As 2019 draws to a close, it’s time for me to take a retrospective look back at what’s changed my riding world this year.
2019 has been a rather busy one for me, with plenty of bike and kit testing for BikeRadar and MBUK. As usual, mountain bikes have featured very heavily, but my focus towards the end of the year shifted from mostly trail and enduro riding to the more Lycra-clad world of XC and marathon – all I can say is that it’s good to mix things up from time to time.
Alongside all the testing and reviewing, I’ve also been working on the BikeRadar podcast, so I might as well plug it here too! There’s plenty of MTB and road content, as well as interviews and tech features to get stuck into as you wait for the Christmas turkey (or nut roast) to cook.
Now the cheeky plug is over, check out my favourites from the past year of riding.
Crankbrothers Synthesis E11 wheels
- £2,150 / $2,399 / AUS $3,799 / €2,399
While we’ve posted our review yet, I rode the Synthesis wheels for the first half of the year on my MBUK long-term Specialized Stumpjumper EVO.
The wheels are built with a stiffer rear wheel for snappy handling and responsiveness, and a softer front wheel for grip and comfort. While differences in wheels can be fairly subtle, I do think there’s something in the approach.
I fitted the wheels shortly before racing an EWS qualifier. I suffer frequently from arm pump, so anything I can do to quell pumped-up forearms the better. While they weren’t the only changes I made to the bike over three days of racing, I had no issues.
The wheels come with fairly fancy hubs and a nice, wide rim to support the latest generation of 2.5in tyres, further enhancing their on-trail performance. While, in general, I’m fairly pro-alloy when it comes to wheels, these are a set of carbon hoops I’d happily live with going forward.
100% Brisker gloves
- £26.99 / $28.34 / AU$39.13 / €30
I’m sure the Brisker has featured in many a gift-guide or Gear of the Year article over the years, but time and time again they impress to the extent that I feel it needs mentioning again. Simply put, in all but the coldest of weather, the 100% Brisker is the ultimate winter mountain bike glove.
The back has a softshell-like material that offers decent insulation, keeps the wind and spray off effectively and remains fairly warm when damp too. The palm is just a single uninterrupted, but well-formed piece of Clarino synthetic leather, so no annoying seams anywhere. The cuff has a small Velcro tab and is elasticated to keep chill out. My only criticism is that the cuff could be a touch longer.
So why is it so good? Well, it performs well in inclement weather, but also offers superb feel through the bars, so it doesn’t feel like a big, bulky winter glove, even if it performs as such most of the time. Oh, and it’s stonking good value for money too.
In my position as a technical editor it’s rare that I’ll go out and spend my own money on kit because I am lucky to test a wide range of apparel, but I’ve bought sets of Briskers at retail, without a second thought – and I’m not the only person in the office to have done so either.
Fox Flexair Pant
- £85 / €110
When it’s really bogging outside waterproof trousers make a lot of sense, but it was only this year that I really appreciated the non-waterproof trouser (or, for our US audience, pant).
The Flexair from Fox has been my leg-coverage of choice through autumn and winter so far, and in pretty much every type of condition.
The material is light and stretchy, there’s enough room for skinny knee pads underneath, a ratchet-like fastener around the waist and a tight-ish hem at the ankle. This means they don’t hold you back on the trail, but offer that little extra splash- and wind-protection that shorts don’t, while still being breathable and non-sweaty unlike waterproofs.
In the wettest conditions, I still go for something more weatherproof, but if it’s just a chilly, damp day the Flexairs have me covered – literally.
- £60 / $85 / €69
First and foremost, in winter, I’m looking for grip, especially from my front wheel, and as luck would have it, the Shorty offers that in spades.
It’s a fairly traditional mud-spike, in many regards, with tall square blocks widely spaced to dig through the mud and eke as much grip out of the ground as possible. On hardpack it’s not the best (I’d argue that in some ways the Schwalbe Magic Mary with an Addix Soft compound build is a better all-rounder), but in the slop there’s nothing better.
Handily, I love riding slop, and I seem to ride slop a lot, so the Shorty is attached to the front of my bikes for a good proportion of the year.
There are a number of different options, but I’d usually choose the 2.5in wide Trail version with an EXO sidewall on my 29er.
Garmin Vivoactive 4s
- £260 / $349 / €300 / AUD $550
I’m a bit of a technophobe; I’ve had the same phone for years, don’t understand my fancy TV and have never spent much time with complex GPSs or sports watches. So, I’ve surprised myself this year by getting on very well with the new Vivoactive 4 from Garmin.
My aforementioned new-found love for XC, and a concerted effort to lose a bit of weight, promoted me to find a more accurate way of measuring my rides, and with a simple two-click process, the Vivoactive does just that.
With a bit of help, I’ve managed to get it to tie in with Strava and Garmin Connect too. I didn’t find the optical heart Rate sensor the most accurate, so I’ve got hold of an HR strap from a colleague’s recent GPS test to sync with it.
Perhaps the main reason I’ve become attached to it is that, with the HR strap connected, it gives a fairly (though of course not entirely) accurate calorie-count for my exercise, meaning post-ride I’ve had numerous glutenous feasts without a hint of guilt.
And, as anyone who’s tried to lose weight via calorie control will know, feasting without guilt is better than Christmas and birthdays rolled into one.
I wasn’t unfit, or particularly fat, before I used the Vivoactive, but I can safely say it’s played an integral role in my diminishing waist size and increased lung capacity.