2020. The year of the canceled event. The year of completely sold-out everything. The year of solo rides and mask life. But it wasn’t all bad. The bicycle seems to be having a moment, with more people than ever discovering the joy of two wheels. And while things are still weird, hopefully, they’ll be back to normal soon – just with a lot more new riders who can help advocate for improved cycling infrastructure and increased trail access.
Like everyone in most industries, we had to adapt. The pandemic certainly didn’t slow down the number of launches and exciting new products to cover, it just spread them over the course of the year instead of being lumped into the usual trade show schedule.
Which leads to our Editor’s Choice lists for 2020. We’re still focusing on the best products of the year that we’ve used and abused. However, the pool to choose from is smaller this year. That doesn’t take anything away from the products below as they are all completely worthy of their accolades. It just means that there are a lot of other things out there that may also be worthy, but that we haven’t had a chance to check out in person. As always, we’ll lead off with the experiences that earned our attention.
Going into 2020, I knew the year was already going to be quite different. With my wife expecting our first child early in the year, we were prepared for change – though maybe not quite so much. I’ve spent a lot of time on a trainer this year, though I’ve still managed to log numerous rides out in the real world. But those rides have been closer to home, solo, and often selected for how easily they would avoid contact with other humans.
In a way, it’s helped highlight what’s important to me as a rider. When faced with limited time and options, what’s my choice to get my fix? The answer, as always, is what will challenge me most as a rider. Because of that, I tend to ride just about everything since new genres present new challenges.
On the other end of that spectrum though, is when I’m running errands by bike, or riding with the family. Being able to grab an e-bike to run a quick errand is one of my favorite ways to sneak in a ride on an otherwise packed day. Looking forward to 2021, I can’t wait to find new ways to include our growing family in the ride plans – which of course means new bikes and gear!
This was an easy one since it’s one I look forward to every year – and even more so this year. Usually, each year is a blur of travels, riding events, and juggling deadlines while at home. So getting the chance to turn everything off and spend some time with family at the beach is priceless.
It was a little different this year with the addition of a baby, but that made it even better, even though it almost didn’t happen. After having to reschedule for later in the year due to concerns with COVID, we finally made our way south and stayed socially distant at a nearly deserted South Carolina beach.
In addition to spending time with the family, one of my favorite parts of this trip is the chance to explore the coast and surrounding Lowcountry via fat bike. Beach riding is still one of my favorite uses of fat tires, and proof that you can get in some amazing rides during a beach vacation. I hope to be able to travel farther from home in 2021, but I’m already counting down the days until we can do this again.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – 2020 Pivot Switchblade: Just before the COVID situation scuttled travel plans for the year, I had a chance to check out the new Pivot Switchblade on its home turf. You learn a lot about a bike and its designers when you experience it on the same trails they ride on a daily basis.
For Pivot, that’s the South Mountain trail system which has a bit of everything from beginner XC track to gnarly sections genuinely deserving of their double black rating. Riding with a crew of very talented riders, there were many situations where I found myself blindly following the rider in front of me on technical features I wasn’t necessarily ready for, only for the Switchblade to soak up my mistakes and keep on slicing down the trail.
Along with being extremely forgiving, the Switchblade pedals with typical Pivot/dw-link efficiency making techy, lung-busting climbs easier than they should be. Lightweight, precision built, packed with tech and accessories, designed with room for a big water bottle that’s easily accessed, and proper tire clearance, the 2020 Switchblade is an easy choice.
HONORABLE MENTION – Revel Ranger: Another bike I’ve had a lot of fun on this year is the new Revel Ranger. A short travel 115/120mm travel bike, the Ranger truly has the spirit of a much larger bike – in a good way. There are a lot of bikes that try to balance XC efficiency with trail or even Enduro bike playfulness, but few skews to the playful side as much as the Ranger.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Otso Warakin Ti: I really didn’t get to ride many different road or gravel bikes this year, but that was partly because I didn’t want to give up the Otso Warakin Ti. In fact, I’m still flogging this bike around on a weekly basis, dreading the day I have to send it back.
While the Waheela C I rode a while back was a great bike, the Warakin Ti and I just clicked. It just has this air of confidence that it can tackle anything you can throw at it. More than that, it does so with the spirit of a dirt jumper but the efficiency of a gravel bike.
I have spent most of my time on the bike with 700c x 45mm WTB Riddlers or 40mm Raddlers, but the ability to throw on a set of 30mm slicks or a full sized set of 29 x 2.1″ MTB tires on wide rims makes it a delightfully versatile bike that could potentially check all of the dropbar boxes for your needs.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Santa Cruz Heckler: E-bikes are still a complicated subject, especially when it comes to trail access. As a result, I’ve tended to stay away from e-MTB reviews, but I couldn’t resist checking out the Santa Cruz Heckler. For a company that had been so opposed to e-bikes, Santa Cruz’s entry into the category would have to be dialed, right?
It was – and it’s only gotten better since I rode it. Honestly, though, the Heckler was good in a way that I didn’t expect. I had this idea in my head of ‘self-shuttling’, or riding up the road on full boost, getting to the trailhead at the top, turning off the assist completely, and then riding back down the trails under only human power. To my surprise, the Heckler was still really good even without any assistance at all. Sure it was heavier than a normal bike, but it was far less noticeable than I expected. Self-shuttling turned out to be a great way to train for more sustained downhills when I only had 800-1000ft of vert to work with. This isn’t a bike I would choose for daily XC or trail missions, but if you have gravity-fed trails that are e-bike friendly, this thing rips.
Overall, the Heckler is a very polished e-bike and rides exactly like you’d expect a Santa Cruz to ride. With the new Shimano EP8 versions that are lighter, more powerful, and supposedly more efficient, the Heckler is definitely worth a look – you can even have it in a mullet build if that’s your jam.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Manitou Circus Pro: My 2010 Manitou Circus Expert has proven to be exceptionally durable. A decade of thrashing at Ray’s MTB, pump tracks, and late night street sessions couldn’t break the thing. But still, when I saw the new Manitou Circus Pro, I knew I had to upgrade.
Why? In that decade my riding has changed a bit. I’m doing a lot fewer drops to flat, and more pump track laps and tech lines at Ray’s. Honestly, at this point, the 20mm thru-axle is probably overkilled. That, and the 20mm axle with its five bolts is fairly annoying if you have to routinely take off the front wheel to get it in a car (winter time is Ray’s time, and you do not want your bike exposed to copious amounts of road salt for hours on end).
Offered only in the Pro level, the 100 x 15mm Hex Lock SL axle is exactly what I was hoping for. The convenience of a 15mm axle with a single bolt, and the durability of the Circus platform. And how ’bout those new vertical, throwback graphics?
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Fox Transfer Dropper: The Fox Transfer dropper post has always been a decent option, but it’s never been at the top of my list. The latest iteration changes that. The design addresses my concerns with previous models like fitting in more bikes and offering a much better lever design.
It’s lighter. It’s easier to service. And while the new saddle clamp design may look a little funky, it actually puts the bolts in a better position allowing for easier access trailside with a multi-tool. With a retail price of $349 for Kashima and $249 for the black and, it’s also not priced out of reach – though you do have to buy the lever separately for $65.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Maxxis & Schwalbe Tires: There was a surprising amount of tires launched this year, and most proved to be quite good. For my favorite though, it’s a toss-up between the Maxxis Aspen/Rekon Race 29 x 2.4 WT combo, and the Schwalbe Nobby Nic 29 x 2.35″ with the new Super Trail casing.
They’re completely different tires for different styles of riding, but both are great options for their intended purpose. The Maxxis tires offer a wide, but true light setup for fast but aggressive XC/Trail riding and the Schwalbes offer a supremely confident, track-through-everything-off-camber ride for days where more traction and composure is needed.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Reynolds Blacklabel 309/289r XC LTD Wheels: This wheelset feels like the perfect combination of nostalgia and modern technology. The performance of the carbon hoops and high engagement Ringle Super Bubba X hubs is definitely worthy of modern XC/Trail bikes. And the turquoise anodized hubs and matching valve stems will help you relive the glory days of brightly colored anodizing – without going over the top. And for a limited edition carbon wheelset, the price of $1,850 isn’t outrageous.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Industry Nine Enduro 355/315c 24h: If price is no object and you want a completely North American-made wheelset including the carbon rims, the new Industry Nine wheels with We Are One Composite are the ones. I admit – I have a thing for Industry Nine wheels.
They’re loud (although less so with Hydra hubs packed full of grease), durable, include seemingly endless custom color options, and are manufactured by great people. Which seems to now extend to the We Are One Composites team in Kamloops, BC. I haven’t had as much time on these this year as I would like due to travel restrictions preventing me from getting to bigger trails, but the rides that I do have on them prove that these are the likely the best I9 carbon Enduro wheels yet.
TOOLS, GEAR & BAGS
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Ibis Bone-in Pork Chop bag: It’s cool to see all the companies trying to come up with tools that can be integrated into your bike. Unfortunately, I have yet to find one that doesn’t make major sacrifices in the tool’s usability or your component selection in order for it to fit inside of the bar/steerer tube/bottom bracket/etc. I wish more companies would do what Ibis has done and offer an optional integrated storage solution for their bikes that allows you to carry whatever tools and accessories you want.
The Ibis Bone-in Pork Chop bag also does so without any straps and manages to keep everything nice and quiet, not to mention easily accessible. Having a zippered pouch is so much easier to use than some complicated compression strap system – and it will prevent that tube from inevitably unraveling and getting caught in your cranks as you pedal. Obviously, the custom fit bags mean smaller frames will end up with less storage, but for my Medium Ripley 4, I can fit just about everything I’d need for a ride inside.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Topeak Shuttle Gauge Digital: This is one of those products that I had for a while, not thinking much of it. Then one day I needed a pressure gauge because the dial on my favorite Birzman Zacoo Tiny Tanker travel pump broke from constantly being tossed around in the back of my car. It was only then that I realized how awesome the Topeak Shuttle Gauge Digital really was. Since the gauge has a Schrader valve connection on one side, and a smart head on the other, you can attach the gauge directly to your pump, and then connect the gauge to your valve (the rotating head makes this much easier).
The digital readout then allows you to see the exact pressure as you’re airing up – no need to switch back and forth from the pump to the gauge. I don’t have a super-accurate gauge to verify just how accurate this one is, but I can say that it seems to be perfectly consistent. And if you overinflate, there’s an air release as well. Honestly, I just leave it attached to the Birzman pump now, and it’s my go-to option for dialing in air pressures at the trailhead.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Kuat Pivot V2 Swing Away Hitch Adapter: Someone finally did it. Kuat created a Swing Away Hitch Adapter that is actually a joy to use. No more fiddling with release pins, just unlatch it, flick the quick release lever and open it up. It’s slimmer than just about everything else, it doesn’t sag, the anti-wobble mechanism is slick and easy to access. Plus, they offer both driver- and passenger-side swing models to accommodate different vehicles. You may need to use my razor blade trick to get the latch adjusted perfectly, but once that’s done, you’re set.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Saris Cargo Platform: Another product I had waiting to save the day was the Saris Cargo Platform. It all arcs back to my Experience story above, and trying to get bikes, a cooler, and baby gear in an SUV down to the beach.
Initially, I had planned to explore rooftop cargo box options, but pandemic-related supply chain issues torpedoed that idea just before we were supposed to leave. Fortunately, I had the Cargo Platform and a compatible Saris SuperClamp EX rack to use it with. The platform replaces the two bike positions closest to the vehicle and allows you to carry up to a maximum weight of 120lbs (which includes the bikes). After a bit of math, I determined that I could safely carry our two bikes, a completely full Yeti Tundra 50 cooler, and a 120-liter Tepui Gear Container bag.
It took a bit of creative arrangement to get the weight centered over the hitch, but once everything was strapped down tight, my cargo stayed in place without issue. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the platform could be installed, and how stout the construction seemed. It’s a bit pricey at $299, but if you need the option to carry a cooler outside your vehicle along with bikes, it can be a lifesaver.
CLOTHING & APPAREL
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Specialized Trail-Series Alpha Jacket: This is about the insulation as much as it is the jacket. But Specialized sent over the first jacket that I’ve been able to try with the new Polartec Alpha Direct insulation. Their Trail-Series Alpha Jacket uses some of the wildest insulation you’ll find out there, with the Direct version eliminating the face fabric on the inside of the jacket. Instead, you get this furry-looking interior that is near see-through when you hold it up to the light. It doesn’t seem possible that it can be as warm as it is, while also being this breathable.
HONORABLE MENTION – Bontrager Adventure Collective Gravel clothing: Baggies or spandex? Why not something in between? Bontrager is certainly not the first company to offer slim-fit “baggy” clothing for gravel or adventure riding, and they certainly won’t be the last. Bontrager’s offering seems well-made, comfortable, and looks the part. Personally, I’d opt for the wool Henley over the wool Jersey, but the options are good.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Giro Manifest Spherical: Giro helmets have always fit my head well, but the Manifest Spherical may be their most comfortable yet. Well, for me anyway. The helmet offers the best of their protective technologies with ‘Spherical powered by MIPS’, progressive layering, and the AURA arch which allows the helmet to be impressively well ventilated.
The only criticism I have is that mounting a light to the helmet requires a stick-on ‘GoPro style’ mount since you can’t use a traditional velcro strap mount, and there isn’t a mount built-in.
OFF THE BIKE (Or On)
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Outdoor Research Face Mask Kit: If you’ve gotta live the mask life, you might as well do it with a mask that is comfortable, easy to put on, and effective. This isn’t something OR sent me, but something I bought with my own money. Actually, I bought two since I’m always leaving the house without one. The OR masks have adjustable earpieces that allow you to cinch down on just the top or just the bottom or both parts of the loop. That allows you to get a really snug, yet comfortable fit, and with the adjustable metal nose wire, you can get a conforming fit that will also prevent your glasses from fogging. I can’t speak for everyone since this is offered in one size (one for adults, another one for kids, or small faces), but for me, the mask fits very well.
The outside fabric is treated with HEIQ V-BLOCK which provides an anti-microbial property that won’t protect you from COVID but will prevent your coffee breath from eventually breaking down the material. Inside, there’s an ASTM-approved replaceable filter that has been certified to filter out more than 95% of viruses, bacteria, and particles, meaning if you get a tight fit around your face, the mask should be more effective than many other options. Each mask comes with three replaceable filter inserts and a protective pouch for $20, with additional replaceable filters available for purchase. OR also offers an Adrenaline Sports Face Mask Kit which is still fitted with the replaceable filters, but the external fabric is designed to be more breathable for use while exercising.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Wolf Tooth Components Travel Tool Wrap: To be honest, when I first got this tool wrap, I wasn’t quite sure what I would use it for. I have a pretty extensive collection of tools with a few sets dedicated to travel, each with various toolboxes or cases. But once I started using the Tool Wrap for specific field repair jobs, I finally got it. For things like swapping out shocks at the trail head, it’s a great way to organize all the specific tools and parts you’ll need for the job. More portable than a toolbox or case, and with enough storage for most wrench sessions, if you plan ahead, the wrap has quickly grown on me. It also works very well as a way to hold the tools you’ll need to assemble your bike on trips where you have to ship it. Pick the lightest tools you can find, and then wrap it up and stuff it inside the box or bag.
THREE RANDOM THINGS
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Shimano TL-BH62: If you don’t work on a lot of Shimano hydraulic brakes, you can probably skip this one. But if you do, in my experience this is the tool to cut hoses and install hose inserts. Which makes sense, since Shimano made the tool for Shimano brakes. I got really tired of my old hose cutter making cuts that weren’t flush or square on Shimano hoses, so I wanted to give this thing a shot.
The cuts are so precise, and just as importantly, the clamp doesn’t mar the outer sheath of the brake hose as you press in the insert. For essentially a two function tool for one brand of brakes, it’s an expensive tool at $99.99 online – but worth it.
True story: my first ever international press trip was a total disaster. The airline lost my luggage, no one was there at the airport, my phone didn’t work and wouldn’t connect to the airport’s wifi, and I didn’t even know the name of the place I was headed to, and that was just the first day.
Many hours later, when I finally got a ride to the venue in Austria, I seemed to be the only one there so I wandered into a restaurant hoping I’d find someone I knew. There, at the bar, the only person in the whole place I recognized was Gary Fisher. He offered me a seat and started in on a story of his. If this book is anything like that conversation, I can’t wait to read it cover to cover.
HONORABLE MENTION – Wahoo KICKR AXIS Feet Upgrade: Finally, winter is peak trainer time – unfortunately, probably even more so with COVID. If you already own a Wahoo KICKR, you know it’s a great trainer. The new AXIS feet make it even better.
The movement certainly isn’t what you’ll experience with a rocker plate, or even with more animated trainers. But it is enough to give the bike a bit of float to make it a tiny bit more fluid and realistic. More importantly, really big efforts don’t have the effect of unsettling the trainer and. For those that already own a KICKR, you can buy the AXIS upgrade kit for $79.99 (once it’s back in stock).
Simultaneously the longest and shortest year of my life, 2020 has been a roller coaster for sure. If anything, it’s helped to highlight just what is actually important in the long run. All of this gear is great – amazing, really. But above all else, you and your family’s health, and the ability to safely get out and ride are the things that really matter. I’m extremely thankful that we’ve made it through the year healthy and happy (if a bit stir crazy at times). Hopefully, 2021 brings better things for everyone, and we can get back to riding bikes with friends!
Happy Holidays, and as always, thank you for reading Bikerumor!
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 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.