Gear of the year: Russell Eich's 2016 MTB picks

Reliability, performance and comfort go a long way

2016 is wrapping up. It was an amazing year with tons of riding, lots of fun trips and loads of incredible bikes and equipment. As I reminisce about the best gear of the year, I asked myself what things have I used the most, which do I miss, and which products do I choose over other options? From full bikes to the little necessities in every rider's life, here are some standouts for me.

Fox Transfer Factory dropper post

Fox's Transfer Factory dropper post delivers on performance and durability
Fox's Transfer Factory dropper post delivers on performance and durability

Dropper posts have quickly become a must-have item for most mountain bikers. However, a bunch of posts' reliability has left a lot to be desired. This is where Fox's updated Transfer Factory post comes in. Not only does it have an ultra-smooth, controlled action, it's also been rock solid reliable all season. I dig the remote size and feel, I like the clunk that signifies the saddle is at full extension, I admire the ease of a simple cable for installation, and I really appreciate being able to modulate the speed of return. But most of all, I love that I haven't had to pull it apart and rebuild it.

Rocky Mountain Pipeline

Plus size tires give the Pipeline a huge dose of confidence
Plus size tires give the Pipeline a huge dose of confidence

I'll admit, I've been a huge fan of Rocky Mountain's Froriders since before I could adjust a derailleur. Wade Simmons is still my hero. A lot of those early freeride lines were performed on a Pipeline. This new version is a pretty far cry from the URT goodness of the 90s, but it's still crazy fun with 27.5 plus-size tires. The Pipeline wasn't the lightest, or longest travel, or most expensive bike I rode this year, but it was amazing in that I instantly felt at home maching into seriously rowdy terrain aboard it. 

Possibly more than any other bike, it encouraged riding like a total hooligan: forget line choice, don't worry about setting cornering speed, just hang on and look for the next section to get stupid with. In fact, the more I rode it, the more surprised I was by how capable it was. Leave the competitive angst at home, the Pipeline is a mountain bike for the everyday rider looking for fun above all else. 

TLD A1 MIPS Vertigo helmet

Troy Lee Designs' A1 helmet might be the most comfortable helmet I've worn
Troy Lee Designs' A1 helmet might be the most comfortable helmet I've worn

I'm a firm believer that comfort equals speed. For almost any ride I had planned, I found myself reaching for my TLD A1 helmet. The graphics are a love/hate affair, the ventilation is nothing to write home about, and at least in my mind, wearing TLD gear places a certain expectation upon the rider that they know how to ride a bike. None of that matters though because the A1 simply fits my head better than any other helmet I currently have. The safety is on par with the best, and the MIPS liner has shaken off a couple of minor touches with the dirt. From quick spins at lunch to full-on stage racing in the jungle, I picked the A1. Comfort goes a long way in my world. 

Nox Composites Kitsuma wheels 

Nox Composite's amazing Kitsuma wheels changed my riding with their wonderfully massive 36mm inner rim width
Nox Composite's amazing Kitsuma wheels changed my riding with their wonderfully massive 36mm inner rim width

To say I was super bummed when I gave the Kitsumas back to Nox Composites is a bit of an understatement. I simply adored how the 36mm wide (internal) carbon rims made my bike ride. Uphill, downhill, traversing weird off-camber stuff, everything was improved with the Kitsumas rolling underneath. The stiffness was addictive, the Industry 9 hubs spun effortlessly yet sprinted quicker than a teenager at a busted keg party, and with all-black components the overall looks were subdued and stealthy. The wide rims supported big tires the way they should be, and made two wheel drifts so easy to control. I bashed them thoroughly for months, even taking them to bike parks, and they never once missed a beat or saw a spoke wrench.

Shimano AM9 shoes 

My go-to shoes for almost every ride are Shimano's AM9s
My go-to shoes for almost every ride are Shimano's AM9s

Sure they're meant for downhill, but Shimano's AM9s are simply the most comfortable clipless bike shoes I've worn. They're not well vented, they're far from stiff, and they lack the quick, on-the-fly adjustments common in cycling footwear, but I don't care. Never having to worry about my feet (before or after the ride!) is worth the little annoyances. I also really like the lace cover and top strap for keeping everything snug and clean. Plus being able to walk around like a normal human off the bike makes them my go-to footwear choice.

Rocky Mounts Tomahawk bike mount 

Simple, versatile and dependable, Rocky Mounts Tomahawk checks all the bike rack boxes
Simple, versatile and dependable, Rocky Mounts Tomahawk checks all the bike rack boxes

From fat bikes to kids bikes and everything in between, Rocky Mounts' Tomahawk roof mounted bike rack hauls it all with ease. This rack is a permanent fixture on my car. The ratcheting arm keeps bikes secure and the wheel straps have little nubs to hold the straps out of the way while loading your steed. I'll never go back to a fork-mount bike rack. 

Qloom Hey Dude liner shorts

Liner shorts don't have to suck, Qloom's Hey Dudes are proof
Liner shorts don't have to suck, Qloom's Hey Dudes are proof

Qloom's Hey Dude liner shorts have done something very few other liner shorts have yet to manage: not suck. I'm not sure why the included chamois-lined shorts found in baggies are typically so awful but until these bright blue wonders, it was sadly inevitable. The Hey Dudes are inexpensive, breathe well and the endurance chamois fits and performs far beyond expectation. I sincerely hope this is the turning point in liner shorts. They're so good I snagged another pair. 

Maxima Chain Pro lube

Maxima's Chain Pro lube kept my chains quiet, clean, and comes in the best bottle ever
Maxima's Chain Pro lube kept my chains quiet, clean, and comes in the best bottle ever

It's the little things that count. One of those little things is chain lube. It's not glamorous, it's far from sexy, but it's a vital part of every rider's routine. Maxima's Chain Pro lube has me spoiled. It leaves my chain (and cassette) looking clean and running quiet, lasts at least a few rides, and comes in a bottle with a screw top so you never, ever lose the cap. Plus, like other Maxima products, it has a scent that I've come to associate with a dialed ride.

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