From incredible gravel bikes to more controversial choices, watch the video to find out what products made it into Tom’s top 5
With five years of bike and product testing under my belt, covering literally hundreds of bikes and pieces of kit, I thought it was time to give a shout-out to five that make up some of my favourites during this time.
This is what the Scout makes you do — go bonkers. Different fork here, I know
This was my long-term bike for What Mountain Bike magazine (RIP), and having ridden the alloy version a year or two previously I knew it’d be good.
As a rider looking for maximum fun rather than maximum speed, the progressive suspension with plenty of pop, and its far from radical geometry that’s still up to date, made for a bike that was an absolute hoot to ride on a wide range of trails.
My long-term test bike, the Transition Scout Carbon frameset
One of the best upgrades I made was to add a Cane Creek DB Coil Inline shock to the bike. Coil shocks are most often found on DH and enduro bikes, less so on trail bikes, and even less so on those with only 125mm of travel. However, with a suspension kinematic that worked with the linear nature of the coil, and the unparalleled small bump sensitivity of said spring, there were few downsides to running it.
Standards have now surpassed that generation Scout, and there’s a new one out with Transitions ‘SBG’ geometry. I’ve tried it, and while it makes the bike more capable on fast, technical terrain, in my opinion the innate character of the Scout has perhaps been lost.
Despite having numerous Shimano SPD pedals in the garage, it’s usually a Nukeproof Horizon pedal that makes it on to my bike.
There are two versions, the CS and the CL — smaller platform and larger, respectively — and both have a SPD cleat-compatible mechanism, and pins to give better feel through skate-style shoes.
There are six height-adjustable pins per side
Despite getting a hammering, my original pair of red CSs are hanging on tough, and have proved ultra reliable over the near two years I’ve been riding them. Their platform may be battle-scarred, but the bearings and mechanisms are still solid. Oh, and when they need servicing, it’s pretty easy.
Controversial, sure, game-changing, definitely. Testing bikes year round means that getting wet and dirty six months of the year can get pretty old quickly. While a decent waterproof jacket and short does the job, in my experience nothing beats the onesie for the ultimate in wet weather protection.
With no gap between jacket and short, mud and water can’t get flung under the jacket’s hem, meaning no damp creeping up your back and no mud around your short’s waist.
The other benefit is that the short will never get dragged down by the weight of water and mud, so you never need to hitch it up as you re-mount on the saddle. They aren’t perfect though.
The MT500 is impressively breathable (60,000g/m2/hr) and has ample torso and leg ventilation
In my opinion, the fabric on the standard Dirtsuit (Classic Edition) isn’t light enough in weight, nor quite waterproof in heavy rain, it’s better in splashy conditions. I think the sizing is a touch generous too. The Endura suit is expensive and I found the arms and legs had too much material, so the cut didn’t feel quite right.
However, both are well ventilated and neither are that sweaty, all things considered.
So, onesies make it in my top 5, but more as a concept, rather than an individual product.
As a committed mountain biker, I rarely ride on the road, however the appearance of gravel bikes changed my attitude to the drop-bar life.
I’m not scared of riding on the road, but the ability to take a bike out for a ride away from traffic is not to be sniffed at. While mountain biking is good exercise, I missed the consistent power output requirement of a road bike, and the base level fitness that provides. Gravel bikes offer that, along with being far more fun than tarmac bashing on a road bike.
The True Grit is an excellent gravel race bike
The Lauf True Grit is an all-out gravel race bike. I like the shape of the bike, the 1x drivetrain and its unique 30mm suspension fork, the Grit. It takes away the super high-frequency buzz that fatigues over time and helps on the big hits too. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great addition to a bike that’s taken me on some epic rides.
Lauf – Race Edition from $4,990 / Race Edition Wireless from $6,590
5. The e-bike
Shimano’s motor balances power and torque well for steep climbs on loose surfaces
Yet another controversial choice, and one that’ll elicit much anger I’m sure. Electrically assisted mountain bikes are brilliant.
I spend the vast majority of my time riding human-powered bikes (not that I need to justify that to anyone), but every now and again the e-MTB is a great way to get out on the trails.
I use it in two ways: either to extend the length of a day’s riding I can get away with (maybe riding 10 laps of the woods rather than 6) or to get the most out of a limited amount of riding time. This means I either stick a bike on Eco mode and spin all day, or go full-moto and whack it in turbo for a 90-minute blast. Either is great.
The Spectral:On is Canyon’s first e-MTB
Detractors will claim I’m cheating — well, that’s your call. I’ll counter it with two points. First, the physically hardest ride I did in 2018 was on an e-MTB — two batteries worth of climbing super-steep, super-tech trails and then hammering back down again gives you a real full-body workout.
Second. I’ll only take the ‘cheating’ jibe from anyone who’s never been on an uplift. Because, I promise you, even eco-mode gets your legs pumping more than sitting on an uplift van.
Tom has been mountain biking since the age of 13, with a love of fast and flowing trails, or steep, slow and tech. He spends most of his time riding trail and enduro bikes, but will happily dip his toes into the murky world of XC and gravel.