My previous gear of the year articles have consistently focused on giving shout-outs to the products that have kept me dry and warm, and therefore, most importantly, happy.
But this year is going to be a little different because I’m going to feature products that have improved my performance or performed exceptionally well during testing duties as BikeRadar’s technical editor this year, to bring you impartial and in-depth reviews.
So, here you have it, my top five performing products of 2020.
- We’ll be publishing the BikeRadar team’s Gear of the Year for 2020 throughout December. You can see all of our Gear of the Year articles here.
Fox 38 Float Factory GRIP2 fork
In a word, they’re exceptional. The Fox 38 was new to the market this year and caused quite a stir among paying customers and reviewers alike, receiving broad-sweeping acclaim for their ability to absorb bumps with the utmost composure and control.
I’ve got a pair fitted to my Yeti SB165 long-term test bike, and out on the trail, the 38mm chassis has proven to be stiff – but not too stiff – and the GRIP2 damper plush, smooth and with reliable bump-eating performance.
Not only do the forks appear to be incredibly supple at the start of their travel – which helps provide amazing amounts of grip – they also have fantastic mid-stroke support.
The air spring also seems brilliantly adept at providing plenty of bottom-out resistance and ramp up deeper into the travel. I’m currently running 95psi and two tokens with no high- or low-speed compression damping and they provide so much grip, it almost feels uncanny.
They don’t come cheap, though, and the top-spec Factory GRIP2 version I have will set you back £1,299. A Performance version of the fork is available for £1,049, but they only have the more simplistic GRIP damper.
Patagonia Black Hole Waist Pack 5L
I take this bum bag with me on every ride, and it has proven itself to be one of the best bits of kit I own. Period. Although I reviewed it earlier this year and awarded it a solid 4.5 stars, I didn’t expect to become so dependent on its presence.
Carrying my essentials, including snacks, a chain tool, a multi-tool, tube, and shock and tyre pump, it has bailed me out of mechanical woes multiple times.
It’s also impressively comfortable, even when fully-laden with two water bottles – in the stretchy side pockets – and a full day’s worth of kit. The straps are ultra-adjustable and it’s possible to get the fit just right.
I’ve dedicated its front-most pocket for my phone, while the internal organiser inside the main compartment splits up my snacks and bulky multi-tool.
The elasticated side pockets are ideal for water bottles, and while I use one side for a bottle, I keep the other free to store jackets or the chin bar to my convertible Giro Switchblade helmet.
The thing I love most is how sweat-free my back remains because I’m not wearing a backpack – I’d recommend checking out a bum bag if you’ve not done so already.
Fox Ranger 3L Water Pant
Now the weather’s closed in, my go-to bits of clothing feature thicker fabrics and waterproofing. Since reviewing them last year, Fox’s Ranger 3L Water Pants are still my go-to bottoms to wear when the weather gets rough.
Countless hours of wet weather riding have given them ample time to prove themselves as top wet weather performers, keeping rain, puddles and mud away from my skin.
Although the fabric appears to resist water penetration well, it doesn’t have that clammy, damp feeling that hard shell waterproofs do once you get sweaty.
The legs have enough space for knee pads but remain well-fitted, which helps them not flap around in the wind. The material’s slight stretch means that movement is free and easy, too. The elasticated ankle cuffs help to keep mud and water from splashing upwards as well.
For me, nothing beats finishing a wet and sloppy ride, removing your waterproof layer and finding your skin and underclothes dry and spotless. The Ranger 3L Water Pants do exactly this and for that reason I love them.
Fabric Funguy grips
Although frequently overlooked, grips can have a large effect on how a bike rides and feels. If they’re too stiff with no twist or give – normally because they have two lock-on clamps – they can cause hand fatigue much quicker than bikes with more damped versions.
I’ve got a set of Funguy grips fitted to my Yeti SB165 long-termer and my Marin Alpine Trail test bike because I love how soft and comfortable they are, while the single lockring means they’ve got an amount of twist or movement to help dampen vibrations.
Their 31mm diameter feels great in my hands, too and because there is only an inboard lockring, and I like to have my hand off the end of the bars slightly, I can do so in comfort. The outer end is capped to form the bar plug to help with safety, too.
They’re available in seven colours, so there should be an option to match your bike. I know I’m going to be fitting them to all of my future bikes…
Sealskinz Waterproof Cold Weather mid-length socks
Okay, so technically the Sealskinz Waterproof Cold Weather socks are products that are conducive to happiness rather than outright performance, but I’d happily argue those two traits go hand-in-hand so I’ve snuck them into my gear of the year.
The socks’ waterproof membrane does a fantastic job of keeping water away from my feet even when riding soaking wet trails and through gigantic puddles. Their Merino wool, acrylic and polyester internal layer helps to keep my toes toasty while the outer layer does the same, too.
Although they are quite bulky, this is a price I’m willing to pay to be able to ride for longer and in more comfort – the Sealskinz socks are a true blessing on cold and wet test rides. In fact, I love them so much, I’m looking to get a few more pairs!