While guiding the tech content on What Mountain Bike magazine I come across a lot of bikes and gear throughout the year, but I unfortunately have to punt a lot of it the way of other testers. Fortunately, that also means I get to cherry pick which bits and pieces I ‘need’ to test myself. I boosted my air miles this year testing a raft of new bikes. Here are some of my favourite bikes and components from the past 12 months.
Scott Watu Helmet
Don’t be fooled, there’s no reason to drop north of a hundred quid on a lid if you want a comfortable, well-vented helmet for XC and light trail riding. Just £35 / $45 will get you a Scott Watu, and once you’ve cut the big netting out of the front vents, you’ll have just that. A comfortable, not-too-sweaty helmet that fits pretty well and sure as hell doesn’t cost the earth. Unless you lie at the extremes of the head-size bell curve, the one-size-fits-all system should provide a secure and stable fit, while the adjustable straps are also pretty comfy. My bargain of the year.
£35 / $45
Oakley Jawbreaker Prizm Trail
From budget to budget-blowing, Oakley have a legendary reputation for lens quality, and the new Prizm Trail lens takes that and makes it even better. Everyone who’s donned the Prizm Trail lens has come back impressed with its stellar performance in nearly all light conditions. The Grapefruit base colour accentuates the trail surface, while the mirrored finish keeps everything from getting too bright. It’s basically a low-light enhancing lens designed to wear on bright days.
The Jawbreaker lens might look a bit Tron, and God forbid you wear them without a helmet, but the deep cover means an excellent field of vision is maintained, and we get less puddle splash coming under the lens too. Adjustable-length, low-profile arms minimize any helmet annoyances.
£180 / $220
100% ITrack gloves
100% is killing it with gloves at the moment (see Seb Stott’s love for the Brisker). The ITrack is the firm’s lightweight summer option.
A single-layer, one-piece palm is matched with an airy backhand, meaning the glove is light and breathable. The cut is top notch, and they don’t bunch too much in the palm. If you like to feel what’s actually going on at the bar, these are about as good as they come.
£20 / $27
Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper FSR 29
New Zealand’s South Island may be a mountain bike Mecca, but it didn’t cloud my judgement on the top end 29er Stumpy. This bike absolutely rips. The big, stiff, well-shod wheels make mincemeat of rough terrain, while Spesh’s FSR suspension is one of the longest reigning designs out there. Despite being a touch shorter than its 650b brother, the deeper BB drop makes it feel a lot more planted on the trai,l too. (In fact, the 6Fattie version of the Stumpy shares the 29er’s front end.)
S-Works variants are, of course, shod in super bling kit, which certainly helps the bike ride as well as it does, but the latest generation of the Stumpy may well be the greatest so far.
£6,500 / $8,900
Setting up tubeless is a pain in the butt. I just can’t be bothered half the time because I don’t have a compressor at home.
Airshot is a simple, cheap way of getting a strong blast of air straight into your tyres, sealing them onto your bead in no time at all. There are ghetto fixes out there on YouTube, and Bontrager has the Flash Charger pump, but the Airshot is simple, effective and doesn’t take up too much room in the workshop.
Specialized Command Post IRCC
I was a little unfair on the Command Post IRCC when I first reviewed it, pointing out the scary return speed. I still find the relatively ineffective low-volume and low-pressure adjustment a shame, but the rest of the post’s performance proves you don’t need hydraulics to make a decent dropper.
The head is easy to adjust, the cable set-up is okay if not brilliant, but the star of the show is the SRL (Single Ring Lever), a shifter-shaped lever that goes where your front shifter would otherwise. It’s a great shape, comes as standard in the box, and has plenty of length to overcome any sticky cable worries.
£250 / $350
Lezyne Flow Caddy
I hate carrying a pack. I also hate being stuck on a trail with a mechanical. Obviously, the two don’t go together well. That was, until I came across the Lezyne Flow Caddy £8. Once I’ve slung a bottle cage on a bike, I can carry tools and CO2 with me on every ride, and as the Caddy stays on the bike all the time, I’m never left short without my multitool. The only improvement would be if I could fit a tube in there – but that’s what electrical tape is for…
£7 / $7