2017 has been another busy year of launches and testing bikes, but here are the bikes and kit that really stood out for me in 2017.
A true underdog, the Murmur is literally built in a shed. It’s hand-crafted from steel tubes at the bottom of a garden behind a terraced house in Bristol.
Unlike the big brands, Starling doesn’t have a fleet of test bikes for us media types to test, so the bike I rode is the personal whip of Startling boss Joe McEwan. That meant it had some rather ropey parts and a top tube that was shorter than I'd choose for myself. Nevertheless, this 'David among Goliaths' out-performed anything most multinationals manage.
The geometry is genuinely long, slack and very low. The single-pivot suspension is sorted and the steel back end has a useful amount of torsional flex. The result is tremendous cornering traction, which actually made me rethink how frame stiffness can affect the ride.
Fox 36 FIT4 2018
This latest iteration of the Fox 36 gets an enlarged negative-air chamber and slightly more forgiving compression valving. The result is a fork that delivers a more coil-like feel, superb traction and a supple yet supportive action.
It was only when I tested it back-to-back against the benchmark Rockshox Lyrik RCT3 that I realised how good the Fox 36 really is. Keeping all variables as similar as possible, from setup to line-choice, the 36 provided a more traction-rich, stuck-down feel, with far less hand-pain and more dependable support on big hits too.
The changes from last year’s model are only subtle, it’s expensive and I had issues with top-out on the early examples but in pure performance terms, I can confidently say this is the best single-crown I’ve tested. And I’ve tested a lot.
Love them or hate them, anyone who has ridden one knows e-MTBs are great fun. I’ve been lucky enough to ride a lot of these controversial contraptions over the last few years and the Scott E-Genius is my favourite.
What really sets it apart, though, is the geometry. With a super-low bottom bracket, slack-ish head angle and long wheelbase, it encourages aggressive riding. It’s an absolute riot!
Some e-MTBs (such as Rocky Mountain’s Powerplay) have shorter chainstays, but the Scott’s generous front-centre offsets the 465mm rear-end nicely, resulting in well-balanced handling both up and down.
It could do with shorter cranks, wider bars and a piggyback shock, but for now this is one of the best e-MTBs out there, particularly for aggressive riders.
Whyte S-150C Works
Whyte has done a couple of clever things with the geometry of the S-150. First, it uses a custom fork offset (by mating a 650b fork crown to the legs of a 29er fork). Second, it's given the frame one of the lowest bottom brackets for a bike with this much travel (335mm) and combined that with short 170mm crank arms to allow enough pedal-clearance.
The result is superbly balanced, agile yet stable handling. The suspension and spec are pretty sorted too, making this one of the most fun and versatile bikes I rode this year.
At £5,499, the S150C Works isn't cheap, but you can get the same frame and similarly performing parts for £3,850 with Whyte's S-150C RS model.
Maxxis Minion DHF Plus/DHR II Plus tyres
Despite having real and measurable advantages in terms of speed-sustain over rough-terrain and traction, plus tyres have gone out of fashion lately. It’s not that surprising given the industry utterly cocked up the tyres by giving them plastic-hard compounds, paper-thin sidewalls, balloon-shaped profiles and extortionate price tags.
All the manufacturers had to do was scale-up any good tyre by 20 percent or so. Thankfully, that’s exactly what Maxxis did with its 2.8-inch Minion Plus tyres. On a 30-40mm rim, the profile is a nice balance of aggressively square and predictably rounded. The tread offers awesome grip in most conditions, from dust to mud.
Rolling speed is faster than you’d expect. In back-to-back tests, the Minions are considerably faster rolling than my usual Schwalbe Magic Mary SG/Bontrager SE5 combo. Depending on terrain, they can be faster or slightly slower than their 2.4-inch/2.5-inch equivalents.
The Minions measure up closer to 2.6-inch than 2.8-inch at 20psi on a 40mm rim, but that still makes them considerably wider than Maxxis’s so-called 2.5-inch tyres. As a result, you can’t go as low on pressures as many people think plus tyres should — I often run 20/24psi in these when riding hard-pack trails to avoid squirm, but you still get a real traction benefit over conventional tyres.
They only weigh 970g (front) and 990g (rear) on my scales, which is worryingly light. Nevertheless, I’ve yet to puncture these tyres despite riding them regularly for the past eight months, including testing them in the wheel-graveyard that is Bike Park Wales.
Admittedly, I've been using Schwalbe's Procore in the rear and a Huck Norris insert in the front for most of that time — a setup I highly recommend if you can afford it. The Minions have a similar carcass to the Maxxis Rekon+ tyre, which are much more puncture-prone in my experience, but I think the beefy tread on the Minions offers extra protection against pinch flats and tears.
They are expensive, at £80 a tyre, but at least they're plus tyres that actually work in the real world. Will it be enough to revive the plus tyre breed? Only time will tell.