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
I came into 2019 on a rare wave of bike fitness, and have tried maintaining it over the year, taking every chance to ride bikes, whether trail bikes, gravel, cross-country, a touch of racing and everything in between. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy that secret valley of fun that you get into on a great bike when you’re feeling fit and invincible – and it’s something I’m going to try to maintain through the winter months.
Evil Following MB
This carbon, 29in, 130mm trail bike came in as a frame at the beginning of the year as a testbed for our Shimano XTR groupset. Due to the production delays with XTR, I put a mishmash of components on to get it up and running anyway, eventually getting everything we needed for the full XTR-makeover by the summer.
The Following has been ridden everywhere from apocalyptically wet Welsh mountain days back in February, through the early loam of May’s ‘fake summer’ and then into the changeable days of this year’s summer and autumn. Initially I wasn’t that impressed with the Following’s clever-linkage Delta System single pivot, deeming it a bit over-simple compared to the multi-link, mega axle path offerings from other brands. And the looks take some getting used to.
However, I found that every time I came back from a fancy bike launch this year or test ride on another manufacturer’s suspension bike, I’d get the Evil out of the shed and give a happy sigh as I rode off on the Following. It’s just so supple and comfortable to ride, with an indestructible and reassuring poise on descents matched by a confident climbing ability. It’s quick up and quick down.
I still think it’s an ugly beast, but it’s a fantastic ugly beast that rides like a dream.
Sweet Protection Knee Guards
I’ve never been an enthusiastic knee pad wearer as I’m generally not riding anything faster or steeper that I can’t just run down if I come off. However, I realise that smacking a knee into a lever or the ground isn’t very helpful if you’re meant to write about bikes for a living, so I’ve reluctantly worn pads more often than not. Generally, they’re too restrictive or cumbersome to ‘disappear’, or else they’re too light and weedy feeling to stay in place.
These Sweet Protection Knee Guards fall into the lightweight ‘scuff and dent-protection’ category. They’ll not let you knee-slide into a rock garden unscathed, but they’ll turn a knee-puncture into a bruise or a gaping wound into a scuff.
Best of all, though, they’re so unobtrusive that I’ve worn them on virtually every ride this year. Whether that’s been bike testing on rocky trails in Italy, or as de facto knee warmers on every ride this winter. The best knee pads are the ones that you’re wearing when you crash, compared to the ones you didn’t wear because they’re too hot or bulky or uncomfortable. And for that, these pads have earned a place in my heart and on my knees.
Boltby Bash Enduro
I’ve always raced mountain bikes (but never successfully) as long as I’ve ridden them. I go to bike events as a place to catch up with old friends, to meet new people and to ride bikes somewhere new that I wouldn’t normally consider. All wrapped up in a compact ‘arrive on Friday, leave on Sunday’ weekend of fun.
Back in the black and white early days of mountain biking, NEMBA and SAMS events gave me those weekend experiences of travelling somewhere new and distant for a weekend of distilled mountain bike fun. Then, in the noughties, the 24-hour race scene gave me that sense of shared camaraderie. Recently, enduro has offered a similar experience, but as a very non-competitive competitor, I was always wary of getting in the way of fire-breathing riders who were trying very (or even ‘way too’) hard, so I started giving them a miss.
The 2019 Boltby Bash gave me all of those great shared experiences that I’d been missing in my riding year. A remote-feeling campsite in the middle of a bowl of wooded hills, with a great social atmosphere and a very friendly field of racers. The enduro stages were challenging to race fast and enjoyable to race slow, and an ice cream van at the finish line just topped off a perfect weekend.
Madison Zenith Clothing
I think it’s fair to say that no one ever compliments me on how I dress – whether socially or in riding gear. My wardrobe is based on what’s clean and on top of the pile (or plastic tub), so it came as a surprise when people started asking where I got my smart Madison Haze shorts and complimenting how my gloves matched my top, matched my shorts. You get the idea.
But the great twist is that the gear works fantastically too. Especially the shorts – with enough pockets for phone/tool/snack/cash without being weighed down and enough length to do star jumps without revealing any ‘twat gap’ skin betwixt bibs and knee pads.
The whole range is reasonably priced (nothing is over a hundred quid, even the hooded waterproof and softshells), built to last and great looking in a selection of colours from shy to show-off.
And a final good word for the Madison Sportive range of socks. So many beautiful colours and patterns. I want them all!