Another wild & unpredictable year is near its end and it’s time to again wistfully look back on a year of testing out great new gear. When I sat down twelve months ago to shake out that year’s best, I couldn’t imagine that 2021 would be even stranger. But I adapted and still managed to squeeze in new bike product tests. Once again, this year I traveled abroad much less than during the before times, but I made the best of the times we could go, and more often traveled by road instead of air.
I was even locked down in my home city for a month and a half. But an active imagination can get us through difficult times.
So I hunted down over a hundred kilometers of tracks close to home that I’d never ridden. I discovered the 4 poles of Prague. I pushed a new e-gravel bike to its absolute limits circumnavigating the city limits. I rode bikes more in winter snow than ever before (the ski lifts remained closed!) I logged another
difficult excellent 200+km gravel solstice ride with close friends. And explored half a dozen MTB trail areas just across the Polish border that I’d never gotten around to.
See, from chaos came opportunity. And I got to spend almost all of my time riding off-road. Bonus!
So sorry, my Best of the Road picks are slim this year. But it means that all my other 2021 Editor’s Choice Award picks are products I’ve spent a lot of time with. And they really are the best of the best.
But first I’ll start off with the three key experiences that kept me excited to throw a leg over a bike this year.
A quick refresher on me…
I’m most comfortable staying off-road. A technical trail rider at the core, I ride gravel bikes like they’re mountain bikes, and road bikes like they are… well, also like mountain bikes… just with skinnier, sketchier tires. This year I’ve been able to focus on the dirt. When you can’t go far from home, burning repetitive laps on a road bike was just going to get boring.
Maybe the biggest shift this year was more time spent riding the Czech borderlands, both on gravel bikes laden with gear to camp and pushing enduro bikes to their limits both up & downhill. Plus, getting loose in the snow on that fat bike, and plenty of less appropriate bikes, too.
Last year I thought I’d ridden most of the Czech border bikeparks. Oh boy, was I wrong. I’d just ridden the bigger ones.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Family bikeparking
That bikepark revelation came when it was time to take the kids on vacation without venturing too far from home. With the kids, I think we rode four new parks I’d never tried, plus three more new singletrack trail centers.
Taking the whole family off on an adventure is always a great idea. But it’s always a bit tricky to satisfy everyone – a bike nerd (me), an enduro-y wife, a pre-teen girl who just wants to dial in her jumping & wheelie skills while showing off to her mom that she can ride further no-handed, and a 7-year-old boy who isn’t very interested in trails that are ‘too bumpy’.
But that’s where a growing list of family-friendly bikeparks come in. You just need to make sure the kids have some good fitting protection: a full-face is best, plus good gloves & knee pads at a minimum. We also love EVOC’s light, small kid-friendly Protector Vest back protectors for added security.
The best ones offer smooth berms that everyone loves – just go faster to make them more difficult – and rougher, more technical tracks for when the parents ride alone. We’ve found parks with plenty of attractions to keep kids of all ages busy when not riding (E.g. a trampoline cage & a blue bouncy castle/slide in the background, above).
Younger kids (and kids of different ages) often don’t have the stamina for all-day rides climbing & descending. So on top of regular trail riding at home, a trip to a bikepark means all the fun going downhill with less pain. And they get to build technical skills and confidence at the same time. We’ve even found that by mixing up more kids across all different ages, they tend to group together and help each other improve. Even the older kids seem to have fun teaching the smaller ones new tricks.
Plus, more adults to play tag-team parenting while the others ride.
You kinda can’t go wrong…
HONORABLE MENTION: A few days bikepacking
While a lot of times, it may seem like bikepacking has to be some intense adventure, not everyone is cut out for riding for two weeks straight in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan or trying to cross an entire continent in one go. Most of us simply don’t have the free time in our busy lives to devote to such endeavors.
I’m not even sure if I would really think that would be fun?
I feel like the sweet spot is either a sub 24-hour overnighter that requires almost no advance prep (which earned my top pick last year) or the sought-after 3-day weekend.
Wild camp in woods if you can, sleep in the snow if you think you have warm enough gear, or ride from campsite-to-campsite where you’ll find amenities or even a pavilion to sleep under.
Maybe simply get a couple of friends together and ride from one town to the next, spending your nights warm & dry in a motel or AirBnB along the way.
There aren’t actually any hard & fast rules to bikepacking, anyway.
Just spend a few long days on the bike with a couple of good friends and all will be well…
HONORABLE MENTION: Support your local MTB Shuttle service
While it’s fun to ride bikeparks, just like winter skiing in those same ski resorts, I often prefer more natural trails and would prefer to go off-piste. On an enduro bike that can mean a lot of pedaling up.
So why not search out a mountain bike shuttle service near you and combine the benefits of lift-served trails AND natural terrain. You likely are still going to have to pedal quite a bit – this is enduro after all, not DH – but a shuttle service might just show you some new trails, too.
My first new local shuttle service od 2021 started just across the CZ border in the village of Piechowice, PL. There, the Izersky Collective loaded us up in a van and hauled us around all day to sample some of the steepest most technical trails in the border mountains. We still had to climb quite a bit over the passes, as the shuttle stuck to the asphalt – oof! But we were able to squeeze in almost 3000m of descending some of the steepest, most technical terrain I’ve ridden all year – all in the waning daylight of a mid-autumn day.
We’re looking forward to more riding in the Jizerka Mountains next year.
Our second new-to-us local mountain bike shuttle service this year is actually quite a bit older.
Trasy Enduro Srebrna Gora have been running truck & vans up the mountain gravel roads laden down with enduro riders for years. In fact, the entire trail system was built with crowdfunding support from riders over the past several years, spearheaded by the ex-mayor of the town of Srebrna Gora, PL who now manages the shuttles, a little shop & food truck at the trailhead. It even has two pump tracks, a technique/jump training area, and a skills trail that kept our kids entertained for hours.
We only made it there twice this autumn, but we’ll definitely be back in 2022.
Now onto the bikes & gear…
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Canyon Spectral Mullet CF
Canyon’s Spectral 29er was already a great do-it-all all-mountain bike. Long enough travel to even bleed into enduro and happy to spend time in the occasional bikepark. Plus, it’s an efficient climber and light enough to be your everyday trail bike.
This summer they added a first mixed wheelsize Mullet version of the Spectral, and it ticks every box you’d want out of a playful big trail / light enduro bike. With the 29er wheel and 160mm of travel up front to a 27.5 wheel and 150mm travel in the back, the carbon Spectral Mullet CF CLLCTV shifts the already capable trail bike towards enduro. I was surprised to learn after riding the bike for two weeks that it was the same travel & same geometry as the 29er, because it really felt more cable thrashing technical trails.
The only downside is that Canyon only makes one Mullet CLLCTV build of the Spectral with a coil shock, and only with a carbon frame. But after adding almost identical alloy bikes in 27.5 & 29″ wheels this summer, I bet more mullets are to come.
HONORABLE MENTION: Scott Spark 900 Tuned
This summer Scott gave their Spark XC bike a Bold hidden shock redesign, stepping up the World Cup cross-country race bike’s travel to 120mm as a slacker, faster, fully-integrated XC bike. But while Nino & Kate race 120mm bikes with 120mm forks, the Spark 900s get slightly more fork travel, a bit slacker geometry & larger air volume shocks.
And the thing is, this 120/130mm version climbs just as well as the World Cup bike, but descends like an animal. Part of the secret is that Scott’s great (triple) TwinLoc remote on all the bikes, giving you three suspension positions: open descending, slightly reduced travel traction control & full lockout mode (it also adds a dropper remote in one place, too.) Drop it into Traction Control, and it feels like you are pedaling a lightweight 80mm travel XC race rocket up the hills.
And you could just pop a travel-reducing spacer in the fork to mimic Nino Schurter’s World Championship winning setup. Don’t let anyone tell you 120mm is too much travel for an XC bike, just ask Nino.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – fat: Duratec Fat Jack
Snow’s on the ground again, but this past winter we spent a good time riding Czech aluminum bike maker Duratec’s fat bikes before our hard lockdown. And their latest Fat Jack has been so much fun (while still being affordable) it has both my wife & I rethinking whether we needed to each buy one for ourselves. Duratec builds every bike to order in Europe, so you can tailor the braze-ons to what you plan to carry, paint it any color you want, even set it up to run two rear wheels for the ultimate adventure-proof setup.
It doesn’t hurt that the bike was developed together with Jan Kopka who won the Iditabike on one of the bike’s earliest generations. He even runs winter fat bike camps in the Czech mountains (& beyond) with a fleet of Duratec fat bikes you can also rent for shorter adventures.
Gravel / Cross Bikes
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Basso Palta II
Basso completely revamped their road-inspired carbon gravel bike this summer into an all-new Palta II that is better in almost every way. Bigger tire clearance, more integration, improved aerodynamics yet a more comfortable ride, more adventure-ready mounts, lighter construction, and more capable geometry. All that and this new made-in-Italy gravel bike feels faster and more controlled when descending over any surface, and it still climbs like a proper road bike.
HONORABLE MENTION: Rondo Ruut 2x
Rondo gave their adjustable geo, carbon Ruut gravel bike the 2x treatment this year with GRX, and I’ve been riding it over hill and dale since the spring. I’ve covered more kilometers on this bike than anything else this year, it’s the only bike I’ve ridden over 200km in one go this year, and on sweltering solstice gravel to boot. And the only reason that I give it an Honorable Mention instead of an Editor’s Choice is that it is essentially the same reasonably-priced carbon gravel bike that was launched all the way back in 2017, and got a fork upgrade in 2020.
But even the simple act of adding a front derailleur makes this a more versatile bike for everything from all-road to full gravel bikepacking adventure. I personally prefer the tighter gear spacing and wide range of a compact road 2x across more varied riding. Swap between a road wheelset and the higher axle position vs. a gravel wheelset with the fork in the lower axle position, and you get the best out of this original do-it-all dropbar shapeshifter.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Fara F/RD
I’m kinda over road bikes this year, since spring kept me closer to home, I never really got into the rhythm of racking up base miles. Ring off-road just felt like my vibe in 2021. But the fact that Fara’s new aero-ish F/RD road bike is also kind of an aero all-road bikepacking bike piques my interest. I mean it’s aerodynamic and integrated, but there’s still room for 32mm road tires. And it has a built-in QR mini bikepacking frame bag to carry snacks and spare clothes.
This looks like it will make an excellent adventure road bike.
HONORABLE MENTION: Battaglin Portofino
OK, lugged steel, chrome lugs, cromovelato paint, and disc brakes all made by hand in the rolling hills of northern Italy – this thing is a piece of art. I haven’t ridden one, but I want one. I actually already wanted one as soon as Battaglin added disc brakes to this shiny bike at the start of 2020.
Now that the Battaglin Portofino Disc has added full internal cable routing, this is the slickest-looking, classically-styled modern road bike in existence. It really just needs a painted-to-match stem & seatpost (they already did it on the Power+) or maybe polished aluminum? And then to chop down that unnecessarily bulky spacer stack, it is a custom geometry bike after all. Drool.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: KP Cyclery Nighthawk
This is what an e-bike really should be – a legitimate car replacement. Sometimes I have a hard time picking a best e-bike because it’s hard to think of what e-bike I actually would want. This is exactly that.
KP Cyclery makes pedal only and e-bike pedal assist versions of their steel Nighthawk cargo bike, both entirely made in Europe in Estonia. With the hills in Prague, I’ve been testing out the e-version which we’ve affectionately dubbed the Schoolbus, because well… the color and it shuttles my son back & forth from school (The 12-year-old is almost too big, and thinks she’s cooler than this. She is wrong. Actually, she says it’s fun to ride in too, but there’s not quite enough room for two kids and their backpacks.)
It is kitted out with Shimano’s latest EP8 motor with a cargo-specific tune and the somewhat misunderstood but great idea Shimano XT LinkGlide drivetrain. It’s relatively new to us, so I’m looking forward to giving the bike and the components a full review over the winter.
HONORABLE MENTION: ebikemotion Xtra Power bottle battery
I tested out 3T’s e-Exploro RaceMax Boost gravel e-bike earlier this year, and was pleasantly surprised with how it could actually be fun to ride, and didn’t actually make it easier when I didn’t want it to – my average heartrates were just as high as on a normal gravel bike. The thing is, you ride a gravel bike above the EU 25km/hr pedal-assist cot off so much, an e-gravel bike only really offers support on moderate to steeper climbs.
That means ebikemotion’s X35 hub motor paired to a 250Wh internal battery is supposed to offer around 80km of pedal-assist. But I wanted to push it further, so by adding 208Wh of extra juice in the 1.7kg Xtra Power external battery I figured I could get that up to 145km. But riding a bit faster, I realized I could get even more. In the end, I pushed the 250+208Wh setup for 166km of gravel in less than 6.5hours.
The Xtra Power external battery greatly extends the range of the e-bike. Especially since pedal-assist power starts to significantly taper off once the built-in battery drops below a quarter charge, the external battery significantly delays that power reduction. Read more about how & why that happens here. And when you don’t need to ride so far, leave that extra weight at home.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Commencal Meta HT 24
This is what a kid’s bike should be. Fun, capable to ride anything, able to be upgraded, but spec’d from the start with proper kid-friendly components – and built to handle some abuse.
The Commencal Meta HT Junior is an all-mountain shredding alloy trail hardtail. It’s been around for a few years, but gets a spec update every season. My daughter is shredding on a Manitou Machete JUnit fork, SRAM 1×10 drivetrain, and a USE mechanical dropper post (when she’s not giving me stink eye on the uplift).
And when she grows out of 24″ wheels next spring and maybe moves to a fully, the Meta HT 24 will get a fork service, some new cables & maybe some fresh grease in its bearings, and will go back into another few years of service for the next kid.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Classified Poweshift 2x hub
For the devoted 2x fan, this is a great way to ditch the front derailleur. The Classified Powershift tucks a wireless-shifting 2-speed planetary gear system inside the rear hub. Compatible with Shimano 11 speed and SRAM 12sp drivetrains, the Classified setup delivers all of the aero, straight chainline benefits of a 1x setup with the wide range and small gearing steps of a traditional road 2x drivetrain, plus it shifts lightning fast and even under full load. Good luck getting a front derailleur to do that. You can retrofit it to pretty much any 12mm thru-axle road or gravel bike. Plus, it seems like every month we hear about another bike company that has made Classified Powershift a stock OEM build option, too.
2x is dead, long live 2x.
HONORABLE MENTION: SRAM GX AXS Eagle
For gravel or mountain bikes, it’s hard to argue with the setup simplicity of AXS. Plus, Blips are awesome for bikepacking & adventure riding. When SRAM told us GX was getting AXS, I personally didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal. I was wrong.
When it was ready and I got a set up for my do-it-all Bombtrack Audax gravel commuting bikepacking bike, I combined the new wireless GX AXS rear derailleur and a set of Force AXS levers, plus a pair of Blips wired in just next to the stem. And then I was in love with my new gravel mullet setup and its wide 44×10-52T gearing. Fast shifts, huge range, and the ability to shift while riding on the tops. I could even charge a spare battery off my dynamo front hub if I were to head out on a multi-week adventure. I’d probably even get some more Blips and stick ’em out on an aero bar for custom continent-crushing shifting ergonomics.
Wheels & Tires
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Road wheels: DT Swiss ERC 1100 45
The all-new DT Swiss ERC endurance road wheels are literally better than ever: +15% wider, -4% lighter, more aero, and even cheaper (in Europe). I’ve been riding DT Swiss’s new ERC wheels since October, just as much on-road as off-road. The first-generation ERCs were great, in fact, we still ride them regularly. But these are simply incrementally better. If you are looking for an all-rounder wheelset that will transition from fast weekend road rides to longer-distance gran fondos to dirty all-road rides, I can’t think of a better wheelset you can buy and ride worry-free for years.
As for those road tires… they’re the same last year’s EC winner 30mm Pirelli P Zero Race TLR still running strong.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Gravel tires: Tufo Swampero & Speedero
Tufo’s gravel tires got even better this autumn with the introduction of a third tread pattern and additional sizes. On top of the original fast-rolling 40mm Thundero & Speedero comes an all-new proper knobby Swampero inspired by Tufo’s long-running Cubus cyclocross mud tire tread profile. They’re still reasonably light, surprisingly supple for a vulcanized nylon construction that seals tubeless almost without need for sealant, and still cheap at just 40€ a pop.
Now all three variants come in both 700c x 40mm & 36mm sizes, and both tan or black walls. Why make a smaller 36mm size when gravel is going bigger with 45mm tires on many adventure bikes? Cyclocross bikes. Tufo has deep roots in cross, and a 40mm tire won’t fit in many existing CX bikes. But a 36mm gravel tire will, bring more mixed-surface versatility to tons of old cyclocross bikes that might have been feeling a bit out of touch in recent years.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Cyclocross tires: Challenge Tubeless Tubulars H-TLTU
This summer Challenge greatly expanded their line-up of durable handmade tubeless tubulars (H-TLTU) to include several cyclocross and gravel treads, in multiple widths. Challenge specifically developed the unique tubeless tubulars for the rigors of gravel riding with tough sidewall & tread puncture protection – said to be more durable than regular tubeless, they can also run sealant & be fixed with tubeless plugs, plus the tubular rim bed design is less susceptible to damage from rock strikes at too low pressure. That was great for gravel racing, and equally great for cyclocross too.
While technically, they haven’t officially launched H-TLTU tubeless tubular cross tires yet, there are a few proper cyclocross options available under gravel names. The Almanzo (remember it’s the Grifo XS) and the Gravel Grinder (aka Chicane) are both available in CX-friendly 33mm now.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – MTB tires: Pirelli Scorpion XC RC
Who would have thought I would love a lightweight casing cross country race tire these days?! But Pirelli’s latest & wider 2.4″ Scorpion XC RC cross-country tire is actually a great tire for fast & dry trail riding. And since I spend most of my mountain bike riding on reinforced casing all-mountain to enduro tires like Pirelli’s own Scorpion Trail & Enduro, and the perennial benchmark Maxxis DHF/R setup, when I swap over to these XC RCs it feels like I am flying.
Components & Gadgets
EDITOR’S CHOICE – MTB suspension: Formula Selva XL FR
Italian suspension maker Formula’s latest double crown Selva XL FR enduro fork is mind-bending. It left me feeling like a gravity superhero, flying down tracks in bikeparks in the Dolomites. With skinny for a double-crown 35mm stanchions, this 180mm travel freeride fork is both plush & supportive.
Its unique stiffness allows for incredibly supple suspension feel, making it utterly confidence-inspiring. It’s also lighter than any equally long travel single crown enduro fork, and has a lockout that will let you climb like a billy goat. Just imagine the looks you get when you pedal what looks like a DH bike up the mountain past enduro riders pushing their bikes.
HONORABLE MENTION – electronics: Polar Verity Sense optical HRM
Polar’s updated Verity Sense optical heart rate monitor is simply a gamechanger for athletes who struggle with fit or consistent data from conventional heart rate monitor chest straps. One of our female test riders had struggled with conventional electronic pulse-based heart rate straps for years, we suspect partly because she often doesn’t sweat enough while riding to maintain sufficient conduction between the strap & her skin resulting in data dropout especially in cooler weather or on longer, lower-intensity endurance rides. She’s also not super happy with the fit under sports bras.
Using the same LED-based measurement tech found in Polar’s smart watches, this latest Verity Sense monitor now straps around her bicep, and it logs consistent & reliable heartrate data to her phone or GPS. Problem solved.
HONORABLE MENTION – Road components: Darimo Nexum 1-piece cockpit
This is a bit of a dream item for me. I’m a not-so-secret weight weenie, so thinking of the world’s lightest carbon road bike cockpit sounds amazing. Darimo’s new Nexum handlebar & stem combo is made by hand in Spain, one at a time, can be customized in any size you want, and for internal or external cable routing. And it weighs as little as 195g. Do you think I could get one painted to match that Battaglin Portofino, up there?
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Syncros Guide Tool Kit
I’m also an unrepentant Bike Tool Nerd. I love a solid mini tool. I love a complete tool kit. And I love the idea of a compact torque wrench I can take on a ride when I’m testing something lightweight and made of carbon. The Syncros Guide Tool Kit is a great do-it-all affair that does all that.
At 70€ it’s not cheap, but included are 8 interchangeable bits for the mini-ratchet/driver, and a 5Nm torque limiter extension, a full chain tool, a pair of tire levers & a glueless patch kit. I’ve customized my setup with 8 more bits that cost just 6€ more from Syncros. Everything tucks securely into a simple roll-up case with a loop to hang it while you are wrenching.
HONORABLE MENTION: Sahmarai Swords v2
Because having a puncture repair kit in your bar ends at all times is super convenient. I’ve long been a fan of sticking tubeless tools in my bar ends, starting with Stefan Sahm’s original Swords more than 4 years ago. I added Muc-Off’s lovely colorful Plug kit in last year’s Editor’s Choice, and both my wife & I swear by them on our trail bikes.
But this latest Sahmarai Swords v2 wins my praise too. It’s much easier/faster to get out to plug a tire, tool-free, especially in cold weather. And I’ve yet to have an issue with them coming loose. The new Sahmarai Swords are also super affordable at $30€ and offer a bit of extra protection to your bar tape or grips in case of a minor scrape with the ground.
HONORABLE MENTION: Silca 3D printed Ti Hammer
Silca’s new ultra-premium 3D-printed Titanium Bike Tools are over the top, $400 for the set. But they definitely deserve a mention. The $150 Titanium Lock Ring tool that weighs just 45g with both Campagnolo & Shimano lockring tooling is just so crazy light that it feels weird in your hand. I’m kind of afraid of it, but it’s swapped a few cassettes so far & removed a disc brake rotor, so it does its job so far.
But that hammer is awesome. It only weighs 160g, but 125g of that is just the steel shot inside the no-bounce head. It feels both incredibly light (and perfect for my mobile Unior Pro Kit toolbox), and heavy enough to smack the hell out of something stuck on your bike. As any real bike mechanic, and a hammer is often one of their favorite tools to use on a bike. And this one is so much better than anything I’ve ever swung at a bike in anger.
But it also costs $150.
Gear & Accessories
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Syncros IS Accessory Mount
This add-on cage strap could totally fall in under our small things below, but it’s so good it deserves its own gear award & recommendation. At only 14€, the Syncros IS Accessory Mount is literally just a reinforced nylon bracket that comes with a velcro strap to secure a tube, tool, or whatever.
But its secret is a customizable, cut-to-fit base with four mounting holes and a couple of zip tie guide channels. Use the two holes on the long tab and it fits under a bottle cage in that little triangular space under both your bottle cages (see it carrying a tube, tool & tire levers in the muddy Rondo photo, up in the gravel section) with a zip-tie around the down tube for stability. One hole (at the top chopped off) and it replaces a bottle cage. The two holes under the strap attach it under many saddles. Or one hole is secure enough to mount under the top tube of an enduro bike.
It’s really hard to beat. I think I’m gonna order another two of ’em.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – pack: Camelbak Stash (& Ultra) Belt
The Camelbak Stash Belt (left, above) is new to us because technically it’s not supposed to be for cyclists, but rather for runners. The 2-pocket belt we love is being phased out (which means it’s on sale if you can find one) in favor of a new lighter 1-pocket Ultra Belt that promises the same 2L storage. It’s both tiny & surprisingly big, man have we packed a bunch of stuff in this tiny thing!
A mini wallet with lip balm, keys, smartphone, small GPS, mini-tool, tire levers, nitrile gloves, two snacks, plus a packable wind jacket in some cases. It’s essentially the same you would stuff into 3 jersey pockets, but it sits lower & more stable over your butt than on the lower back of jersey. And you can spin it around in front of you on a chairlift.
HONORABLE MENTION – pack: Camelbak Flow Belt hip pack
We already reviewed the larger Flow Belt hip pack (right, above) quite a while ago, but it’s worth another mention. It technically has the same 2L storage as the Stash & Ultra, but adds in an extra pocket for a water bottle, which also happens to be enough space for a packable rain shell or the best-ever insulated jacket (scroll down for that one.)
EDITOR’S CHOICE – bikepacking bag: Ortlieb Handlebar Pack QR
This new made-in-Germany Ortlieb Handlebar Pack QR is the best completely new bikepacking bag I’ve tried in a few years. Of course totally waterproof, the 11L bar bag is essentially just a medium-sized roll-top bag. But it’s the quick-release attachment and bracket that hovers your gear just in front of the bar that makes it so special. Faster to get on and off your bike at camp than almost every other bikepacking bag. It also doesn’t interfere with your cables or hand positions.
If you are considering buying any bikepacking bar bag, you need to read my Handlebar Pack QR review first.
HONORABLE MENTION: Pirelli yellow SmarTubes
One of the most important spares to always have with you is an extra tube. Running tubeless doesn’t mean you’ll never need a tube to get you home, especially if you adventure far from home.
So these lightweight durable yellow TPU plastic SmarTubes from Pirelli are perfect. To be fair, it doesn’t need to be a yellow one. These are actually made for Pirelli by Tubolito, so if you prefer orange, be my guest. Interestingly, Pirelli & Tubolito make slightly different sizes and thicknesses for their otherwise identical tubes, so pick the one that’s the best fit for you – and the color valve you like. My trail bikes always have a yellow tube strapped on with that great Syncros add-on mount (from just above).
EDITOR’S CHOICE – jacket: Albion Ultralight Insulated Jacket
This thing is a game-changer in packable warmth. Albion’s Ultralight Insulated Jacket is minimal to the extreme. It only places its eco perforated insulation on the chest and upper parts of your arms. It has no pockets, no extra drawstrings, not even a stuff sack.
But that’s what makes it great, and so packable that there’s often no excuse not to carry it with you just in case. It’s just a wind-resistant jacket that is surprisingly warm, weighs about 100g, and packs down the size of my fist. It goes gravel riding with me, road riding, and aven enduro riding. It’s kept me warm high up in the Italian Dolomites, descending singletrack in the Swiss Alps, shuttling Polish MTB trails in heavy fog, and just heading out for autumn sunset rides at home.
HONORABLE MENTION – MTB kit: Leatt women’s MTB 4.0 Pants & Ultraweld Jersey
Leatt’s latest MTB 4.0 ♀ Pants & UltraWeld Jersey are a great mix of lightweight, comfortable, and durable mountain bike kit for women – my wife in this case. Because every rider should get the benefit of lightweight long pair of trail pants that are comfortable to ride in a mix of weather while keeping your legs protected (and clean from mud) yet stay in place. I have a tan/navy pair (see below in the shoes department), so men get the exact same benefits, too.
And the same thing for a long-sleeve jersey you can comfortably ride with in spring & summer to protect your arms from branches & briars. With slippery reinforced patches on the forearms, the Leatt jersey does a surprisingly good job of preventing scrapes from minor crashes without even having elbow pads underneath.
HONORABLE MENTION – deep winter gloves: 45NRTH Sturmfist 4 gloves
It’s gotten cold again for me in central Europe now, and while I haven’t needed to reach into the deep winter storage for these 45NRTH Sturmfist gloves yet, it’s reassuring to know they are there waiting to come back into service. Rated down to -18°C/0°F, these four-finger gloves combine 400g of Primaloft insulation with aerogel insulation between your hand and the bar that literally stops cold in int tracks. Inside there’s a comfy merino blend liner, and outside it’s all goat leather and long gauntlets coated with a DWR treatment.
Warm, dry & cozy. Perfect for playing in the snow…
EDITOR’S CHOICE – XC/Trail: POC Kortal Race MIPS
Ooops. POC’s latest bright
ass orange Kortal Race MIPS AVIP helmet is everything you need in a trail helmet. A good fit. Low weight. Good protection in the back of your head. The latest in MIPS Integra anti-rotation protection. A Recco reflector so a search & rescue helicopter can find me in an avalanche (more likely than you’d think, see above.) An NFC chip that stores my important health data so they can find out everything about me if I am unresponsive. And of course, super-bright hi-viz AVIP orange so everyone can see me coming, even in low-visibility winter conditions.
Luckily this deep snow was a soft landing, so no need to replace my Kortal yet.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – Enduro/Gravity: Leatt Enduro 4.0 convertible helmet
Leatt debuted their new Enduro 4.0 convertible hall-shell/full-face helmet at the start of this year, and it’s been the go-t0 enduro all-rounder for both me & my wife. At 800g with the removable chin bar, 454g without, it offers the ability to go from DH-certified safety for descending to fully open for climbing in about 10 seconds – all with Leatt’s 360° Turbine anti-rotation tech, comfy pads, and a Fidlock magnetic chin strap.
Pop the chin bar into your bag for a long enduro climb. Leave it at home for a day of singletrack. Or keep the chin bar on all day for a trip to the bikepark.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – MTB: Shimano ME7
Shimano’s shoes seem to always deliver performance and value, and their latest ME7 enduro mountain bike shoes are a perfect example. The shoes offer a simple locking lace and a midfoot ratchet to tighten, a laces flap for protection & to keep mud/water out, a mid-height stretchy cuff to keep debris out., and protection on both sides of your ankle. For now, they still stick with grippy Michelin soles vs. Shimano’s own new Ultread rubber, we’ll see if that changes next year.
HONORABLE MENTION – deep winter: 45Nrth snowboarding boots
OK, so they’re not really snowboarding boots (but I bet they’ll work for that too), but these 45Nrth Wølfgar Deep Winter cycling boots aren’t that far off. When it gets so cold out that you need to break out the Sturmfists and you are sure your toes are going to get cold, these will save the day. Seriously, these aren’t regular winter riding boots. Don’t even break them out until it’s at least ten degrees below freezing or your feet will just sweat.
But inside there’s a wool and synthetic fur liner boot (like a nice snowboarding boot), there’ san Aerogel footbed that will not let cold in from the sole or your pedal (OK, it won’t let heat out, cold isn’t a thing.) And on the outside, there’s two large BOA dials with long cables, and a sole that’s grippy on snow or ice, plus two-bolt cleat compatibility.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Chimpanzee
An assortment of Chimpanzee Natural Nutrition energy gels, bars & chews go with me on almost every ride. These are all made here in the Czech Republic from all-natural & organic ingredients, the vast majority of which are also vegan, if you’re into that. What I love about them is that it all actually tastes like food, not like something over-engineered.
My favorite Chocolate Energy Gels include Himalayan salt on top of a bio agave syrup base so they don’t taste too sweet, plus a bit of caffeine kick. Those Forest Fruit Energy Chews are little soft gummies that melt in your mouth, give you a quick not-too-sweet boost, and are always shared around on a pit stop. The Chocolate Espresso Energy Bar doesn’t actually have caffeine but has a nice coffee taste and big chunks of dark chocolate – these most of all have to be hidden from my kids (often under lock & key).
Yeah, and it’s really not possible to out-nutrition the humble banana as the perfect cycling snack. But here’s a hot tip. When you stop for a break, squeeze out some Chocolate Chimp Gel on your banana – it takes snacking to the next level!
Off (& On) The Bike
EDITOR’S CHOICE: 10,000mAh USB Powerbank
Almost any USB powerbank will come in handy whether adventuring with or without a bike. 10,000mAh seems to be my favorite sweet spot these days, able to recharge my smartphone a couple of times over a long weekend of bikepacking, plus enough juice to recharge my new Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt a couple times too, and a bit extra to recharge my BioLite HeadLamp.
The one I’m currently using is from Segway – Be smart, ride on is their e-mobility electric scooter slogan. Whatever. Balance the battery storage you need, with lightweight & low cost and you’ll likely come up with something similar.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: 1000/2000 grit sandpaper, black nail polish & a black Sharpie
OK, so this is at least three things in itself, but as one, this is a single cosmetic repair kit for your scratched carbon and aluminum bars, stems & brake levers. Don’t tell any of the bike and component makers, but I regularly scratch some component on almost every bike I review.
Sure, a Sharpie isn’t going to fix anything, but it will often make it so you no longer notice that big scratch on the top of your black anodized stem. Because that’s not something you want to get distracted by/reminded of every time you go for a ride. As for the nail polish, it does wonders for hiding cosmetic scrapes on glossy carbon bars. And I’ve even heard that with some very careful super-fine-grit sanding, the nail polish trick will keep scratched fork stanchions sliding for several more seasons, too.
Remember kids: Scratches, especially on carbon, can very likely mean there’s real damage hidden inside, and real danger. Use common sense, and replace it before, it breaks you. Only cover over minor clearcoat scrapes, please. Use your own good judgment.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Apidura Backcountry Food Pouch
Whether heading out on a big adventure where you need to hang an extra water bottle to your bike, or strapped in front of the stem on your kid’s mountain bike to always have snacks at the ready, it’s hard to beat the strap-on utility of a simple lightweight bottle bag. I’ve ridden with about a dozen different water bottle-sized bags from more than ten different bikepacking bag makers, but nothing beats the original Apidura Backcountry Food Pouch for just forty bucks.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Really any Merino Wool blend socks
We’re deep in winter again and everyone needs a new pair of merino (blend) socks or two to keep their toes cozy. Most merino socks seem to last longer in my closet, so they make for good value, especially since I wear them year-round. Some of my favorites are above (left to right) from: SockGuy, Sportful, Quoc, Rapha MTB & SmartWool PhD… including gravel, mountain bike & skiing-specific, although they all can work for any discipline depending on how the weather is outside.
There are tons of great options, so I’m leaving the choice up to you this year. Happy sock hunting!
OK, that’s it. Congratulations if you made it this far.
Looking back on a crazy year, and as I’m just now recovered from my bout with COVID (oof… two shots and careful for two years, and a kid brings it home from school), I’m just reminded of how liberating it can be to ride bikes outside, sometimes solo, sometimes with just a small group of likeminded friends.
Riding has definitely kept me sane.
And kind of cooped up, semi-isolated at home with the family, we thought another year might cause more stress & strife than it did. Instead, we spent more time together. We rode more as a family. The rides were generally shorter, but there were a lot of them. And we all got better at how we ride. Lots of wins there. Don’t get me wrong, we all LOVE getting away from each other too.
But looking forward, we have plans to build some new trails of our own. Plans for a new pumptrack after building a mini one last summer. And maybe we’ll get some home technique training setup as well.
There’s always new bikes and new bike tech coming. And we’re ready for it.
In the meantime, I wish you a happy holidays wherever you are, whoever you are with, and whatever you have cause to celebrate. Here’s to many great rides, and lots of great new bike stuff for you all in 2022!
Full disclosure: Each of these products has been chosen purely on their performance and/or technological merits for the reasons described above. Many more great products have passed through my hands this year. Under no circumstances were any of our selections 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.