Editor’s Choice Awards 2020 – Mark’s Picks

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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.

Mark – Publisher

It’s strange to think that this year has been so poor it terms of opportunities to ride and yet it’s seen me progress in my riding skills more than any other year I can think of. I’m not sure what has fallen in to place but I’m riding my local trails harder and faster than I ever have. I don’t have a Strava account so I can’t objectively prove anything, but I think deciding to ride all year on flats until they don’t scare me anymore has something to do with it. Or maybe it’s been the bikes I’ve ridden this year, in particular the one I talk about below.

Specialized Status

I feel like I’ve been banging on about this bike for so long now that I’m feeling a bit preachy. I promise this will be the last time I speak publicly of this bike. For those of you who have not already been subjected to my proselytising about this bike, let me explain.

This bike was launched by Specialized in August. The official launch had been pushed by over a month and I’d had my test bike for almost three months by the time it finally went public. In the run-up to the launch it transpired that these bikes had been handed out to some pro riders and loads of young influencers since early May, which was a bit annoying to us press types. But then, after we got over ourselves, we set about telling the world about the Status. 

For me this bike represents more than just a cheap to mid-range play-bike. The uniqueness of the Status is that it’s built in just a single model. The only choice you get is over the colour – and even then there are just two. The build is almost entirely Specialized own-brand components. But where there was no Specialized option it went for really excellent choices, like the matching set of Fox 36 fork and DPX2 shock and a SRAM drivetrain and brakes. Actually, there was one deviation from Specialized with the seat post, where there was a X-Fusion Manic dropper. That may be cheaper than the Specialized version but it’s still a quality bit of kit.

It’s the clever combination of own brand and high-quality kit where it really matters, and the utter simplicity of the range that meant the RRP of the Status was just £2,399. For that you get a super slack 160/160mm park bike, with adjustable geometry and Fox 36 big-hitting capability at almost entry level pricing. Oh and did I mention that the rear end is a proper FSR linkage system? Wait! There’s also the fact it’s an on-trend mullet bike too. 

It’s such a fun bike to ride that I totally get why Specialized wanted to launch this bike hard at the younger end of the market, despite this middle-aged dad having some of the best fun he’s had in years. For too long really, great performing bikes have been beyond the reach of the young and well out of so many riders’ budgets. But the Status has gone a long way to redressing that problem. Specialized has lowered the cost of entry to a world of high-performance riding.

X-Fusion Manic Dropper Post

X-Fusion Manic dropper posts are like buses. For years you wait for a reliable one to come along and then, bam, they are reliable and everywhere. I think I well and truly mixed and then destroyed that metaphor there. What I mean to say in meaningful sentences is that it seems the Manic has been specced on pretty much all the bikes I’ve had the pleasure of riding this year. Specialized has even spec’d it on many of its own bikes even though it has its own in-house dropper it could use. Not just at the lower end of the range either. Most of the Levo range come armed with this post.

For years, we’ve put up with silly priced droppers that start to sag or develop play after a few months (sometimes sooner). We’ve come to accept that dropper posts are innately problematic. But I’ve not come across an underperforming Manic seatpost yet. Maybe you have, but the simplicity of the cable-operated actuation and the ease of set-up and adjustment makes me believe that if dodgy Manics do exist they are rare. They are available in loads of lengths from 100mm to 170mm and all the diameters. If you look hard enough you may well find one in that rarest of rocking horse shit sizes of 27.2mm! And the price is right too. With an RRP of just over £220 you can often pick one up online for less than £200. 

To end as I began, on another poorly chosen and butchered quote, 100% of the time they work every time. Award yourself three points towards your next bottle of Sex Panther if you get that reference.

Nevis Range, near Fort William

This was an unexpected discovery for me. I’ve been to the Nevis Range to ride or just visit almost every year for the last two decades.

Perhaps it was a combination of the fact I’d rarely ridden any trail centres up to that point this year and the fact I was away on holiday at the time and this was the one day we’d planned to ride so we wanted to make the most of it. But I think it was down to the quality of the new red trails that have appeared since last time I rode there. I’m talking specifically about the World Champs and the Wild Goat trails. Each is reasonably short by world standards, but so carefully laid out and built to maintain maximum flow. Each berm feels perfect at speed and the jumps are effortless. 

Really well built trails flatter even the most timid of riders. They guide you into the right line choices and the airtime just happens of its own accord with perfectly inclined landings that put you exactly where you need to be and at exactly the right speed for the next one. I know when I’m in my ‘zone’ because I become unaware of the involuntary giggles and whoops that I make until I’m told about them by others. I did a lot of giggling on those trails that day.

The perfect end was at the café, which even under lockdown was churning out fine sausage-based food that we ate under the cover of sideless marquees between Scottish rain showers.

It was easily the best day I’ve had on a bike in this really, seriously, mental year we are about to finally leave.

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Comments (4)

    Been running an X-fusion Manic on my Hardtail all year, I think I prefer it to the Transfer on my other bike. Good kit.

    Specialized have got form with the accessible suspension bike stuff too – remember the Specialized Pitch?

    And even further – the original Big Hit – remember when that was launched and you could buy the frame only in brown, for about £650? They were everywhere!

    This might be controversial, but I was reading the same article in my physical copy of ST mag this morning and guess what, I actually much prefer the pictures replicated online. The picture of Mark airborne in the mag doesn’t appear to give the same depth of field, or something… (I’m not a photographer). I don’t know what it is but the colours and vibrancy just do not look as good as the online pics above. There, I’ve said it..

    Still love a physical magazine BTW, but now slightly miffed that the pics (to my eyes) are not as ‘good’.

    Specialized have had a good record of releasing a really good budget option. As said above there was the Big Hit (original and later version), the Pitch and the original Status.

    If I was in the market for a park bike this would be right up there, especially as like most people I have a small collection of nice bars, stems, cranks and wheel set that I could easily swap over to save weight, etc.

    Re. the photographs, print or on-line versions – it’s the difference between looking at a print or a projected transparency.
    The print relies on the reflectivity of the paper that it’s printed on whereas the on-line version is, like a transparency, back-lit.

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