Editor’s note: As we welcome a new year, we at Mtbr are taking a moment to look back at the bikes and products that improved our riding experience in 2019. Some products were new for the year, others are tried and true items that are still best-in-class.
Francis Cebedo’s 2019 Gear of the Year
My favorite type of riding is the last one I did. I have an easily addicted personality and I’ve fallen in love with many types of riding. I didn’t touch my road or gravel bike last year, but I delved deep into trail, enduro, XC, and even e-mountain bikes! I love technology, evolution, creativity and when it all comes together, the bike gear disappears in a ride. It’s just pure bliss as the fancy products work in harmony and don’t call attention to themselves. Here’s what made some of those moments possible in 2019.
I’ll go out on a limb and say that this is one of the best bikes Specialized has ever created. It’s an all-mountain bike with massive, supple 29er travel, but it is also pedal-friendly. On my test rides, the suspension was like butter on Boondocks and Livewire of the Northstar MTB Park and my adjustment period was minimal. By mid-day, my confidence was high and I was riding like it was my regular bike. On one section of Boondocks, I veered right and went down an eight-foot drop, surprised ace photographer Harookz Noguchi and he yelled, “Niiiiiiice Francis!” I surprised him and myself. Since that all went so smoothly, I thought of the tagline for this bike, “the new Specialized Enduro—it lets you take the option lines.”
This is indeed the plushest, most capable, and balanced Specialized I’ve ever tried. I went outside of my comfort zone and it never let me down. I’m not a fan of these Butcher tires on this North Tahoe sand, but the new compounds on this 2.6-inch Butcher on 30mm rims helped it out a bit. But everything else about this S-Works spec was spot-on.
More info: Specialized.com
Price: $4410 – $9750
Vittoria Agarro tires
Trail riding calls for a tire that walks a fine line between cross-country and enduro. To start, you need something more robust than the featherweight XC rubber, but without the heavyweight commitment of an enduro-minded tire. Vittoria’s Agarro G2.0 Trail 4C Tire aims to please with a balance between the two, providing considerably more grip than the Barzo cross-country tire, but without the enduro bulk of the Martello. It offers leading-edge steps, which work similarly to a ramped lug, but provides better climbing grip when things get technical and steep.
Progressive sipes offer tactile grip on rocks and roots, which is particularly advantageous when things start to get a little slick. Vittoria employs its 4C Graphene 2.0 compound on the Agarro, which utilizes four different durometers of rubber in the treat, each one strategically placed for the best combination of low rolling resistance, cornering stability, grip, and longevity. Graphene 2.0 takes Vittoria’s original Graphene-infused compound and betters it in every way, with special attention given to wet-weather performance. In summary, it is one of the grippiest, fast tires I’ve ever tried.
More info: vittoria.com
Marzocchi Z1 Coil Fork and Bomber CR Rear Shock
There are some incredible front and rear shock options today but they may cost you an arm and a leg. What impresses me most about Marzocchi’s suspension is it can keep up with the best, but at a significantly lower cost. And when it comes to the suspension, it’s smooth as butter with great traction and control, and that’s where the Z1 shines.
The Z1 departs from industry norms, foregoing fiddling with adjustment knobs and more time riding at a high level. The Z1 keeps it simple with intuitive compression sweep adjustment, from locked out to full open. Simple rebound adjustment covers the range from fast to slow rebound for a full range of rider weights and preferences without overcomplicating things.
This simple rear shock with a massive sweet spot pair well with bikes with travel from 130mm to over 200mm. Keeping in step with Marzocchi’s founding philosophies, this new rear shock prioritizes suspension performance, ride quality and durability. Simply set your sag and rebound, and go ride.
And as of January 2020, the Z1 is now available in a coil version and all older Z1 forks can be upgraded to a coil at a reasonable price.
Price: $700 and $300
YT Decoy E-bike
The YT Decoy is a full suspension eMTB sporting 160mm of front and 165mm rear travel. The name is crafty indeed as it’s a play on words on a bike that looks just like a bike. Mountain bikers, in general, don’t want an e-bike that calls attention to itself and looks like a behemoth so YT made a bike that looks discrete and is dialed.
It’s a big travel bike with a Fox X2 rear and a Fox 36 Grip2 in front at the top end spec. It’s meant to perform at the highest level for trail and enduro riding. The YT Decoy comes in three spec levels, the CF Pro Race, CF Pro, and CF Base. Pricing is set at $6999, $5999 and $4999. The CF Pro Race and Pro sport full carbon frames while CF Base utilizes a carbon frame with an alloy rear end.
What sets the YT Decoy apart is it is the perfect blending of components, performance, looks, and price. It did it better than any e-mtb in 2019 and if it gets a 700wh battery option in 2020, it will continue to be a leader.
More info: YT Industries
Pivot Mach 4 SL
Starting at 1845 grams or 4.05 lbs for the frame, the Mach 4 SL takes a front-row seat in the XC full suspension category and has the best stiffness to weight ratios Pivot claims they’ve ever created. The new Mach 4SL is over 300 grams lighter than its predecessor, the Mach 429 SL.
Fox Live Valve integration gives the Mach 4 SL progressive cross country suspension. Pivot claims the efficiency benefits are undeniable, and the speed gained on every part of the course is truly mind-blowing. The shock layout may be different, but the 100mm travel DW-link suspension keeps its familiar ride qualities with solid pedaling efficiency, reactive to impacts under power, and fully active while braking – everything that is important in an XC race bike.
It is pricey and it is fancy. But there’s something to be said with a bike that makes you ride faster than you really are.
More info: pivotcycles.com
Price: $4600 to $11300
Saris MTR bike rack
Roomy wheel trays provide ample stowage for tires up to 5 inches wide, but that MTR rack can also adjust down to accommodate your kid’s bike or a BMX rig. It also has dual-arm wheel holders that keep bikes safely and securely locked in position, while assuring your bike’s frame is never scratched or damaged. And it’s all built on a rugged hitch-based foundation that can be tilted away even when fully loaded with bikes. That makes for fast and easy vehicle access anytime anywhere.
Plus, because the Saris MTR features nesting bike trays, loading has never been easier. That’s because each tray is actually two trays, and those half trays can swing out of the way when not in use. So instead of reaching over trays that aren’t in use, you can simply sidle right up when loading and unloading bikes. No more lifting bikes over the rack. Just flip the trays out of the way and go.
More info: Saris.com
Santa Cruz Tallboy 4
In the Mtbr stable, one bike more action than any other. And it wasn’t the fastest tech bike or the most exotic high travel one. Rather, it’s this Tallboy 4 that made every ride better. Climbs were more frisky and even tame descents were more lively. And when it came to steeps and tech, the Tallboy 4 was game too. It simply made all kinds of riding more fun.
It’s the kind of bike that makes you sprint while going up, along, over, or down due to the maximum efficiency of the VPP design and responsive, lightweight chassis. But because it shares the same engineering principles as our longest travel bikes, the progressive lower link-mounted shock feels equally at home doing cross-country as it does in extreme-country. Paired with a 130mm fork the new Tallboy becomes ever more appealing to riders who like to open it up.
The Tallboy 4 is open for anything with its aggressive geometry. And because there wasn’t a glut of travel, the rider is more involved, albeit more alert. Using a car analogy, it’s like a Toyota FRS or Mazda Miata on windy, local roads. It doesn’t have the massive horsepower or the heft of the supercars but it is an agile machine that one can rally everyday on local terrain.
More info: Santacruzbicycles.com
Price: From $2699
Fezzari Wire Peak E-bike
The Wire Pike is a very compelling e-mtb from Fezzari since it has good geometry and suspension action, similar to their runaway hit, the La Sal Peak. It has a stiff and stout chassis ready for big rides and assisted power from a Shimano Steps motor.
Now, here’s where it stands out. It start out at $3599, with a world-class Shimano motor and a good base of components Rockshox front and XFusion rear suspension. It set a new bar for a trail ready, full suspension ebike at an approachable price.
There are Elite and Pro versions too that offer as much value for the money at higher spec levels. We’ve had a Pro version in the stable and it has performed admirably on the big trails of Downieville with it’s Fox 36 and Fox X2 suspension. Much more expensive bikes have a hard time keeping up with this steed dialed in with the best, most supportive components available. And if the user wants Plus, 29er or Mullet wheels, everything is configurable when purchasing a Fezzari.
More info: https://www.fezzari.com/wirepeak
Price: From $3599
Ride Concepts Powerline Shoe
Do you kick rocks and roots? Or do they come up and attack you? In the past three months, we’ve done some good riding in Santa Cruz, Downieville, and Tahoe and on at least 4 occasions, kicked a rock or jammed a foot into a crevice while pedaling. I felt a lot of pressure and waited about 10 seconds for that dreaded piercing pain to commence indicating an injury. Each time, no intense pain and the alarm bells disappeared after a few minutes. This is a similar and satisfying feeling when a knee pad has done its job as well. One really has to pay attention to good protective gear since you think they didn’t do anything since there was no injury, thus one tends to discount the impact. These Powerlines protect well.
Powerlines got it right. They seem to have enough flex and feel designed to achieve a good connection with the bike through the pedal contact point. The Powerlines seem to have benefited from early feedback and Ride Concepts adjusted to give these shoes more feel and bike feedback.
Replacing the D30 insoles, we noticed a little more feel and vibration transmitted to the rider so that is an option for some if they prefer more trail feedback.
Bontrager Kovee XXX 29er Wheelset
Color us excited when Bontrager teased us with a new Kovee XXX weighing in at 1290 grams. And although designed for XC, rim width is at 29mm internal and it uses the same, reliable DT internals as the previous Kovee. As soon as we got it, we put it on the scale right away and the front was 605 grams and the rear 692, for a total of 1297 without rim strips. For a wheel this wide and deep and with bladed spokes, they feel even lighter. They are dead true with every spoke singing the same tune to reveal equal tension. Ratchet is familiar DT-Swiss but a bit quieter when freewheeling.
We’ve been riding it all year and it’s been a delight. With the new Bontrager XR2 and XR3 tires, our test Pivot Switchblade bike dropped two lbs. The Switchblade felt like a new bike that dropped even more weight. Ultralight, lively wheels/tires make a bike feel really nimble since the bike spins up faster and changes direction easier. The wheels are lively and have enough flex/spring in them to wake up any bike up and down hills.
For the last year, we’ve tried these wheels on about 6 bikes, ranging from ultralight XC steeds to All Mountain bruisers. Each time, the wheels have performed admirably. And they answer the question, “how good can this bike climb and how light can it get”, without compromising descending. And after an inspection checking what 9 months of use have done to the wheelset, we’re happy to report that they are still flawless.
More info: https://trekbikes.com