Another year gone? Time flies when you’re having fun! As the world gradually returns to normality, it was nice to be able to hop over the border to Bellingham, WA for a demo ride this summer, and even better to see Crankworx return to Whistler in full force. I enjoyed an injury-free year of riding and got to test a ton of bikes and gear, so here are my favourite items from 2022…
Living near Canada’s MTB mecca of Whistler, B.C., my primary focus on gravity riding hasn’t changed, but I did get to try gravel riding this year and quickly saw the appeal. I also wanted to dabble in more technology-driven products and was happy to try out a few e-Bikes, two electronic drivetrains, and a crash-detecting helmet from ABUS. I also tested loads of clothing, including a few standout pieces I’ve highlighted below.
Looking forward I’m still dying to get on a high-pivot trail or enduro bike (and might have my chance in Spring 2023…), expanding my experience with gravel bikes and possibly getting back into the Whistler Bike Park for some DH shredding since pandemic restrictions have been lifted.
Thanks to Kona, I got my first taste of gravel riding this year – and it was fun! Coming from the adrenalin-fueled side of gravity MTB riding, I was skeptical about how much I could enjoy a less intense discipline, but quickly found real pleasure in exploring a whole new set of trails. Luckily, British Columbia’s Sea To Sky Trail runs through my hometown and was the perfect testing ground for Kona’s Sutra gravel bike (review coming soon).
While you don’t get hair-raising thrills on a gravel ride, you definitely still get a workout, and most importantly still enjoy some ‘forest time’ in nature. Gravel rides proved ideal on days I didn’t feel like tackling a big climb or a double black diamond descent, but still wanted to get out and pedal. I don’t plan to sacrifice too much of my trail time, but I’d be keen to test more gravel bikes in the future.
Editor’s Choice – 2023 Trek Fuel EX
The term ‘quiver killer’ may be old and tired, but there’s nothing old-fashioned about a versatile mountain bike that can handle nearly any terrain. Trek’s new Fuel EX is as middle-of-the-road as it gets; a 29er with 140/150mm travel makes for a widely capable trail bike. The Fuel EX is also highly adjustable, offering aftermarket headset cups that alter the steering/seat mast angles, and a flip-chip that makes the bike’s suspension feel more or less progressive. Trek has now added a down tube storage compartment so you can lighten or eliminate your pack. All the bells and whistles don’t mean much if the bike doesn’t perform well but rest assured the Fuel EX climbs with ease and sucks up downhill bumps like a champ. I’ve always found Trek’s ABP suspension does an amazing job of supporting pedaling efforts yet simultaneously eats up impacts at the wheel when things get fast and rough. Riding the Fuel EX this summer was a treat!
Editor’s Choice – Evil Epocalypse
I only had one day to ride the Evil Epocalypse, but that was enough to get an impression of what this bike was built for; shameless e-bike thrashing! The Epocalypse is a 166/170mm travel, 29” wheeled eMTB with a stiff carbon frame and it crushes bumpy descents like a freight train. Evil’s Delta suspension originated on the downhill circuit, and with its coil shock, the Epocalypse calmly absorbs big hits (and smooths out small bumps). The bike is actually not on the heavy side for an eMTB at roughly 50 lbs, but it feels super solid on the trails.
The Epocalypse is basically the full indulgence eMTB – It has more travel than you might even need and feels almost overbuilt for a trail bike, but who cares when you have a Shimano EP8 drive system to get you up for more laps! Evil could increase the Epocalypse’s range with a larger battery, but all in all this bike screams ‘self-shuttle machine’.
Honorable Mention – NCM C7
On the other end of the spectrum, I got to test Leon Cycles’ NCM C7 e-commuter bike this summer and really enjoyed having it around. Selling for $1399 the C7 is one of the more affordable ebikes I’ve seen, and I wanted to find out how capable it was. While I found the bike’s limits, the C7 made short rides around town hilariously easy and it easily justified its price tag.
I did discover an issue with the bike’s power delivery lagging (which should be corrected on newer bikes), and found the bike didn’t respond to really hard cranking very well, but for anything short of long, hilly highway commutes the C7 made riding a breeze. NCM also did a great job of including all the accessories a commuter bike should have; fenders, lights, a rear rack, a cushy saddle, a key-locked battery, and non-quick-release bolts for the wheels and seat.
Editor’s Choice – SRAM AXS
I didn’t do a full test on SRAM’s XX1 AXS drivetrain, but the top-spec Trek Fuel EX I reviewed came equipped with it. I’m not the first guy to jump on new technology, but I can see why people fall in love with AXS. First of all eliminating cables makes a bike look pretty slick (and bypasses internal routing), but of course, it’s the flawless functionality that sold me on this wireless drivetrain.
Throughout my whole test period with the Fuel EX, I don’t remember having any issues with any part of the XX1 AXS system. Every gear change was quick and crisp, the dropper post never failed, and I never had to make any adjustments. I’m also a huge fan of the AXS remote/shifter, as its shape closely mimics SRAM’s mechanical dual paddle shifters, which I find the most ergonomic on the market. The only barrier to the XX1 AXS drivetrain is cost, but if you’ve got the cash you’ll be very happy with the performance.
Editor’s Choice – OneUp Components Carbon Handlebar
Trail riding is rough on the body, but luckily bike and component brands have figured out how to play with carbon fiber. I got to try out OneUp Components simply named Carbon Handlebar this summer, and enjoyed how it works a little magic without seeming like anything is happening. The handlebar uses a unique shape to allow vertical compliance but not horizontal, so the bar helps absorb trail vibrations yet doesn’t feel soft or flexy when you’re cornering. Even over bumps, the flex is barely noticeable until you start thrashing really rough terrain, but I trust the science behind compliance!
OneUp told me the bar is very strong and won’t easily crush in a stem, but it’s still quite lightweight at 220/225g depending on the rise. My only critique is that you’ll have to buy OneUp’s stem if you’re concerned about setting the bar up perfectly – It’s supposed to flex at the same angle as your head tube, and the bar’s markings line up with OneUp’s stem clamp opening.
Honorable Mention – Crankbros Stamp 7 pedals
During Crankworx Whistler, Crankbrothers hooked up the media cartel with a set of silver-finished Stamp 7 pedals and a multi-tool. I immediately slapped the pedals on the Trek Fuel EX I had to ride, and immediately loved them! I’ve been running the small-size Stamp 3 pedals on various test bikes for the last few seasons, so this time I opted to try the large-size Stamp 7.
I only have size 9.5 feet, but I was surprised at how much I liked the endless support from the larger pedal body. On all sides, the pedal is always solidly underfoot, and even allows a bit of room for adjusting my feet without losing support anywhere. Despite their size, the pedals are very slim and quite light at 391g for the pair. There’s a good chance these pedals will replace my well-loved Chromag Scarabs on my trail bike next spring!
Editor’s Choice – Lezyne Pocket Drive Pro HV pump
When I got my hands on Lezyne’s compact Pocket Drive Pro HV pump, I knew right away I’d mount it to the Kona Sutra gravel bike I was testing. And it’s a good thing I did because it saved me a few rides later when I pinched the Sutra’s rear tube! The Pocket Drive Pro HV is very small and lightweight but moves a decent amount of air.
Its clever design works for presta or schrader valves, includes a valve core removal tool, and carries the air hose inside the pump’s shaft. The hose threads onto your valve for leak-free pumping, and the pump maxes out at 90psi. Even on MTB rides when I carry Co2, tossing this tiny pump into my pack as a backup was entirely reasonable.
Honorable Mention – ABUS MoDrop QUIN
If I didn’t have a few issues with the app, I would have given ABUS’ MoDrop QUIN the Editor’s Choice title for sure. I’m always glad to see companies working to make riding safer; the MoDrop’s QUIN sensor can detect crashes, and notify multiple emergency contacts with your precise location. For a guy who rides solo pretty often, this is an excellent concept.
It was nice of ABUS to make the MoDrop QUIN’s emergency notifications work without an app subscription, but if you like knowing ride metrics you can track a ton of them with the app. I’m also impressed with an affordable MSRP of $139.99 for a helmet with advanced safety features like a MIPS liner and QUIN sensor.
Editor’s Choice – 7mesh WTV Anorak
If you ride in cooler temperatures, a great insulating layer can quickly become your best ride buddy. As soon as I put on 7mesh’s new WTV Anorak, I knew it was a gem. This hooded pullover isn’t thick or heavy, but it is warm! 7mesh has combined a puffy grid fabric with a wind-blocking face fabric, so the anorak resists cool breezes and retains heat very well. The grid fabric also allows excess heat to escape, so this pullover will remain comfortable in a wide range of temperatures.
Down to about 5 degrees Celsius, I was warm and happy riding with just the anorak and a long sleeve jersey. With a thin jacket over top, the anorak makes a great midlayer for sub-zero rides too. Keep an eye on Bikerumor for my review of the WTV Anorak (coming soon)!
Editor’s Choice – Pearl iZUMi Prospect Tech Sweatshirt
The other sweater I tested that employs a grid-style fabric is Pearl iZUMi’s Prospect Tech Sweatshirt. This sweatshirt is slightly heavier and thicker than the 7mesh WTV Anorak, and is very warm with any layer underneath it. It performs as the grid fabrics should, locking in most of your body heat while allowing for some ventilation.
Without a wind-blocking layer, the Prospect Tech sweatshirt is susceptible to chilly breezes on its own, but under a jacket this is easily the warmest mid-layer I have. Of all my biking clothes, this is the one piece I wear casually more often than any other. It’s warm, cozy and good looking!
Editor’s Choice – Specialized Gravity Jersey LS
I was impressed with Specialized’s Gravity Jersey LS as soon as I laid eyes on it, and riding in it confirmed my initial impressions. Right away I liked the jersey’s slim collar and hems, and the durable-looking body fabric. The jersey fits me perfectly, and was clearly stitched with riding position in mind – It’s not at all baggy but it’s definitely non-restrictive.
While it lacks large mesh panels, the Gravity Jersey features targeted ventilation on the shoulders and upper back. I had to wear the jersey on a really hot summer day to prevent sunburn, and it was surprisingly tolerable. When things cool down, the jersey’s cut makes it a great base layer too. I expect to keep this jersey in action for years to come.
Editor’s Choice – Specialized Trail Air Butter shorts
Specialized also won me over with their Trail Air Butter shorts, which are an example of simplicity at its finest. These shorts have the thinnest and lightest body fabric of any pair I own, and are very cool to ride in. The waist buckle is quick and easy to adjust, and even though I had to cinch it down all the way the shorts’ thin fabric didn’t bunch up uncomfortably despite folding over itself a bit.
I would gladly accept one more pocket on these shorts, but in the name of keeping things light and simple they have just one zippered pocket on the leg. Lastly, Specialized nailed the tailoring of the shorts which offer a knee-covering length, and a relaxed fit without being excessively baggy.
Honorable Mention – Cycorld Comfort shorts
Mountain biking is not cheap and not everyone has a ton of money, so I applaud cycling companies who strive to provide good value. Cycorld set me up with some shorts this spring, and after riding their $43 Comfort Shorts I’d say most riders would be perfectly happy with them. For entry-level or non-hardcore riders, there’s no question Cycorld’s shorts are far better than riding in casual clothing.
I think Cycorld went a bit further than necessary with pockets on pockets, lengthy pull tabs, belt loops and Velcro waist closures, so these shorts could be trimmed down a bit. But all in all, they offer a breathable fabric, a bit of stretch for free movement, and don’t look out of place when paired with a top-of-the-line outfit.
Honorable Mention – Lizard Skins lever grips
Lizard Skins surprised me with their new DSP Lever Grips this year, so I stuck them on my trail bike. The brand recently updated their classic slip-on style lever grips and turned them into stickers made from DSP (Durasoft Polymer). The DSP Lever Grips are thin, grippy, and simple to install.
Now I ride with gloves, and because they typically have grippy forefingers I can’t say I found many benefits to the lever grips. However, for anyone who doesn’t wear gloves, I think the lever grips would be a worthy investment. There’s no question they add grip to any brake lever, and would definitely reduce the chance of slippage due to sweaty hands. For $12.99 you get a pack of four grips, and I just now decided my extra set will go on my commuter bike (which I usually ride without gloves).
Off the Bike:
Honorable Mention – Arcade belts
As a slender guy with small hips, I have to wear belts but unless I crush my gut I always seem to be hiking them up throughout the day. I’d been thinking about trying a stretchy belt when a rep introduced me to Arcade. I received two of their Ranger Slim belts, and have been using both since they arrived.
Realistically I hike up my Arcade belts almost as much as my old belts, but they are definitely more comfortable to wear. I keep them as loose as I can get away with, so I do need to adjust my waistline once in a while, particularly after some bending down/standing up. The nice thing is, they never feel tight like traditional belts do when they slip down onto your hips. I also love Arcade’s slim plastic buckles, which don’t jab into your gut when you lean forward. My only critique is the stretchy belts might be too weak for heavier pants – If you wear thick cargos or jeans you’ll probably find the belts need to be overly tight to hold them up.
Arcade markets these belts as ideal for adventuring, and while I never ride with a belt (most of my shorts don’t have belt loops) the Ranger Slim is the only belt I would try due to its thin buckle and stretchy fabric.
It’s been another fun year of riding and product testing for Bikerumor! With the cycling industry returning to full swing I’m anxious to see what 2023 brings, whether that’s new bikes, components, clothing or high-tech safety gear. Will electronic drivetrains become the norm? Will most of us be riding with crash notification technology soon? Will everyone who started riding during the pandemic be hooked for life, or sell their bikes next summer? Only time will tell… in the meantime, happy trails to all!