All right, let’s kick this off. Editor’s Choice Awards, here we go!
Another eventful year comes to a close. 2023 seemed like it was going to be a ‘back-to-normal’ year after a few of pandemic chaos. But it’s still been a bit wild. Tons of cycling companies started releasing a pent-up supply of new bikes and gear they were holding back. And then we’ve seen in the resulting carnage of bike industry businesses failing after unsustainable growth, miscalculated production, knock-on pandemic costs, and global inflation woes that have hit many of us in our own wallets. It’s been a roller coaster.
Yet, still, I rode many great new bikes, lots of new gear, and all around Europe. This year’s first-hand Editor’s Choice Picks come from a deep pool of great new products once again. Plus, I have several Honorable Mentions for some promising new things that I simply haven’t gotten enough time to ride just yet…
Another quick refresher on my outlook on two-wheels: I’m a techy mountain biker, never afraid to go underbiked or to push a regular ride to the edge of sketchiness. I ride anything with two wheels – this year spanning from an Olympic velodrome to World Cup EWS/EDR track – and even quite a few lightweight ebikes in between. But outside of that one instance chasing a derny around a wooden track, almost every ride ends up off-road at some point. I like to get even road bikes dirty. Sometime muddy, too.
This year again saw me spend more time on fat tires – from home in the Czech mountains, north on Finnish gravel, to south on dusty Spanish trails. Big distances on gravel bikes. And big elevation dropped on all-mountain and enduro bikes. I had the wettest race day on a mountain bike I’ve ever experienced – where my waterproof rain jacket pockets carried more water than a Camelbak. I spent more days riding on snow. And I still had plenty of sweaty, sweltering hot days on loose and dusty tracks, too. It’s been a wide range.
Riding can be work for us. But there’s no better reset than just riding a bike in the woods.
Editor’s Choice: Mid-Week Local Bikeparking
Can you even beat getting a season pass to your local bikepark? Dropping the kids off at school in the morning, then being ready when the first lift went up the hill. Ride for a few hours, grab a quick bite to eat, then head home to get work done for the day. It’s amazing how much fun you can have, and how much your skills can progress, when you aren’t stressed about getting in as many runs until the lift closes.
Sure, I am lucky. Not everyone lives near a bikepark. But if you do, you should really check it out. Our local park isn’t very big, and we rode bigger mountains further away! But man did we get our money’s worth at home riding those local park trails. My wife and I bought passes at an early pre-season discount (while the mountain still was covered with skiers.) And then we rode a ton together.
I had a great platform for testing new bikes and gear. She got a chance to practice new technical skills on familiar bike park runs and repeatable trails. And thanks to the uplifts, we still had plenty of energy left for longer self-powered rides and other adventures off-the-bike. It’s hard to imagine a better return on cycling investment, either in time or money.
Or if bike parks aren’t your vibe…
Honorable Mention: Weekly MTB Skills Sessions
I didn’t actually do this one. My wife did. She started in the spring with a weekly group training session held by a local mountain bike coach. After a couple months of paying to dial-in specific skills on a familiar set of trail, it evolved into a friendly weekly group ride with fellow mountain bikers all looking to continue to hone their skills. Low pressure, but supported by other riders at a similar level.
The end result of a half a year of regularly working on technique and technical skills is she’s become a more confident mountain bike rider. And it culminated with sending a pretty impressive 2m high drop in the training zone at one of our favorite trail centers – Trasy Enduro Srebrna Góra. There’s no way she would have ridden it half a year ago. I was impressed. She was super psyched. I strongly recommend finding and fitting some regular group skills training into your schedule. You don’t need a big mountain to improve your technique. But a little peer
pressure motivation, sure does help.
Use your New Year’s resolutions to build skills, whether on the mountain bike, cyclocross, track, road, or even gravel. And maybe find some like-minded folks to help inspire you to ride regularly throughout the year, too!
Editor’s Choice – full-suspension: YT Jeffsy
Last year I was most impressed with a short-travel enduro bike. This year, it’s a long-travel trail bike. Right in that sweetspot between trail and enduro sits all-mountain. The hype for the last few seasons feels like it has been about light & fast OR big & burly. And, I’m super happy to see more bike companies coming back to the middle ground where most of us actually ride.
This new Jeffsy actually dialed back its rear wheel travel to 145mm this fall, and paired that to a 150mm fork for more all-rounder versatility. Sure, it’ll still handle a quick trip to the bikepark thanks to capable enduro-inspired geometry. But this is an everyday trail bike for mountain bikers that like to hit smooth singletrack one day, the dirt jumps in the local forest another day, and still tackle big days on steep & technical natural trails too.
My kind of bike! And even though I tested the most expensive carbon one. I kinda think my favorite model might be the second most affordable aluminum Jeffsy build.
Editor’s Choice – hardtail: Jeronimo Txabardo Cromo
While I’ve gone mid-travel on full-suspension bikes, I kinda fell in love with this big travel steel hardtail. Sure, the steel Jeronimo Txabardo has the same front travel as that Jeffsy and the same 65° head angle. But in a hardtail, that probably pushes this one over into the enduro category. However, how it rides is also a completely different feel, since geometry changes as it compresses through all that fork travel.
And I know, an enduro hardtail sounds silly. But I raced this at the 2nd round in a blind Czech enduro series (Blinduro) after racing a proper EDR-spec’d enduro bike in round one. And I felt faster, was more relaxed, and had more fun on the hardtail. I even placed higher overall within all the men’s categories, than I did on the proper fully.
I guess steel hardtails aren’t dead to me, at least.
Gravel & Cross Bikes
Editor’s Choice: 3T Extrema Italia
I’ve really only been riding this new 3T Extrema Italia for a few weeks. And yes, most of my rides have been in the snow (or slush) on lightweight XC mud tires, so far. But that just goes to show how versatile this bike can be. That’s what I love about gravel bikes. I rode the first 3T gravel bike 7.5 years ago, and I think every gravel bike they’ve made since.
And this one is my favorite, up til now. Made in Italy. Tire clearance to fit anything you could imagine. More progressive race geometry (relative to other 3Ts). Massive Eagle gearing range, and gear ratios for average riders. Clean cable routing and adaptable wireless AXS group, WITH an adjustable cockpit. A proper round 27.2 seatpost. And finally, anything cage mounts on the fork for riders looking for bigger adventures.
Let the gravel adventures get extreme.
Honorable Mention: Merida Silex but in aluminum
Sure, the new carbon Silex was ridden to a Gravel World Championship title this year, literally one day before I got to test ride it. And the carbon bike is great, with big 45mm tire clearance and long stable, but lower Stack geometry. But you know what is also great? An aluminum gravel bike with the exact same geometry, the same 45mm tire clearance, and a pricetag of just about 2800€. And it only weighs 680g more than the complete carbon model which costs 50% more.
You know modern alloy bikes are NOT the uncomfortably stiff things we remember from a couple of decades ago. And on an adventure-ready gravel bike, you’re likely to get just as much added comfort out of some extra tire volume cush anyway. I had just a day to ride this alloy Silex gravel bike. But its ride is almost exactly as good as the carbon bike, and it costs a lot less!
(All) Road Bikes
Honorable Mention: Repete R3: Reason
This only gets an honorable mention because I haven’t physically ridden this latest iteration. But I have ridden the previous R2 Reason which is made of the same Columbus steel by the same frame builder, so I can vouch for the ride. But where this new Repete R3: Reason really won my heart was in its details.
This new bike is the cleanest modern steel road bike I have seen. With a blend of classic steel looks and contemporary integration, you get a timeless bike that makes you forget that cables and external bolts exist. And it does that without going over the top. Plus, it now boasts 35mm tire clearance making it fully all-road, to even light gravel, capable. Beautifully crafted by hand in Prague, this understated steel road bike is something you will ride for decades to come.
Editor’s Choice: Rotwild R.X275
Yep, another TQ-equipped bike this year. In the ebike category for road, gravel & trail, I firmly fall into the less-is-more category. If I want to feel like I’m riding an electric motorcycle, that’s what I’ll pick. (Can we still say Cake?) But I love the smooth feel, customizable pedal-assist, and light weight of the TQ HPR50 mid-drive motor. And this year, Rotwild added a new TQ-powered R.X275 lightweight trail ebike with 120mm of rear wheel travel, 130mm forks, and a wild low weight.
At just 15.5kg for my large test bike, it’s lighter than most premium carbon enduro bikes I ride. Lighter than many alloy trail bikes. And it makes you feel like your legs are magic. Sure, it’s not even close to being cheap! But if you are buying a performance eMTB, you can’t really expect to get something for nothing. And it is both lighter & cheaper, plus less proprietary than Scott’s comparable fancy flagship Lumen.
Wheels & Tires
Editor’s Choice – Road AND (light) Gravel wheels on a limitless budget: Syncros Capital SL
Speaking of the Scott family and incredibly high price tags, how about these Syncros Capital SL road wheels that are also approved for light gravel use! I wanted to not give these an Editor’s Choice award, because they really are obnoxiously expensive. Seriously, the 40mm deep ones I rode, sell for 4000€ for the pair. But in all honesty, if money were no object, there’s no question that these are the first wheels that I would put on my Festka Rover all-road bike.
Actually, I did for a little while…
They are genuinely some of the most technologically unique wheels available. They weigh as little as 1170g for the version tested, and are really pleasantly stiff. Plus, they claim class-leading aerodynamics. When I rode them with either the new Schwalbe Pro One Aero road slicks or their fastest G-One RS gravel tires, they just made me feel fast. These are about the only wheels I remember feeling real regret when I had to send them back to Syncros at the end of the test.
Editor’s Choice – Road AND (light) Gravel wheels on an actual budget: Fulcrum Wind 42
While the Capital wheels are flashy, ultra-lightweight & excessively expensive, these new Fulcrums are way more reasonable. In fact, Fulcrum launched their all-new aero Speed line last spring promising lighter weight, improved aerodynamics, and better subtle looks at a relatively reasonable 2265€ pricepoint. But then, this fall they launched the updated Fulcrum Wind family that features the exact same aero-optimized rim shape, the same subtle good looks, and a more forgiving carbon layup that weighs just 90-100g extra per wheelset.
The Wind 42s are still made entirely in Europe, weigh just 1510g, and cost only 1415€. I’ve been riding them on and off-road on that Festka that was lusting after carbon spokes. And I can say without a doubt that they still look great, they feel quick, and I don’t have a care in the world about some chunk of errant gravel flying up into these conventional steel spokes.
Editor’s Choice – Tire Maintenance: Stan’s No Tubes Race Sealant
Talking tubeless, everyone needs to refresh their sealant, at least once a year. But many (most?) mountain bikers forget, letting sealant dry out and lose its magic flat-fixing capabilities. Stan’s No Tubes Race Sealant ($44 at Performance Bike) is a benchmark for actual real-world tubeless repair performance. And has been for years. I’ve put a lot of different sealants into a lot of different tires this year. There are more good sealant options now than ever before, but there are probably more bad options too. And I want to put sealant in a tire and completely forget about it. More often than not, I’ve fallen back to a classic. Stan’s Race Sealant is my trusted go-to. It has plugged a couple punctures I know of this year. And for the rest of the tires with Stan’s inside, I’ve just forgotten about them.
It’s winter though, I probably need to buy a couple quarts and get ready to top up a bunch of tires with fresh sealant for next season.
Editor’s Choice – Tire Fixes: Lezyne Tubeless Pro Plugs
Oh yeah, and for when sealant won’t fix it, There’s these ingenious little Lezyne Tubeless Pro Plugs ($16.50 at Performance Bike). Remember, tubeless plugs are a temporary trailside fix. And I feel like they only really fix the tire cut about 2 out of 3 times anyway. But the Lezyne Pro Plugs will permanently fix your damaged tires. They are much more of a pain to use. Because back home you have to get rid of all the messy sealant inside a tire, then clean it back to the bare butyl rubber. But then, all you have to do is glue one of these mushroom cap plugs from the inside, and your expensive cut tire is good as new again.
Components & Gadgets
Editor’s Choice – Drivetrain: Shimano XT LinkGlide 11-speed
Yep, this old thing has found a new life. 11-speed is the new deal. We actually were first introduced to LinkGlide all the way back in 2021 when Shimano told us it would last 3x as long. It put 11-speeds in the MicroSpline spacing of 12, or 10-speeds in the good old HG 11-speed spacing. But it also had confusing branding – a black-on-black LG logo and various XT/SLX/Deore labels that made it hard to understand. I even wondered how many people with LinkGlide-equipped bikes would replace cassettes with the wrong ones and suffer terrible shifting.
I rode it for half a year on a cargo e-bike and wasn’t entirely impressed. Its shifts aren’t exactly quiet and seemed a bit clunky.
Then, this spring I rode it on an eMTB equipped with AutoShift & FreeShift and finally realized the potential of a cassette that could shift under full load. It is loud, but the shifts work well, clunking into place.
So, I put the XT LinkGlide drivetrain on my human-powered steel Jeronimo hardtail, and it is great. I can smash through rough trails, shifting while standing and pedaling out of the saddle. The shifts work great. There’s more margin for error in derailleur adjustment with the larger space between cogs. And the cassette still looks like new after half a year of rough trail riding. I really love having a drivetrain that isn’t wearing out as fast as before. And who needs 12, this one goes to ELEVEN!
Editor’s Choice – Braking: Galfer Shark Rotors
This seemed like a tricky upgrade, scaling back to two 160mm rotors on a light trail 29er where I was used to having a 180mm up front. But the lightweight new Galfer Shark rotors really delivered on their promise of more bite for less weight. The thin 1.8mm XC & trail rotors offer powerful braking that easily equals the heavier XT 180/160 rotor combo that they replaced.
And the Shark stopping seemed so good that I upgraded my wife’s SRAM 180 rotors to a couple of the thicker 2.0mm x 180mm rotors, boosting brake power and modulation on her all-mountain bike.
Both setups continue to provide excellent power, modulation & consistent braking without fade in all conditions, matched with either Galfer or Sinter brake pads.
Editor’s Choice – Suspension: Manitou Mastodon fatbike fork
I did a lot of fat bike riding this last year. And while the vast majority of it was in snowy conditions, very few kilometers were covered on smooth packed trails. Instead, I rode steep terrain that often couldn’t even be covered without snowpack smoothing out many of the rocks, roots, downed trees, and soggy marshlands. Our winter opens up so much new terrain. But lurking under that smooth white blanket are so many steps, boulders, ruts, and other unknown obstacles – the extra security of big supple front wheel travel made more riding possible than ever. Plus, it means in shoulder seasons, I can climb higher for good snow, then descend back down for more technical trail riding.
I call it fatbike freeride.
Sure, a rigid carbon fork will save you more than a kilo and a half. But I wouldn’t give up my Manitou Mastodon Pro LE for anything. I ride it mostly in the middle 120mm setting which has effectively the same axle-to-crown length at sag as a suspension-corrected rigid carbon fork. But the Mastodon can be easily (internally) adjusted down to 100mm if I wanted to do some longer groomed fatbike adventure – say a winter trip to Lapland. Or I could even go as long as 140mm of travel for even crazier trails.
Actually, there’s one thing that would make me give up my fat camo fork… There’s a new lighter, stiffer new Pro version that allows greater travel adjust from as little as 80mm all the way up to 160mm. Yeah, I’m gonna have to give that a try!
Editor’s Choice – On-the-bike: Feedback mini Reflex Torque Ratchet
Still an unrepentant Bike Tool Nerd and this tiny Feedback Sports Reflex Fixed Torque Ratchet kit ($70 at Backcountry) has become one of my most-used new piece of kit this year. It’s not the first mini ratcheting bit-based multi-tools I’ve used (probably 3rd or 4th to get regular use, really.) But it’s that Goldilocks perfect balance of small & light enough to be portable, yet still heavy and overbuilt enough to feel robust.
The Feedback mini Reflex Torque Ratchet kit serves me well as an on-bike multi-tool that gets to hard-to-reach bolts and makes me feel more confident about adjusting lightweight carbon cockpit components mid-ride. Its solid heft gives me the sense that this tool will last me a long time – a welcome feeling compared to some super tiny bike repair mini ratchets. And it simply is nice to use if you don’t mind a few extra grams.
Editor’s Choice – EDC: Fix Wheelie Wrench X Dynaplug
Yep, definitely tool nerds here. And this Fix Wheelie Wrench X Dynaplug multitool satisfies my everyday carry yearnings, as well. The added bonus, this latest iteration of a tool I’ve carried for years in a belt buckle or stuck on a backpack strap, is Dynaplug integration in the smallest portable package. The already capable micro multi-tool adds a pre-loaded tubeless repair Dynaplug. I mean come on, every time I snap this out to fix anything, the crowd goes wild!
Honorable Mention – Workshop: Unior Universal Bearing Press Kit
A full suite of fittings for all bearing service jobs, the Unior Universal Bearing Press Kit is mostly a workshop-only tool. And this one is a simple update to a kit we first caught up with back in 2014. Now, it includes the latest common sizes, specifically updated bottom bracket standards. And if you only need the BB presses, there’s a separate cheaper kit for that now, too. But this one is the full ~300€ Universal Bearing Press setup that has been helping me tackle winter full-suspension bearing replacements with ease.
Editor’s Choice: Ass Saver’s Win Wing 2.0
Seriously, this got an Editor’s Choice pick last year, and here we are again. The new version 2.0 of Ass Saver’s simple strap-on Win Wing fender is even better in 2023. Now, it is more sleek-looking in all-black. It’s been slightly reshaped for extra durability. And it’s just as simple and affordable as ever. I put these on every road, all-road, gravel & XC bike I ride, because I ride in a lot of foul weather and these keep me cleaner & drier.
Is the protection as good as a set of full-coverage fenders? Of course not. But it installs in 10 seconds to almost any bike with 20-60mm wide tires. And they cost just 26€ ($29 to $31 from Amazon).
Helmets & Clothing
Editor’s Choice – All-mountain/Enduro: Leatt 3.0 Enduro MTB convertible
The new Leatt 3.0 Enduro MTB ($260 at Jenson USA) helmet is 3 helmets for the price of 1. It gives you full-face gravity protection, a 3/4 shell for extra enduro ear coverage, or a classic trail-ready half-shell. And it does all three quite well, actually. It’s my go-to mountain bike helmet whenever I travel, as I can change modes as my mood or even trail conditions change. I can do cross-country, all-mountain, or even go full enduro… all with one helmet. It’s not quite light enough to go XC racing or ride gravel. And I’d prefer a 1-piece lid for full-tilt DH riding. But anywhere in between, this one hits it on the money.
The previous generation that only had a lever-actuated chin bar was a bit easier to remove even while pedaling. But these removable ear covers or the chinbar each snap so securely in place to be confidence-inspiring. But they probably will require you to stop and put a foot down for a second to snap them off for longer uphill sections. I like the safer feeling of extra protection on technical downhills, but love that I can easily pop the ears or chin off for extended climbing so I don’t overheat.
Editor’s Choice – Insulation: Velocio Alpha Long Sleeve shirt
This Velocio Alpha Long Sleeve shirt ($199 at Velocio) isn’t entirely meant to be a piece of mountain biking outerwear – it’s more of a road and gravel insulating layer. But, I love it and ride in it from the first hint of autumn weather until the last chills of winter are shaken off in the spring. For us year-round bikers, this excellent insulated mid-layer combines Polartec Alpha Direct up front for maximum warmth with mid-weight merino wool sides & back for better temperature regulation. Wear it on its own on top for cool rides. Layer it under a light shell for cold weather, or under a heavier softshell for truly arctic riding. It’s available in a wide size range for men or women, and has classic rear jersey pockets to carry extra snacks.
I also love the matching fuzzy Alpha insulation-lined gloves, but I think Velocio is sadly phasing them out. Although that does mean you could find them on close-out.
Editor’s Choice – Rain Gear: Leatt Mono Suit 5.0
When it is cold, wet & muddy out on the trails, it’s hard to beat an MTB onesie for comfort and convenience. I’ve been riding the one-piece Leatt Mono Suit 5.0 for the better part of half a year now in heavy summer rain to slushy winter snow. It’s a fully seam-taped waterproof one-piece combo of foul-weather mountain biking jacket and pants. Its secret though is the excellent fit & adjustability, thanks to integrated suspenders inside. It is surprisingly breathable for how weatherproof it is. And at the end of a nasty ride, I just slide out of the suit and I’m clean and dry inside!
On & Off The Bike
Editor’s Choice – Nutrition: Chimpanzee Nut Butter or Drink mix
I feel like the only sports nutrition I buy at all is from the natural food line-up by Chimpanzee Nutrition. My latest big purchases of 2023 after their previous Salty Energy Bars probably falls to this giant 4kg tub of Grapefruit-flavored Gunpowder Isotonic Energy Drink powder mix. Compared to the plastic-ish taste of many drink mixes, this one just kind of tastes like grapefruit juice. There’s also a nice lemon flavor too. But, I feel like this bucket lasts me half a year, so definitely try all the flavors in single-serving packets before you blindly commit to 4kg of this stuff.
I also really dig their Nut Butter as an alternative to overly sweet ride snacks. It is more work to massage the package to mix it inside and squeeze it out. But certainly worth it in the end.
Editor’s Choice: Quoc Restrap Sandals
Who would have thought that post-ride bikepacking-specific sandals would be a thing? But when I get to camp, I immediately break out the new Quoc Restrap Sandals. After all day in cycling shoes, these lightweight packable sandals are the perfect way to let your tired feet breathe. Pack them over your saddle bag with the QR hooks on the mid-foot straps. And transition from classic 3-strap sandals to slip-on slides with the creative rear strap design.
Alright, that’s all for this year’s wrap on my best new gear of 2023.
It’s been a year of a lot of great riding, and plans are set in motion for more of the same in the New Year. Today, the snow has melted in my yard, and been replaced by mud. I head off on a rain-soaked ride to test Ortlieb waterproof gear and visit their factory tomorrow. But hopefully, I will close out this year with plenty more snowy rides. And then, I’ll be looking forward to sunny Spanish gravel roads at the start of 2024…
The bike industry is still in the process of bouncing back. And it looks like not everyone is going to weather the storm. But plenty of companies look to be on the upswing. And I already know specifically of several new bikes, ebikes, wheels, suspension, tools, shoes & more from known and respected brands that are scheduled to debut early next year. So, I’ll get ready for a new crop of goodies to share with you all…
Until then, I hope you all enjoy the holidays with family & friends. Get out and ride, no matter the weather. Or take a much-needed break off-the-bike. Close out another year, how ever it will best help you get motivated for another year of riding bikes.
Each of these products was entirely chosen purely on their technical merits, by me personally, and for the reasons described above. More great products passed through my hands in 2023. Under no circumstances were any of my picks, paid for by their producers. Nor was any preference or favor given to brand or advertiser. My selections are mostly (but not exclusively) limited to products I’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 can make it more likely that we will have considered their products, if only because we can share our real, firsthand experiences.