Over the past year, members of the Singletrack team have ridden awesome trails all over the world, on some of the most awesome bikes, and we’ve tested the most awesome kit while wearing the most awesome gear – all just for you. What an awful job. But in this veritable tidal wave of delight and glee, what stood out to our testers? What was the cream of the crop? Which places, bikes, gear and clothing put pep in our pedalling and added steam to our shreddies?
So here are Mark’s picks from 2015:
Nicolai Helius AC
From: Nicolai, nicolai-uk.com // Price: €4,999
This has been my long-term test bike for the last six months and it’s grown on me. Actually, the truth is perhaps the other way round – I’ve grown on it. Let me explain. This bike is a size medium, yet its standover is remarkably tall (29in) and the frame actually measures 19in centre to top, which pushes the definition of medium to breaking point. It’s also really quite a stretch for a medium at 605mm (23.8in) in top tube length. For context, the medium Mondraker Dune, that turns length of reach into an actual feature they named ‘Forward Geometry’, comes in at 625mm (24.6in), just 20mm longer. It’s maybe not surprising that things have ended up this way, what with Chris Porter of Mojo ‘coercing’ them into developing his fugly [author’s opinion does not necessarily reflect etc etc – Ed], extra-long GeoMetron concept bike. Maybe the rest of the normal stock of Nicolais have been somehow infected with this Porterish obsession with length?
Whatever the story there, this bike was both taller and longer than I had ever expected a medium to be and I was very close to sending it back from the start and asking for a small. I didn’t, for two reasons: 1) I may be vertically challenged at 5ft 6in, but dammit, that’s still not small. If it is, then there’s a whole population of shorter men who have just been condemned to being labelled XS, and it’s for this shortage of men (the collective noun for a group of men under 5ft 5in) that I decided to keep hold of this bike. That and reason 2), which was simply that it was here now so I might as well ride it.
And I’m very glad I did.
This bike is simply bombproof. It’s like the Landrover of the bike world. That means of course that it’s not light, but it’s not all that heavy either. It’s not overly slack (66.5°) and it’s certainly not steep. It’s clearly the Mummy Bear of bikes [Don’t you mean ‘Baby Bear’? – Fairy Tale Ed] and it’s aimed at doing everything, from weekend cross-country rides to those nameless events (which start with an ‘E’) and everything in between. And what makes this bike stand out for me is that it isn’t compromised. Yes, it’s a bit tall, but it clears everything and I avoid crushing my love spuds on the top tube by simply not falling off that way. It’s a bit long, but that means I can tuck down and ride hard when I want to. It’s 1×11, which I love to bits, not for all the po-faced pro-racer excuses about efficiency and speed of shifting, but simply because I’ve now got a lot less to worry about, which gives me more time to have fun.
I’ve ridden this bike at cross-country events and I’ve taken it on holiday to Spain. I’ve ridden it up an actual mountain, all 7,500 feet of climbing in one go. Then I’ve ridden it back down on amazing and technical singletrack. This bike has been with me on every adventure I’ve had this year and it has not let me down. It’s my enabler and I love it.
This is the cross-country event I was telling you about above. It’s part of the TweedLove Bike Festival, which quite rightly won our coveted Reader award for best event of the year. It’s a familiar format, being essentially an endurance race over a maximum of seven hours. It’s a format that has been around for decades now and I’ve participated in one almost every year of my riding life (‘participating’ being an accurate description of what I actually do at competitive events – it’s like racing but without the… er… racing).
But the Glentress 7 has one defining factor that makes it stand out from the rest and that’s the course: it’s just so much fun to ride. Not surprising when you understand it comprises some of the best parts of the trails in Glentress Forest, which itself has been a winner of more than a few coveted Singletrack Reader awards in the past. It’s great to see that cross-country racing has evolved beyond the old riding round a muddy field format. Most people who ‘race’ aren’t looking for a win – they are looking for a good time on a bike with a competitive element, and the Glentress 7 delivered that for me in spades this year.
Quadlock Phone Mount
There are those who think attaching a £500 computer to the bars of your mountain bike is just idiotic and I can appreciate their reasoning, but this year I’ve had more opportunities than usual to enjoy the benefits of having my phone in front of me. There was that time I attached it to the electric Haibike 6 fat bike and poached five KOMs on my ride to work. There was that time I rode a cross bike around the back roads of the Ribble Valley for a day and needed a map to guide me. Then there was that time I rode up that Swiss mountain (you may have heard me mention that) and needed to be reminded to eat and drink by text every 15 minutes.
The point being there ARE times when it’s a good idea to have your phone right there. There are many times it’s idiotic too. If you are going to do it, then the Quadlock system is by far the best I’ve come across. The case supplied has my phone in it 24/7 and by itself is one of the best iPhone cases I’ve ever used. The quick release system is so easy to use and it can be swiftly switched from bike to bike. There’s car dash mount accessories available too. It’s simply an exceedingly well-thought-out and useful design.
Mavic Crossmax Pro H20 Shoe
Over the years I’ve tried dozens of riding shoes from full-on winter waterproof boots to Italian disco slippers. They all have their uses, but these Crossmax boots are the perfect all-rounder.
Now, normally all-rounder equates to compromised in certain conditions and that’s true in this case too. They are exceptionally comfortable, surprisingly light for a substantial boot, very supportive, and warm when they need to be. They don’t look like disco slippers so no one stares at your feet when you walk into the pub and you can happily walk around in them without feeling like you are in clogs. If you need just one pair of riding shoes for the year, then I can’t recommend these enough.