An awful lot of gear passes through our hands at BikeRadarover the course of a year: some good, some fantastic, and some… not so much.
The best bits, however, are the ones that somehow manage to carve out a spot in our minds even long after they've left us or, better yet, give us little choice but to crack out our own wallets so that they never have to.
Here are a few of my favourites from 2014.
Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Pro
Canyon's latest Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Team road bike certainly left an impression on me this year, with its rare combination of superb efficiency, remarkable comfort, feathery weight, great road feedback and brilliant handling. That its asking price is considerably lower than comparably equipped machines doesn't exactly hurt, either.
Even so, it's impossible to ignore that there's nothing aero about it – but to be honest, I really don't care. Much as I consider myself a dyed-in-the-Merino-wool tech nerd, I'm not regularly chasing Strava KOMs or finish lines so it isn't only about the numbers for me when it comes to what I like to ride. In other words, what's lighter on a scale, faster in a wind tunnel, or stiffer on a test bench doesn't matter as much to me as when something brings a non-stop grin to my face.
Based on those criteria, I can think of no other road bikes I've ridden in 2014 that struck such a chord in me. This thing simply feels fantastic in every way, and every time I get on it, I simply want to keep going – uphill, downhill, or anything in between, preferably with as many curves tossed in as possible. Sadly, the vast majority of American and Australian riders have no idea what they're missing, since Canyon still isn't sold in either of those regions.
£3,522.82 / €3,999
Race Face SixC 35 riser bar and Atlas 35 stem
I can hear the pundits already: "My 31.8mm bars are perfectly fine. I've never felt them flex!"
Here's the thing: that may very well be but the sad truth is that without anything to compare them to, you simply don't know what you're missing. I've used countless high-end 31.8mm setups over the years but after fitting a Race Face SixC 35 riser bar and matching Atlas 35 stem to my personal Lapierre Spicy, there's no questioning the noticeable boost in stiffness or the resultant effect that has had in terms of handling precision – especially in dicey situations.
Keep in mind, too, that bending stiffness doesn't just increase linearly with diameter so small changes in size can make a big difference.
Small issues with the atypical clamp diameter have been easy to work around. Notably, I'm now using a K-Edge Garmin computer mount that secures underneath the headset top cap; the rest of the bar uses the standard 22.2mm diameter so everything else transferred over as usual.
Did I ever have a problem with previous 31.8mm cockpits? No, of course not. But now that I've moved in this direction, I'm not sure I can ever (happily) go back.
- Race Face SixC 35 carbon bar: US$229.99 / £129 / €165.49 / AU$239.49
- Race Face Atlas 35 stem: US$137.99 / £79.95 / €102.49 / AU$148.49
RockShox Pike RCT3 suspension fork
Nope, the Pike is far from new, having been first launched early in 2013. That it's still one of the best trail/enduro forks out there, stands as a solid testament to just how good it is – and why nothing's replaced it yet on the front end of my Spicy. It's supple on the small stuff, confident and composed on bigger hits, and lively and well supported everywhere in between, all while being remarkably light given the fantastic chassis stiffness.
Another fork might very well take over the crown in 2015 but in the meantime, I head out on every ride confident that this thing is more capable than I am.
US$1,085 / £843 / €979 / AU$TBC
Silca SuperPista Ultimate floor pump
No one anything can say will ever convince anyone that the new Silca SuperPista Ultimate floor pump is a bargain. It is, after all, FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS. The deeper you dive into it, however, the more you can at least begin to understand why it costs so much – and why it's at least demanding of an awful lot of respect.
New Silca owner Josh Poertner – former technical director of Zipp – set out to create the ultimate floor pump, cost be damned, and I'll be damned if he didn't succeed. There's an extraordinary amount of effort put into the design and wholly US-based construction, including an ultra-thin (but incredibly substantial) investment cast zinc base, a ridiculously high-pressure hose with 360-degree rotational fittings, a machined stainless steel head that faithfully recalls the shape of the original brass version, and a burly aluminium main tube that Poertner says he actually had a hard time finding someone to build for him.
I could easily go on (the turned rosewood handle, investment cast stainless steel lugs, the throwback leather washer, the magnetic chuck dock) but all you have to do is look at the thing – or better yet, hold it, and all will be made clear.
I'll be perfectly honest in saying that there are other pumps I'd rather have when judged in terms of pure function for a wide range of applications (such as the Topeak Joe Blow Ace). But I can't think of any other one that I'd even consider passing on to my kid someday. This isn't just a pump; it's an heirloom in the making.
US$450 / £340 / €425 / AU$520
Specialized SWAT bib liners and baggy shorts
I was among the earliest adopters of Camelbak's revolutionary-for-its-time hydration packs – early enough, in fact, that I not only had one of the first-generation models with the goofy neon graphics but the Halfbak version, too (which I wish I still had, if only for Halloween). With a new toddler at home these days, though, I find myself doing shorter rides closer to home and I don't always need (or want) the full capacity of a proper hydration pack.
Enter Specialized's SWAT (Storage Water Air Tools) bib liners and shorts. I've been wearing mine for nearly every mountain bike ride this summer. Depending on the bike I'm riding (and more specifically, how much water it can hold), I can generally pack away everything I need for a solid three-hour ride between the three rear pockets and two leg pockets built into the liners plus the additional storage in the outer shorts. All while maintaining the style cred that seems all-so-important to trail riding these days.
It's also incredibly refreshing not to have anything on your back when it's really hot outside.
I'll still reach for a proper pack when the situation demands it but otherwise, this is what I'll be wearing any time you see me out on the trail.
- Specialized Mountain Bib Liner with SWAT: US$88 / £TBC / €TBC / AU$99.99
- Specialized Atlas XC Comp Short: US$105 / £TBC / €TBC / AU$139.95
- Specialized Enduro Pro Short: US$130 / £TBC / €TBC / AU$179.95
James Huang is Technical Editor of BikeRadar
What were some of your favourite products from 2014? Sound off below in the comment section.