As another year rapidly comes to a close, we’re looking back at the best of the best we’ve seen and ridden in 2019. New bikes, new components, new gear… the cycling industry never disappoints in cranking out new products. And we’ve been lucky to test much of it in great places to ride. Here, our annual Editor’s Choice Awards celebrate our personal selections for the best new products we’ve seen or tried over the past year.
Still hunting a last-minute gift idea? This could be a good place to start, whether looking for a new bike, a new gadget, or a new adventure to share with a fellow cyclist in the new year.
Joining the Bikerumor team fairly late in the year, I haven’t seen a fraction of what Tyler, Zach and Cory have seen. And unlike those guys, you’ll never catch me wearing Lycra, skinny tyres or not. My riding style is predominantly gravity-focused mountain biking. Pedalling is a means to an end; my great love is haring it down hills, attempting to find that balance between riding the bike and having the bike ride me. I ride and race enduro in the Tweed Valley in Scotland, so when you only see a list of mountain bike recommendations and gift ideas below, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
We all know mountain biking isn’t the cheapest sport. It seems the second a product is marketed for “MTB” instead of generic “cycling” you can basically slap another zero on the end. Considering that, I’ve been mindful to squeeze in some products that won’t require a second mortgage or selling a kidney. If you’re still looking for a gift idea for the off-road enthusiast in your life, or dare I say a present “to me, from me”, you won’t go far wrong with these gadgets, clothing & hacks.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: The Naughty Northumbrian – First up, I’m definitely the kind of person who appreciates experience-based gifts rather than “stuff”, and you might find that the mountain biker in your life is not dissimilar, after all we are (yes, I am generalizing, sorry not sorry) adrenaline-hunting thrill-seekers. This season, I competed in 11 enduro races all over the UK, from boulder-strewn Kinlochleven in the Scottish Highlands, to garden-centre loam in Exmoor, South West England. Though I had a seriously great time at events like the PMBA’s “Epic” in the Lake District, the best event for me, by a country mile, was the Naughty Northumbrian in the North East’s Coquet Valley.
Fondly referred to as “The Naughty”, this race is a standalone event organised in part by Descent World’s Tommy Wilkinson. This was a cracking event in 2018, but for 2019, Tommy and the team knocked it out of the park with the most interesting and diverse set of tracks i’ve seen at a race to date. Word of warning: This is not an entry level event. It is an EWS rated Black, 3 bar event. Of the 690 who turned up, only 500 left the start line on race day. 190 were were put off after practice, and a further 63 DNF. All of the stages had their own unique challenges but one in particular was unlike anything previously raced in the UK. I’d call it a scree slope but it wouldn’t do it justice. This track didn’t require race tape; it was simply a ledge made of rocks, some of which moved, some of which didn’t, traversing an unfathomably steep slope with some steep hairpin turns thrown in for good measure. Wild. Best track of the race. £76 will bag you an entry to the enduro, which is pretty much guaranteed to sell out. For 2020, riders are in for 6 timed stages over a 40 km loop with 1700 metres of elevation gain.
To only comment on the enduro race would be to do the event organisers a disservice. Nestled away in the little-inhabited Coquet Valley, the event village oozed chilled-out festival vibes, with quality eats on offer from local vendors, a huge marquee with hay bail-seating hosting MTB film showings, and cold local beer on tap. In 2020, The Naughty Northumbrian is set for Aug 28-30th, and the Enduro isn’t the only event on offer. If gravel is more your thing, the Naughty Frontier Gravel Enduro is offering over 5,000 ft of ascent over a 30 mile loop with 5 timed stages thrown in to boot. Entries open February 1st, 2020.
HONOURABLE MENTION: Trail maintenance – It’s a good work out, there’s usually cake, it’s free, and you can walk away with a sense of achievement after improving “that” awkward left-hander, or creating a B-Line to make a trail more accessible. Oh, and it’s FUN! I’ve dipped my toes in this year with the Tweed Valley Trails Association, one of very few organised trail stewardship organisations in the UK just now, but something I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of in future. These will be key to the sustainability of our sport both recreationally and competitively, so roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.
ENDURO MOUNTAIN BIKE
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Privateer 161 – This is a bike that I have, regrettably, not had the opportunity to swing a leg over. Of all the bikes I’ve seen this year, none have captured my attention quite as much as the Privateer 161. In particular, it is that 80° effective seat tube angle that has me stopping and staring. The advent of dropper seatposts is allowing bike designers to steepen up seat tube angles to bring proper climbing efficiency to long travel enduro bikes, and i think we’ll be seeing a lot more bikes with these geometry figures in future. Combined with the slack 64° head angle and long reach figures (470mm in medium), this bike looks like it means serious business. Privateer Bikes describe the 161 as “for those without factory support but who still want the latest in forward thinking geometry combined with real world features and quality construction”. The 161 is sold as frame and shock only, at a seriously good price of £1,399. It’s that combination of progressive design thinking and value proposition that earns it top spot. Sadly for me, Privateer don’t make a frame small enough (wail, hint hint). Update: They don’t make a 29er version small enough. They do in fact offer a 161 to service rider heights of 5ft 3″ to 6ft 3″, but size 1 (5ft 3″ to 5ft 7″) is only available in a 27.5″ frame.
HONOURABLE MENTION: Nukeproof Reactor 275c
Sampling the sweet singletrack of Scotland’s North East, we rode the all-new Nukeproof Reactor 275c trail bike. This 160/140mm travel mountain bike is a true all-rounder. Regrettably, I didn’t weigh it when I had the chance but this top-end carbon model was decidedly a very lightweight build after a big mountain day in the Cairngorms, featuring many hundreds of metres of hike-a-bike elevation gain and boulder-strewn descending.
The Reactor came alive on the loamy wild enduro trails at Tarland, where maneuverability is more important than outright speed, and definitely handled itself with a lot of dignity over the rougher, faster granite rock descents of the Cairngorms. With a preference 29ers over a 650b, I’d love to see how the 290c Reactor goes on faster downhill tracks. For the full first ride review, click here.
ONE TO LOOK OUT FOR: Deviate Highlander – I’ve not even seen one of these in the flesh yet, but the Deviate Cycles’ Instagram feed is such a tease. Taking a fork in the trail of Deviate’s flagship enduro bike is its shorter travel trail bike, The Highlander. The details of this bike are still under wraps as prototype testing is underway but we can infer some key things from the few action shots we’ve laid eyes on. Unlike the Guide with its Pinion gearbox transmission, the 29″ wheel Highlander has a more traditional drivetrain setup. It does however share the Guide’s high pivot point design. We’re keen to hear more about this bike when it arrives early next year, and are praying to the gods that they make a small.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: WTB Judge – I recently cracked the carbon rim of my rear wheel while lapping Innerleithen DH tracks with Adrenalin Uplift. Making the best of a bad situation, a pal of mine gave me a lend of his 650b wheel, mulleting my 29″ wheeled Slash enduro bike. That 25mm internal width rim seated a WTB Judge 2.4″ WT. Word of warning: This is a heavy tyre but my god, the traction was unfathomable. On the Judge, I was able to clean 70% of a steep climb, where the soil was saturated with water and very slippery – a climb which I’d only previously been able to ride maybe 30% of due to loss of rear wheel traction and wheel-spinning. It was incredible on descents too. The side walls are super stiff giving a really reliable and solid feel through turns. I’d highly recommend this as a UK winter tyre. It’s hefty in weight and price, at 1281g and $81, but think of it as extra winter training – you’ll be flying in summer when you get those semi-slicks back on.
HONOURABLE MENTION: Maxxis Assegai – This time it’s a front tyre recommendation. On our Big Mountain Enduro trip to Scotland’s Aberdeenshire, we rode the Nukeproof Reactor 275c. It’s 28mm internal width Mavic Deemax rims seated a Maxxis Assegai 2.5″ WT EXO+, the version with the lightest casing. This is Greg Minnaar’s signature tyre. I was really impressed with the grip offered by the Assegai over Aberdeenshire’s granite and loam. Conditions were dry so I can’t comment on how it goes in the slop. In the dry, its tracking through loamy turns was really confidence inspiring, encouraging me to lean the bike more than ever before. The EXO+ will cost you £64.99 – other casings are compounds are available.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: MET Parachute MCR – This year, MET gave the classic Parachute full face enduro helmet a comprehensive makeover, adding the Magnetic Chinbar Release (MCR) feature, while simultaneously improving the look. I’ve ridden and raced in this helmet for the best part of the 2019 season; the fit with BOA ratchet system is very comfortable, the ventilation is plentiful and the chinbar release mechanism, assisted by FIDLOCK magnets, is intuitive and robust.
It also features the MIPS rotational impact protection system, so does well on safety. I also have first hand experience of the Bell Super 3R convertible full face helmet; it is also very comfortable and features MIPS but I find the chinbar release mechanism on the Parachute MCR far more intuitive and easier to use than the Bell mechanism. The visor can be adjusted to sit in one of two positions, giving plenty of room to mount an undervisor GoPro or store your goggles. Weighing in at 840g (medium) the Parachute MCR will cost you $350. For the full long-term review, click here.
HONOURABLE MENTION: 100% Altec – Another great helmet that arrived this year is the ALTEC enduro open face helmet from 100%. This lid offers cavernous ventilation and a safety system not dissimilar to MIPS in concept, but very different in design and look.
The Smart Shock suspended rotational system protects your head from rotational impact concussion injuries by virtue of elastomers which sit within the liner of the helmet. Not only do they compress linearly but they also compress at an angle, allowing your head to move independently to the outer shell of the helmet during an oblique impact. It’s super comfortable and lightweight, and will set you back $165. For the full review, click here.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Fasst Flexx Enduro Bar – Bendy bars. It sounds bizarre, not to mention terrifying. But this carbon enduro handlebar from Fasst Company actually flexes vertically, and that’s a good thing. Elastomers of varying densities sit inside a bolt-clamped pocket on each side of the stem, allowing some degree of bend in the load path, but none in the steering path. It is essentially suspension for your upper body, taking the edge off terrain roughness, reducing the impacts and vibrations your body has to cope with on a descent. I’ve been running this bar for almost a month now and I am a big fan.
I have to admit, it took some getting used to but the reduction in arm pump is unreal. It’s still there, don’t get me wrong – it isn’t a miracle worker – but it is massively reduced, and for me that is everything. What is stopping me from going fast towards the end of a race run isn’t my cardio fitness, or leg fatigue, it’s the fact that I can barely hold on anymore. The Flexx bar is helping me go fast for longer, by reducing the fatigue in my hands and forearms. It is extremely pricey though, at $424.99. Look out for the full review on this coming soon.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: OneUp Components Dropper V2 – Arguably one of the greatest inventions of modern mountain biking is the dropper seat post. With the saddle out of your way, freedom to move around the bike does wonders for your ability to descend. Trouble is, many bikes have a kink in the seat tube stopping a seat post from travelling further into the frame, meaning some riders have to manage with a shorter than optimal dropper. The cable-actuated OneUp Components Dropper V2 solved this problem for me.
I was able to upgrade from a 100mm Bontrager Drop Line to a 120mm V2 on my 15.5″ Trek Slash, giving me an extra 2cm of saddle clearance. It’s the “longest, yet shortest” dropper seatpost on the market so if you or your MTB-crazed loved one need some help in this department, the $209 V2 could be the answer. It is available in a 120, 150, 180 and 210 mm dropper length, and each can be shimmed down in travel by 10 or 20 mm. This means you no longer have to make a compromise if your optimal dropper length is in between increments – just shim it to exactly where you want it. It is smooth, has a rapid action, and is easy to maintain. I think this is a very good value dropper, bravo.
FLAT PEDAL MTB SHOES
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Specialized 2FO 1.0 – This year I stepped away from the safety of my Five Tens and gave the Specialized 2FO 1.0 flat pedal shoe a shot, and was pleasantly surprised. These shoes are super wearable, not just as an MTB shoe, but as a shoe for walking around in too. I know you aren’t supposed to walk around in flat pedal MTB shoes as the ground can reduce the grip on the sole. But when you’re coaching, you tend to spend a lot more time off the bike at the trail side than you do on it. These have been really comfortable to wear due to their lightweight design – they don’t feel ‘clumpy’ like my old Five Ten Freeriders, and they dry a lot faster too.
I really like the slip on design – a tab at the heel helps you slip your foot in without fuss and the heel area is well supported. The most important thing when it comes to a flat pedal shoe is of course grip, and the 2FO 1.0 did not disappoint. In wet and dry conditions they perform as well as Five Ten Freeriders, gripping well to the King Pins of my DMR Vault MIDI pedals. RRP is £100.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: GORE R7 Shakedry Jacket – By far the most waterproof jacket I have ever had the pleasure of wearing is the GORE R7 Shakedry Trail Hooded Jacket. OK, it’s not made for MTB, it’s for trail running. But, an MTB version does exist in the form of the C5 GORE-TEX Shakedry Jacket, made from the same GORE-TEX Shakedry material. It’s not a cheap jacket at £250 but if you’re riding through slop all winter long it is a very worthwhile investment. It will keep you bone dry in the worst downpours a UK winter will throw at you. It is ultra lightweight, to the point where you’ll forget you’re wearing it. Sadly, it’s only available in black, and kind of looks a bit like a bin bag when wet, but i’d rather be dry than look the part.
HONOURABLE MENTION: Endura MT500 Waterproof Jacket – Coming a close second to the GORE Shakedry is the Endura MT500 Waterproof Jacket. Despite its waterproofing rating of 18,000, the MT500 wasn’t quite as waterproof as the Shakedry. That said, it does beat the Shakedry in terms of breathability, with a rating of 64,000 and zipper-accessed under arm vents.
It also looks a damn sight better, available in Black, Forest Green, Mustard, Mango and Cocoa in the Men’s range, and Black, Cobalt Blue and Cocoa in the Women’s. It is also a little cheaper at £199.99, and made of a more hard wearing EXOShell60 3-layer fabric, with more pockets, one containing a soft wipe for your muddy goggles.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: FINDRA Merino – The temperature dropped many months ago in Scotland, and winter is well under way. Having a decent base layer on while out riding is more important than ever in these freezing temperatures. My go to base layer this season is the FINDRA Merino Wool range. I’ve very sensitive skin and find even Icebreaker 100% merino wool too itchy. FINDRA Merino is a blend of 87% super soft australian merino and 13% nylon, and doesn’t itch at all. The temperature regulation properties are excellent. I have the Oronsay Merino Lite 3/4 sleeve jersey, the Isla Merino Lite Vest, and the Iona Merino Lite Zip Neck Top. All have a flattering cut and look decent in the pub, as well as on the bike.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Bearing Pro Tools – This year I dipped my toes into home mechanics. Note: I hold no mechanic qualifications and usually just trust my local bike shop to do most things. That said, I fancied having a shot at doing my own bearing replacement on the enduro bike. There are many bearing puller and press kits out there, but they will undoubtedly come with only some of the right size parts you need for your specific frame. Bearing Pro Tools now sell frame-specific kits for 19 bike brands and counting, including the most popular ones such as Santa Cruz, Trek, Nukeproof and Canyon. And, they’re very reasonably priced. I got the Trek kit in for my 2018 Slash, which will set you back £55 for the T-bar and drifts, and £44 for the puller kit. Prices vary dependent on brand and model.
THREE FOUR SMALL THINGS
ITEM #1: You can pay anywhere in the region of £120 to £700 for a dropper seatpost these days, with the SRAM AXS electronic dropper post pushing the top end of that range. If you’re forking out that kind of cash for a dropper, it’s probably worth protecting. PostFender does just that. It’s a 100% recyclable polypropylene mudguard for your seatpost that will keep the vast majority of trail grit and water away from the seal, and it will set you back just £10. It’s simply designed to loop over your saddle rails and re-affix to itself via the wings at the top. You can cut it down to size to allow it to move freely up and down the seat tube as your saddle height changes.
ITEM #2: On the topic of fenders, someone has finally made a front wheel mudguard that bolts to the fork brace, and offers seriously good coverage. Rapid Racer Products have recently launched the ProGuard BOLT ON. Instead of using plastic cable ties which tend to move about and rub your fork paint, the ProGuard BOLT ON mounts directly via a bolt system. Note that it only works with forks that have threaded holes on the fork brace; namely, FOX 32, 34, 36, 40 forks (standard and boost), newer Marzocchi models, Ohlins and SR Suntour. The ProGuard BOLT ON is available in a mini (388mm) and standard length (503mm), and 26″, 27.5″ and 29″ versions, each with a price tag £35.99.
ITEM #3: This one is a a little outside the box, but something every mountain biker should carry in their riding pack. A foil blanket. It could save your life, or you could save someone else’s with it. In the unfortunate event that you find yourself or your riding buddy incapacitated on the trail, you’re going to want to be prepared. A foil blanket will keep you warm during a wait for an ambulance, and delay the onset of pneumonia. They are very cheap and very light, so no excuses! You can pick one up off Amazon for less than £2.
ITEM #4: Not specifically a cycling product, but I know for sure there are a great many puffer jacket wearers reading this who definitely need some of this in their lives. I asked my long-distance bikepacking friend what was one of the most useful things she used on her South to North trip of South America. Her answer: Tenacious Tape.
This stuff is amazing. It is a strong waterproof tape made for patching up holes in just about any material, from down jackets to tents. And it’s cheap and the repair lasts ages. I’ve had a patch on a Montane jacket for almost a year now and it hasn’t budged. Pick it up on Amazon for less than £6.
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.