Despite what 2020 has thrown at us, I’ve still been lucky enough to get out and test loads of new bikes, plenty of fresh kit and a smattering of the latest components too.
Having done this job for a number of years, it’s refreshing to see how many good products are available now. It’s rare we have to ride a bike that simply isn’t fit for purpose or hammer down a hill on a component that feels like it’ll fail at any second. No, these days, the majority of what you’ll find in the shops is decent stuff.
But I’m not here to talk to you about the kit that merely gets on with its job well. I want to talk about my highlights from the past 12 months…
- See all of the BikeRadar team’s Gear of the Year for 2020
Nukeproof Blackline Trail pants
- Price: £80 / US$110/ AU$150 / €99
As much as I’d like to be a fair-weather rider, only getting out on the trails when the sun is shining and finishing the ride with nothing but a thin layer of dust clinging to my bike simply isn’t an option.
For a start, I live in the UK where it seems to rain almost constantly for a good chunk of the year. But the main reason I get out on the bike in all weathers is because I love riding. This means I’ve been constantly searching for kit that’ll make being out in the rain more bearable.
While the Blackline Trail pants aren’t specific winter or waterproof trousers, they still help keep your legs nice and clean when the trails are muddy, and they do a decent job of protecting you from wheel spray or the occasional rain shower too.
The Blacklines manage to elevate themselves above the rest of seemingly similar trousers, for a number of reasons. I’m a fan of the cut and fit, and these are tapered enough to not flap about when they’re caked in mud. Meanwhile they’re not so tight that they’re impossible to remove at the end of a ride either.
There’s enough stretch in the material to make them easy to move in and they’re comfy too. Then there’s the handy zipped pockets that are well placed, secure and just about big enough for your essentials.
It helps that Nukeproof hasn’t gone overboard with the branding on the Blacklines. I’m not keen on big, bold graphics and definitely prefer the subtle approach given the choice.
Plus, factor in the cost here too, as Nukeproof seems to be charging considerably less than most other brands do for similar products.
Mudhugger EVO bolt-on mud guard
- Price: £30 (+£4 for Ohlins/RockShox ZEB fitting kit)
I’m all for a simple solution when it comes to keeping the mud out of my eyes, and the new Mudhugger EVO bolt-on mud guard is exactly that. You could argue that having to screw a mudguard into place isn’t as quick or as easy as using Velcro straps or cable ties, but once on, the EVO works well and the direct-mount clamp helps keep things looking nice, clean and tidy.
I fitted mine to a RockShox ZEB fork (add £4 to cover the fitting kit required). I was a little concerned it would be a faff, but thankfully, the tight tolerances and shaping of the required parts meant the ZEB mounting-plate held snugly into the rear of the mudguard. Thus made lining up everything and threading the three anchoring bolts into the rear of the fork arch very straightforward.
Unlike some longer mud guards, which slap your tyre as you wallop through big compression or clatter back down to earth with a heavy landing, the EVO stays firmly fixed in place. And I’ve still not heard it contact the front tyre, even when caked in mud.
Most importantly though, it does a grand job of keeping mud out of my eyes while riding, which, let’s be honest, is the whole point here. It’s £34 well spent.
Transition Scout GX
- Price: £5300 / US$5499 / AU$9999
I rode the original Transition Scout when it first launched and absolutely loved it. It wasn’t until this year that I managed to ride the Scout again – although with stretched-out geometry and an increase in suspension travel, I had reservations as to whether it could conjure the same amount of fun as the original.
Thankfully the new Scout is a total riot to ride. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact I had so many other bikes to test, I’d still be riding this little rocket-ship of a bike.
I’m not bothered that it doesn’t have big 29in wheels or all the travel of an enduro machine. This thing is ridiculous on the trail.
The Scout’s geometry works incredibly well for me. I like the slack 64-degree head angle, which helps to keep things feeling composed at speed, and the steep 77.3-degree seat-tube angle certainly makes for a comfy, efficient climbing position.
And on my size medium, the 460mm reach coupled with the 430mm chainstay managed to provide a ride position that just felt right from the get-go. Easy and confident to ride fast, but still agile and fun whenever you want to throw it around. Perfect.
The 140mm of supportive yet nicely progressive rear-wheel travel is matched to the 150mm travel RockShox Lyrik up front. Again, it’s a great combo that never left me feeling like I didn’t have enough travel on tap to tackle ride rough and rocky trails, but equally, never so much travel that the bike felt sluggish and hard to manoeuvre.
Sweet Protection knee pads
- Price: £90 / US$100 / €100
Getting the right pair of knee pads is a complicated and drawn-out process. Or at least it is for me. There’s nothing worse than riding miles in a bulky pad that chaffs the hell out of your knees, only for it to slip down your leg when you need it most.
Equally, getting a super-comfy pad that stays put and doesn’t irritate your skin is all well and good, but if it’s as thin as a dishcloth and offers about as much protection as one, you might as well not wear them at all.
The Sweet Protection knee pads manage to straddle the line of protection and comfort perfectly. The fit, which comes courtesy of the sleeve and thicker neoprene-like panels, hold the pads in place well when pedalling – so much so in fact, that the upper Velcro strap doesn’t even need doing up that tight.
There’s no strap at the bottom of the pad but I’ve had zero issues with these drooping down, even on the wettest or sweatiest of rides.
While these aren’t the chunkiest pads around, they’ll still take a knock and stay where they need to be when the action does happen.
It helps that they dry quickly and have so far handled multiple laps of the washing machine with ease.
RockShox SID Ultimate
- Price: £869 / $899 / €979
When the new SID launched at the start of the year, I’ll admit, as more of a downhill fan, I wasn’t overly excited at the prospect of covering them for the site. But then I found out more about the new fork, my opinion quickly changed.
Naturally, being the top-tier cross-country fork from RockShox, the brand had to come up with a super-light race fork to appease all the pros, which it managed to do with the new SID SL. What’s exciting about the non-SL version, the SID, is that it’s built around a sturdier 35mm chassis. The idea is to create a fork that’s properly suited to short-travel trail bikes (downcountry, if you will).
These bikes may only offer a similar amount of rear-wheel travel as a regular cross-country bike, but their geometry is more akin to a trail bike, as are their components (think slack head angles, lower bottom brackets, wider bars, shorter stems, bigger, heavier tyres… you get the idea) and can be ridden blisteringly quick. But because of the mile-munching foundation these bikes were built upon, they’ll not hold you back on long all-day rides in the slightest.
I must admit, I’ve grown to properly love these bikes. They’re capable enough to tackle some pretty hairy trails, though this will make them far more exciting to ride down than a longer travel trail bike. But their sprightliness and turn of speed when you push the pedals means they feel electrifyingly fast when weaving through mellow singletracks with your heart rate through the roof.
It helps that brands such as RockShox are building such capable parts to build these bikes. The SID Ultimate’s 120mm of travel is controlled via its new Race Day Charger damper and it works impressively well.
The stiffer chassis (compared to the 32mm chassis used on the SID SL) adds more in terms of accuracy and precision, plus they feel that bit stouter when it comes to piling into roughed-up trails, which only boosts confidence that bit further.
As I said, I’m a fan of the bikes the new SID’s are being bolted to, and that’s why I wanted to add the SID Ultimate to this list.
Bikepark Wales uplift pass
- Price: £41-48 (depending on day of the week)
If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we should make the most of the time we spend with family and friends. And what better way to catch up with your mates (and scare yourself senseless) than to get booked onto an uplift at your nearest bikepark?
I’ve mentioned Bikepark Wales here as I ride there a lot, but don’t forget there are plenty of others scattered around the UK that offer just as many thrills and just as much fun.
Nothing really beats getting a group of friends together and hitting the trails. And it’s even better when you don’t have to slog your way back up to the top.
Dedicated bikeparks, such as Bikepark Wales, offer a wide range of trails catering to almost every ability – there’s something for everyone.