We’re in a ridiculously fortunate position here at BikeRadar as we get to ride some of the most exciting new products before they hit the shops. Now, my list below covers a few things that may be technically classed as ‘model year 2016’, but they are all the best things I rode in 2015, so here we go...
Fox 40 Float RC2 suspension fork
I’d been impressed with the first iteration of the air sprung 40 which was launched a couple of years back, but after a couple of runs down a slippery Welsh hillside with the updated version bolted to my bike, expectations were thoroughly reset.
The latest 40 weighs just 2.7kg (5.9lb), thanks in part to the new Float air spring and, just like other Float forks in the line, now uses plastic volume spacers to adjust its spring rate. Nice, easy and quick; just as tuning should be for the most part.
While the 40’s RC2 damper continues to offer a decent range of useable adjustment, it’s how well it eats up bumps and the level of composure that really stood out during those early rides. It's seriously off the top and nicely supportive when it needs to be, which makes tackling those awkward steep turns that bit easier. Okay, the price is the fly in the ointment here, but thankfully, the performance helps to back it up.
£1,459 / $1,700
Whyte T-130C Works
This bike makes you want to ride everything as fast as you possibly can. Whyte have been smart with geometry, lengthening and lowering the bike enough to give it masses of hardcore potential, but without removing the fun. The low bottom bracket, lengthy reach and slack head angle (for a bike with this sort of travel) help to make this bike extremely capable, even when the trails get ugly. The T-130C isn’t shy when pointed uphill either. That stiff frame feels taut under power and climbs with relative ease up.
I like the details of the frame and spec, too. It’s single-ring specific so Whyte didn’t need to stress about squeezing a front derailleur in and were able to make the bike stiffer as a result. The integrated seat collar looks cool and works, while the short stem, wide bar and aggressive front tyre are just the sort of upgrades most of us have been making to this type of bike for years.
Admittedly the Works edition is a little spendy, but our main man Guy Kesteven has been ripping around on the substantially cheaper T-130 RS model and has been bowled over by the performance.
£4,499 / $TBC
Camelbak Skyline 10 LR hydration pack
While the current trend seems to be all about shoving water bottles, tools and spares into your pants, socks, under your helmet, into your frame or, heaven forbid, your bumbag (that’s a fanny pack in the US, right?), sometimes it’s just easier to pack your bag and ride. Problem is, there are very few good packs out there.
Camelbak had winners with the old Volt and Charger packs, which both used a lumbar reservoir that kept the weight low on your back. The Skyline picks up the baton from those two established models but goes one step further, sitting the entire load even lower on your back. It’s secure too and only shifts slightly while you’re wrestling your bike back onto the line.
It comes with a handy tool roll, which is a great way to neaten up your tools, along with arguably the best bladder out there. The only real downside we found was when packing longer mini pumps into the main compartment, things got a little tight. Aside from that, it’s definitely a go-to pack for me.
£99 / $130
RockShox Lyrik RCT3 Solo Air
The performance of this longer-travel, refined bigger brother to the Pike is seriously impressive.
You'll feel the initial sensitivity at first, but when the going gets rough — like it did when I was careering down a French mountainside — it’s the smooth control that really stands out. On the repetitive, blown-out trails I first rolled down, I was surprised just how little fatigue my hands suffered. Even back in Blighty (that's Britain for you Yanks and Aussies), it has handled the big hits with little fuss and done a sterling job of keeping my front wheel glued (ish) to the boggy trails beneath.
More exciting though is the Lyrik’s cheaper counterpart, the Yari. This fork uses the same chassis and air spring as the Lyrik, but the cheaper Motion Control damper. We’re going to be seeing that on all sorts of bikes next year.
£824 / $1,030
7iDP Transition knee pads
Finding a decent set of knee pads is harder than you might think. At least it has been for me. The Transition pads from 7iDP manage to go largely unnoticed, which is exactly what I’m after.
The simple sleeved design, pre-shaped padding and tight fit work for me. I’ve not had to stress about adjusting them constantly mid-ride, they’ve not slipped down when I’ve been sweating buckets or hitting the deck, and they’re comfy to pedal in.
Although I’d not slip them on if I was heading out on the downhill bike, for most other riding, they’ve served me well and I’d happily recommend them.
£59 / $69