Just like the rest of the BikeRadar team, I'm in a massively fortunate position when it comes to being able to experience different bikes and pieces of kit.
Being invited onto fabulous press launches and getting to ride in enviable destinations – on others' expense – are obviously lovely ways to spend time. But the job also brings with it an enormous sense of responsibility.
One thing that I always try and keep in the front of my mind is value for money, because funnily enough being surrounded by top end parts and kit can desensitise even the most hardened of journos. I try to put myself in the position of my friends, many of whom are pretty skint and just want to buy what is going to work for them.
So, what you'll find is that my choices aren't ground-breaking, and neither are they the most up to date, but they are items that I'd truly recommend and wouldn't hesitate to spend my own cash on (or on again in some cases).
Superstar CNC Nano Tech flat pedals
These pedals must have been with me for four years or so now. They have been on more bikes than I'd care to remember and have even survived where cranks and frames haven't. Their brutally battered bodies have been stumped, thumped and jumped across terrain ranging from loamy Scottish forests to Utah's dusty trails. One pin has been torn entirely from the pedal's body and its outer seals are cracked but what's truly remarkable is the fact that both of the (optional extra) titanium axles still rotate smoothly and without play. Badge snobs will probably turn their noses up, but they're the ones missing out.
Giro Jacket shoes
Giro's clothing and accessories range has exploded in popularity recently – which is totally understandable. The Jacket shoes are a nice break from the usual selection of FiveTen and Shimano footwear. I've found that the soles provide a good balance of comfort and efficiency and grip that is on par with the competition. I love the styling and unlike my Shimanos these didn't stink after the first wet ride. They look good in a UK size 12 too.
£99.99 / US$120 / AU$149
Yeah, everyone knows about these now, but it's not until you try them for yourself that you really realise the benefit. The only thing more annoying than dropping a chain is having one that is flapping about all over the place. If you are going to switch to a 1x drivetrain then quite frankly you'd be a mug not to fit one… just make sure you don't overgear yourself. My top choices are from Middleburn, Hope and Superstar, the latter being just £25.99 delivered.
IXS Flow Knee pads
Much like riding without a helmet, I simply cannot get onto my mountain bike without knee pads – I just feel naked. These Hans Rey endorsed Flow pads have been a revelation for me though. Previously I've always had issues with pads getting uncomfortable over long distances, particularly with multiple consecutive days of riding. Slip these on and do up the single strap each side and it's job done – I've even found myself wearing them in my car on the way back from a trail centre. I've crashed in them a lot of times, once having hurt my knee through the pad.. but that's what you've got to expect from such minimalist protection.. I'm sure it would've hurt more without them on! These are also easy to wash and very durable – winners.
£49.99 / US$69.95 / €59.95
Shimano hydraulic disc brakes
For as long as I can remember I've been putting Shimano hydraulic brakes on bikes, and I've yet to regret it. I'd recommend Shimano brakes in the same way that I would do a Japanese car – they are the Honda Civic of mountain bike brakes. Well engineered, inexpensive and easy to maintain. I've been on pretty much every braking option out there and, price considered, you can't beat the balance of modulation, power and simplicity that the big S delivers.
Yes, the standard organic pads can get minced rather quickly in the wrong conditions and I've heard mutterings of the 'resin only' rotors on the cheapest brakes being problematic but on the whole Shimano stoppers are bloody brilliant.
Oli is a senior writer at BikeRadar.