While this year the big headlines have been about the fact mountain bikers across the world are being ‘blessed’ with yet another wheel size, there have been some products that might not have made such big waves but are still worthy of attention.
As it’s my job to wade through the new and shiny kit that the bike industry keeps churning out, I’ve had my hands on more cool kit this year than I could mention here. These are the bikes and bits that have really stood out for me…
Mondraker Dune Carbon XR
Although this is technically a 2016 model, thanks to the insane way product years now work, I’m still going to include it in my 2015 roundup. Yes, it’s the bike that has had me calculating whether eating Basics baked beans, selling all my possessions and downsizing to a cardboard box would mean I could afford it: the Mondraker Dune Carbon XR.
With a 170/160mm pairing of superbly controlled travel thanks to some of Fox’s finest suspension and a lightweight frame, it’s as happy pedalling as it is mowing through the roughest and rowdiest trails. Even in the heady world of superbikes, it’s been the benchmark that I’ve compared all others against and to be honest, most of them have come up wanting. Unless BikeRadar starts throwing bags of cash at me (nudge, nudge) it’ll have to remain a pipedream for now though.
The race hardtail is dead! Long live the race hardtail! BMC has resurrected the old idea of the softtail – a rear-suspension bike that doesn’t have any pivots – but in a fresh, new and very clever way. Quite simply, it’s redesigned the carbon 29er Teamelite race bike and removed a small section of the seatstay, into which a chunk of elastomer fits. Side to side motion is limited by a pair of screw-in pins on the seat tube side that run on DU bushings in the 'stays, and it gives about 15mm of vertical movement.
That may not sound like much, but it’s enough to noticeably improve traction both uphill and down, while reducing the chance of punctures. There’s only a small weight penalty over a standard hardtail too. For absolutely flat-out XC racers, it’s got to provide a real edge when the course isn’t rough enough to justify a full-suspension machine but still lumpy enough to cause fatigue on the descents. Unlike Trek’s Isospeed system, it still gives better comfort out of the saddle too.
Upgrade Mini bell
This year has seen a move to a slightly more populated riding area for me, so this little bell has proved invaluable for gently alerting people to the fact that I’m riding without being an annoyance the rest of the time. It’s also super discreet, using a neat little clamp to tighten down onto a cable. That helps avoid my First Law of Bicycle Accessories: the number of things bolted to a person’s handlebar is proportional to how hard you should avoid speaking to them.
Maxxis Shorty EXO 3C TR
If you ride in Europe, and especially in the UK, you’ll be totally familiar with year-round filth that’ll change faster than you can swap tyres. That’s why having something that works pretty much everywhere attached to your rims is vital. Halfway between a mud spike and a hard riding trail tyre, the Shorty digs down to grip in all the deepest mud.
Even when the sun is shining, the blocky design gives confidence-enhancing performance and doesn’t make you want to cry on climbs. While it was initially designed for downhilling, the latest midweight EXO casing combined with tubeless-readiness means it’s superb for tough trail use. The triple mixture 3C compound means it’ll hook you up in corners a treat without killing you on the climbs. It’s already one of my favourite pieces of rubber.
Fox Float X2 shock
I love suspension and I love messing about with it, so this was a shock I was really looking forward to trying when it was launched late this year. It didn’t disappoint. With an all-new twin-tube design that keeps oil temperatures low for extra consistency, the X2 also adds both high- and low-speed adjustable compression and rebound damping.
Okay, if you’re a set and forget kind of rider the adjustment might seem a bit staggering, but if you persevere then it offers simply amazing control. The new EVOL high volume air sleeve and Kashima coating means it’s more supple than a yoga instructor on a waterbed. It’s capable of taming the roughest terrain you can throw at it and leave you feeling that it didn’t even break a sweat, so it’s no surprise that despite being light enough to use on enduro bikes it’s already proven itself on the World Cup downhill circuit, with numerous wins under the likes of Aaron Gwin. When it comes to flat-out and furious trail riding, the X2 simply has no equal. What’s almost as much of a surprise is how well mannered it is elsewhere. Quite simply, it’s a new performance benchmark.
X-Fusion Sweep Roughcut HLR fork
It’s easy to forget just how far mid-range kit has gone and X-Fusion is a prime example of this. Having gone from barely known to a real contender in the suspension world in a very short amount of time, the brand still manages to offer amazing value and function.
The Sweep is a prime example, using a 34mm-legged chassis paired with X-Fusion's all-new Roughcut damper, which offers the high and low speed adjustable compression damping usually found on much more expensive kit. The air spring is nicely progressive and travel can be adjusted down from a maximum of 160mm with a relatively simple internal adjustment. Performance-wise it’s near-indistinguishable from rivals that cost almost twice as much, and that makes it quite possibly the performance per pound/dollar bargain of the year.
Fabric ALM saddle
Okay, it’s another piece of high-end bling, but the reason why this saddle is on this list is not just the low weight paired to a surprising amount of comfort. In fact, this minimalist carbon saddle is made using 3D printing, or Additive Layer Manufacturing if you want to be formal about it. As well as working really well now, it also points to how bike components might be made in the future, which makes it worthy of inclusion here.
Effeto Mariposa Foaming Sealant
No-one should ever get that excited about tubeless sealant, but this coffee-hued liquid from Effeto has made me love it. It’s nicely thin and lightweight, but the real party piece is that it foams up when shaken about as you’re riding, meaning there’s always some ready to seal. It also means it doesn’t form any unpleasant and noticeable lumps inside the tyre and it’s lasted really well too.
Endura FS260 Pro bib shorts
While I’m happy to shun the path of skinny slicks and funny shaped handlebars – I mean, they’re only just getting round to using disc brakes 20 years too late – if there’s one thing my roadie brethren have down it’s a comfortable pair of bib shorts. Many mountain bikers shun them, but their big advantage is that they stay in place properly and also prevent mud and loam from making its way down to your intimates.
These high-end bib shorts aren’t quite as extravagantly priced as the likes of Assos but they’re hugely cosseting upon your bottom. They come in a number of pad widths to suit your shape but more importantly for mountain bikers, they come in a standard or long leg and the standard size is short enough not to interfere with kneepads.