Editor’s Note: With the year coming to a close, here’s another Best Gear of 2017 list, this time from Mtbr features editor Jason Sumner. Let us know what you think of his selections in the comments section below.
Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II Tires
Whether you’re rocking “old school” 2.35s, have made the jump to Wide Trail 2.6s, or are a full-on plus size devotee, Maxxis’ Minion DHF-DHR II tire combo is hard to beat. I spent a good chunk of the 2017 riding season aboard a 27.5×2.8 set-up, and (knock on wood) never suffered so much as a burp even when running PSI in the mid-teens. And at that pressure — with these tires — traction and cornering confidence are as good as it gets. Both are tubeless ready, have EXO sidewall protection, and feature 3C MaxxTerra, the Taiwanese tire maker’s intermediate triple rubber compound that strikes a great balance between grip, rolling resistance, rebound performance, and durability. Read more about the Maxxis tire design philosophy. | Price: $105 for 27.5×2.8
TRP Quadiem G-Spec Brakes
When World Cup DH champ Aaron Gwin and brake maker TRP first started working together, the dominant pro wanted to create a brake to match his unique needs. A season long development process ensued, eventually netting the TRP G-Spec (as in Gwin) Quadiem hydraulic disc brakes. Features of these flashy four-piston stoppers include hybrid ceramic-steel CNC’d calipers with cooling fins, tool-free indexed reach adjustment, a split hinge handlebar clamp, and an adjustable banjo fitting that eases hose routing headaches. The forged aluminum has also been polished and anodized, giving the brakes an eye-catching look-at-me finish. And at Gwin’s specific request, brake levers are dimpled, providing better grip and tactile feel. Bottom line, the smooth lever throw, gentle initial bite, superb overall control and modulation, and ample end power make the TRP G-Spec Quadiem a great aftermarket option for anyone seeking top-line braking performance. Check out the detailed Mtbr review here. | Price: $400 for set (rotors sold separately)
Scott Spark 900
It used to be that any mention of the Scott Spark spurred images of hard charging XC racing. And that’s still the case, sort of. For model year 2017, Scott split its Spark line into two branches, Spark RC (as in racing concept) and standard Spark, which is more light duty trail bike than pure XC podium pursuer. The Spark 900 Mtbr tested (and loved) boasts 29er wheels, 120mm of front and rear travel, a dropper post as standard equipment, and longer/lower/slacker frame geometry.
The way I see it, unless you’re a truly dedicated cross-country racer, the Scott Spark is as close as you can come to a true quiver killer if you can own just one bike and like the climb as much as descend. With this bike you can race your local XC hammer fest one day, and head out on a backcountry epic the next. Learn more in this long term review. | Price: $5600 as tested
While DVO may still be an unfamiliar name to some, it’s not some fly-by-night operation that popped up from nowhere. The majority of the suspension maker’s core team once served a similar role with Marzocchi, which before being driven into a financial ditch was one of the sport’s most respected suspension innovators. After some time to regroup, DVO sprung from those ashes and has quickly established itself among mountain biking’s top aftermarket suspension sellers. Mtbr did extensive testing aboard their Diamond 110 Boost fork and Topaz T3 air shock. Both are awesome. Check out full reviews here and here. | Price: fork $999, shock $500
Santa Cruz Hightower
Note that I wrote, “if you could own only one bike,” when praising the Scott Spark 900. But where’s the fun in that. I’d also want a trail bike that can descend like a demon but also climb reasonably well, and that’s where the Santa Cruz Hightower (with DVO Suspension) comes in. With boost spacing, proven VPP suspension, a slack-enough 67-degree head angle, climbing friendly 74.3-degree seat tube angle, and the modern long-low profile, this bike ticks all the right quiver-killing boxes as long as XC racing is not part of the equation.
The beautifully crafted Hightower frame has 135mm of rear travel, and a reversible chip at the shock mount that’s designed to maintain geometry whether in the “low” setting (for 29er use) or “high” (when running 27.5+). In either case, this is a supremely capable and stable bike that can charge its way through most technical trail obstacles whether climbing or descending. Check out Mtbr’s dream build Hightower here. | Price: $3000 frame and shock
Feedback Sports Team Edition Tool Kit
Inside this laptop-sized portable and durable TPU nylon coated zippered case are 19 tools with 25 total functions. All the essentials are included, such as a pedal wrench, chain tool, various hex wrenches, steel core tire levers, cassette lockring and BB wrench, and even a dual-sided pick. There’s also some clever integration. For instance, the cable cutters also have a crimper, the cassette lockring/BB wrench can be used as a centerlock brake rotor tool, and the #0 Phillips screwdriver doubles as a Shimano crank preload cap tool. Whether you’re looking to kickstart a home tool collection, or want an inclusive kit to take on the road, the Feedback Sports Team Edition is a great option. The tools are well made, handle well, and look good. And the included case has a folding rod that holds it open whether hanging on a workstand or laid flat on your campsite picnic table. Check out the Mtbr review here. | Price: $250
Specialized Atlas Knee Pads
Living in the Colorado high country means cool weather rides are the norm. But instead of slipping on traditional knee warmers, I regularly reach for Specialized’s Atlas Knee Pads, which only weigh a few grams more, provide similar protection from the elements, are comfortable to pedal in, and most importantly help save your skin in the case of an unscheduled get-off. Pliable anti-shock foam padding delivers knee and side impact protection, but is also light and flexible. And the tall elastic cuff with silicone grippers keeps the pads in place. Indeed, these are the kind of pads you can wear for an entire ride, and not have to mess around taking them on and off depending on terrain. Learn more in this Mtbr first look. | Price: $65
Leatt DBX 3.0 Trail Helmet
The DBX 3.0 is Leatt’s take on the trail/all-mountain segment. This brain protector combines a polycarbonate shell with an in-molded EPS liner and 360° Armourgel Turbine technology, which Leatt claims reduces head impact up to 30% and rotational acceleration up to 40% (think a different take on MIPS slip plane technology.) The helmet has 18 vents, an adjustable breakaway visor, and a Dri-Lex moisture-wicking, anti-odor washable liner. Chinstrap closure is achieved via a Fidlock magnetic buckle system, and the helmet is certified to EN1078 and CPSC 1203 safety standards, which are the norm for this type of helmet. Bottom line, anything that keeps us safer on the trail is a good thing. Check out Mtbr’s full review here. | Price: $170
Emergence of Consumer Direct Bike Sellers
After months if not years of waiting and anticipation, German direct-to-consumer seller Canyon officially opened for business in the U.S. last August. And while not the first bike maker to sell over the Internet, they’ve helped lend further credibility to concept of buying high-performance road and mountain bikes on-line. Now with the likes of Fezzari, Diamondback, YT, and Canyon all cutting out the middle man, prices across the board for all brands are sure to come down, and that’s a win for all of us.
The hitch is that these bikes are shipped to your house in a box, meaning you have to build it up yourself. But in our experience with several consumer-direct test bikes, anyone who can assemble a basic Ikea bookshelf will have no problem building up their next two-wheel dream machine. In the case of the Canyon Spectral CF Mtbr tested (and loved) earlier this year, it was just a matter of attaching the bars, pulling through the already routed dropper post housing, installing the wheels, and inflating the fork and shock. Working at a slow pace (and taking pictures along the way) it took about 30 minutes. | Price: Usually less than you’d expect
Mineral Bar Design Mini Bar Multi-Tool
Born from a successful $20,000 Kickstarter campaign, the Mineral Design Mini Bar is a TIG welded, steel handled multi-tool with replaceable bits stored under an L-shaped handle. The compact shape allows for easy storage in a jersey pocket, saddlebag, or hydration pack, while the unique 3-poisiton handle provides the leverage and versatility of a larger tool. And unlike so many multi-tools, the Mineral Design Mini Bar is actually pleasant to use. With its 10 included bits and three possible positions, you can do everything from tighten hard-to-reach bottle cage bolts to adjust rear derailleur screws. There’s even an 8mm bit for swapping pedals. Read the full Mtbr review here. | Price: $35
Sport Rx Oakley Crossrange Sunglasses
About a decade ago, I tried contacts. It didn’t work out. I just couldn’t get past the whole sticking my finger in my eye thing. Instead I opted for Lasik — and for a while my eyesight was perfect. But over time it’s slowly reverted back to what it once was, and again my distance vision has deteriorated. It’s not awful. More blurry than blind. But anything that’s more than 10-15 feet away is definitely a little soft. So awhile back I got a pair of standard glasses. Problem solved for the most part. I could read the ticker at the bottom of the TV and know a little further ahead of time what the road sign ahead said.
There was still one problem, though. When doing the activity I love most, riding bikes, the beautiful world around me was still out of focus. It wasn’t a huge deal — and didn’t likely affect performance. But when you live and ride in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, being able to see the grandeur of the great outdoors is integral to the cycling experience. Enter this pair of Oakley Crossrange shades outfitted with prescription lenses from Sport Rx. Now trail obstacles and distant vistas are in perfect focus — and the shades look good, too. Read our full review here. | Price: $487
Fat Bike World Championships in Crested Butte
Being that I don’t do too much real racing anymore, the nod for my favorite event had to go to something more casual than competitive — and local. None do it better than Crested Butte’s annual Borealis Fat Bike World Championships. Whether you’re a serious fat bike racer, costume-wearing competitor, or are just looking for an excuse to check out one of Colorado’s best wintertime biking locales in any season, this four-day event has it all. Registration is open now for this annual bacchanal of all things fat (Jan. 24-28), which will once again include two races, a demo day, fat bike trail grooming symposium, and lift serviced downhill fat bike riding at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. There are also plenty of parties planned, just what you’d expect from an event co-sponsored by Upslope Brewing Company. Here’s a recap of all the shenanigans from 2017 and here’s everything you need to know about this year’s event. Price: $249 for an all-in pass