What makes a product worthy of an Editor’s Choice award? For me, as I think back on all of the year’s riding adventures, it’s a product that instantly springs to mind. It’s something that made my riding more enjoyable, and perhaps most important of all – it’s something I would spend my own money on to buy it again.
As 2023 wraps up, it’s that time when we look back on the highlights of the year. Easily one of my biggest highlights was watching my daughter learn to ride a two-wheeler – plus all the rides around the neighborhood and pumptrack since. While those rides at home may have been among the most fulfilling, there have still been plenty of adventures putting the best new gear to the test.
Riding Bikes with Friends in Moab (Not Work Related… kinda)
We are incredibly fortunate to be able to ride with so many people around the world. But all that travel for work makes it difficult to find time to link up with long-time friends who also have families and demanding jobs. After threatening for a few years, my college roommates and I finally got together for a reunion ride in Moab.
We were last together in the MTB mecca in 2009, so we were more than due. This time around we planned a three-day trip on the White Rim with Rim Tours – which is a great way of having an epic experience with riders of varying fitness levels. It’s also worth it for the food alone. It didn’t quite work out as planned after one of my friends got sick on the way out to Moab, but that’s life (especially with young kids). Regardless, it was still great to reconnect and create lasting memories.
EDITOR’S CHOICE MTB: Tie – Revel Ranger V2 & Yeti SB120
When I sat down to write this, I was thinking the Yeti SB120 would be the winner – this is the bike I’ve been waiting for from Yeti. But then as I was looking back through the year, I realized the Ranger V2 was also reviewed in 2023. While they technically occupy the same category, they feel like very different bikes – both in the best way possible.
The Revel would be the bike I would choose if I wanted something just for riding around my local trails. It’s lighter and feels faster than the Yeti on old-school XC, with a geometry that’s better suited to tight, twisty trails. It would also be the bike between the two if you wanted to do any XC racing.
The Yeti on the other hand is the bike I would choose if I was looking for something that could handle everything Moab could throw at it (full review coming soon), while still being efficient enough for daily XC duty. The SB120 is slacker up front, with a steeper seat tube angle, and while heavier than the Ranger, it’s extremely comfortable on chunky terrain and never feels that heavy. It also has more travel front and rear – 5 and 10mm might not sound like much, but it’s enough to make a difference.
You can’t go wrong with either of these two bikes. Which one you should choose will come down to what you want to do with it.
EDITOR’S CHOICE eMTB: REI Co-op DRT e3.1
This one was pretty easy. When the reality of a bike far exceeds the expectations, it’s usually a safe bet. I thought the $5k REI Co-op DRT e3.1 would be good going into it, but I expected to be left feeling like several components would need to be upgraded to make it a contender. Instead, the bike was amazing as specced, and incredibly fun to ride.
EDITOR’S CHOICE GRAVEL: T-Lab X3S
I spent a lot of time on the T-Lab X3S, which wasn’t an accident. I just kept finding ways to have fun on the bike, and there are still rides that I wanted to do, but didn’t get the chance. If you want a fast titanium gravel bike built around a suspension fork like the RockShox Rudy that also offers custom options, call up the team at T-Lab in Montreal. You won’t be disappointed.
EDITOR’S CHOICE FAT BIKE / ADVENTURE BIKE: Otso Voytek 2
It may seem like most brands have given up on fat bikes, but a few are still innovating. It’s been seven years since the Otso Voytek first changed my mind about how a fat bike could ride. So would the Voytek 2 continue where the original left off?
If you want your fat bike to be fast, light, and able to run more tire sizes with modern geometry, the answer is a resounding yes. The original Voytek was already a versatile bike, but the Voytek 2 takes it to the next level. The improvements in (adjustable) geometry make this a bike that you can build up as a 29er, a plus bike, or fat bike and set off on an extended bikepacking adventure, or just shred your local trails.
The offset rear hub may be a turnoff for some, but the ability to run wider tires while keeping the same industry-leading Q-factor is so worth it. This is everything you could want in a modern fat bike, and more.
EDITOR’S CHOICE KID’S BIKE: Woom 2 14″
If you read my Editor’s Choice from last year, you would have seen the Woom 1 Plus which is probably the best balance bike you can find for a little ripper.
It wasn’t long after my post went up that my daughter just decided she was ready for pedals and took off on the Woom 2 with very little help from us. The freewheel kit from Woom means there’s no coaster brake to worry about, allowing kids to focus on using the hand brakes properly while using proper pedaling technique. In spite of multiple crashes, the Woom 2 is still in fantastic shape – a nod to its quality build.
Look, I get it. Kid’s bikes, especially good kid’s bikes are expensive and they’ll outgrow them quickly. But given how much more frequently my daughter wants to ride her bike compared to kids with other bikes in the neighborhood, you quickly realize that lightweight bikes that are easy to ride are more fun – which means your kid will actually want to ride it.
HONORABLE MENTION: LeMond Dutch eBike
Admittedly, I haven’t spent much time on the LeMond Dutch bike, but to me, it’s one of their most compelling models. The Dutch is a 27lb, carbon, extremely upright, sleek ebike with integrated lights and fenders – there’s really nothing else quite like it. This is the bike for riders who want the most upright ebike they can get their hands on, while still being able to carry it up the steps, without giving up any style.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Specialized Power Pro with Mirror Saddle
I’m probably a little late on the 3D-printed saddle craze. I think deep down I just didn’t want to fall in love with $325+ saddles. Ope! Starting in reverse, I love the Specialized Power saddle shape. Then I got to try the Specialized Power Expert with Mirror tech just under the sit bones, which was better. Naturally, I wondered what the full Mirror saddle was like. I tried it, and haven’t looked back. There aren’t many road saddles I love, but the Specialized Power Pro with Mirror is at the top of the list.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: RockShox Reverb AXS XPLR Dropper Post
The RockShox Reverb AXS XPLR has a lot going for it. It fits bikes without dropper post routing. It can quickly be swapped for a rigid post depending on what type of riding you’re doing. When combined with the SRAM AXS road/gravel shifters, it has one of the best remotes going (you use the shift paddles to activate). The only thing that would make it better is if SRAM offered a great remote for use with other drivetrains – including their own mechanical drivetrains.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Forge & Bond 30 AM Carbon Wheelset
Yes, there are lighter wheels out there for the money. But the ride quality on the Forge & Bond 30 AM wheels is so sweet. I rode them for the Moab trip mentioned above, and I expected to feel more fatigued after long days on the bike. Instead, the wheels feel noticeably forgiving without feeling sluggish. I also like what Forge & Bond is about – producing carbon products that are better for the planet, in the U.S. with a lifetime warranty, and more easily recycled.
Clothing & Gear
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Velocio Trail Access Pants
At this point, half of our editors have chosen something from Velocio for the 2023 Editor’s Choice Awards which should tell you all you need to know. This year, the brand expanded into MTB clothing which is all really good. But to me, the standout is the Trail Access Pant. Seriously, why did it take so long for mountain bike trail pants to get so good?
The Trail Access Pant is the perfect weight and material to keep you a bit warmer on chillier days without sweating to death on warmer days. The cut is slim fit but loose enough at the knee for slim knee pads, and it pedals without any bunching or weirdness. I thought I wouldn’t like having to use a belt, but the included belt is slim enough that you won’t notice it.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Giro Aries Road Helmet
Take the Aether and make it better. That’s a winning game plan considering the Aether was already an excellent helmet. The Aries Spherical is incredibly light and ventilated, which makes it even harder to believe that it’s claimed to be one of the highest-rated helmets tested by Virginia Tech (including DH helmets). I really love that Giro made it so light without eliminating things like adjustable ear cradles.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Lazer Coyote Kineticore Helmet
In spite of all the high-dollar gear that we get to play with, it really makes me happy when something is really good and affordable. Lazer’s Coyote KinetiCore helmet doesn’t feel like a cheap helmet, packing a lot of features you’d expect from something at the top end. It boasts a 5-star safety rating from Virginia Tech, and it’s impressively ventilated as well. At $109.99, it’s still not the cheapest helmet, but it’s far more approachable than the $250+ helmets out there, and nearly as good – it’s also still on sale for less at a number of bike shops.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Shimano GE 900 MTB Shoes
At first, I wasn’t sure I would even wear these. The new Shimano GE900 MTB shoes looked like a downgrade from my favorite Shimano ME7s, and the fit was weird. After Shimano convinced me I should try a size down (since there are no half sizes), I’ve worn them on almost every ride since. These are marketed as an Enduro/DH clipless shoe, but I’ve been wearing them for everything from downcounty rides to eMTB rides. The added protection is crucial for ebiking where you’re more likely to be pedaling through turns.
The shoes are extremely comfortable – even for long days pedaling the White Rim. Better yet, the sole appears to be far more robust than the ME7’s so it should hold up to plenty of hike-a-bike, canyoneering, you name it.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Limar Horus Sunglasses
Prior to this, I had never tried anything from Limar. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the Horus sunglasses – they’re light, offer great coverage without being comically big, and have excellent optics. The fit is a big one for me. Many shield-style glasses are just way too big for my smaller face. These fit well and are fairly affordable too. Retail is $100, but you can pick up a pair from Limar currently for just under $60.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: EVOC Stage 18 Hydration Pack
I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve used a hydration pack this year. Most of the time, I’d much rather have gear strapped to the bike than my back. But on longer rides where you have to carry a lot of water, tools, spares, food, and clothing, it’s still the best option.
So I did something I wouldn’t necessarily recommend – I flew to Moab with a hydration pack I hadn’t even tried on yet, the Evoc Stage 18. To make things more questionable, I discovered my sample didn’t have a bladder the night before I was supposed to leave. I ended up swapping a bladder from another pack, threw my gear inside, and hoped it would all work out.
What I found was a pack that was all-day comfortable, even in upper-90’s heat. The pockets make organization easy, the pack will carry 3 liters of water, and there is an included rain cover and deployable helmet cradle.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Bike Rack – Kuat Piston SR with Hitch Adapter
I love the Kuat Piston Pro X. That should come as no surprise as it was an EC pick in 2022. As good as the Piston Pro X is though, a $1,400 rack is a stretch for many people.
If you’re typically only carrying one bike, that’s where the Kuat Piston SR with a hitch adapter comes in (at a much lower price). The $498 SR loses the integrated LED lighting, but keeps the OneTap hydro-pneumatic struts with Kashima Coat for easy one-handed removal of the bike from the rack. The $159 hitch adapter allows you to use the SR as a hitch-mounted rack, but it also keeps the possibility of using the SR as a roof rack. While you lose the ability to carry more than one bike, the SR with hitch adapter is lighter and sticks out less from the vehicle making it a bit more manageable.
The ability to use the SR as a roof rack has come in handy a few times now as I’ve gone on adventures with friends and between us, we all had two-bike hitch racks. The SR was then adapted to run on the roof rails, allowing three-bike carrying capability for a single car. Having that versatility in your rack is clutch if you generally drive to the trailhead solo, but frequently find yourself getting together with friends for cycling adventures.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Kids Ride Shotgun Pro with Pro Handlebars
It took a little while, but I finally got all the stars to align to get this setup on a bike and get my daughter on the bike for a ride. That was more a result of her absolutely loving the balance bike life and wanting to ride by herself. While we were on vacation and before she was riding a two-wheeler, I got the Kids Ride Shotgun Pro setup dialed on the Otso Voytek 2 and she loved it. I think she was intimidated by it at first, so riding on a paved bike path was a good way to introduce her to it. After she was comfortable, beach rides on the Shotgun with a fat bike are magical.
It wasn’t long until we were ripping MTB trails, with her begging me to “go off-roading” again.
The Pro Handlebars make it easier for a child to hold on, and the Pro models of both parts make it faster to get it on your bike. Just know that smaller adult riders with bigger kids will struggle with the fit – we’re already getting to the point where she’s almost too big to sit in front of me. If you’re looking for a front-mounted child seat that is off-road worthy and that won’t wreck your bike, the memories you’ll make are probably worth the price of admission.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Bivo Trio Insulated Bottle
This one came about after a discussion with friends who happen to live in Texas. They wondered if there was any bottle that would actually keep water cold for longer than an hour? The Bivo Trio vacuum-insulated bottle seems to be the answer. The bottles are heavier, more expensive, and don’t play well with metal bottle cages. But if you want cold water for the entire ride, this is the answer. Bonus points for being a supposedly more sustainable solution with fewer microplastics. Based on my limited testing, they also seem to be better for winter riding too – preventing your water from getting too cold.
Many more great products have passed through our hands this year, but this collection highlights the best I’ve seen or ridden. Full disclosure: Each of these products has been chosen purely on their performance and/or technological 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 invite us on trips. Our selections are 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 simply because we’ve had a chance to try them firsthand.