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?
Hannah – Editorial Manager
I’m more of a plodder than a shredder. Providing I keep eating, I’m pretty good at keeping on pedalling. Speed isn’t really a feature of my riding and my wheels are generally stuck pretty firmly to the ground. That said, this year I have dipped a toe in the worlds of air and speed, and increasingly find myself using a gravel bike for my more cross-country rides (for increased levels of low speed/mild peril) and looking to bigger bikes and steeper trails for my mountain biking fix. My riding is often sandwiched in between family commitments, so I like to be able to get out with the minimum amount of fuss and faffing. Favourite products that I know are reliable and will ‘just work’ are reached for again and again, so they’re made to work pretty hard.
S-Works Epic Hardtail XX1 Eagle
This is a surprise entry for me this year. Usually I’d think of myself as either a gravel bike or long and slack hardtail fan, but not an XC hardtail rider. And to be fair, I wouldn’t own this bike living where I do – the rocky terrain is not where it excels. However, this is a fantasy wish list, and if I had the cash and nice house somewhere (probably down South) where singletrack trails wiggle their way through loamy woodland and across rolling fields of arable farmland, this bike would be in my garage (just next to the perfectly laid out shadow board and adjacent to the sluice floored shower and bike wash room, since we’re going full fantasy here). I rode this bike for my solo effort at Mountain Mayhem, and it was the perfect tool for the job. The SRAM Eagle gearing had me comfortably cleaning every climb, while the bike’s playful feel had me looking forward to the descents, lap after lap after lap. I even found myself hunting out more interesting lines – not the actions of one who is engaged in pure survival. With handling confident enough that I didn’t feel the need to reach for my usual flat pedals, even on the night laps, this bike felt far more comfortable than I’d expect a flat out race bike to feel. It’s light but not skittery and added a good dose of fun to what might otherwise have been a long exercise in suffering. If you can still be seeking out fun after 12 or more hours in the saddle, the bike’s got to be doing something right.
Wolf Tooth ReMote
I had this fitted to replace the one on my Liv Hail test bike and it transformed my riding. Riding blind trails I was able to use my dropper whenever I wanted it, smoothly and without any clumsy groping for the actuator while trying to keep hold of the bars and negotiate the trail all at the same time. It’s easy to to fit, the thumb friendly shape with grip means you hit the right spot every time, and it works smoothly without need for thumb strength training. Making using a dropper as easy and instinctive as shifting gears means that you can pop your dropper up and down as often as you like, rather than keeping it down in case you don’t get chance to get it down quick enough at the next obstacle. Hit the lever – down, hit the lever – up. Thumb on target every time, no vagueness, no straining. Just focusing on the trail ahead and using your bike intuitively to tackle whatever appears in front of you. Surprise technical section? No worries – a slight shift of the thumb, not enough to lose your grip on the bars, and the dropper is down again – section cleared. If only all droppers came with an actuator as good as this one.
Enduro Jura By Julbo
Last year I did no events at all, this year I did four. The Enduro Jura gets my pick of the bunch – the scenery is stunning, though with such steep gradients you’re only likely to be looking up on the transitions. The trails in these French mountains are varied and interesting – super steep switchbacks, limestone rocky outcrops, drifts of moving gravel and scree, swooping loamy trails through woods. I was lucky in that I got perfect weather for this year’s event, and in wet weather the conditions do become very slippery. Too slippery even for pros – the Gehrig twins of the Ibis team recounted sliding down wet clay and limestone stages on their bums, having given up attempting to ride in the previous year’s incessant rain. But they told the tale with smiles on their faces, and had come back for more fun this year. It’s well organised by pro rider François Bailly-Maître, there’s a great atmosphere, and you get to rub shoulders with pros and sponsored riders who are living the dream. There’s even a Saturday night ‘whacky races’ event where the pros sharpen their elbows for obstacle course racing on kids’ bikes with dolly seats (you’d be surprised at just how seriously it’s possible to take such a race). Every stage is a natural singletrack delight and made me wish I was good enough to really appreciate them fully. Despite being completely out of my depth on a number of the stages, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to more talented riders, and a bit of me hopes that one day I’ll have made the necessary improvements to give it another go. It’s not an event to be at unless you’ve got the skills, but it’s one worth getting the skills to be at.
Ion K-Lite Zip Knee Pads
I’ve worn these and crashed in these more times than I care to remember, but they’re so comfortable I find myself forgetting that I’m wearing them. Bulky enough to protect from even hard hits (there have been a few – Jura limestone, I’m looking at you), but light and stretchy enough to allow free movement to pedal, these stay in place well. There’s none of that regular hitching up needed that I so often find with properly protective pads. Meaning they’re actually properly protective – none of that falling off your bike to discover that they’ve slipped off where you needed them to be, just when you needed them to be there. I’ve worn these even in hot summer weather without reaching a point where I can’t wait to rip them off – despite the zips which make them so easy to whip off and put on again. In fact, I now feel a bit naked if I find myself riding without them. Although at first sight they seem very similar to their zipless K-Lite siblings, I’ve found these to be the more comfortable of the two designs. Wearing these I’ve acquired many bruises to other parts of my body, but my knees have stayed happily undamaged, as have the pads. I’m looking forward to another year in them.
Mons Royale Jerseys
It might ‘only’ be a T-shirt and a jersey, but I really love the Mons Royale tops. I could happily wear these every day, on and off the bike, and in fact I almost do. They’re not cheap, but they definitely fall into that category of things that are built to last – a year of regular wearing and washing later and my two tops are still looking fresh – and thanks to their merino content they smell fresh too.
Make sure you check out all our Singletrack Editor’ Choice 2017 winners here.