This year's Cycle Show had a definite tarmac bias, with road, commuter and e-bikes everywhere you looked, and just a smattering of mountain bikes and kit. There were still some gems to be found, however – including steel hardtails from Enigma, Pipedream and Kinesis. A continuing trend was lighter weight body armour, both for downhill and cross-country/trail riding.
Troy Lee Designs
Troy Lee Designs always have an eye-catching booth at trade shows and at the NEC it was their custom-painted Specialized Demo downhill bike that took pride of place, with its sparkly orange paintjob and SRAM X0 World Cup brakes. The latest D3 and D2 helmet designs were also on display, along with plenty of TLD's trademark lairy downhill kit.
New for 2012 is a greater focus on trail-riding clobber. We were particularly taken by the latest Ace shorts and Skyline Corona jersey, but the big news is the new 5000 series pads. Available in leg (5450), knee (5400), arm (5550) and elbow (5500) versions, these are super-lightweight pads aimed at trail/all-mountain/enduro riders. With prices ranging from £43 (elbow) to £50 (leg), we think they'll be a hit.
There's no bulky plastic armour of fancy impact-absorbing putty used here; instead, the pads use flexible, impact-absorbing Strata-Foam from American sports protection specialists Shock Doctor, along with an abrasion-resistant aramid weave. The mesh construction and Vent-Trak air channels help keep sweat at bay, while the pads are kept in place by a Lycra sleeve and silicone grippers (on the knee/elbow cup itself, not just the sleeve) instead of Velcro straps. Troy Lee kit is available via Fisher Outdoor Leisure in the UK.
TLD's 2012 Skyline Corona jersey, Ace shorts, XC gloves, 5550 arm pads and 5450 leg pads
O'Neal were keen to show us their new flat-pedal shoe, the Stinger, which has been two years in development. Clearly aimed at ending Five Ten's dominance of the market, it has a sticky-rubber sole and a casual, skate-influenced look. The name comes from the honeycomb sole design, which isn't too dissimilar to Vans' classic waffle tread – a good thing, in our book.
A stiff mid-sole should ensure efficient pedalling and the upper is made from soft leather, with reinforced stitching for improved durability. The Stinger is available in a range of colours – black, white, or black and white with a choice of blue, green, red or yellow highlights – in sizes 39 to 47. RRP is £84.99/€99.90. A high-top version is also available, called the Trigger, for the same price.
O'Neal are targeting Five Ten fans with their new honeycomb-soled shoes; this is the Trigger
Also new for 2012 is the Stealth Shirt – a super-lightweight padded top aimed at both trail/all-mountain/enduro riders and downhillers who hate wearing conventional body armour but need spine protection to comply with race regulations. Instead of the usual mesh construction, the pads are attached to a moisture-wicking, anti-bacterial base layer made from Flycool fabric.
The spine guard is made from the same SC-1 by SaS-Tec viscoelastic dough used in O'Neal's Sinner pads (and POC's VPD armour) and is neck brace compatible. The upper chest plate pad is also removable for brace use. It's good to see rib protectors too – a feature omitted from many jackets. RRP is £84.99/€99.90.
The pads are clearly visible on this prototype Stealth Shirt; production versions will be black
O'Neal do plenty of bike clothing to go with the Stealth Shirt – we particularly like the look of the new Element FR kit, available in a lairy yellow/cyan colourway or a slightly more subdued black/green option. Unlike many downhill shorts, the Stealths have zipped pockets – a big plus in our book because it's great to have somewhere to stow your car keys or lift pass.
Other features include a ratchet waist closure, stretchy spandex crotch and rubber armour on the knees. RRP is £44.99/€49.90 for the jersey, made from a fast-wicking mesh material, and £64.99/€74.90 for the shorts. O'Neal kit is available via Fli Distribution in the UK. For more information, visit O'Neal Europe.
O'Neal's Element FR kit blends loud looks with high performance
Forcefield are a respected name in motorcycle and snow sports armour and now they're crossing over to 'pushbikes' too. Most of the gear they had on display at Cycle Show 2011 was designed for motorbike use – although pieces like the Action Shirt body armour work perfectly well for downhill too – but the British company are working on their first cycle-specific range and had some interesting prototype ZEUS knee pads on show.
As with the rest of Forcefield's kit, these pads use moulded nitrile rubber grids for impact absorption rather than hard pads or viscoelastic dough. The result is armour that's light, flexible and highly breathable. The ZEUS pads use grids with a honeycomb layout instead of the company's usual triangular style. As with all of Forcefield's kit, they're CE certified. We're very interested to see how the finished product performs.
Forcefield's cycle-specific ZEUS knee pads are still in development but look promising
MET have revamped their Terra helmet for 2012. The cross-country/trail lid is now lighter, better vented and has a new peak. The overall look is less angular and more organic. Available in five colours, it costs £65 from UK distributors Fisher Outdoor Leisure.
Another lid that caught our eye is the £40 Crossover. As the name suggests, it's designed to cross over from mountain bike use to road use. Plenty of helmets have removable peaks; the difference here is that there are no unslightly holes visible when you take it off (the peak mounts on tabs on the strap anchors) and the helmet doesn't look like it's missing something without it.
Remove the peak and the Crossover looks like a purebred road lid. There's an LED built into the fit system dial at the rear – perfect for commuting or when you stay out on the trails longer than expected