With outposts around the globe, we at BikeRadar see a huge array of gear throughout the year – and our Australian HQ is no different.
Despite the remoteness and relatively small population of Australia, its cycling industry and participation numbers punch well above their weight, and with this comes a bunch of wonderful (and some not so…) things to test.
Below are a few of my top items that got plenty of use through 2014. From a new Kickstarter-launched invention, to an Aussie-only direct-buy brand, these are the things that left the biggest impression on me and, in most cases, got my money too.
Trek Fuel EX 9 650b (and SRAM X1)
The 2015 Fuel EX 650b sang out to me when I was looking for a worry-free trail bike for personal use and as a component-testing platform. Although I’m fortunate enough to have some weight-weenie superbikes, the thought of a steed free of carbon (and the expense that goes with it) greatly appealed – a bike I could escape onto the trails on, and for which replacement parts come relatively cheap.
Having ridden the previous 26in and 29in Fuels, I was well acquainted with the ride. While the move back to a standard Fox fork and a well-hyped rear shock tempted me, it was the component specification for the money that clinched the deal.
The SRAM X1 gearing is a true highlight, and I consider it to be the most underrated drivetrain currently in mountain biking. Its shifting performance and durability is near identical to its more expensive siblings, with the additional weight being the only real drawback.
The rest of the components including the tubeless-ready Bontrager wheels, RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post and Shimano XT brakes have all been flawless to date.
So good is the spec that all I’ve done to mine is set up the stock tyres tubeless, changed the grips out for a set of ESI Racers Edge Silicone, cut the fork steerer down and added a side-access bottle cage. I’ve never left a bike this close to stock before.
US$4,199 / £3,000 / AU$4,499
Cycliq Fly6 rear light and HD camera
The Australian-designed Fly6 makes it to my top five on the basis of it being an intelligent concept. Combining a rear tail light and video camera is impressive, but the huge uptake in this technology since its Kickstarter launch has been nothing short of mindblowing.
It’s this type of safety-conscience technology that is making a real difference out on the roads. While it may not stop you from being hit, the growing awareness of such a product is likely to make motorists think twice before driving recklessly around cyclists.
Just a few weeks ago Cycliq launched an updated version, offering the Fly6 in a more compact package, with 50 percent brighter light output and with improved optics. We’re still testing the new version, but early indications show that this should be a very hot item for 2015.
US$249 / £179 / AU$275
Here in Australia, Cell Bikes has consistently impressed us throughout the year. Their consumer-direct business model hits near criminal price points, but most importantly, the ride quality is competitive with the big brands.
Sure, all the Cell Bikes we tested are an unimaginative black and are unlikely to win any innovation awards – and none of them are truly perfect – but if I were on a tight budget and needing a bike, I would seriously consider one.
Cell’s latest model – the Brunswick – underlined the firm’s merits. This cyclocross bike proved to be so versatile and so well priced, that it’s a worthy contender for anyone’s second bike. From regular commuting, to CX racing to just exploring gravel back roads, the Brunswick does it all without fuss.
Considering that I’ve been seriously underwhelmed with its machines in the past, I’d give Cell Bikes my ‘Most Improved’ award without hesitation.
US$N/A / £N/A / AU$1,399
Abbey Bike Works Crombie Double Sided SL cassette tool and Whip-It chain whip
I like bicycle tools. Most might not get my obsession, but I recently started writing a Home Wrench column to share my thoughts and advice with those that do.
Some of the kit from Abbey Bike Tools has been discussed before, but it continues to prove oh-so-good with every use.
As a set, the double-sided SL cassette tool has the Whip-It chain whip cleanly slide inside of it for compact storage and lightweight transport. When you need to remove a cassette, both tools are handy.
The double-sided Crombie tool offers both Shimano/SRAM and Campagnolo fittings. The hollow nature of these often allow you to access the cassette lockring without removing the quick release – a huge time saver when swapping cassettes or removing those silly plastic spoke protectors on a regular basis.
As I have both a permanent workshop and a mobile set of tools, I own two Abbey Crombie cassette tools. I mostly work with Shimano/SRAM, so my workshop Crombie tool is a single-sided Shimano version (US$40).
US$95 / £TBC / AU$TBC (both pieces)
Yakima HighRoller roof rack
This roof rack is something I reviewed last year, and soon afterwards I requested to buy it. Since then, it has accommodated more than 40 different bikes without a single hiccup. While tandems and fat bikes won’t fit, just about everything else will.
If I were only carrying my own bikes and they had solid rounded tubes, then I’d consider other rack designs. However, when testing so many different bike styles and not wanting to leave a mark on the paint (or worse), the Yakima’s wheel-only clamping system is a real benefit and hard to match.
I still wish the locking system for both the rack and bike were a little quicker and secure, but otherwise the overall function is hard to fault – assuming you’re able and willing to look past the price tag.
US$199 / £N/A / AU$299