First published in Singletrack Magazine Issue 134.
It’s been a ‘special’ year, for sure, but the sun has continued to come up and bikes have still been ridden. We’ve perhaps not been to as many far-flung places (even in the UK) as usual, but that’s not necessarily been a bad thing and, like riders around the place, we’ve all been learning to love where we live (even more) as we’ve been exploring, both solo and with that curated selection of riding friends.
With less time spent travelling up and down the motorways, and fewer air miles being collected, we’ve often actually had more time to ride and in many cases, an even greater drive to get out and ride. Our 2020 selections of Editors’ Choice Awards have been mostly earned on home turf, where familiarity means those little differences can really shine. Here are the well-deserved winners.
Chipps – Editor
What a year! You don’t need me to tell you that it’s been a crazy, crazy year. However, it’s not been all bad. With my usual trade show and product launch obligations pushed aside for the year, I’ve regained days and whole weeks that I’d otherwise spend travelling up and down the country, or in a plane, so I’ve really enjoyed using this extra freedom to vigorously explore my local riding. This has led to more trail time and a renewed love of where I live. Riding out of the door for a quick loop of the reservoirs, or some of the more techy valley trails only takes an hour or so, so I’m keen to keep this kind of behaviour up more in the future, even when I’m freer to move around.
7MESH Slab Shorts
The Slab shorts are a great example of ‘the more you spend, the less you get’, but in this case, the lack of features is appreciated. The slim-cut Slab shorts are made of a super thin softshell material; water-shedding, hard-wearing and stretchy enough to move with you. The cut of 7MESH gear has always been exemplary and the shorts fit and hang beautifully.
Most of the bikes I’ve ridden this year have fallen into the cross-country and ‘fast trail’ categories, so I’ve not usually worn knee pads with them; however, the light weight material the does allow frictionless integration with your knee protection.
In terms of features, there are two: there’s a quick-adjust buckle to take up any slack that the stretchy side panels haven’t. And there’s a single pocket. This pocket will take a phone, letting it sit just behind your thigh, out of the way and unlikely to get involved with any crashing. The lack of front pockets kills the temptation to pack those keys or tools or snacks in and helps add to that fast-trail feel.
The ‘Grateful Red’ colour is great, though they come in charcoal as well for the shy, and they have so far resisted the curse of the mud stain that can affect lighter coloured clothing. In fact, after six months of hard use, they barely feel ridden in.
There have been a number of killer bikes that I’ve ridden and tested this year, and any one of them could have been in with a shout. However, I will have to side with the Ibis Ripley. It’s a bike that I’ve had since the beginning of the year and, complete with a SRAM Eagle AXS group, a Pike Ultimate and some Roval Control SL wheels, it has removed any excuses I might have for not being the quickest rider up or down all the hills.
The Ripley suits an active riding style, without going to the extremes of the ultra-long reach bikes where you need to be sitting on the stem for them to go around corners. Pedal hard and it sits up and bites into the ground. Drop the saddle and launch into a favourite descent and the DW-link suspension is supple and forgiving – and the 120mm travel is enough to take me as fast as my own personal limits will allow. Yet if you’re just wanting to mellow out and cruise through the park on a friendly day out, it will oblige.
The Ripley has set personal records on both climbs and descents for me this year. Some might point to the reason being all that time on a bike this year, but I’d rather blame the bike. So much so, that I’ve tracked down Scot Nicol, the Ibis boss-man and offered to buy it.
Roval Control SL Wheels
As mentioned in my Ibis Ripley review, these wheels went on the Ripley in the early summer and they’ve not left since. Every bit of the Control SL has been engineered to be super-light, but with a real world strength. You don’t need to be a typically tiny, super svelte racer to run them either. There’s a 125kg system (bike, rider and kit) weight limit on them.
The hubs are tiny, but the weight loss has been done sensibly (why have an axle, when your fork comes with one?) and the rim profile is almost enduro-wide, but with a hefty blunt edge to the rim sidewall designed to shrug off pinch flats. Refreshingly, the wheels use ‘normal’ DT Swiss spokes that are retensionable and replaceable in case you stamp on them in a race crash.
Having seen how much work has gone into lightening the wheels, I was interested, and a little concerned, to try them. I’ve been running them with pretty minimally treaded tyres all summer and haven’t felt the need to beef up rubber or wheels on the fairly rocky trails we have here.
In the six months of running them this year, I’ve not had a single issue. They’ve held air when not used, they’ve been run at pressures in the low (or sub) twenties and there’s not been a trace of a burp or buckle. While they are monstrously expensive, they’re a perfect example of ‘light, strong, cheap, pick two’ to quote an off-brand engineer. And talking of light weight, at 1240g, these are the lightest wheels that Roval has ever made.
Rancho Cacachilas in Baja
You can spend a fair amount of time seeking noise and excitement on a mountain bike. That out of control, rock-pinball, ‘scream if you want to go faster’ experience. However, finding silence can be harder. That was made clear to me this spring when I was lucky enough to visit Rancho Cacachilas in Baja California (the sticky-out bit of western Mexico). In an area more associated with all-you-can-eat party resorts, the ranch is a privately-owned, eco-venture with 60km of private mountain bike trails that weave through the desert, between rocky outcrops and towering cardon cactus.
With views over the empty-looking Sea of Cortez from our hilltop resting point, there weren’t many signs of ‘civilisation’ anywhere, and yet the trails here, perfectly carved out of the arid hillsides, promised flow and challenging ups and downs in the nearest to a private bike park that mortals could ever get to ride. That the whole place is set up as a sustainable enterprise, providing local employment and environmental education is another great feature. Not to mention that the local goats provide some of the best goats’ cheese you’re going to find.
We stayed in safari-style tents, listening to nothing manmade at all, as hummingbirds buzzed the wildflowers and lizards scampered over the ground (check your shoes for scorpions though). With some seriously capable local riders now trained to guide guests around dozens of miles of private trails on the ranch (and dozens more just down the road) it’s really quite an incredible place to be able to switch off, ride bikes and do… nothing else at all.
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