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Rob Weaver’s Gear of the Year 2022 | Trail essentials from our technical editor-in-chief

Top kit picks that truly made a difference to Rob’s riding in 2022

Rob Weaver riding a Nukeproof Giga mtb. BikePark Wales .  Gethin Woodland Centre, Abercanaid, Merthyr Tydfil , Wales.  April 2022 .

I’ll be totally honest, with the amount of kit that comes through our office and workshop doors each year, trying to pin down my favourite products from the last 12 months isn’t easy.

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First off, there’s so much good kit out there that choosing just four or five items feels nigh-on impossible.

Secondly, maybe it’s age, maybe I’ve crashed too many times, I’m not sure, but remembering everything I’ve ridden in or tested has been a struggle.

I’ve had to trawl through 12 months of spreadsheets and flick through loads of copies of MBUK to narrow down my list.

It includes a real mix of kit, with everything from those spangly big-ticket items through to smaller, cheaper essentials that I’d now struggle to live without.

Anyway, without further ado (and before I change my mind again), here’s my Gear of the Year 2023 top picks.

RockShox ZEB Ultimate fork

RockShox has done a sterling job with the latest ZEB.
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media
  • Price: £1,119 / $1,159 / €1,253

There’s a bit of me that’s sometimes reluctant to select a product that costs as much as the RockShox ZEB Ultimate fork.

Yes, it’s pricey, but RockShox has done a sterling job with the latest ZEB, which is why it’s on my shortlist.

A serious amount of work has gone into creating the new Charger 3 damper that features in the latest ZEB, Lyrik and Pike forks.

It features a coil-spring backed Internal Floating Piston (IFP) along with two new, high- and low-speed valving assemblies, which are said to be the key to keeping the two compression adjustments totally separate.

RockShox created an entirely new Charger 3 RC2 damper, switching to a spring-backed IFP that replaces the bladder design used in the Charger 2.1 damper.
Mick Kirkman / Our Media

Then there’s the new ButterCup technology, designed to reduce high-frequency vibrations, pressure-relief valves and an entirely new DebonAir+ air spring.

Sure, there are a lot of acronyms and buzzwords within that lot, but as ever, what I really care about is how these things translate on the trail.

It’s safe to say the ZEB Ultimate doesn’t disappoint.

The first thing of note is just how quiet this new fork is. Thanks to how RockShox controls the oil during the rebound stroke of the fork, there’s none of that wheezing or gurgling going on it extends back to full travel after a big hit. It’s totally silent.

More important for me, though, is that I can now use the adjuster more effectively to tune exactly how I want the fork to feel.

While it’s true I still keep the rebound adjuster wound fully open, I’m now able to fiddle with the low- and high-speed compression adjusters far more than I did on the previous fork.

Lots of clever machining and a serious amount of time and effort went into developing the new RockShox damper internals.
Mick Kirkman / Our Media

Yes, I’d add a little low-speed compression damping to the previous-generation fork but leave the high-speed adjust fully open because things could start to feel a little harsh.

It feels as if RockShox has shifted that adjustment window somewhat for 2023, making it more useful for lighter riders (I weigh 68kg) to use.

I’ve enjoyed being able to make some meaningful changes to the fork setup as conditions over the year have changed, or when shifting from high-paced to slow and technical tracks.

What cemented the ZEB Ultimate as one of my top picks for 2022 was just how well it performed while I was racing the Stone King Rally. The brutal terrain, coupled with the unsighted, full-pelt racing, meant the bikes were really put through the wringer.

I was consistently surprised by just how capable the ZEB Ultimate felt. It was supple and forgiving when I needed to find traction on loose, Alpine trails, but never lacking support when the bike needed to be popped and pinged from line to line in a split second.

Some of the ugly boulders and jagged rocks it managed to swallow when I went offline saved me more than once.

For those times alone, this fork deserves serious amounts of praise.

Rapha Trail knee pads

Rapha’s Trail knee pads strike a great balance between comfort, coverage and protection.
Andy Lloyd / Our Media
  • Price: £80

Getting a pair of knee pads you’d happily spend hours and hours pedalling about in is harder than you might think. Some might have the padding but lack the comfort. Others are comfortable but leave you feeling a little exposed.

I was more than pleasantly surprised, then, when I tried the Rapha Trail knee pads earlier this year. Coverage is impressive thanks to the length of the flexible RHEON Labs ‘active polymer’ protective inserts, which are CE Level 2 rated (many trail pads will have a lower CE Level 1 rating).

The smooth sleeve feels as comfy as a leg warmer and, importantly, they stay exactly where they need to be while you’re riding. There’s none of that irritating reaching down to shuffle the pads back into place.

You’d be hard pressed to know who made these pads, thanks to the very subtle styling.
Andy Lloyd / Our Media

While they might feel hotter than some when you’re working hard, they remain the most comfortable set of knee pads I’ve ever worn.

The coverage and level of protection on offer only helps to boost peace of mind.

And let’s not forget these are a good chunk cheaper than many of the leading protection brands out there. I just wish I had a second pair because I live in these things.

Race Face Flank Core D30 Protection

The Flank Core D30 is a kit bag essential.
Russell Burton / Our Media
  • Price: £140 / $140

With trail bikes and enduro bikes as capable as they now are, we’re tackling trails faster than ever before. That means when it does go wrong, it can really hurt. That’s why I’m more than happy wearing additional protection on the bike, such as the Race Face Flank Core armour.

My take on this is simple; if the armour fits well and doesn’t interfere with my riding, then why not wear it all the time? And that’s exactly what I’ve found with the Flank Core D30 Protection.

I’ve removed the shoulder pads to make it a little less bulky and more backpack-friendly, but otherwise left it as is. It’s one of those bits of kit that never leaves my kit bag, even if it needs a wash.

The Flank Core is seriously comfy – you may even forget you’re wearing it.
Russell Burton / Our Media

The D30 back protector isn’t the biggest, bulkiest or even rated as highly as some (it gets the lower CE Level 1 rating), but it’s protection none the less and seriously comfortable, too.

If you can wear protective clothing and almost entirely forget you have it on, I’d consider it a win. That’s exactly why I keep slipping the Flank Core armour on every time I hit the trail.

Yes, in an ideal world there’d be a zip up one side so I don’t feel as if I’m about to dislocate my shoulders when I’m trying to peel it back off after a sweaty ride, but otherwise, I love its low-profile padding, breathable mesh body and superb levels of comfort.

JRC Taru waterproof handlebar bag

The Taru is held securely in place by two Velcro straps and a single bungee cord.
JRC
  • Price: £44 / $52 / €49

Yes, I know this isn’t a mountain bike product, but guess what, I ride road bikes and gravel bikes too, and bloody love them.

I bought this little bar bag from JRC at the start of the year and it pretty much lives on my gravel bike. It’s not massive, but I can stow just about all the essentials I need in there (tools, bars, phone, wallet and a jacket), and it does a good job of keeping the contents dry.

It holds its shape (which makes getting things in and out that bit easier compared to a floppier bag that will crumple down as you remove things). It fits incredibly securely to my bars via the two Velcro straps and single bungee cord that wraps around the head tube.

The Taru is available in black or stone, and either 1.4l or 2.8l.
JRC

There are stash pockets on either side, which are handy for quick-to-reach snacks, plus another on the front, complete with reflective detailing.

Pricing is really reasonable, it doesn’t rattle or bang about when off-road and, so far, it’s held up extremely well. My only real niggle is the inside is black, too, which can make locating smaller items trickier. Other than that, I really like it.

Maxxis Assegai MaxxGrip Double Down 29×2.5in tyres

The grip on offer is predictable and consistent across a multitude of surfaces and in a variety of weather conditions.
Russell Burton / Our Media
  • Price: £80

Tyres can make or break a ride.

I’ve tried a lot of the best mountain bike tyres in my time but recently, I’ve come to rely on the traction and protection provided by the Maxxis Assegai MaxxGrip tyres with a Double Down casing.

The grip on offer is predictable and consistent across a multitude of surfaces and in a variety of weather conditions. That means those sketchy moments when barrelling into wet rocks or roots don’t create quite the same level of fear, which is no bad thing.

Aside from the all-important traction, the Double Down casing has to be mentioned here, too. I used a Maxxis tyre combo (Assegai front, Minion DHR II at the rear), both in Double Down, when I raced in the Stone King Rally.

Despite some doubts, I ended up not bothering to run tyre inserts, instead just chucking in a load of Peaty’s Holeshot Biofibre sealant and hoping for the best.

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To my surprise, I managed to race for six days without any issues. On closer inspection, the tyres were scored and sliced all over the place, but never once lost air or left me stood at the side of the trail regretting my decision. And I think that says it all, really.