankset. Pricing for their other models is extremely competitive if not a downright steal, too. Combine all that with impressively light weights, often lighter than systems costing a lot more, and their traditionally stiff arms with a more modern matte black finish that goes with anything and you have a winner in my book.
HONORABLE MENTION: The new Shimano XTR M9100 group deserves praise on its own, but for me, the biggest innovation is the Scylence rear hub. The design disengages the ratchet rings completely when coasting, allowing for a completely silent ride with minimal if any drag. Because when you’re in nature, don’t you want to enjoy it? Curious how it works? Check out our full patent briefing for the design here.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Fox Live Valve is a game changer, there’s no other way to put it. Like so many of the best items, at launch the price puts it out of reach. But it’s precisely this type of product development that leads to better products at all price points in the future. It’d be one thing if they just came up with the tech, but it actually works. Damn well. And this is just the beginning of what’s possible with such quick sensors and software. Check out the full tech details in this post, and my ride review here, and you’ll see why Fox’s electronically controlled suspension takes top honors this year.
HONORABLE MENTION: The DT Swiss F535 ONE mountain bike fork is a very important product for them. It marks their attempt at returning to relevance in the suspension category, and if my first ride is any indication, they should make an impact. The combination of coil and air positive spring provides small bump sensitivity at first, then properly manages larger hits with a combination of position-specific damping and the air spring’s inherent progressivity. Where the BH Lynx handled stutter bumps well in the rear, this fork ate them up in the front. The rest of the spec list is good, too, and worth a look if you’re in the market for a 130mm to 160mm fork.
HONORABLE MENTION: Both the Adroit Linkage Suspension Fork and Trust Performance’s The Message introduced a fully modern rethink of a mountain bike’s front suspension this year. Both are linkage driven, relying on small shocks (similar to or an actual rear mountain bike shock) to handle the suspension, but giving them the added tuning available with linkages. The concepts are similar even if their layouts are different: Tune the axle path, progression and overall feel to provide better bump absorption, handling and control than a telescoping fork ever could. Time will tell how riders react to them and how all those extra linkages hold up, but I love seeing out-of-the-box thinking like this.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: The new Mavic Cosmic Ultimate UST wheelset takes all of their very best tech and combines it into an absolute performer. They’re full carbon, molded into a single piece from hub shell to rim, including the spokes. Which makes them stiff, but with the right amount of vertical compliance. And they’re tubeless ready, relying on the UST standard, so the included tires and rims fit perfectly together. And they’ll stay together, thanks to a fully molded carbon rim design that doesn’t need any machining to create the bead hook or drilling to create spoke holes, both of which can weaken a carbon rim.
Inside the full carbon hub shell is Mavic’s newest ID360 ratchet drive system for quick, reliable engagement, and a no-service-required wave washer to keep bearing preload right where it should be. Altogether it’s an extremely light, strong, reliable wheelset that represents the right kind of boundary pushing. And we can’t wait for the disc brake version.
HONORABLE MENTION: Industry Nine is killin’ it, so it’s nice to see that they’re not resting on their laurels. As a brand, they’re among the quickest to adapt to new standards and options, they have one of the widest variety of color options and custom builds, and they seem to always be finding new ways to use and improve their products. The latest are the ULCX wheels, which use their sleek Road Torch hubs with their also-machined-in-house alloy spokes to create a hybrid wheelset designed for the the gravel and cyclocross scene. They offer light weights, great looks, and durable performance, all with your choice of carbon or alloy rims in 700c or 650b sizes. What’s not to like?
EDITOR’S CHOICE: The Karoo Hammerhead GPS cycling computer impressed me with its large, full color touch screen, easy onboard route creation and mapping, quick re-routing, and large buttons. But the icing on the cake is that the team behind it is constantly working to improve it, something they can do because it’s built on Android OS. And when it opens up to third party apps, there’ll be little that can stop this. For me, creating a piece of beautiful and functional hardware is good, but making it somewhat future proof is even better.
HONORABLE MENTION: The new Formula Cura 4 brakes take the already impressive performance of the Cura 2 (two piston) calipers and add even more power with a new 4-piston version. I’ve ridden both, though most of my time has been on the Cura 2 model for XC riding and racing. What I like about these brakes goes beyond their easily modulated but monstrous power. It’s the fact that they weren’t afraid to throw out their old design to recreate a lever and master cylinder that was better in every way. It’s more ergonomic, sleeker, and easier to integrate with SRAM or Shimano shifters. If you’re looking for an alternative to the big “S” brands, the Cura’s have worked perfectly for me.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Prologo Dimension NDR saddle expanded their stubby saddle line into the mountain bike realm, and it’s amazing. There’s a reason the short-nose designs are catching on. They put you in a power-forward riding position, which works for a wide range of riders. Prologo made theirs extra comfortable with a center cutout and generous but firmly supportive foam underneath a microfiber cover that’s the perfect balance between grippy and maneuverable. It’s a great all ’round saddle that helps me drive up the climbs and get off the back for descents. And I love the matte gray color with understated black graphics, too.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: The Crank Brother’s Klick mini pumps have been in their line for about two years now, but we didn’t start testing ours until this spring. And on one particular race day, we tested it again and again and again. And again. It was a long day. But the frustration of a small puncture not being sealed by sealant was somewhat lessened by the fact that this pump is a sheer joy to use. The hose slides out from the handle and attaches to the body magnetically. Thread it onto your valve stem first, then “klick” it onto the body and start pumping. Doesn’t matter how enthusiastically you go at it, the hose won’t come disconnected until you’re done. At which point, simply pull it off, unthread it and you’re back in action. They offer high volume and high pressure models, with and without the inline pressure gauge. This is easily the best mini pump I’ve ever used, something I’ve heard echoed from others who own it as well. Worth every penny.
HONORABLE MENTION: As you can imagine, we have a lot of gear laying around the Bikerumor office. So when something comes in that promises to pull double duty, I’m excited because it means less clutter. The new Syncros Vernon 2.0 Dual floor pump uses a unique dual gauge and chamber system that provides accurate measurements and appropriate air flow for both road and mountain bike tires. Flip the gauge one way for a 160psi max with high pressure flow. Then flip it over for a 40psi max and high volume flow. Separate gauges provide more accurate measurements depending on the type of tire you’re inflating, but it’s just one floor pump taking up garage space! It could have stopped there, but they added a dual pump head (just unscrew the cap and flip it to switch between Presta and Schrader) with an alloy lever and built in air release button for fine tuning pressure. The gauge sits at the top of the barrel, so it’s easy to read, and the tripod legs face two backward so it’s easier to keep your weight on it and stabilize the pump during use.
HONORABLE MENTION: The only thing the Syncros pump lacks is a blow-off chamber to quickly seat stubborn tubeless tires. That’s where my Topeak JoeBlow Booster picks up the slack. I’ve been using this pump for three years and it’s about time I gave it the kudos it deserves. The reservoir chamber pressurizes to 160psi in about 44 pumps, then releases it all very quickly to help seat tubeless tires, whether they’re road, cyclocross, gravel or mountain bike. I’ve used this so many times, and it works almost every time. The few instances where it won’t quite get a tire to seat usually indicates a tire that even my standard home compressor has trouble fixing. Which is to say, chances are if you can’t seat the tire with this pump, it’s going to take some serious trickery. Add in an extra long hose, excellent dual-mode valve head that’s worked flawlessly for years, and solid construction and you have a winner in my book.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Mineral Designs Mini Bar Multitool is simple, compact, slides into a seat bag easily, and gives you three ways of using the bits it carries. And thanks to its magnetic bit case, which the tool nests into perfectly, all of your chosen allen and torx bits will be safely kept together. The tool’s handle has magnetic slots on all three open ends, giving you either reach or leverage.
BAGS, GEAR & ACCESSORIES
EDITOR’S CHOICE: When I first saw the new Gregory Endo hydration packs come across our inbox, I thought “Oh Jeez, another outdoor pack company trying to get into the bike space“. Turns out, their history of making top-level hiking backpacks translates quite well to mountain biking, and this pack has become one of my favorites. Here’s why: It has tons of storage, more than the 15L capacity rating implies. And it’s extremely well laid out, with multiple zippered main compartments that zip wide open; excellent internal storage for pumps, tools and snacks; generous hip belt pockets; zippered soft pocket for phones or sunglasses; a stretchy back stuff pocket; and external compression straps.
There’s more: The reservoir is gusseted to pop open when empty, letting air in so it dries faster. And there’s a hook on the bottom of it to hang it upside down. The hip belt adjusts vertically to fit riders of various heights, and the whole thing is comfortable and resists flopping around during aggressive riding. I have a couple of small nitpicks I’ll mention in the upcoming full review, but suffice to say this pack gets so much right that it’s worth a look.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Blackburn Grid seat bags come in three sizes, I tested the Medium. I’ve been searching for a great saddle bag for a while, and this one has lived up to my expectations and then some. Standard features include a matte gray reflective body plus reflective rear light loop, water-resistant construction and zipper, and full wrap Velcro strap to compress everything snug against the seat rails. A smaller loop secures it to your seatpost to prevent it from swaying or sliding out of position.
What surprised me is how much stuff I could fit in there. It holds a road tube, CO2 canister and chuck, tire lever, and Blackburn’s Switch multi-tool and Airstik 2Stage Mini pump. Which means I don’t have to carry anything in my jersey pockets (besides snacks, of course!). The best part? It’s only $25!
HONORABLE MENTION: Camelbak’s Podium bottle ushered in the era of squeeze-to-drink caps that didn’t require any pulling up on a spout to access your fluids. But versions 1.0 and 2.0 were really, really difficult to disassemble to clean (and they really needed to be fully cleaned). Now, with v3.0 introduced this summer and coming to market soon, it looks like they’ve solved that problem and possibly even increased the flow rate. Always great to see a good product get better.
CLOTHING & APPAREL
EDITOR’S CHOICE: When a brand is known for high end, ultra-premium roadie kit, it’s easy to do an eye roll when they jump into mountain biking. Especially when they bypass XC and go straight for the baggy stuff. And that was my first thought when the Assos Trail Kit was announced. Then I tried it. And my whole attitude changed. They nailed it. The baggies are just the right length and looseness, perfect for demure XC riders and aggressive trail riders alike. The “yoga” waist band on the padded liners is probably the most comfortable bike short I’ve ever worn, and the built-in hip pad pockets (removable pads included) is a brilliant way to add protection to an often ignored danger zone. The tops come in short and long sleeve and are just fitted enough to look sleek without being restrictive. It’s a freshman effort with senior smarts.
HONORABLE MENTION: Champion System’s Apex Light zipless cycling jersey is ultralight, stretchy, breathable and aero. The only thing missing from its feature set is the zipper, which wasn’t actually missed while out on the road. Even on a blazing hot day, I never missed it. The material wicks well and lets plenty of air flow through. I felt dry throughout my rides, and at least as cool as I would with a traditional jersey. Not only does it present a tidy appearance, you can get it custom sublimated for your own team with very low quantities. Just make sure you wear sunscreen underneath.
HONORABLE MENTION: While this particular pattern doesn’t seem to be online anymore, Mavic’s road cycling apparel collection is worth a look. We were handed three new kits prior to three all-day, mountainous rides in the south of France, and each one performed flawlessly. Comfortable mile after mile. Not only are they comfortable, but I particularly like the longer sleeve length. They provide more UV coverage in the summer, and help keep arm warmers up in the shoulder seasons. What’s more, all of the pieces have minimal branding, so unless you’re rockin’ those yellow shoes, there’s nothing about them that screams Mavic. All pieces shown here are from Mavic, and the graphics on the rest of their collection are bold yet timeless.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: It’s no secret Specialized makes some ridiculously nice, and expensive, cycling shoes. And now they’re making a ridiculously nice, and expensive, shoe for something as down-to-earth as gravel riding. The new Specialized Recon S-Works is just that, a $425 pair of carbon-and-Dyneema shoes for the dirt road crowd, and they’re amazing. They’re super light, more comfortable than the S-Works XC shoes, and insanely good looking thanks to fun touches like a fully custom machined and anodized alloy BOA dial. Amortize the cost across your XC and cyclocross rides, too, and…well…no, they’re still insanely expensive. But worth it for those who want the best, and an encouraging look at where their shoes are headed for the rest of us.
HONORABLE MENTION: Northwave’s latest winter cycling shoes ditch the bulk and the weight without giving up the warmth. They’re comfortable, and the seamless, flap-free ankle collar won’t restrict movement or bunch up. And for the really cold and nasty days, or when you know you’ll be stomping through the snow as much as you’re pedaling, the new Himalaya keeps your feet dry and warm.
OFF THE BIKE
HONORABLE MENTION: I’m honoring both GoPro and DJI for bringing innovation to the action cam game. Resolution only needs to be so good, and we’ve had 4K for a while. What really matters is the ability to smooth our action out and capture more light. While my expectations are still pretty high for the latter (though we do have the new Hero7 in for testing, so we’ll see), I’m really happy that both brands are finding new ways of improving the video quality beyond just more pixels. The GoPro HERO7 Black introduced gimbal-free HyperSmooth stabilization, and the DJI Osmo Pocket introduced a smaller gimbal with a 4K camera connected to it.
HONORABLE MENTION: The REI Co-op Flash air mattress is lightweight, packs down really small, but is surprisingly comfortable even for my large 6’2″, 185lb body. And it inflates really fast, which is a good thing after a long day on the bike. Available in regular, long and long/wide, average weight is about 1lb 6oz. Check my write up on more of REI’s bikepacking-appropriate camping gear here.
HONORABLE MENTION: Altra is one of my favorite brands of shoes, but for the longest time they stuck with their running-based outsole and upper design to tackle everything. Then they introduced casual shoes, which are great and all, but what I really wanted was a more technical shoe for off-the-bike adventures in the woods. Now, finally, they’ve delivered. Or, rather, they will deliver in summer 2019. So I haven’t tried the new Wahweap, Grafton and Tushar hiking/approach/scrambling shoes, but the fact that they’re branching out without giving up what makes them unique makes me happy.
THREE SMALL THINGS
ITEM #1: Muc-Off’s side brand, Athlete Performance, makes things like shaving cream, massage oil, and this chamois cream. Available in his and hers versions, the men’s smells like baby powder, which is a refreshing alternative from the medicinal, menthol smell of creams with a “tingle”. And it works, keeping me feeling (and smelling) fresh on rides long and short.
ITEM #2: The Blackburn Honest Digital Air Pressure Gauge is compact, works with both common valve types, and shows the pressure in both psi and bar in about a second. Unlike physical gauges, the digital screen captures the pressure and keeps showing it even after you remove it.
ITEM #3: I have a bit of a bag problem. And that problem is I’m running out of room for all my bags. Because I like having just the right bag, pack, duffel or roller for the occasion. And yes, sometimes multiple colors because I like to match, too. But with the Camelbak Arete 22L, I’ve found one bag that can serve multiple purposes. Technically, it’s a daypack for short hikes. With a firm foam insert to give it structure and pad your back, a 2.5L Crux reservoir and adjustable waist strap, it does that quite well, too. Multiple zippered external pockets help keep small items both secure and accessible. Empty, it lays flat and thin, making it an easy thing to shove into your suitcase so you have it on any adventure. But remove the insert and bladder and it rolls up just tight enough to shove in a jersey pocket, making it a great errand runner, too. It could even serve as a hydration pack for mountain biking if I really needed to travel light.
There are so many more great products I used throughout the year, but this collection represents the best I’ve tested or seen throughout 2018. Stay tuned for Zach and Cory’s lists. Full disclosure: All products are chosen purely on the merits of their features, design or utility for the reasons explained in this post. Under no circumstances do we charge for placement in this list, nor is any favor or preference given to advertisers or brands who bring us on trips. Our selections are mostly limited to products that we’ve actually had a chance to ride, try or test, so a brand’s willingness to bring us to a launch event or send product makes it more likely we will consider their products only because we’ve actually used it.