The first six months in my new tech writer role have been something of an oddity, I’m told.
It seems gone, at least for now, are the glory days of the industry having ample kit and bikes to lavish the media with for testing and reviews. It’s become increasingly tricky to get our grubby hands on gear as we used to.
Still, you won’t find me complaining. I’ve been fortunate to throw my leg over some brilliant bikes I would never be able to afford to ride if it wasn’t for having this job. Plus, I’ve managed to bag some swanky parts for testing too.
Here’s my Gear of the Year 2021 selection, the stand-out kit I’ve tried this year that has made a welcome difference to my riding. Mostly to my comfort, it would appear.
Ochain Active Spider
The Ochain Active Spider is designed to give you more of a chainless feel when riding. It provides some of the benefits that can improve suspension performance when the chain isn’t influencing its behaviour.
I’m a bit of a contradiction in my bike setup. I like a lively bike running fast rebound speeds on my suspension. Yet, I’m not the biggest fan of a poppy bike that dances over the trails. Instead, I prefer a plush ride with my tyres glued to the dirt.
The Ochain helps here, reducing feedback and vibrations rattling through your feet when trucking over rough ground, giving a sense of calm to the bike that I enjoy. It does this by allowing the chainring to rotate 6, 9 or 12 degrees anti-clockwise (depending on which setting you choose) while the cranks remain level.
That allows the chain length to grow as the suspension compresses without pulling on the cranks, hence the chainless feel. However, a drawback is that it adds extra free-stroke in certain pedalling situations. Plus, it’s not cheap.
Despite that, if you’re a gravity-dominant rider who’s hunting the most sensitive and active suspension, this device will be welcome.
OneUp Components carbon handlebars
You’ll notice a pattern to my products here, in that most of them have the benefit of bringing comfort to my riding. I guess that reflects my personality accurately.
OneUp Components’ carbon handlebars have an oval shape to their profile between the stem clamp and grips.
Using carbon to make a more complex cross-section than a traditional tapered-aluminium bar, OneUp aims to minimise arm-pump inducing vibrations yet maximise steering performance.
The intention is to provide the strength of a 35mm-diameter handlebar with the comfort of a 31.8mm diameter.
Perhaps this compliance isn’t such a big deal for my local trails. However, I ran these bars for a two-week trip to the Alps this summer, and I came away thoroughly impressed.
I’m fortunate that I don’t suffer from arm pump in my forearms, but my hands become painful on sustained descents.
Using OneUp’s bars, my hands suffered by far the least pain I can remember from a trip to the Alps.
Now, I’m aware there are many contributing factors to this, but I’m sure the handlebars played their part, and these will be fitted to my long-term test bike from now on for sure.
Fox Ranger 3L Water pants
Testing bike products in the UK means there’s plenty of time out on the trails in wet and cold weather. And the Rangers have seen their fair share of abuse over the last year.
Fox’s Ranger line of mountain bike apparel is the brand’s more wallet-friendly option, and tends to be more trail-focused than race-oriented, foregoing the most high-tech materials, while remaining stylish and comfortable.
These pants have a three-layer construction and DWR coating to help keep the weather out, and the seams are internally sealed to aid in making them watertight.
The material is more of a thin, softshell fabric, so it has a good stretch and is a little warmer next to the skin than some other waterproof trousers I use.
The cut of the Fox pants is excellent, and they’re comfortable to pedal in. I don’t find I overheat in them, either. They’re a little short in the leg, but you can’t have it all.
Unfortunately, the Rangers aren’t cheap, but they’ve made plenty of wet rides more comfortable. For that, I praise them, plus they’ve held up well so far, so would appear to offer good value for money.
Michelin DH 34 tyres
Most test bikes come with more trail-oriented tyres, such as a Maxxis Minion with a MaxxTerra compound and EXO+ casing. There’s no doubting this is a good tyre, but when I put these Michelin DH 34 tyres on and used them in Morzine this summer, I was blown away.
It seemed as if I had become a much better rider. I could look at any line I wanted and hit it with accuracy and ease. Braking and cornering were exceptional. There was tons of grip and control.
The tough DH casing gives a stable and controlled ride quality that light tyres can’t match.
That said, not all my riding out there was lift-assisted, and I did a couple of rides that included just shy of 1,000 metres of climbing. It was the most punishing 1,000 meters of climbing I’ve struggled through in my life. They’re called downhill tyres for a reason.
Still, I can see why the enduro racers put these on for racing the clock. They’re an unfair advantage when pointed downhill. I don’t recommend them for general use, but it was eye-opening to use them on my enduro bike.
Rimpact Pro tyre inserts
Since I first tried tyre inserts back in 2018, I’ve been converted. I think they’re brilliant, and totally worth the extra bit of hassle fitting and some additional weight – which, to me, goes unnoticed on the trail.
Since I fitted the Rimpact Pros at the end of 2020, the wheels I’ve been using them with haven’t suffered a single puncture, dent or ding.
The Rimpact Pros use a dual-density foam, where the firmer outer material remains supple while riding but hardens under high-force impacts, such as a rock strike.
That firming distributes the load further across the softer foam undeath, absorbing the force and transferring less energy to a single point on your rim.
My sole goal with using inserts is rim and puncture protection. Therefore, I’m not running super-low pressures to maximise grip or ride comfort, although I believe that’s an extra benefit. However, I run a middling air pressure for my 75kg kitted-up weight, with 26psi in the rear tyre and 22psi in the front.
Rimpact’s inserts are competitive in weight and price, and well worth the money. So much so, I actually got my wallet out and bought them myself.