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’ve had a few peaks of riding this year, and a bunch of time off the bike with stupid injuries. Or rather, injuries caused by stupidity. But the highs have been high, or steep. It’s been hard to pick my Editors’ Choices for this year as it’s been less about the gear and more about the fun, and some of the fun I’ve had I don’t want to publish in a magazine because half the fun is the lack of people on the trails I’ve ridden. Sorry. But I’ve come up with a list of products and places that have brought highs to my year, so I hope you’ll forgive me for the secret-ish locations I’m not telling you about. You’ll just have to go and do your own exploring and see what you can find.
Bird Aeris 120 LT
This bike comes as quite a contrast to the others I’ve ridden over the last 18 months or so, mostly because it’s got 27.5in wheels. But it’s the bike that made me feel that I don’t necessarily need more. By the time I got to ride it, it had been thoroughly thrashed and even had a tooth missing from one of the rear sprockets – so it’s not the lure of bling, or shine, or even a luxury launch that has this bike catching my attention. It’s not even the paint job. My favourite colour is grey, but looking at this bike I was a touch underwhelmed.
Why then does it get my pick for the year? Well, mostly because it’s incredibly capable – I took it down a bunch of stuff I’d previously have thought I needed a bigger bike for. But also for its playfulness. I’m a recent convert to any kind of airtime, but this bike had me not just getting ass-saving airtime on drops, but actually going for gratuitous airtime. You know, jumping up into the air off the slightest little mound, jumping over every puddle, and wishing for sticks to hop. The kind of reckless, playful behaviour that leads to things like roost, whips, and general shenanigans entirely unconnected with covering the miles or trying to not fall off.
In short, this bike added fun to my ride while still being capable enough for long pedals and steep descents. A great combination of balance, spec and price put this bike firmly on my Editors’ Choice list for this year.
SRAM G2 Ultimate Brakes
Once upon a time I might have shied away from choosing SRAM brakes, given the choice. Not any more. The G2s come with tool-free reach and pad adjust, so you can get your brakes to feel just how you want them. Personally, I like a bite point just a little bit sharper on my rear brake than front, and I want my levers just nestling in the crook of my index fingers. The G2s let me do just that.
Getting set up is only part of the equation – the brakes need to perform. I can admit to being something of a dragger – on steep descents I’m rarely off the brakes, favouring a feather and squeeze approach to speed control rather than off-on sharp changes in speed and direction. I’m no berm whipper.
Where I really noticed the performance of these brakes was on a trip to Innerleithen’s Golfie. Soaring temperatures and plummeting trails made for plenty of heat, and as I got to the end of each descent with rotors pinging I was surprised to realise that the brakes had performed consistently again. And again. And again. No weird pumping actions, no moments of ‘where have the brakes gone?’, just smooth and consistent performance. Maybe I’d worn away the pads? Nope. They were still good for many, many more rides, which was more than could be said for the quivering muscles in my body. Knowing that the brakes would be there, I was able to tackle trails I wouldn’t previously have considered. I’m impressed.
Fox Head Enduro Pro Knee Guards
The less said about my injuries of stupidity the better, but suffice to say that I wasn’t wearing these knee pads when I flew through the air and landed in a rock garden. They’d have looked quite something with the bikini I was wearing (I told you I was stupid), but I’d likely not have had six weeks off the bike with a poorly knee had I gone for safety over style and stupidity.
The frustration of being injured tastes all the more bitter given that I’ve worn these knee pads for almost every off-road ride I’ve been on this year. No matter the heat or the anticipated low-gnar quotient of the trails, I’ve worn them because they’re so comfortable it would be silly not to. Stupid, even.
I’ve worn them until they’ve smelled a bit, washed them, and carried on wearing them. Despite their lightweight and stretchy construction, they’ve continued to stay in place on my knees, not creeping down into shin and ankle protectors. Unlike some knee pads I’ve tried, they don’t pinch or rub, even on long rides. They’re not even much warmer than a set of 3/4 length shorts, and what heat they do add, I don’t begrudge in the name of protection in the event of a fall. And yes, I’ve fallen on them. Apart from the time I wasn’t wearing them, my knees have been uninjured. Next year, I’ll be sure to buy a bikini that matches them. Idiot.
Bell Super 3R Helmet
Getting this helmet was a case of learning from past mistakes, when I nearly lost a bunch of teeth in a high-speed crash that didn’t give me time to use any limbs as fall-breakers. While knee surgery is free on the NHS, dentistry is not – which may go some way to explaining why this lesson was learnt, while the knee pad one was not.
The Super 3R has a removable chin bar which takes the helmet from open face trail mode to full face enduro mode in just a few clicks of some clips. What’s key here is that the open face helmet doesn’t feel like a compromise, meaning I’m happy to wear it even when I’m not really anticipating doing anything too scary. However, with the chin bar easily tucked or strapped to the back of my pack, when I do find myself looking at something very fast or very steep, it’s but a moment to switch to full face and teeth protection mode. This has come in especially handy on rides with groups when you never quite know where you might end up.
Both trail and full face modes are comfortable and well ventilated, and I’m never in any hurry to take the helmet off until I’ve actually finished my ride. I’ve had others where a puncture spells a welcome chance to give my head some air, or relieve some pressure on a sore sport. There’s none of that with this helmet and so I’m happy to keep wearing it ride after ride, whatever the terrain might be.