This feature was originally published in Singletrack Issue 116
Over the last year, our writers have tested a bucketful of bikes, a barn load of clothing and gear, and attended a bookcase full of cycling events. Which of these, though, have tickled their fancies enough to warrant the bestowing of a coveted Singletrack Editors’ Choice Award?
Chipps – Editor
Every year is going to be ‘The year I do fewer events and ride more’, and 2017 was the year that… was just like all the others. As well as trips to China, Taiwan and the USA for features and events, I managed to zip up and down the country a few times, from Fort William to the Forest of Dean, Coed y Brenin to Surrey. With Super-Wil now on hand for Technical Editor duties, I’ve not had to chop and change bikes and components as much this year. However, there were a few notable trips on test bikes that really opened my eyes to how quickly things are still changing and how awesome bikes at every level are these days. With that in mind, here are the products and events that have really brightened my year and which I think deserve a Singletrack Editors’ Choice Award.
Bike design in recent years has mostly been about refining several well-established standard designs and materials. Carbon bikes have got lighter, bikes have become better both up and down hill, and brakes, gears and wheels have kept pace to keep modern bikes both welcoming and encouraging to ride.
The Robot Bike was one of very few bikes I’ve ridden recently that got me stopped on the trail for other riders to look at. From a design point of view, with additive manufactured (don’t say 3D printed, OK?) titanium lugs and big carbon tubes, it has a classic, almost retro look, and yet it’s bonkers advanced in terms of how it all gets made and goes together. All this would be moot if the bike didn’t ride well, but with respected industry names like Ed Haythornthwaite and Dave Weagle involved, that was never in doubt.
The Robot R160 is a rough and tumble, big trail and enduro bike that costs a fortune, but one that delivers a special ride. Even on climbs it surges ahead when pedalled, the DW6 link making a noticeable difference to the ride. On the downs, the stock geometry is impressively confidence inspiring and there’s the unique option of custom-geometry lugs if you want to take things into your own hands.
The Robot R160 gives you a custom-fit bike with genuine F1 technology and a solid pedigree. It’s on my ‘one day’ list for sure.
FiveTen Freerider Pro
To ruin a catchphrase, I don’t use flat pedals very often, but when I do then I want to be wearing FiveTen’s Freerider Pro shoes.
The Freerider Pro is the natural successor to the, surprisingly old now, original Impact. Those shoes singlehandedly changed the perception of how sticky a flat pedal shoe could be. Having to physically lift your foot off the pedal to reposition it, rather than just shuffling it sideways, was a revelation and FiveTen can probably take a fair amount of credit for the 50% of mountain bikers who now regularly run flat pedals over SPDs.
The original Impacts, and even relatively modern FiveTens soak up water like a sponge, which is never great for UK riding. The Freerider Pro promises quicker drying and more protection than the regular Freerider. They have less mesh and suede and more synthetic leather. This means a shoe that shrugs off puddle splashes and the detritus and muck of a regular ride. And when the shoes do fill with water (and I do mean fill…), they will dry out again within hours or overnight rather than the week-to-never of more spongey shoes.
Great, solid shoes that have survived daily use commuting, wearing, pubbing, driving and actual riding. They wear well and, well, they wear well.
The new Switchblade is Giro’s answer to those riders looking for a swappable full-face/open-face helmet solution. I’ve been running mine since this time last year for both trail riding with the open helmet and for when a full-face is sensible (or mandatory) with the chin bar in place.
I very rarely wear a full-face helmet (or take part in activities where they’re particularly needed), but the Switchblade’s easy-on/easy-off chin bar appealed.
Despite the deep coverage, the Switchblade is one of the better ventilated of the full-coverage trail helmets out there. Having tried several similar trail helmets, this has been the most comfortable fit for me. As for the chin bar, after a short adjustment period, it was simple and quick to put on and remove, even with gloves on, and once locked in place, the helmet feels and behaves like a regular full-face helmet (and a well-vented one at that).
I’ve found it hard to get the helmet on and off with the bar in place, so I’ve resorted to a two-stage removal process, which wasn’t a problem in, say, the Fort William gondola, or in an uplift van.
Needless to say, the day I wasn’t wearing the chin bar was the day that I went over the bars onto my face, but the helmet saved the rest of my head that day and now that it’s done its job, I’ll be ordering another.
TweedLove G-Form Enjoyro
A few issues ago I announced my ‘retirement’ from enduro racing. Not because I don’t enjoy it, but because it’s very hard to get out of the way of people who are taking it more (way more) seriously than I am. I’m usually just happy to get down in one piece and I’d rather not ruin the run of someone who’s trying to pin it.
It seems that TweedLove had similar thoughts and for 2017 it introduced the G-Form ‘Enjoyro’ during this year’s TweedLove. While based on the standard enduro format – a big ride with some timed stages – the whole course was contained within Glentress Forest and the trails were pretty mellow in technicality, to encourage newcomers, youngsters and slowcoaches like me to enter. Crucially too, the event was open to way younger riders than are normally permitted in a regular enduro, with riders down to 12 and 13 able to race with a grown-up in tow.
I loved being able to ‘race’ in an unpressured environment; just me against the trail, and it seemed that the other racers also relished the chance to pin a number on and race on trails that are tough enough if you’re trying to go fast. It was also good to roll down the same starting ramp that the enduro heroes would be riding the following day.
As for the racing? Who knows where I came, I didn’t actually check… But I managed (just) to not get overtaken by any 12-year-olds.
Looking forward to racing this again in 2018.
Lowepro Fort William Endurance Downhill
For my bonus pick, I’m going for the No Fuss Endurance Downhill. It’s an incredible event that deserves much more acclaim than it gets. Imagine trying to do as many runs as possible down the Fort William Black run (ie, a slightly lower-risk version of the World Cup course) in six hours. Fully marshalled and medic’ed, with proper timing and everything. Race down the actual track that your heroes ride every June, then back up again in the gondola and do it again.
The 2017 event happened after a couple of years’ hiatus, so I leapt at the chance to race it again. You’ll have tired of me talking about how I’m not a racer and certainly not a downhiller (and vice versa), but there’s something I love about the Endurance Downhill. Physically, it’s the hardest thing I’ll do all year and mentally it’s way above my pay grade. However, there’s something deeply satisfying about doing run after run and trying to put together that ‘perfect’ one (or at least, the one with the fewest mistakes).
The gondola-spaced field also means that overtaking is pretty rare and very civilised when it does happen, as everyone racing knows that it’s more about being able to keep on keeping on than saving a second or two on a run.
This year’s event had to be pulled after four hours due to high winds, so I only managed eight runs. I still had to walk downstairs backwards for two days afterwards, but what a sense of achievement!
Here’s hoping it continues in the future. And if it does, then you need to enter – and challenge all your mates too. If you can do a week in the Alps, you can do a day at Fort William, right?
Make sure you check out all our Singletrack Editor’ Choice 2017 winners here.