Part of my job as a tech editor is to wade through the marketing muck and mire to hopefully make some sense of the products and technologies that genuinely advance our sport.
While attempting to separate the wheat from the chaff, I found myself routinely coming back to the same products – items that accompanied me on every ride or that I wished I were riding while testing lesser products.
Here are 10 of them, all of which I’d thoroughly recommend investing in.
9point8 Fall Line dropper seatpost
There are a lot of truly unexceptional dropper seatposts on the market. Anyone familiar with my dropper seatpost rants knows how critical I am of this expensive piece of kit that’s not nearly as reliable as it should be at this stage in the game.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a properly functioning dropper seatpost and I absolutely hate riding without one, but out of the dozens on the market there are only two that I deem dependable enough to install on my personal bikes.
Thomson is the first: it’s easy to install and has proved completely faultless as far as reliability is concerned.
The 9point8 Fall Line is the second. It has proven just as reliable and uses a remote that is more versatile and more ergonomic – this makes it the class leader in my opinion.
Shimano XT M8000 drivetrain
This was the year that Shimano finally caught up to SRAM’s 11-speed drivetrains.
The Deore XT M8000 group serves up the precise shifting Shimano is known for at a price most riders can stomach.
It’s noticeably easier to click through the lower gears than the previous 10-speed XT group – no more fighting against the clutch. The ergonomics and finish are also on on par for Shimano’s workhorse group.
I’m a 1x evangelist, but I’m not too proud to admit that there are times when I appreciate having a little ring to drop into.
XT offers the simplicity of a 1x drivetrain as well as the extended range of a 2x. Whichever way you roll, Shimano now has you covered.
Giro Rivet II gloves
I’m persnickety about my bike setups, and a direct connection to the handlebars gives the best tactile feedback when trying to suss out the nuances of suspension and tire performance.
My local trails aren’t the most forgiving when it comes to crashes. I’d rather run my palm against a cheese grater than put down a bare hand in a crash on my favorite rocky trails.
Thankfully, I don’t have to do either. Giro’s Rivet II glove provides all the tactile feedback I want while protecting my hands from harm.
SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes
SRAM’s family of Guide brakes have squelched the reliability and noise issues of past designs. The Guide Ultimate serves up an impressive range of modulation and has never left me wanting for more stopping power.
The Guide Ultimate is more than just a spiffy carbon lever bolted to a Guide RSC brake. The updated caliper design manages heat better on long descents and the repositioned bleed port makes them easier to service.
Blackburn 2’Fer light
Like several of my fellow tech editors, I love Bontrager’s Flare R tail light for its massive lumen output.
Blackburn’s 2’Fer fills an entirely different niche. It’s a rechargeable “be seen” light with white LEDs for use on the front and red LEDs for use on the rear.
I always have it mounted on my city bike as a back-up in case one of my, or my riding partner’s, main lights runs out of juice.
Santa Cruz 5010 version 2.0
Modern mountain bikers, myself included, are often over-biked for the trails we ride. Although often overshadowed by enduro machines, trail bikes have become astoundingly capable and are usually the more appropriate choice.
Case in point: the second generation Santa Cruz 5010 is playful, efficient and left me grinning like an idiot.
So what changed in this year’s redesign? Santa Cruz added a bit more travel to the rear, bringing it up to 130mm, slackened the head tube angle to 67 degrees and increased the top tube lengths across all sizes.
The new version feels more confident at speed and still begs the rider to boost off every rock and root.
Fox Float DPS EVOL shock
There were many great suspension products released this year. The one that I was most impressed with was the Fox Float DPS EVOL.
A new dual-piston system allows for a wider range of adjustments. This new arrangement allows the shock to have a firm lockout without compromising performance when run fully open.
Fox also redesigned the air sleeve to give the Float DPS EVOL a more linear spring curve. On the trail this translates into a softer initial stroke with improved traction.
Trek Remedy 9.9 29
You know a bike is good when you don’t want to send it back to the company. After almost a year of hard use we’re finally parting ways.
I used the Remedy 9.9 29 for enduro races, for eight-hour ‘fun’ rides through the Colorado Rockies and for quick spins on my local trails.
The Remedy 9.9 29 isn’t a ho-hum ‘all-mountain’ bike with the usual trade-offs that make a bike good but not great. It genuinely does everything well.
If I could only own one mountain bike it would be the Remedy 29. Thankfully, I don’t have this problem, but I’m still tempted to buy one.
Tire choice is incredibly subjective, but for my trails and riding style I generally gravitate toward Maxxis rubber. Or at least I did, until I tried Bontrager’s SE5.
The SE5 has ramped central knobs to reduce rolling resistance and large, sturdy side knobs that bite and hold in loose and rocky conditions.
It’s a breeze to set up tubeless and its reinforced sidewalls have prevented pinch flats and tears despite months of hard use.
Garmin Fenix 3
Cycling is great, but it’s not the only way I enjoy the outdoors. Wrist-top GPS and fitness trackers aren’t just for multi-sport athletes; they can also be great tools for anyone who wants to track data while playing outside.
The Fenix 3 has become to me what RD-2D is to Luke Skywalker. I haven’t taken it to Endor or Hoth (yet) and I don’t use all of its many functions all the time, but I’ve found it useful for nearly all my outdoor interests.
This year the Fenix 3 has accompanied me while cycling on and off road, SCUBA diving, surfing, trail running, hiking, backpacking, fly fishing and cross-country and alpine skiing.
If you have a garage full of gear, this is your watch.