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 amazing 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 (really) 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.
I just want to ride my bike. It doesn’t really matter what kind of bike, as long as I’m getting some form of exercise and on two wheels. At one point I would have considered myself more of a mountain biker than anything else, but as I’ve gotten older road bikes, CX bikes, and now gravel bikes have become a much bigger part of my life. I can get bored pretty easily with a single style of riding, and for me one of the biggest motivators is being able to constantly improve and add new skills to continue to evolve as a rider.
At the same time though, this year more than ever I’ve really started to appreciate the journey as much as the act of riding and the gear itself. Bikes have taken me to some incredible places and play a huge role in who I am today.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Big Trip: Riding Besakih Bike Park in Bali, Indonesia – Part of me still can’t believe I’m even writing those words. Easily the farthest away and hardest place to get to that I’ve ever ridden, my trip to Bali with Patrol Mountain Bikes was one of those utterly transformational adventures you’ll never forget. Prior to this trip, Bali isn’t a place that I would have even considered as a mountain bike destination, but Eric Sanjaya and the Bali Mountain Bike crew have done an impressive job cultivating the local riding scene.
The riding at Besakih Bike Park isn’t overly technical, but to me it was more about the whole experience – where else can you ride a bike park on the slopes of an active volcano where you can finish the ride by coasting down to the biggest Hindu temple in the region? Along with the bike park, Bali Mountain Biking also offers guided rides which are much more adventurous – just be prepared for a lot of dust, tricky situations, and a mix of everything from singletrack to riding through fields, villages, and “roads”.
Bali may be tough to get to from the States, but once you’re there the opportunities are endless and the dollar goes far. For the most part, we stayed away from the touristy areas of the south western side of the island, but I was happy to take in the full spectrum – from the most rural areas to the most developed. If you want to take a bucket list-style trip, hit up Bali Mountain Biking and book a day or two at the park which includes hotel pick up, transportation, a Patrol Mountain bike to ride, lunch, water, and a full day of uplifts in a truck. Then use the rest of your trip to take in the culture, check out the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, and maybe catch a few waves.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Small Trip, Big Party: Grinduro – For something a little closer to home, Grinduro was one of my favorite events of the year. Depending on how far away the nearest Grinduro event is, this could still be a fairly long trip. But with even more locations added for 2020, it should be easier than ever to find the ultimate ‘Party-to-Race Ratio’.
This year I had the opportunity to attend my first Grinduro which also happened to be the first time they held a Grinduro Canada in Charlevoix, Quebec. The course was beautifully brutal – one of those rides that you’re left with a true sense of accomplishment at the end. More importantly, there is just enough racing to satisfy your need for speed, but mostly it’s chill riding with your friends followed by a massive party. The format is just about perfect, and will probably change the way you feel about gravel racing. And racing in general.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: No Passport Required: White Rim 3 Day Trip with Rim Tours – My favorite trip within the United States this year was probably the 3 day adventure on the White Rim Trail in Moab. Hydro Flask brought us out to check out their latest hydration pack, and the experience itself turned out to be worthy of any bucket list. The riding isn’t very difficult other than a few tough climbs, but the scenery is the definition of epic. Our guides from Rim Tours were amazing, and knew all of the cool, off the trail/map things to look for. They also provided incredible meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and carry all of your camping supplies meaning all you have to do is ride.
ROAD & GRAVEL BIKES
EDITOR’S CHOICE GRAVEL: Devinci Hatchet Carbon GRX LTD – It certainly didn’t hurt for my Grinduro experience that I was there to test out the all new Devinci Hatchet. I’m convinced that the bike aided my performance – at least in the more technical and loose sections. The new Hatchet is everything I want in a gravel bike. It’s lightweight with a beautiful carbon frame, but also has room for massive tires. Technically rated to 700c x 45mm, we raced Grinduro on 700c x 50mm Maxxis Ramblers, and I’ve been riding the bike at home with 700c x 50mm WTB Ventures. Even with the Ventures fitted, the frame still has plenty of clearance for thick mud, so the 45mm rating is definitely conservative.
Designed with more modern geometry with a longer reach and shorter stems, toe overlap is a non-issue even with 50mm tires. The handling is on point whether dropping into a surprisingly technical Quebec MTB trail mid-Grinduro, or screaming down a loose fireroad with sand deeper than your tires. The frame is dropper compatible which was way more useful than anticipated throughout the event, and it even worked out well for a loaded bikepacking trip with the Blackburn Outpost Elite bag’s dropper post compatibility.
At $3,299, the Hatchet Carbon GRX LTD also seems like a great value for what it offers.
HONORABLE MENTION GRAVEL: Otso Waheela C – Like the Devinci, the new Otso Waheela C also packs in a ton of tire clearance, dropper post compatibility, and a carbon frame. In fact, the Waheela C has even more versatility than the Devinci with the ability to run both smaller, and bigger tires (up to 29 x 2.1″ MTB tires”) thanks to their adjustable dropout system. While the Waheela C might not have quite the sharp looks of the Hatchet, it’s definitely worth a look – especially if you want to be able to run multiple tire sizes.
EDITOR’S CHOICE ROAD: Why Cycles PR – When it comes to these awards, I often ask myself, “would I buy this with my own money?” In this case, that’s an easy answer – yes, I did buy this bike with my own money. I had such a good time on this bike after building it for review, that I couldn’t send it back. Initially, the thought of it only being compatible with wireless drivetrains was a bit of a turn off, but I ended up liking SRAM’s Force eTap AXS so much, that it became a non-issue. I have to believe that we’ll see a similar wireless drivetrain option from Shimano at some point in the future as well. For me, this bike was the perfect balance of comfort and speed, sharp handling and rider confidence. It has clearance for 32mm tires, and it’s Ti – it should last a while.
HONORABLE MENTION ROAD: Canyon Endurace CF SLX – This bike was surprising. Initially, it was just a way to get a few test rides in on the new SRAM Force eTap AXS, but it ended up being more than that. The Endurace CF SLX was smooth, confident, and fast, and they seem like good values – if they actually have the bike that you’re looking for in stock.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Ibis Ripley v4 – This one’s probably not much of a surprise given the review I just published. The newest Ripley kept me coming back for more all year, and it’s built with some incredible parts including the incredible new Shimano XTR M9100 group. This bike, in a way, seems category re-defining, somehow excelling at both XC and aggressive Trail. Sure, there have been other bikes in the past that claimed to do the same thing, but the Ripley is on another level. With extremely thoughtful details, and proven durability (by me, crashing it a bunch), Ibis has a winning recipe here.
HONORABLE MENTION: Revel Rascal/Rail – If any bike were to dethrone the Ripley this year, it would have been one of these two. I’m more interested in the Rascal due to the 29″ wheels over the 27.5″ wheels of the Rail (though it was an awesome bike in Moab), but both bikes came out of nowhere with the first implementation of the Canfield Balance Formula suspension system in a carbon fiber frame. They also happen to be the only full suspension frames with CBF currently for sale.
Both bikes ride incredibly well, and have killer details like smart cable routing, integrated custom chain guides, and more. The Ripley just edges out the Rascal with more clearance for bigger tires and longer water bottles, but the Revel Rascal wasn’t far behind. For a company’s first efforts in the world of full suspension mountain bikes, Revel has two truly impressive bikes.
HONORABLE MENTION: Hope HB130 – Hope is known for making beautifully precise, legendary components. That fanatical attention to detail is making its way over to complete mountain bikes with the HB.160, and most recently the HB.130. One of the things that makes the Hope Bikes so interesting is Hope’s ability to integrate so many of their own components into the build. That gives them the option to create a system that they feel is truly an improvement, rather than being forced into the going standard. That deviation from standard raised a lot of eyebrows with these bikes, but it’s a refreshing glimpse into what is possible when you’re not constrained by certain designs. It also helps that it’s an excellent riding bike, built to be a quiver killer with the UK’s gnarliest trails in mind.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Shimano XT 1×12 – Why not Shimano XTR? Because of course Shimano’s highest end group would be worthy, but the true stand out seems to be the new XT level 1×12 group. We’ve got a full review in the works, but the short of it is that the XT group performs almost every bit as well as XTR at a fraction of the price. If you’re weight obsessed, the XTR group is still lighter, but not by much. Shimano was certainly late to the 1×12 party, but they’ve proven that their new groups were worth the wait. XT is back.
HONORABLE MENTION: SRAM Force eTap AXS – Another group that brings high end tech down to a more affordable level, the new Force eTap AXS group is excellent. It’s laughably easy to install, quick to set up, delivers long battery life, and offers a quieter ride than we’re used to from older SRAM road groups. And don’t forget the Blips – you’ll miss them as soon as you’re riding a bike without them.
HONORABLE MENTION: TRP – While I haven’t ridden any of the new TRP drivetrain components, they look extremely promising. Hopefully we see the prototype trail group that we spotted at Sea Otter in production soon. But in the mean time, their DH group should give riders another option to replace battered drivetrain components. More competition in the drivetrain space is always a good thing, right?
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Industry Nine Hydra – OK, so these are the same wheels that I chose for my EC pick last year, but I still couldn’t talk about the Hydra hub internals since they didn’t technically launch until February of this year. I had received an early set to get plenty of miles on, so I would be ready with the review when they went live. Obviously, I liked them. A lot. The Enduro 310c Hydra 24h wheels remain my favorite mountain bike wheels that I’ve used, and I have put a lot more miles on them since February. They’re still perfectly true, offer telepathic engagement, and unrivaled ride quality. Other than adding some new Dumonde Tech freehub grease (another excellent product) when I changed the freehub from XD to Micro Spline, they’ve required zero maintenance, and will soon be part of an exciting new project for me.
HONORABLE MENTION: Atomik Carbon Berd Ultimates – Another vote for a company pushing boundaries and trying to offer something truly unique. After partnering with Berd Spokes, the maker of the “world’s lightest bicycle spokes,” Atomik figured out how to build complete wheelsets with the super light spokes for just a $400 upgrade fee. Considering the spokes alone are $8 a piece from Berd, and the build procedure is far more complicated than standard, that’s an impressive offering from Atomik. My personal testing seems to confirm that the wheels do indeed feel more compliant without feeling noodly. Long term durability remains to be seen, but so far these wheels have been nothing short of impressive.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Cockpit: KS LEV Si 27.2mm dropper with KG Dropbar lever – Need a dropper post on your gravel bike? No? That’s what I thought, even after trying a number of different set ups. It wasn’t until I rode the KS LES Si 27.2mm dropper post with 65mm of travel paired with the KG Dropbar lever on the Devinci Hatchet that it all made sense. The position of the lever makes it accessible while you’re on the hoods, or while in the drops, and the post’s travel while short, is smooth and buttery. Realistically, with the amount of exposed seat post on the Devinci, I could have used their 100mm travel version which only has a 20-40g weight penalty depending on the length of the 65mm travel post. Much like mountain bikes, if you ride aggressively, as soon as you ride a gravel bike with the right dropper post you probably won’t want to give it up.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Pedals: Shimano PD-M9100 short axle XTR pedal – In what has become my go-to pedal for gravel adventures, the Shimano PD-M9100 Short Axle is awesome. Essentially the XTR level XC race pedal, Shimano offers the PD-M9100 in two different axle lengths. The shorter version helps keep the q-factor in tight, and feels right at home on a gravel bike. The durability of the SPD system and improved mud shedding of the recent iterations makes this a great option for long days in the saddle where walking is a must.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Helmet MTB: Lazer Impala MIPS- To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of Lazer helmets – they just didn’t fit me. The Impala changed that. With a drastically improved fit for my head shape, the Impala is ridiculously comfortable, light, has massive vents, and has a lot of great additional features for $139.99.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Helmet Road/Gravel/(maybe XC): Specialized S-Works Prevail II with ANGi – The Specialized S-Works Prevail II was already a great helmet, but it’s been made even better with MIPS SL and the addition of their ANGi emergency response system. The new MIPS SL is currently a Specialized exclusive and basically gets rid of the MIPS liner in favor of individual flexible mounts for each helmet pad. They claim it’s the lightest, most ventilated MIPS yet, but more importantly it’s super comfortable and the helmet remains as cool as ever.
BAGS, GEAR, ACCESSORIES & TOOLS
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Bags & Accessories: Wolf Tooth Components B-RAD Mini bag – Often, I’ll get something in for review and end up using it far more than I thought I would. That’s usually the mark of an excellent product, and it’s the tale of the Wolf Tooth Components B-RAD Mini Bag. Originally, I got this as a place to stash my spares on my Why PR for a quick trip from Cleveland to Cincinnati. But I ended up using it on a regular basis on the Ibis Ripley as well. Combined with the WTC EnCase tools, it would be easy to set up your bike with everything you need so you never have to think – where did I leave that multi tool/tube/CO2/etc.? The bag can be mounted with the included strap, attached to a B-RAD base, or simply tossed into your jersey pocket as a way to keep things dry.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Bikepacking Tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Bikepack – Recently updated just for Bikepacking, the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Bikepack has shortened poles to fit between dropbar hoods. It also has bike specific features like helmet storage pockets, and gear lofts that are perfect for organizing your crap after your saddle pack explodes in your tent. For a fairly large tent, the HV UL2 is very light and well constructed.
I recently used it on an overnight where temperatures dipped into the middle 20’s, and while the tent didn’t do much to keep me warm at those temps, it did keep all the frost on the rain fly, and kept the inside of the tent dry – something my campmate’s older tent failed to do. Add in the custom fit footprint as a ground cloth, or use it without the tent body for an even lighter fast fly set up. I love this tent because it’s small and light enough for most bikepacking trips, yet large enough that I can use it for casual camping as well.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Tools: Abbey Team Issue Tool Box – This another one that I haven’t actually used, but damn, just look at this tool box! I don’t think I’ve met an Abbey Bike Tool that I didn’t like, and here they are perfectly packed away in Kaizen foam inserts with some of the other best tools in the biz, and all for $1,350? If you want to go pro with your tool kit, or “need” to replace an aging kit, this assortment looks pretty tasty.
HONORABLE MENTION: Tools: Blackburn Big Switch Ratchet – Another one that ended up surprising me, the Big Switch Ratchet Multi-Tool ended up saving the day on a recent bikepacking adventure. I needed to make an adjustment to my handlebar bag mount, but the positioning of the bolt against the handlebar made it impossible for a traditional multi-tool to fit. Fortunately, I had shoved this in my bag without thinking, and it was the perfect tool for the job. Along with a bunch of different bits, the tool includes a chain tool, disc pad spreader, spoke wrenches, and a valve core tool. The handy little wallet case also has room for your credit card, Arby’s gift cards, cash, or other flat items.
CLOTHING & APPAREL
EDITOR’S CHOICE MTB: Specialized Enduro Pro Shorts – With a lot of different outer shorts to choose from in the closet, the Specialized Enduro Pro Shorts are the ones I most often reach for. The fit is excellent with just enough length to cover knee pads, yet not so long that you feel awkward riding without them. The front pockets are well placed to pedal with a large cell phone, and the zippers will make sure it stays put. The adjustable waist velcro is insanely strong, and a snap fly keeps things secure. The fabric is water repellent, forgiving, and laser perforations keep it chill. With countless rides under their belt, the shorts have remained impressively durably as well.
EDITOR’S CHOICE Road/Gravel: Pactimo Summit Strike Bibs – These helped me to discover that apparently I prefer less compressive bib shorts. That’s not all that surprising considering that I have comparatively wider thighs and glutes than many riders who find themselves wearing size small. After riding the Pactimo Summit Strike Bibs, I was in love. These are built with a less compressive Schoeller fabric that is luxuriously soft and includes Flash coldblack technology to keep you cool. I like them with the shorter 4cm MARC Ether gripper, and the Elastic Interface chamois proved to be up to the task for long days in the saddle.
EDITOR’S CHOICE Cold Weather: Bontrager Merino Blend LS Baselayer with 37.5 – This baselayer just showed up, and it’s apparently already discontinued. Which is a shame, this Bontrager baselayer is really good. The right baselayer can make or break a ride in cold weather, and the Merino Blend baselayers from Bontrager offer a great fit with minimal seams. More importantly, the material includes 37.5 technology which seems to really help to keep you dry and at the right temperature. Trek says that you may still be able to find these at your local Trek dealer, and they recommend using their store finder to call ahead and see if that particular location has any in stock.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Zwift – “Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades.” Right? The great Eddy Merckx was onto something, but times have changed a bit. Now you can ride up grades in the comfort of your own home, and actually enjoy it thanks to programs like Zwift. Look, I get it. You’re hard core and you ride outside all. Year. Long. Same here. But sometimes you just don’t have the time to put on all that cold weather gear and get outside before sunset. Maybe you’re injured, and need a stable way to spin your way back into recovery. Perhaps there’s a sleeping baby that you have to keep your eye on.
Whatever the reason, Zwift is a fantastic tool to keep your form sharp for those days that you do get to ride outside. I was riding trainers before Zwift (as little as possible), but I can absolutely confirm that post Zwift, my fitness has increased substantially, and doesn’t drop off nearly as much in the off season. Bonus – while you’re riding on Zwift, your chances of being struck down by a careless, distracted, or impaired motorist are substantially less (but still not zero).
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Lezyne Smart Connect Lights – For those days that you are getting outside to ride, you should be using lights. They don’t guarantee your safety, but they do make it much easier to see a cyclist on the road before the driver is right on top of you (hopefully not literally). Rechargeable lights are great, but unless you’re militant about putting them on the charger after every ride, you’ve likely run into a time or two where they died mid-ride or close to.
To maximize the battery life of any light that I’m running, I try to turn them off when they aren’t necessary. I spend a lot of time on bike paths or on trails where they’re not doing anything other than annoying fellow riders. The Lezyne Smart Connect Lights make turning on and off both the front and rear lights as simple as pressing a single button. The button that’s up in front of you, so you aren’t reaching down between your legs trying to find the button of the light on your seatpost. Because of this, the lights are much easier to properly use, and battery life is extended. They’re also super bright, have modes that can be customized in the Lezyne Smart Connect App, and the KTV Pro Smart Pair that I’ve been using are small and easy to mount on most bikes. The KTV Pro is a good “to be seen” light, but if you want a “to see with” light, check out the Connect Smart Pair with the 1000XL, or buy the rear light separately and pair it with the Super Drive 1600 XXL or even Mega Drive 1800i.
OFF THE BIKE
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Hydro Flask Lightweight 24oz bottle – Bike bottles are life, but I like to have an insulated bottle around at all times. It’s so nice to get back into the car and have some cold water waiting for you after a hot ride, and we should all be using less plastic. The new Trail Series Lightweight bottles will be available from Hydro Flask in the spring, and the 24oz version is my new favorite non-bike bottle. The size of it makes it fit in some cup holders of certain cars, and in areas like the door pockets, as well as the side pocket on my EVOC CP 26L photo bag. The TempShield double wall insulation uses an 18/8 pro-grade stainless steel to get the weight down and still offers insulation that will keep your beverage cold for 24 hours or hot for 6. A 25% lighter water bottle might seem like an odd flex, but when you’re lugging it around through the airport and on the trail, as we all know – grams add up. Want lighter? They’ll have a 21oz Ultralight Titanium model as well.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Helinox Chair One – Ever finished a ride and just wanted to kick back at the trail head and enjoy a few beverages with your buddies? Seats often make that a much more comfortable proposition, and since I’ve started keeping one or two Helinox Chair Ones in the car, I’ve got posties on lock. Seriously though, these chairs don’t take up much room at all when they’re folded, and I find them very comfortable. My experience with most collapsible camp chairs is that they dig into the backs of my legs, or sort of force your legs together into the middle of the chair. These are much better, and come in various configurations depending on your needs (ultra light? Rocker? On the beach?).
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Wet Okole Car Seat Covers – When I got these in for review, the goal was to update the stock seats in my Honda Element which had seen some better days before it was new to me. I also hoped that they would hold up to the abuse of post rides – you know, the mud, sweat, grease, and sometimes blood that can transfer from you to your seat after a ride. I’m happy to report that the covers have held up very well over more than a year of long rides, wet dogs, and everything else. If you’re looking for customizeable seat covers specifically built for your vehicle’s seats that are waterproof, and highly durable, look no further.
THREE SMALL THINGS
ITEM #1: Tubolito Spare Tubes – I never expected to be extolling the virtues of a $35 inner tube, especially in the age of tubeless. But the Tubolito might just be the perfect rescue inner tube. Honestly, with the advent of quality tire plugging tools I can’t remember the last time I needed to use a tube. But that doesn’t stop me from carrying one just in case. The Tubo and even lighter S-Tubo take up far less room than the standard inner tube – which can be extremely important in a light weight bikepacking set up where space is already at a premium. They’re also substantially lighter than the standard rubber tube (like 185g lighter). I don’t think I could justify the price if I used tubes on a regular basis, but for something I might use once every few years, but carry every ride, to me it’s worth the cost.
ITEM #2: Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight – Mountain biking is inherently dangerous, and occasionally, shit happens. Hopefully that is limited to minor injuries which can be treated with a quality first aid kit – presuming you have one on hand. For too many years I’ve relied on others to hopefully have some sort of first aid kit in the unfortunate event it was needed, so I finally broke down and bought one. I saw the Ultralight/Watertight Adventure Medical Kit .5 in an adventure mobile somewhere along the way, and found out that you can pick them up at REI. For a fairly comprehensive kit, they’re pretty cheap at $18.95. The .5 kit comes in at just 104.3g which includes the outer zippered pouch, and internal ziplock for waterproofing. It’s already come in handy a few times (for others as much as it has me), and once you start using up the contents, you can simply add your own replacements or order a refill kit.
ITEM #3: Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion – Going on adventures to exotic locations to ride is awesome. You know what’s not awesome? Mosquito and Tick borne illnesses. From Zika to Malaria, to Dengue Fever, to Lyme disease, there’s a lot of nasty stuff out there. For those times when you want to be completely sure you won’t get a bite, I’ve found that the Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion is amazing. Since it’s a lotion and not a “bug spray”, it’s easy to apply to any potentially exposed skin without breathing it in – even inside your hotel room or vehicle before venturing out into the wild. It’s also available in single use packets which make carrying it on multi-day adventures easier and lighter than carrying a full bottle.
Many more great products have passed though our hands this year, but this collection highlights the best I’ve seen or ridden. Full disclosure: Each of these products have been chosen purely on their technical & performance merits for the reasons described above. Under no circumstances were any of our selections paid for by their producers. Nor was any preference or favor given to advertisers or brands who bring us on trips. Our selections are for the most part (but not exclusively) limited to products that we’ve actually spent time riding/testing in person. So a brand’s willingness to invite Bikerumor to join a launch event, or to provide product samples does make it more likely that we will have considered their products, if only because we can share our real, firsthand experiences.