As another year rapidly comes to a close, we’re looking back at the best of the best we’ve seen and ridden in 2019. New bikes, new components, new gear… the cycling industry never disappoints in cranking out new products. And we’ve been lucky to test much of it in great places to ride. Here, our annual Editor’s Choice Awards celebrate our personal selections for the best new products we’ve seen or tried over the past year.Advertisements
Still hunting a last-minute gift idea? This could be a good place to start, whether looking for a new bike, a new gadget, or a new adventure to share with a fellow cyclist in the new year.
I ride it all, except pure DH. Road, cyclocross, gravel, XC, trail, enduro. All the things, and usually in equal measures throughout the year. And I like it all. The variety keeps it fresh, and gives me an excuse to house more bikes in my stable. And more gear. After all, it was my fascination with all the shiny new products and tech that led to starting Bikerumor way back in 2008. I also love to travel, riding and exploring new places, ideally with the locals. So, you’ll see my choices are about things that push the technology forward and allow for more, bigger and better adventures.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Gravel Cycling in Slovenia – Two experiences really stood out for me this year, our gravel bike trip through Slovenia, and the Chiang Mai Enduro in Thailand. The Slovenia trip takes the overall win for a few reasons. First, the country is simply amazingly dense with riding and adventure opportunities. We covered miles and miles of backroads and saw some of the most incredible forts, caves and castles. We rock climbed Via Ferrata tracks. We rappelled down waterfalls.
Second, we only scratched the surface by limiting ourselves to gravel bikes. Sure, we bagged some of the highest roads in Slovenia before descending all the way to the coast. But we didn’t even touch the seven mountain bike parks spread throughout their mountains. That alone is reason to go back. And we barely explored their largest city, Ljubljana. Third, the food, beer and wine are all excellent, and quite affordable. No matter what level of “adventure” you’re looking for, from organized rides to self-supported bikepacking, it’s easy to string together an incredible trip. But it’s hard to see it all in just one.
HONORABLE MENTION: International Chiang Mai Enduro – I’m literally typing this on my flight home from Thailand. I went for a factory tour at Vee Tire Co., but they invited me to stay for the International Chiang Mai Enduro. The event draws riders from all over SE Asia to race eight stages over two days, all in the northern mountains of Thailand. What made this race so exceptional wasn’t just the amazing trails, which were fast, fun and challenging. It was all the in-between stuff. Like rallying up the mountain in covered pickup trucks to get to the start. Or passing by small mountain village cafes serving omelets over rice and iced lattes brewed from locally grown and roasted beans.
It was the friendly nature of everyone involved, from organizers to locals living and working alongside the route. It was the pool-side finish and massive post-race buffet. It was the gorgeous trophies, handmade locally and totally unique from anything else I’ve ever seen. If you time it right, flights aren’t all that expensive, they’re just long, so make a vacation of it. During the race you’ll be riding alongside North American and Euro EWS pros. After, you could play with elephants, feed wild monkeys, take Muay Thai classes, or head south to the beaches. Even if you just do the race, it’d be an experience you’ll never forget.
ROAD, GRAVEL & CYCLOCROSS BIKES
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Niner MCR 9 RDO – As far as pushing boundaries goes, the Niner MCR 9 is definitely riding on new terrain. As the first full production full suspension gravel bike, it’s in a class of its own as of this award. What’s impressive is that it lives up to the hype. I was able to comfortably and safely ride stuff I’d otherwise have no business tackling on a gravel bike. But I could also cruise along on the pavement and dirt roads. Thanks to a design that allow for multiple bottles, frame bags and all the typical long-distance add ons, there’s not much downside other that the added weight. But the upside is a bike that opens doors to new terrain. Curious just how capable it really is? Check my full review here.
HONORABLE MENTION: T-Lab X3 custom titanium cyclocross frame – I owe these guys an apology. Not for including them here, but for having not done a formal review on this frame and build yet. They made this bike for me at the beginning of the year, and it took me almost half a year to actually get it assembled. Too much travel combined with some finicky internal cable routing kept it on the workstand far too long. But, now that it’s together, I’m able to appreciate their ability to translate my wishes into a lightweight race bike that’s also comfortable. It was evident on my very first ride that they just got it. And the shapely lines on the main tubes and ultra thin seatstays just look fantastic. I need more miles on it before writing a long term review, but first impressions are good enough to earn an honorable mention.
HONORABLE MENTION: Parlee RZ7 – This one literally just showed up at our office; I haven’t even ridden it yet. But it earns a nod here because Parlee took the aero road bike concept and turned it to 11. From their house-made stem and bar design that completely hides the cables, to the aero fairings to hide the disc brake calipers from the wind, they stopped at nothing to eliminate drag. And they have the wind tunnel numbers to back that up. If they were able to hold onto their well-earned reputation for great ride quality, you might be seeing this bike again.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Pivot Mach 4 SL – A cross country bike? For my top pick? Yep, and here’s why: The new Pivot Mach 4 SL 29er changed my mind on some things. And it took them in a new design direction. Pivot’s aesthetic hasn’t always been my favorite. But the new Mach 4 SL not only looks way sleeker and more modern than prior models, it also forced them to rethink the layups to shave weight. Which has not usually been a top priority for founder Chris Cocalis, who would rather make something stiff and bombproof than light.
I love it when problem solving accomplishes all of the goals and yields something that rides really, really well. Which brings me to my first point: The Mach 4 SL changed my mind about putting a “trail” fork on an “XC” race bike. For years, I’ve held a bit of a purist’s position that XC race bikes are 100mm units, and things stop being purely race-ready when you slap a longer, 120mm travel fork on it just because “light trail” is what’s selling. But when you design a bike from the ground up around that 120mm fork, magic can happen. And the Grand Junction 50’s rough course proved that more can be better when it’s done right. If you’re looking for a massively capable and lightweight race bike, you’d be hard pressed to do better than the new Mach 4 SL.
HONORABLE MENTION: Niner RIP9 RDO – Another brand that veered off their usual course was Niner. The 4th generation RIP 9 gave the brand the shot in the arm they needed. And it finally gave them a properly modern “enduro” race bike. From our own rides on it the lower, slacker design gets you where you need to be to rail corners, own the drops, and confidently master the descents. But it also climbs well. Like, really well. Despite having less travel than the prior model, it feels more capable than ever.
HONORABLE MENTION: Ibis Ripmo AF – If the first two bikes got praise for showing off a brand’s ability to reinvent itself slightly, the Ibis Ripmo AF alloy all-mountain bike gets kudos in the same vein. They did more than just offer riders what they wanted (a more affordable Ibis); they delivered a bike that packages an incredible spec with updated geometry, too. Check our review here.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: SRAM AXS – This award covers both road and mountain bike groups, but for different reasons. The SRAM AXS road groups made the bold move of introducing entirely near gear ratio concepts. Some like it (I do), some don’t, but I applaud the courage to break with tradition either way. They get bonus points for the ability to customize its shifting patterns either thru an app or directly from the handlebars, the ability to mix and match AXS parts between disciplines, and the fast release of trickle-down Force AXS.
In terms of pure shifting performance, SRAM’s Eagle AXS isn’t necessarily a game changer. I actually really like my mechanical SRAM Eagle groups…a lot. In fact, I’d argue that the wireless Reverb AXS is the star of the show because it actually solves problems. The reason Eagle AXS shares my top spot is because of the innovation it brings to the trail. Wireless, customizable and expandable. A breakaway servo that automatically resets its position after a crash. App updates. I think it’s only the beginning of what we’ll see them incorporate into the AXS ecosystem. And with XTR Di2 not getting the upgrade to 12 speed, it puts SRAM in a leadership position for electronic mountain bike drivetrains that’s going to be hard to overcome.
HONORABLE MENTION: Shimano GRX groups – This was a close one for my top pick this year, and not 100% for the drivetrain itself. It’s for the complete ecosystem they’ve built around gravel cycling. Like those top-of-bar inline hydraulic brake levers. And the ability to mix and match just about anything in the group to get the exact gearing and chainring setup you want. Add in the fact that it all works with so many of their existing shifters, derailleurs, cranksets and everything else that’s been on the market for years and you have a dedicated gravel group, optimized for the sport, that you can ease into as budget allows. And based on our test rides, it all has their legendary shifting performance and reliability.
HONORABLE MENTION: Taya TOLV 121 Ti-Black/Gold chain – Yes, Shimano and SRAM design their drivetrains as systems. And there’s no denying that it gives them the ability to fine tune the shifting performance. That doesn’t mean third party chains should be ignored. I rode the Taya TOLV 12-speed chain during the 4-day Samarathon MTB stage race in the deserts of Israel and never had to lubricate it. And I’ve paid very little attention to it since that race ended in February, yet the chain is still silent, smooth and shifts perfectly. That’s on a mixed drivetrain of Rotor cranks and oval rings, SRAM Eagle cassette and derailleur, and Archer’s 1st gen wireless shift adapter. Taya’s DHT nano coating give it self-lubricating, anti-rust and anti-scratch properties for a 10,000km claimed chain life. I’m not quite there yet, but so far so good.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Cane Creek Helm Works fork – Lightweight, stiff, and oh-so-plush, the Cane Creek Helm Works fork is their gram-conscious option for trail bikes. We’re fans of their air spring and damping system, which gives you a lot of control over the feel. So when they offered a “Works” version that shed weight without giving up stiffness or performance, I was all over it. At 1920g for a 120-130mm travel fork (uncut, without thru axle), it’s not the lightest on the market, but it tracks the terrain amazingly well and never felt heavy. Plus, that gunmetal gray is just gorgeous.
HONORABLE MENTION: Rockshox forks…all of them – Or, more precisely, the new 2020 Signature Series forks. Basically, Rockshox took all of their top models and made them better in every way. From seals to grease to damper design, they overhauled all of the things that make them work, so that they work better. Smoother, plusher, and better able to handle big hits and landings. But what really makes all these improvements special is that they’re all backward compatible to prior model year SID, Pike, Lyrik and Boxxer forks. That’s because the chassis remains the same for all four, letting you drop a MY2020 damper and seals kit in there and get the latest performance without buying a whole new fork. And the shiny new colors for their Signature Series are pretty rad.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Zipp 3ZERO MOTO – Every year I tell myself “Tyler, things are so good, how could they possibly get better?” And then companies like Zipp go and totally reinvent something as basic as the wheel. Wheels are getting harder and harder to differentiate, but Zipp did something totally unique by creating a true single-wall, full carbon rim. The design introduces something called “ankle flex”, which is the rim’s ability to bend laterally around the spoke nipple as the tire strikes off camber terrain. The effect is a dramatic improvement in comfort and control…and ability to hold a line. It’s one of those few introductions that’s a true game changer and I can’t wait to see where they take it next.
HONORABLE MENTION: Bontrager Kovee X-X-X – Not only did these wheels make us realize a headline with three “X”s in a row would get Google to flag our site, they also made us realize a house brand wheel company can do some amazing things. Bontrager’s Kovee triple-X wheels come in at just 1,290g for a 29er wheelset, which is killer in its own right. But when you consider that they’re modernly wide, have no rider weight limit and get a two-year no-questions-asked warranty, that weight is even more impressive. And they perform on the trail, helping the bike feel more flickable and me feel faster.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Syncros Fraser IC-SL bar-stem – This was the one piece I was a little nervous to test. The one-piece Syncros Fraser IC-SL handlebar and stem combo weighs in at just 222g on our scale, yet measures an XC-appropriate 740mm wide and comes in four “stem” lengths. I put this on my race bike for the Samarathon (full bike build and review of that project coming soon), figuring if Nino Schurter can race it at the World Cup level, surely it’d work for me, right? I’m happy to say that not only has it not imploded, it’s actually quite comfortable. And ridiculously light.
HONORABLE MENTION: Rockshox Reverb AXS – By taking away the biggest pain point of dropper posts and making it easily user serviceable, the new Rockshox Reverb AXS deserves kudos. The wireless remote means no hoses or cables to snake through the frame. It also means raising your seat won’t end up actuating the post by pulling the cable too tight. Yes, it’s crazy expensive, but it’s a great use of technology to make our lives easier. Just don’t forget to charge it!
HONORABLE MENTION: Race Face Next SL cranks – Notice a trend with my picks? If a company can push the boundaries of light weight and still maintain durability, that’s a good thing. Race Face’s cranks have proven themselves over the years, yet they keep getting lighter. Their 5th generation Next SL crankset comes in at just 423g (claimed) with chainring! Impressive.
BAGS, GEAR & ACCESSORIES
EDITOR’S CHOICE – HELMET: Bontrager Velocis – With seven colors to choose from (and matching shoes and gloves for many of them), breezy ventilation, aerodynamics and MIPS inside, the Velocis is off to a good start. It earns top honors for two reasons: sweat management and the included visor. There are a ton of great helmets out there, but few have prevented sweat from rolling down the middle of my face like the Bontrager Velocis. And the included removable visor provides the sun-blocking benefits of a cycling cap without limiting air flow over my head. It’s a little thing, but makes this one of my favorite helmets. Check my full review here.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Lazer G1 is ultralight and extremely versatile thanks to its included aero shell and their clever retention system. I also liked the LEM MotivAir, which uses a carbon exoskeleton to allow the EPS foam to be softer.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – FRAME BAGS: This year, I’m split between two brands. Revelate Design’s Mag-Tank top tube bag (not shown) proved nearly perfect for racing The Rift gravel race in Iceland this year. It’s easy-to-open top means quick, zipper-free access when you’re bouncing along rough terrain but gotta grab something quick. It fits my GoPro with bite mount attached, plus a couple of snacks. Just beware, the flap closure can let tiny things bounce out if you hit a big bump while it’s open.
The Roswheel Road frame bag collection (shown above) goes a step further with waterproof construction and zippers. Their straps allow for universal fit (some items come in multiple sizes), and during a week of riding in Slovenia, they kept things safe, secure and dry. The top tube bag (an accessory that’s quickly becoming my favorite add-on for any bike) also fits the GoPro with bite mount, plus snacks. And the zipper is easy enough to open and close with one hand, which is a nice bonus. I covered all the latest bags from both brands at Sea Otter earlier this year.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – HYDRATION PACKS: The Mission Workshop Hauser isn’t new, though it did get an update in 2015. I was using the original before then, upgraded to the newer version, and more recently tried the smaller 10L pack on our trip to Slovenia. Then realized that for a product that I’ve been using for so many years, I’d never given it the love it deserves. Here’s why the Hauser is worth the $210-$220 they’re asking: First, like all MW gear, it’s built to last. Waterproof materials and zippers plus a roll-top closure keep everything dry inside. A side pocket offers quick swing-around access to cash or a phone. Straps are wide and comfortable, and waist straps are removable. It lacks all of the interior organization and bells and whistles of most hydration packs, but it comes with a well-designed tool roll. The 14L is surprisingly cavernous, and the 10L is great for shorter days or around town. And the reservoir compartment zips fully open. I love this pack.
CLOTHING & APPAREL
EDITOR’S CHOICE – CLOTHING: Ornot Magic Shell set a new standard for waterproof breathability in an ultralight, packable piece of kit. I used it at The Rift in Iceland in conditions that devolved into sideways hail and freezing winds, then redeemed themselves with sunshine and rainbows. It works great, and now they’ve made it even better, keeping the Polartec NeoShell material, but adding more features and colors. We’ll be testing the new one soon.
HONORABLE MENTION – CLOTHING: Pearl Izumi PI/Black Winter Collection – This stuff is ultra, with a price to match. As in, the full kit will run you more than a grand. But here’s why it’s worth it: It’s mostly Merino wool, so it’ll work through any conditions, something I’ve tested on a cold, rainy ride. I have a full review coming with more pics, but you can check out the PI/Black collection here. It missed getting top honors because the sizing is a little funky, but the luxuriously functional materials helped it make my list.
HONORABLE MENTION: Handup Summer Gloves – It’s not all cold and wet weather gear for me this year. The new Handup Summer Gloves were a welcome addition to our Tennessee bike park road trip. The light mesh top keeps things cool, but they maintain their excellent grip and fit on the palm. If you’ve eschewed gloves because they make your hands too hot, these are definitely worth a look.
EDITOR’S CHOICE – SHOES: Specialized S-Works EXOS – These set a new standard in light weight when they debuted earlier this year, with the top version coming in at just 99g average claimed weight. The “standard” version (shown above) adds a few grams with the BOA dial, but my size 47 S-Works EXOS shoes comes in at just 371g for the pair. What makes them truly remarkable, though, is that they’re also extremely comfortable. As in, almost sock-like, yet efficient and stable while riding. Price be damned, these deserve all the kudos in the world for pushing the boundaries without giving up performance.
HONORABLE MENTION: Shimano RX8 Gravel Shoes – These check all the right boxes for me. They’re lightweight, comfortable, and the silvery urban camo color scheme rocks. Laugh all you want at the idea of a “gravel” shoe, but these crush the miles and remain comfortable off the bike when it’s time to chill at the roadside stop. Check out all the tech specs in this post.
OFF THE BIKE
EDITOR’S CHOICE: NordicTrack RW900 Rower – Do you skip arm day? A lot of cyclists (and non-cyclists do), because it’s all about the legs, amiright? False. You need a strong core, shoulders, upper back and arms to be a fully functioning human (and a better cyclist). But we still need to maintain that cardio in the off season. The NordicTrack rower covers all the bases when paired with your actual and indoor riding. What makes it better than a normal rower is the on-screen workouts. Ever tried rowing for more than five minutes and wanna commit stop rowing? Me, too, but the video workouts on the RW900 keep it interesting, and help pace you through a full workout. It does use a subscription to get the most out of the video workouts, but if you own other equipment in the NordicTrack ecosystem (like the Fusion CST home gym), that same sub works across multiple devices.
HONORABLE MENTION: Cotopaxi Allpa 35L backpack – I tend to overpack. Mainly because I need to bring cameras, mics, a laptop, backup drive, cables for all that, and sometimes a drone, lights, tripods and selfie sticks, and more. And maybe a change of clothes or two. The Allpa 35 is the first backpack that’s been able to handle all that for short trips. Both the shoulder straps and waist belt tuck behind the padded back panel to make it easier to stuff into an overhead compartment. Internal organization works great and comes closer to how I’d lay out a travel pack than almost anything else I’ve used. And the water-resistant outer surface has worn well, giving it a “well-traveled” look without looking worn out. Retail is $200, available at REI.
HONORABLE MENTION: Salewa Wildfire Edge approach shoes – The Salewa boots are some of my favorites, offering long-hike comfort. And the Wildfire Edge approach shoes offer long-day comfort when your day takes you from city walks to mountain scrambles. Great grip means they work well for most any terrain. And I like the ability to lace them loose or tight depending on the situation. They are a technical approach shoe, so for just kicking around town they’re overkill (except of the boss outdoorsy tech vibe they give off), but for travel they’ve proven to be a versatile partner that makes packing a little more streamlined. (currently on sale at REI as of this post going live)
THREE SMALL THINGS
Fenix PD35TAC Tactical Flashlight has become part of my travel EDC. It’s light, compact, super bright, easy to use and has some nice bonus features. The rear button’s partial push allows ultra-quick on/off flashes, and a deeper click keeps it on. Then, a separate side button cycles through the modes. It’s a little thing, but from a usability standpoint, the distinct click depths and buttons are a big deal. It’s IPX8 waterproof, has two main modes with up to six output levels (including a strobe), and can use standard CR123A batteries. To get the max 1,000 lumen output, upgrade to their rechargeable Li-Ion 18650 batteries, some of which have USB charging ports on the battery itself! It’s spendy ($72) compared to other “tactical” flashlights you’ll find on Amazon, but you get what you pay for.
Stoked Roasters makes my favorite coffee, the light roast Dawn Patrol. It’s one of the highlights of returning home from travel, because it’s the opposite of the often burnt tasting dark roasts that everyone seems to default to. Why? Because as I learned in my interview with founder Jax Mariash, it’s pretty hard to time the roasting process right to get a really good light roast. She’s nailed it, which is why we subscribe and get a big ol’ bag of beans in the mail every month.
Hat tip to pro photographer Marc Gasch for recommending this. Technically, you shouldn’t ride your bike with the GoPro Bite Mount in your mouth. But if you’re a) willing to accept responsibility for your actions, and b) looking for the smoothest possible footage, then it’s worth adding to your action camera tool box. Once I got over the initial gag reflex and drool, the Bite Mount lets me easily follow the rider in front in a more natural way. Couple more reasons it’s awesome: Swivel it up and it makes a great compact handle. Clips it into normal mounting brackets without removing it. You don’t have to attach the Floaty on the back. Only downside, it won’t work if you’re rockin’ the full face helmet. Yes, the stabilization on the HERO7 and new HERO8 are next level, but this keeps the camera following the action.
Many more great products have passed though our hands this year, but this collection highlights the best I’ve seen or ridden. Full disclosure: Each of these products have been chosen purely on their technical & performance merits for the reasons described above. Under no circumstances were any of our selections paid for by their producers. Nor was any preference or favor given to advertisers or brands who bring us on trips. Our selections are for the most part (but not exclusively) limited to products that we’ve actually spent time riding/testing in person. So a brand’s willingness to invite Bikerumor to join a launch event, or to provide product samples does make it more likely that we will have considered their products, if only because we can share our real, firsthand experiences.