BikeRadar gear of the year: Oli Woodman's 2015 picks

A few unlikely choices from BIkeRadar's senior writer

Eeek it’s that time already, where does all the time go (etc etc)? A generally busy year kept me off my mountain bike far more than I’d anticipated, but the unexpected flipside of this was finding enjoyment from a road bike for the first time in well… ever. Maybe I’m just getting old. Either way, here are the bits and bobs from this year that I’d give my own seal of approval.

Elephant bike

For £250, i think the elephant bike is superb:
For £250, i think the elephant bike is superb:

Nope, I’m not on commission! I know I’ve spoke about these bikes a lot, but the fact of the matter is I’m still struggling to get my head around quite how neat they are for the money. Also, unlike most products you’ll see on this website, here’s one that genuinely will improve the lives of others.

For those not in the know, £250 (about $372 / AU$523 at time of writing) can now get you an ex-Royal Mail Pashley postie bike – specifically one that has been refurbished by young offenders here in the UK. Better still, the charity behind these bikes ensures that for every Elephant bike sold in the UK, one will also be sent to Malawi, Africa, where it’ll make a difference to the livelihood of less bike-fortunate people.

As an ownership proposition they’re a leisurely and comfortable way to travel, particularly for those who want to carry large loads. I’d say they carry an inexplicable charm that you only get from old, solid machinery. Occasionally maintain the simple, proven parts and it could well outlast you – not bad for £250. 

Hell, the Elephant bike has even crept in on my personal life, it was only a couple of weeks back that I was putting the finishing touches to an Elephant bike that now belongs to my girlfriend’s mother. Kind of wish I was on commission now…

For an in-depth story behind the Elephant bike check here, or for my first ride impressions read here.

Norco Search

The norco search did not disappoint:
The norco search did not disappoint:

The Search was my first proper introduction to road bikes, and in truth it has me hooked. As a mountain biker, I was suckered in by the hydraulic discs, the Maxles at each end and the (relatively) fat rubber – not to mention Norco’s muddy heritage.

This bike never disappointed me; I loved the way it made me constantly churn at its pedals and the way Castelli-clad roadies would frown at my flat pedals and MTB shorts while I was on it. Its Shimano hydraulic discs were all I’d hoped they’d be and, once you drop the pressures in its 28mm tyres, it really is quite comfortable.

I miss it a lot, and I’m currently looking for a suitable replacement. You can read my full review of the Search here.

Empire Cycles MX6-EVO

Empire mx6-evo:
Empire mx6-evo:

I could be critical about the Empire MX6-EVO for a long time. Its geometry, for example, is dated enough to make it look odd among a lot of its competition. The heel clearance at the rear of its frame drove me mad, and the strangely low seatmast paired with RockShox’ shortest Reverb meant I couldn’t ever get in a good position to climb with. It’s also a weighty little bugger.

The thing is, I still really like it, and it accompanied me throughout some of my favourite rides this year. To best understand why I did then you should probably check my full review.

As I said back in May, those looking for a UK-made single pivot bike now have a less predictable purchase option.

Camelbak Hawg NV pack

Camelbak hawg nv pack:
Camelbak hawg nv pack:

If the Camelbak Hawg had feelings then it would hate me. It’d also be pretty smug right now. You see, I ditched the Hawg a few months back – for no particular reason other than I wanted to try out some of its competition. By doing so I went from having a pack with heaps of storage and flexibility to one with limited access and space issues.

Thanks to a clever expanding central section, the Hawg punches well above its official 16l capacity. For commuting duties I frequently ram my MacBook Air along with a change of clothes and more in its tardis-like main compartment.

It goes without the low triangular reservoir of Camelbak’s Volt, instead there’s a regular 3l version, but the Hawg does get two spacious pockets and a waist strap – which make for useful, easily accessible storage while in the saddle.

The latter, combined with Camelbak’s regular chest strap, makes this a supremely stable pack regardless of its payload. Four airy mesh sections at the back of the pack articulate independently of one and other to give you a cosy hug-like fit and minimise heat build up. Two opposing compartments at the front of the pack feature all the partitions and pockets to satisfy even the most OCD of individuals. It's also tough, very watertight and somehow it still brushes up like new.

Strava

Strava, i should've discovered you sooner:
Strava, i should've discovered you sooner:

Yep, super late to the party on this but bear with me. Having previously been irritated by even the idea of tracking my rides, I could’ve been placed firmly in the technophobe category when it comes to post-ride entertainment. I was the guy who felt uncomfortable with hearing the word KOM, frankly, I was getting so out of touch with things that it was getting embarrassing. I had to give it a go. Soon I’d have the little orange S in my pocket with me nearly all the time. I found myself analysing, and then overanalysing, pretty much every journey I was making.

For a while my commute got faster and faster each day and I took great pleasure in the progress I was making. For 2016 I’m going to make a conscious effort to track all of my rides on Strava, something I wish I’d done previously. Hell, it almost had me trying to go for a run!

Calibre Bossnut

The bossnut is simply unbeatable for a grand:
The bossnut is simply unbeatable for a grand:

Sorry international readers, this one's for the UK only! The £1,000 full-sus we've been waiting for – that's what I said earlier in the year, and I stand by those words. See,the reason is, for £1,000* you can now buy a full-suspension bike that doesn't suck. It really doesn't suck at all, in fact it's considerably better than quite a few bikes costing twice as much. Actually, I'm certain it's the best way you can spend a grand without flicking through the classifieds. I knew GO Outdoors could build a good bike to this budget but to be honest with you I never thought it'd create something quite this good.

It's very difficult to poke holes in the spec sheet, the suspension works well and the geometry and finishing kit can't be bettered for the money. You can read all about it in my original piece, which I put together after I rode a pre-production version earlier in the year, or here's the full (five star) review of the Bossnut.

Now, when somebody asks me what bike they'd recommend for a grand it doesn't have to be something second hand, and it certainly doesn't have to be a hardtail.

*The £1,300 retail price is only applicable if you don't have a GO Outdoors card, and that will cost you just £5.

Check out all of our 2015 Gear of the Year articles

Oli Woodman

Section Editor, UK
With more than 10 years of experience riding mountain bikes, Oli knows the good from the bad when it comes to gear. He's a total bike nerd and loves few things more than fettling with spangly riding bits. Also, he seems to have a talent for crashing hard but emerging unscathed.
  • Discipline: Mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Loamy singletrack
  • Current Bikes: Marin Pine Mountain, Pinnacle Dolomite
  • Dream Bike: Honda RN01
  • Beer of Choice: Corona
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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