Well, 2020 has proven to be an ‘interesting’ year to say the least… On one hand we’ve been limited to our local areas and I’ll bet a lot of riding trips got cancelled this summer. On the positive side, many areas never discouraged outdoor recreation and the pandemic actually got a lot of people on bikes. I was able to continue riding throughout this whole affair, and it’s definitely been the number one thing that has kept me sane.
Thankfully I squeezed in one amazing trip just before the pandemic set in, and still got the chance to test a few new bikes and a decent amount of gear this year. This article highlights the MTB products that impressed me most in 2020, and includes a few items I’d like to get my hands on.
When this BMX kid found himself in the middle of the British Columbian mountains 13 years ago, it wasn’t long before the chance to ride a mountain bike on a proper singletrack came along. Long story short, I bought the bike I borrowed for that lap, and over the years have transitioned from a casual weekend warrior into a dedicated rider. With a degree in journalism behind me I realized writing about bikes might be fun, and I joined the Bikerumor team in 2015.
Aside from commuting around town, my riding is pretty much all MTB. B.C.’s Sea-To-Sky Corridor offers a lifetime of awesome trails, and there’s no shortage of highly technical black diamond/double black terrain to tackle. I enjoy testing all kinds of bikes in the trail/enduro spectrum on my local networks, and of course riding some DH in the bike park. I’m privileged to be able to share my thoughts on the latest and greatest bikes and gear with Bikerumor’s audience!
Rancho Cacachilas: Everything about this place is amazing! This massive ranch is located in the Baja peninsula countryside, making it an ideal cold-weather destination for anyone living in cooler Northern regions. They’re fostering a riding scene among local youth, and giving Specialized’s XC racer Joel Ramirez a home base for training. The property houses a fully operational ranch with goats, chickens, and tons of fruit and vegetable gardens. They also produce their own goat milk and cheeses on-site (which were delicious!).
Oh, and the riding – Rancho Cacachilas has over 40+ km’s of trails to ride, which wind around the mountainsides surrounding base camp. The trails are buff XC style routes with plenty of ups and downs, and it’s kind of nice there’s nothing too challenging about them because you won’t want to blow a corner – there’s cacti everywhere! Rambling around the ranch and looking over La Ventana is something I won’t soon forget.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Trek Slash: When I got the message that Trek had a fully redesigned 2021 Slash coming and I would get to test it out, I was immediately excited. My personal bike is a Trek Remedy, but I’ve already been planning to replace my 27.5” with something on 29s. Then Trek knocks at the door with exactly what I wanted: A long travel niner with a linkage I trust.
One glance at this bike’s beefy frame, Zeb fork and slack geometry will convince you this beast will manhandle rough descents, and it will. But what I really like about Trek’s ABP suspension is its two-faced personality: It’s one of the best big hit gobblers out there, yet it pedals extremely well too. The re-tuned Slash actually pedaled better than my Remedy with the rear shock left wide open, and it’s big wheels and 160/170mm’s of travel made short work of rough, technical descents. Longer front and rear ends are growing on me, and I really enjoyed the Slash’s stability at higher speeds. On top of all that, the Slash is reasonably lightweight and they added down-tube storage so you can ditch your pack on shorter rides. The new Slash is definitely on my ‘potential next bike’ list.
HONORABLE MENTION – RMB Altitude: Rocky Mountain’s Altitude also saw a complete redesign for 2021, and took over the brand’s enduro category as they dropped their Instinct model from the lineup. The new Altitude boasts a totally redesigned frame with increased rear travel (now 160mm) and most of them ride on 29” wheels (except smalls which are 27.5” only, and mediums which offer both wheel sizes).
What RMB nailed with this bike was versatility. Not only does the Altitude offer Rocky’s Ride 9 Chip, which alters frame geometry and shock rate, they also added a flip chip to the rear dropout creating a +/- 10mm chainstay length adjustment. From its steepest, shortest configuration to its slackest, longest and lowest, the Altitude offers everything from a ‘full enduro’ feel to a long-legged but trail friendly setup that you’d be happy to pedal all day long. They’ve also kept the frame quite stiff despite its leaner appearance, and the weight is impressive for a long travel niner – My medium Carbon 70 test model weighed 32.25lbs with pedals. The new Altitude is a bike I would consider if I planned to spend a year living the #vanlife, exploring all kinds of different terrain.
HONORABLE MENTION – Knolly Chilcotin: I guess all my bike picks for this year are full redesigns of established model names, but Knolly’s Chilcotin saw the biggest leap since its last iteration. Before December, the ‘current’ Chilcotin still had 26” wheels, so it was due for a big update… and it got a good one!
First off, 29” wheels were a great addition. With those wheels, the frame got a necessary redesign and I think Knolly just nailed the new Chilcotin’s geometry. I thought I was really happy with reaches around 450mm (I ride medium frames) but the Chilcotin’s is 464mm’s and I was very comfortable with it. It seems Knolly has struck a fine balance between front and rear end length, as the Chilcotin gives you that ‘dead between the wheels’ feeling on both climbs and descents. This bike allows you to stay in the saddle while climbing nearly anything, and its wheelbase is long enough to descend with plenty of stability like an enduro bike should. Finally, I think Knolly’s sensitive Fourby4 linkage is a great partner for a 29” wheel as you get excellent traction and great rolling momentum.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Vorsprung Secus: Vorsprung Suspension’s Secus was an easy choice for the suspension category this year, as it does what so many of us wanted for so long: It makes an air fork ride like a coil fork. By creating a massive negative air chamber and through some clever valving, the Secus made my RockShox Lyrik feel blatantly different, and all for the better. I’d say it lives up to Vorsprung’s claims of coil-like initial sensitivity and improved mid-stroke support, and the bottom-out resistance is easily tunable.
Just pumping on my handlebars in Vorsprung’s parking lot, I let out a ‘wow’ that would’ve made Owen Wilson jealous. On the trails, I said ‘wow’ to myself a few more times. Smashing through rough rocks and roots has never felt so smooth, and I honestly think a Secus-equipped fork can outperform any stock fork on the market today. That said, I’d kill to ride a Zeb with a Secus on it!
EDITOR’S CHOICE – TRP DH-R EVO brakes: My review of TRP’s DH-R EVO brakes just wrapped up recently, but my time with them will carry on. I slapped these brakes on my trail bike this fall, and was very pleased with their power and feel. I liked the lever action the DH-R EVOs offer; there’s an ample range of modulation so feathering the brakes is no problem, but as soon as you squeeze them a bit harder they bring on a lot of bite force quickly. I stepped down from a set of 200/180mm rotors to TRP’s 180mm’s front and rear for my review, and definitely didn’t lose any braking power.
TRP also makes installation as simple as possible with their EZ-Plug system. The DH-R EVO brakes come with pre-filled calipers, hoses and levers, and if all goes well you can pull off a no-bleed plug and play setup like I did. I was perfectly happy with the brakes I pulled off my bike, but I like the TRP’s enough that they’ll stay where they are for now.
HONORABLE MENTION – One Up Components’ V2 Dropper Post: I had heard good things about One Up Components’ dropper posts, and I also knew they had some of the shorter overall lengths on the market. When I decided my 2019 Trek Remedy needed more than its stock 125mm dropper, I explored a few options before deciding One Up’s post was the way to go. And for the record, this is a product I simply purchased – there was no industry deal, no review, I just bought it online.
My size medium Remedy’s kinked seat mast doesn’t offer a ton of insertion depth, but I had no problem fitting the 150mm One Up V2 post into it. I was happy to find they offer a matchmaker compatible lever, so (until my recent TRP brake swap) I was able to enjoy a nice clean handlebar setup. What it boils down to, however, is reliability, and the V2 post has proven itself. This is the only dropper post I’ve ridden that has performed flawlessly since setup, so it has earned its place on this year’s Editor’s Choice list. Offering reliability, adjustable travel and two lifting speeds, it’s amazing One Up Components sells their dropper posts for such reasonable prices.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Roval Control SL Team Issue wheelset: I’m no XC racer, but Roval really impressed me with their Control SL Team Issue wheelset. It’s amazing enough that the complete front wheel weighs less than a full water bottle (with the pair coming in at 1240g) but what’s really impressive is that they were built to ride on every day, not just on ‘Race Day Only’.
Shaving weight is good, but it’s better when you can also increase strength, tune in a degree of compliance and help resist pinch flats at the same time. As far as I saw, not one journalist at Roval’s launch event pinched or peeled off a tire, let alone had any issues with the Control SL Team Issue wheels themselves. Roval has taken the next step in the ‘so light yet so strong’ world of modern manufacturing.
TOOLS, GEAR AND BAGS
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Smith Mainline Full-Face Helmet: Until this summer I had never ridden a Smith helmet, but I always admired their light, airy looking Koroyd protection. After trying out the Mainline full-face enduro helmet this summer, I can assure you Smith knows how to make a good lid. With helmets the fit is key, and I found the Mainline suited my skull very well. Knowing everyone’s head is a bit different, Smith includes three sets of interior pads so you can fine tune the Mainline to match your melon.
On the trail I was impressed with the Mainline’s light weight, excellent ventilation and its huge field-of-view. This is the most trail friendly full-face helmet I’ve worn yet, and it is still DH rated so you can wear it for racing or at the bike park.
HONORABLE MENTION – EVOC Stage Capture 16L: The Stage Capture 16L photo pack is perfectly ideal for a photographer like myself: I have one DSLR, a compact tripod and a small collection of other gear. This pack can easily carry a DSLR camera with a lens, a few extra lenses and a fairly compact tripod, leaving tons of other space for more than just the basic ride essentials and a water bladder. Its exterior straps can also carry helmets, jackets or pads, and the interior pockets can be rearranged and configured to suit your needs.
This is the second EVOC pack I’ve tested and their design and construction quality is proving itself to me. I love their wide AIRO FLEX waist strap, as it keeps the pack from shifting around while you ride rough trails. The Stage Capture 16L’s shoulder straps are very comfortable, the back panel is also comfy and well vented, and the pack’s overall shape is lean considering how much it can hold.
CLOTHING AND APPAREL
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Sealskinz Heated Cycle Gloves: Despite being a born and bred Canadian, I’m a bit of a pansy about cold weather. When it comes to riding in wintery conditions, the first problem is your hands… unless you have Sealskinz’ Heated Cycle Gloves. Last November I got a pair of these battery-powered gloves to test out, and they kept me riding further into the winter than I usually do.
I’m almost ashamed to say I don’t live in a cold enough climate to deserve these gloves! I took them out on a zero degree day without the heaters running, and my hands were sweaty after a good climb! It never got cold enough for me to ride with the gloves on their highest heat setting, so those who pedal in well below freezing temps should definitely check these out (the batteries will work down to -20° c). While the cuffs are a bit bulky due to the battery packs, Sealskinz kept the palms quite thin on these gloves. Gloves with electronics don’t come cheap, but happy hands on cold rides are worth a lot.
THREE RANDOM THINGS
Fix-It Sticks Ratcheting T-Way Wrench with Locking Hex Drive: At last year’s Kona launch they hooked up the media crew with Fix-It Sticks’ Mountain Kits, and my kit has been in regular service ever since. I love how the sticks are designed to work as T-handles, as it saves your hands so much effort when you’re removing a tight bolt or torqueing one down. The kit is compact enough to ride with, but the tools are almost as ergonomic to use as a proper set of shop tools. Since I don’t have a good set of shop tools, I use the Fix-It Sticks instead.
After seeing Fix-It Sticks’ Ratcheting T-Way Wrench with Locking Hex Drive, I figure it would be the icing on the cake. The Ratcheting T-Way wrench would make it easier to twist bolts in tight spots, and it can be set up as a T-wrench or like a socket wrench (as shown in the above photo). This addition would make the Fix-It Sticks even more functional as garage tools, but of course the ratcheting wrench is very small and could easily be tossed in a pack too.
State Bicycle Co. Bottle Opener: This frame-mountable bottle opener is another item I haven’t yet tried, but is actually on my Christmas wish list this year! While covering State Bicycle Co.’s recently released Klunker, I discovered this awesome accessory for beer lovers who ride. It comes stock on the Klunker, but is also available as an aftermarket accessory. The opener fits to any water bottle cage mount, but would obviously work best on your seat mast (or perhaps fork leg). You can also screw it to your wall, work bench, etc.
I’m a total craft beer snob, and have a converted MTB townie bike that has two available mounting bolts on the seat mast… I’ve asked a family member to send me one of these nifty, affordable openers, so hopefully I get one!
Hexlox Wheel Anti-Theft Skewer Set: Thieves are the lowest form of life, and I’m up for anything that makes it harder for them to rip off someone’s hard-earned bike, or remove parts from it. I’ve always liked Hexlox’s ideas, and their Wheel Anti-Theft Skewer Set would be an ideal addition to my converted MTB commuter bike. The set includes a front and rear skewer, two Hexlox and one key. The tiny Hexlox sits inside the hex slot on the skewer’s end nut, and must be removed with its own special key before you can put an allen key into the nut.
If your commuter has a nice set of wheels, this anti-theft skewer set is definitely something to consider. Even if your wheels aren’t worth much, losing one or both makes your bike suddenly unusable, and probably leaves you with a long, frustrating walk home. If I lived in a bigger city I would definitely have these on my commuter already, but even in my small town I’m still thinking about getting a set.
YEAR END THOUGHTS
I think it’s safe to say we’re all hoping 2021 is a better year than 2020 was! The Covid pandemic has been trying to say the least, but this virus won’t last forever – in fact, we’ve recently figured out a vaccine. Thankfully the cycling industry weathered this storm better than most, and being told to stay inside reminded a lot of people how much they appreciate getting outdoors!
I’m looking into 2021 with the hope that we’re all back to living normal lives on the sooner side. I’m lucky to have incredible trails close to home, but can’t wait until we can travel freely again to see old friends and ride new terrain. Regardless, the wheels never stop turning in the bike industry, and the Bikerumor team is already working on some cool ideas for next summer. In the meantime let’s all be smart about staying safe, and keep dreaming of the fun things we’ll do when the world opens up once more. Happy trails!