Hit List: This week’s best MTB components, gear and apparel

Michelin tires, Pearl Izumi shoes, MRP fork, Bontrager shorts and more

Apparel Forks Helmets Pedals Shoes Tires

Each week our editorial team does a lap of the proverbial test garage, making note of the best cycling gear and apparel we’ve been using lately. Some of it is brand new. Some of it is so old and beat up you can barley read the label. The common thread is that it’s all earned a place in our regular use rotation due to quality, performance, durability and/or price. Here’s this week’s Mtbr Hit List. What’s your current go-to gear? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

MRP Stage 160mm Fork

MRP Stage 160mm Fork

Full disclosure, I’m not a suspension geek. My eyes gloss over when people start talking about the nuances of high speed compression and such. But what I do know is the feeling of a lousy fork. And that’s what I had on my Pivot Mach 6 before swapping on this stealthy-looking 160mm MRP Stage fork about four months ago. Since then I don’t spend much time thinking about suspension — because it works and works well.

The Grand Junction, Colorado-based company’s enduro-oriented offering with 34mm stanchions isn’t the lightest or cheapest fork out there. But thus far it’s proven both reliable and highly capable, deftly smoothing out small bumps and soaking up big hits with predictable control. More than once I’ve barreled way to fast into a chunky rock garden and still managed to emerge safely on the other side. Thank you very much, Mr. Fork.

The prominent feature of the Stage with QtapeR 15mm axle is what MRP calls Ramp Control, which allows on-the-fly adjustment of the ending stroke curve of the air spring via a knob at the top of the left fork leg. Dial it in to retain small bump compliance, but get a progressive big hit feel. Or open it up for a more linear stroke. The idea is that when cranked down it will help you maintain control on especially steep or fast trails by preserving the last portion of stroke for those true crux moments, while at the same time maintaining your trail bike’s more stable slack geometry. There’s also a magnetic blow-off valve that eliminates the possibility of spiking, further increasing control.

Along with Ramp Control, the MRP Stage fork has adjustment for rebound, 8-position compression and air spring pressure, providing lots of variability for riders who like to play around with settings. I’m more of the set-and-forget type, and thus far that’s worked just fine, too. Thanks, MRP marketing man Noah Sears for getting me started in the right direction.

For 2016, the fork will be available with 10 different sticker kits, so you can match colors with your bike. MRP’s also reduced some of the fork’s “whoosh” noise, though frankly I kind of like the sound effect. It let’s me know it’s working. | Construction: Magnesium lower with oversized arch | Available in 140mm, 150mm, 160mm and 170mm for 26”/27.5”; and 120mm, 130mm, 140mm, and 150mm for 29er | Price: $989 | More info: www.mrpbike.com

Bontrager Foray Short

Bontrager Foray Short

Quick poll: How many pairs of black MTB shorts do you own? For me the answer is too many. For whatever reason, the fat tire apparel industry seemingly went through a period where color choices were black or black. Sure, it’s easier to hide mud and muck stains on dark colors. But hey, mountain biking is supposed to be fun, not an outdoor version of a goth party. Of course bright colors alone doesn’t make a good pair of MTB shorts. In the case of the Bontrager Foray Short there is form to go with the fashion. They are lightweight, have a semi-fitted cut, and the stretch woven shell is soft on the skin and moves with the body without getting hung up. There’s also some expertly placed mesh venting, a small zip pocket, and the waist is easy to adjust. No, I wouldn’t recommend these if you’re going to be padding up at the bike park, but for regular trail or XC rides, they are my go-to pair of mountain bike shorts. And yes, they also come in black and/or with matching slip-on gloves. | Price: $130 | More info: www.bontrager.com

Michelin Wild Grip’R Gum-X 2.35 Tire

Michelin Wild Grip’R Gum-X 2.35” Tire

Like a number of companies, Michelin has gone the way of specific tires for front and rear wheel use. Shown here is the Wild Grip’R Gum-X, a 27.5 2.35” trail tire that’s earmarked for rear end duty due to a slightly more robust rubber compound. (The Magi-X version is softer for more hook-up on the front wheel.) We swapped this all-arounder on this spring after the original rubber on these Mavic all-mountain wheels was well past its prime. Tubeless set-up was floor pump easy and they’ve been a solid companion ever since. Cornering traction is confidence inspiring, and they rarely break loose under hard braking.

They’ve also proven to be fairly durable. After a very hard summer’s worth of use, including two trips each to the tire wrecking grounds of Grand Junction’s Lunch Loop and Moab, the side knobs are still in great shape, while the center tread is only marginally worn down. At 1080 grams they’re not the fastest rolling tire, but on our 155mm Pivot Mach 6 trail bike, weight is a secondary concern. PS: We love the Mavic wheels, too. More on them soon. | Tire weight: 1080 grams | Price: $65 | More info: bike.michelin.com

Bell Super 2R Helmet

Bell Super 2R Helmet

About two months ago, I moved off Colorado’s Front Range up to a little mountain town called Crested Butte. If you’re into mountain biking history, you’ve surely heard of the place. Things kinda got started around here back in the early 1980s. Well, if there’s phrase to describe Crested Butte riding, it’s straight up, straight down. Hallmark trails such as Doctors Park, Teocalli Ridge, 401 and Green Lake all start with punishing climbs, and then finish with extended often rough descents. And all these trails have another thing in common: They’re the perfect scenario for Bell’s Super 2R Helmet, which features a removable chin bar.

On the way up stash the chin bar on the back of your hydration pack (my go-to Osprey Raptor has no problem stowing it on the outside). When you get to the top, have a snack and clip on the bar, which attaches via three aluminum buckles that are borrowed from the ski boot world. The process takes about 30 seconds, and when you’re done you have a lightweight full face helmet that offers a little extra protection for bombing these sickest of descents. Bell is quick to point out that the Super 2R is not a replacement for a standard full face lid. So if you’re headed to the bike park, you’ll want to grab something burlier. But for shredding in the backcountry, this is an outstanding option. | Weight (size medium) 430 grams without chin bar, 770 grams with | Price: $220 with MIPs | More info: www.bellhelmets.com

Continue to page 2 for more of this week’s best gear and apparel »

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.

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