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?
Mark – Publisher
I have spent 2019 looking at spreadsheets, planning the Next Big Thing and seeking out classic mountain bike destinations to go to for fun.
Hopetech Women’s Enduro
Before you ask, I’m a bloke. I checked. So why am I choosing an event that I couldn’t actually enter as my event of the year? 2019 was my second year of attending to support my wife, Vic. The event is held at Gisburn Forest. It’s local and very handy, but it’s not my favourite trail centre – there’s not enough flow for me. So it’s not the trails themselves that make this annual event my choice for the year.
That can only leave the atmosphere and the organisation, which are both exemplary and utterly inspiring.
It’s an event that attracts first-timers as well as the likes of Tracy Moseley and seems to elicit the exact same reaction from all the entrants. I have never seen so many smiling faces milling around the gaggle of trade stands at the start arena. Everyone talking, laughing, trying to warm up around the fire pit, eating free pancakes. No sign of race faces or quiet contemplation before the harsh competitive racing to come – just a bunch of racers all happy to be in the same place at the same time.
On the transitions the conversation and smiles continue, there are frequent whoops and screams of joy on the timed sections themselves, and there’s an impressively sized supportive crowd to flank each stage. There are noticeably zero egos on show here, and no shouts of ‘rider!’ despite the huge range of abilities on the trails.
After attending events for the last 25 years I’ve developed a simple test of how well an event has gone down with the riders and supporters, and that is what proportion of the attendees hang around for the prize giving at the end. It was hard to move around in that arena, despite the cold and showers.
A truly inspiring event that left me wanting to enter it myself. But I can’t. Other race organisers should come and take notes and then maybe in the future there will be a unisex event with a similar vibe that I CAN enter.
Troy Lee Designs Grind Flannel Shirt
As far as ride clothing goes, I’ve been pretty conventional all my life. It’s only relatively recently that I’ve switched from the old school traditional roadie style jersey to more baggy fitting, flattering jerseys. Technical fabrics are what I have always looked for and extra additions like a front zip for venting purposes on the climbs have been my go-to since, well, forever. So, to transition to what is essentially a formal looking shirt complete with collar is not something I ever imagined I’d be doing, although I imagine my mother would definitely approve – so long as I did up my top button. Maybe adding a tie.
Formal looks aside it was a revelation to wear. It doesn’t look at all technical but that posh appearance belies the properties of the super stretchy and showerproof fabric. It’s got Spandex in there, which is weird as I promised myself a long time ago that wouldn’t happen again.
It’s good for comedy value though as the front fastens with simple poppers, which means you can rip it off like a stripper if you want to fail at impressing your wife… There’s a zipped storage pocket at the back just big enough for a phone and the tail is appropriately dropped, keeping your rear covered in the spray. Having poppers on the cuffs means you can roll up your sleeves just like a real shirt for that ‘just doing to washing up’ look too.
But the real reason I love this shirt and have been wearing it nonstop for more than half the past year is that I’ve been stopped not once, but twice while out on the trail and asked where I got my amazing shirt from – and the second time was in Whistler. There’s no greater accolade than that. Especially when worn by a middle-aged man carrying more than his fair share of weight.
Knolly Warden LT
This year I was lucky enough to get a whole week in the one riding destination that should be on every mountain biker’s bucket list – Whistler. I even managed to get the loan of the new Knolly Warden for the trails beyond the park – plenty of travel (I like my comforts and 170mm of travel ticks that box), and for my personal preference, a sensibly sized 27.5in wheel option. Its burly, all-mountain appearance shouts ‘Rockies’, to me at least.
The Warden is not a conventional looking bike and won’t win any beauty contests, but then bikes are a tool and so long as they do their job well I’m fine with that. As most of the Whistler trails outside the park start with a technical climb – generally steep ones at that, I got a very quick introduction to the way the rear suspension works. I was impressed, almost to the point of confusion, with how well the rear stiffened up in the climbs. I checked in with the Fox DP2 shock to make sure of the settings, but whether it was fully open or closed the rear seemed to behave in a very sensible way while climbing and yet magically opened itself up to take the hits on the downs.
In addition to the startling effect of the rear suspension was the benefit of that dead straight seat tube. This is what allows even my vertically challenged stature to choose a dropper post length normally restricted to taller riders. My Warden LT came in size medium and yet the dropper had a whopping 150mm drop. The curvy drop in the top tube adds to the effect and the result is a bike with an impressively low standover that means when that post is dropped you have so much clearance that you can throw it around like a BMX.
The trails in Whistler vary from steep climbs to almost vertical drop-offs in the space of a few metres and that clearance, coupled with the reactive rear suspension, meant that this bike flattered my abilities more than any other bike I’ve ridden all year.