In 2021 I rekindled a love of riding for pleasure and not just training. Mostly, I found myself doing rides that I found enjoyable, not only for fitness. These started with the uncertainty of the 2021 race calendar and snowballed into more centuries and explorations than structured interval sessions. It also gave me a newfound respect for the incredible power of cycling, being outdoors, embracing community, and the positive headspace that a single ride can create.
I gravitate more to the racing side of the cycling world, but I started as a mechanic. For me, turning wrenches in the shops and that tech side has never left. To me, nothing is more relaxing than reading over cool new tech docs, tire compounds, gluing tubulars, and riding skinny tires in the woods. Most of my summer riding is on the road or racing cross-country mountain bikes. In the fall, I trade my tubeless tires for tubulars and hit the ‘cross races every chance I get. I live for the community found in cycling, comradery found on long rainy rides, the bonked-out coffee stops, the post-race parking lot beer — and the friendships cycling creates.
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Snowshoe
There is no feeling like seeing the biggest names in the mountain bike world come to trails you raced two years prior. The trails at Snowshoe, West Virginia, are some of the best in the nation, and watching my favorite athletes rip through them was a dream come true. The event drew from every walk of cycling life. I ran into friends from the road, ‘cross, and mountain crews, all excited to see the action — only to watch it again that same day on RedBull TV.
It was inspiring to walk the pits and see the care and time each team invested in their results. It was heartwarming to witness big names like Nino Schurter, Evie Richards, and Chris Blevins taking time to chat with fans about tire pressure, past race results, and of course — take selfies.
The ultimate point of the weekend was watching with nervous excitement as Chris Blevens took the win in the Men’s XCO World Cup. The race was down to the wire — I was standing on the finish straight with the rest of the media, camera in hand, wondering who would arrive around the corner. I heard someone shout, “It’s Blevens!” The crowd let loose. The sound was deafening, and the visuals are book-worthy — the first American man to win a world cup race in 27 years since Tinker Juarez’s win in 1994.
Best Mountain Bike
Editor’s Choice: Specialized Chisel
The Specialized Chisel came to me after reviewing the $12K Specialized Epic race machine. What stuck out about the Chisel is Specialized gave this $1,600 alloy bike the same geometry as its top-of-the-line Epic Hardtail. Most manufacturers lean towards the beginner crowd for a bike of this price point; maybe a tweak in geometry or lower-end componentry — not the race-oriented. Specialized has different thoughts on what a bike of this price point can do and the future of the alloy frame.
The spec on the Chisel is bombproof and practical; Shimano Deore brakes, SLX shifting, hookless alloy wheels, and Rock Shox Judy fork. What impressed me the most about this bike was the ready-set-race experience it offers to new cyclists.
The bike is easily upgradeable (we got ours down to 20.6 lbs), and Chisel frames are available stand-alone for cool build projects. It’s refreshing to see alloy frames in aggressive race geometry. Here’s hoping that more companies will follow suit.
Best Gravel Bike
Editor’s Choice: Ventum GS1
To call the Ventum GS1 just a gravel bike is underselling the full capabilities of this frameset. The Ventum GS1 rides more like a road bike than any gravel bike I’ve piloted, but the ability is far beyond the pavement. Ventum set out to create a gravel bike that is an aggressive race machine. The GS1 ticks all the boxes for those looking to be competitive and cuts out the excess.
The frame is aerodynamically driven, much like the Ventum NS1, but offers a sturdy gravel-centric geometry that’s both confident and aggressive. The tire clearance isn’t as vast as some, but the 45mm max is generous enough to cover the big chunks you’ll meet at races. I love the slick internal cable routing through the headset cover, practical threaded bottom bracket, and adjustable fork offset (via fork insert). Step on the pedals and the GS1 has a power transfer like a road bike and it’s apparent the Ventum’s GS1 is more than a gravel rig.
Editor’s Choice: Bontrager Aelous 51
Wheels can dramatically change the overall feel and performance of a bike. The Bontrager Aeolus 51 took me by surprise—the construction, the quality, and the speed. Bontrager has ramped up their wheel game over the years and it’s hard to think of what they can improve on from here. No matter the conditions, I found myself reaching for the Aelous 51s. No matter wind or climbs, the Aeolus 51 wheels perform fantastically, and on flats, it’s like having an extra gear. The 21mm is just enough to plump up a tire to the max without distorting it. I still wish they came with wheel bags, but they never seem to come off my bike — so I wouldn’t need them anyway.
Best Mountain Bike Tire
Editor’s Choice: Vittoria Syerra
#Downcountry riding is officially a category now, and it was only a matter of time for tires to carry the same description. The Syerra down country tire from Vittoria is one hell of a fun, soft conditions companion that can roll on the roots and rocks without slipping.
It combines all my favorite treads from Vittoria; Mezcal (like) side knobs, Peyote/Agarro center, and a new (to Vittoria) 2.5″ width. This tire ticks all the needs for soft or slightly sloppy conditions (like current east coast weather). The Syerra holds steady in the loose, won’t pack up with mud, and can take plenty of hard hits. It is highly recommended for the cross country rider looking for a fun tire to mix it up.
Editor’s Choice: CADEX AR Gravel Bar
The CADEX line of wheels and bars came in hot this year — expanding an ultra high-end line when most brands are trimming the fat. The brand started with high-end carbon road wheels, moved to saddles, and handlebars. The CADEX AR is on a “one-piece” carbon fiber handlebar.
The construction makes it super lightweight, and the shape is a perfect mix of classic and modern — without the ultra flared drops. The ride is responsive with excellent vibration damping and many places to rest your hands. The subtle backsweep opens the back slightly and takes the pressure off the shoulders. A lovely experience.
Best Endurance Drink Mix
Editor’s Choice: Flow Formulas
This choice comes as no surprise for those in the endurance and ultra-distance realm. Flow Formulas was at every ultra distance, mega gravel, or vision quest ride this season, supporting their athletes and others. I swapped out rides on the road for long-distance mountain and gravel adventures this season. Flow Formulas came across my desk at just the right time, and it didn’t come with a long list of claims of auxiliary products that work in tandem — just bonk proof. The mix is easy on the stomach, free of artificial flavors, colors, and the like. It’s as straightforward as you can get for a drink mix these days. The taste is subtle and fresh, not overwhelming or salty, available caffeinated or not. The mix comes in race tubes for easy transportation or aid stops and a scoopable bag for everyday use. I found myself riding longer, happier, with less GI discomfort this season, and I believe Flow Formula played a big role.