The New Year is here and we’ve already gotten sneak peeks at some very cool new bikes and gear, which we’ll be able to start telling you about soon on Mtbr. But before diving into the what’s coming, we wanted to take a look back at some of the bikes and gear from 2018 that we felt were among the best. Here then in no particular order is Mtbr Features Editor Jason Sumner’s picks for the best of the best from the past 12 months. You can see Jason’s picks from 2017 here. Have a look and then let us know your thoughts on his choices — and what were your favorite bikes and gear from 2018.
New 12-speed Shimano XTR
It’s no secret that SRAM has been eating Shimano’s lunch in the mountain bike drivetrain game. But that may soon slowly start to change thanks to Shimano’s 2018 launch of its new 12-speed XTR group, which should finally start showing up on bikes in spring 2019. Shimano’s first legitimate foray into the wide-range 1x world, the new XTR M9100 is a ground-up redesign that aims to directly compete with SRAM’s wildly popular Eagle set-up. Top line highlights of new Shimano XTR include a 510% wide range 10-51 cassette, smooth Hyperglide+ shifting functionality, Scylence (and silent) freehubs, an impressive dropper post remote, and 4-piston XTR level brakes (plus a lighter 2-piston version for the XC crowd). You can read the Mtbr First Ride Review here, but in a nutshell the stuff is awesome — especially the shifting, which we found to be smooth and precise even under heavy load. The only thing truly missing at this point are some more budget friendly options, but you have to believe an XT version will be debuting sometime this year.
More info: www.ridextr.com
EVOC Hip Pack Pro 3L
It’s hard to get too excited about a bum bag, but EVOC really knocked it out of the park with their Hip Pack Pro 3L. Top line features include room for two water bottles or a 1-liter bladder (sold separately), two small food compartments, and an external organization pocket with a water-resistant zipper. But the real highlight is its wide airmesh waistband that both enhances comfort and breathability. This mesh material comes from the medical industry and is the most expensive that EVOC uses. For added security there’s also a buckle, and the pack has cinch straps on either side of the waist allowing the user to loosen or tighten the pack, depending on whether they are climbing or descending. Bottom line, this pack doesn’t bounce around when you’re charging through the gnar.
Ibis Hi-Fi and Low-Fi Handlebars
Often the best ideas are the simplest, which is certainly the case with these “adjustable” carbon handlebars from Ibis. Since many people are reluctant to cut down their expensive bars because it’s a one-way change, you see lots of riders using bars that are either too wide or too narrow. That’s what led to the Hi-Fi and Lo-Fi, which are intended to be a solution that makes it easier to experiment with different bar widths. Using two 25mm wide aluminum inserts that thread into the ends of the bar, you can swap between 750mm and 800mm. Or cut down the inserts to any measurement in between. For instance, take 10mm off each end for a total 780 width. Change your mind? Replacement inserts are just $15. The 31.8mm bars come in two versions, with the Ibis Lo-Fi having 10mm rise and the Hi-Fi at 30mm rise. And even with the added adjustability, the bars are reasonably light, with weights of 249g for the Ibis Hi-Fi and 238g for the Ibis Low-Fi.
BikeYoke Revive Dropper Post
This German engineered dropper wasn’t necessarily new in 2018, but it continued to be one of our favorites for performance and reliability. Indeed, the aptly named Revive is an infinite travel mechanically actuated dropper post that directly addresses the issue of air leakage (and the ensuing mushy performance that plagues so many of its competitors). This is achieved by equipping the post with a valve that when activated resets the hydraulic circuit, meaning no more mush. More importantly, this revival is achieved via a quick turn of 4mm Allen key inserted into an externally located reset valve, thus you don’t have to remove your post (or send it back to the manufacturer) to get it working properly again. Available travel lengths are 125mm, 160mm (tested by Mtbr here), and 185mm for 30.9 and 31.6 seatposts. And there are two remote trigger options, paddle or radial style lever. It also plays nice on your handlebars with the likes of Formula, Hope, Magura, Shimano, and SRAM.
A host of great new mountain bikes launched in 2018, including the Yeti SB130 (reviewed by Mtbr here) that received a 5-out-of-5 rating. And while we only gave the Yeti SB150 a 4.5 out of 5, it earns placement on this list because it truly defies traditional norms. While it’s not a huge surprise that a bike such as the SB130 (with 130mm of rear travel) goes up and down really well, you’d expect a beast like the SB150 (with 150mm rear travel and a whopping 170mm up front) to have its limitations when ascending. Instead, as long as you can keep the power churning, it just keeps rolling — up and over, up and over, up and over. And there’s no hunting and pecking required to keep the front wheel aimed in the right direction, a tribute to the steep 77-degree seat tube angle and shorter 44mm fork offset, which brings the front wheel rearward helping enhance traction as well.
And of course the SB150 is a true trail smasher when headed downhill, as long as its pilot is willing to push it hard. Hang out in the rear, and this bike can get away from you like a wild horse recognizing a timid rider at its reigns. But get into that proper forward-leaning attack position and there’s not much this bike can’t handle. As my comfort level grew during testing, I found myself intentionally taking “bad” lines just to see if I could make the Yeti SB150 flinch. It didn’t, instead simply picking up speed while maintaining composure and stability. Indeed, the best line on this bike will invariably be the one that’s straight from A-to-B. No need to bob or weave. Just go straight through whatever stands in your way.
ENVE M Series Wheels
Just as the dropper post did a few years back, the recent advent of wider rims and tires has made mountain biking significantly more fun. We’re huge fans of rims in the 30-35mm width neighborhood mated to 2.4-2.6 tires. My personal preference is the revered Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II combo, with a 2.4 in the rear and 2.5 or 2.6 up front. You can confidently run air pressures in the low 20s, which delivers the kind of traction heretofore reserved for tank drivers. And while admittedly on the very expensive side, ENVE’s carbon M Series wheels are truly best in class.
The revamped composite wheel line-up consists of seven models, each designed for a specific rider profile based on terrain, bike type, tire size, and riding style. Features include a wide hookless bead design. By increasing the width and shaping the contours of the rim’s leading edges, M525 (XC) and M6 Series (trail) wheels all but eliminate pinch flatting while delivering enhanced impact durability. (We’ve had exactly zero flats during extensive testing of the M630s). If you step up to either the ENVE M7 Series (enduro/all-mountain) and M9 Series (DH) wheels, you also get a protective rim strip that aims to provide even more pinch flat protection, while protecting the carbon rim from impacts and eliminating the need for tubeless tape. The protective rim strip even provides an independent tubeless seal that retains air pressure in the tire even if the carbon is cracked or damaged.
More info: www.enve.com
Feedback Sports Range Torque Ratchet Combo
With all the carbon bits on bikes these days you really must have some kind of torque wrench in your tool arsenal. One of our favorites to debut in 2018 is the Feedback Sports Range Torque Ratchet Combo. As the name implies, this nifty little problem solver combines a flex-bar torque wrench and 2-way ratchet in a single tool. But what’s really cool is that the innovative and compact bar style torque ratchet allows you to easily and precisely install, adjust or remove components. When you need a specific torque setting, apply pressure to the knob at the end of the wrench. That activates the Nm dial until you reach the desired setting, which ranges from 2Nm-10Nm. The tool includes 14 of the most commonly needed hex, Torx and Phillips bits, plus there are two extended bits for even more functional variability.
Rotor R-Hawk Crankset
Targeted at the all-mountain category, these burly-looking cranks are built from hollowed 7055 aluminum that’s bored-out and machined at Rotor’s Spanish headquarters in Madrid. Arguably their most notable feature (aside from looking pretty damn cool) is their modularity. The crank arms are separate from the axle and chainring (an oval model from Rotor in this case). That means the whole crankset can easily be updated piece-by-piece to fit your spacing of preference, be it boost, super boost, or whatever the bike industry thrusts on us next. Price is also impressive, with about $350 securing the entire set-up (chainring, cranks, axle, BB, and color matched protective boots – seven color options in all). Total weight was around 600 grams all in, so weight weenies should look elsewhere. But if you’re after a bombproof set-up for your trail or enduro bike, Rotor’s R-Hawk Crankset is a serious contender. And for the record, while imperceptible when pedaling, I’m a firm believer that oval chainrings make life easier on aging knees, especially if you frequent steep terrain (such as what I ride most in Crested Butte, Colorado, where you have no choice but to grind at a low cadence).
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD Shoes
There is nothing amazing about these shoes. They just do their intended job well — and don’t fall apart while doing it. And that’s basically all you can ask for from a good pair of MTB kicks. Weight is a reasonable 425 grams (size 44/US10), sole stiffness is appropriately placed where you need it, yet they’re comfortable and tacky off the bike, which is highly beneficial when enduring a long hike-a-bike — or just kicking around in the parking lot post-ride. And while some will argue that the lace-up style is a nod to fashion over function, I really like the ability to fine tune fit. The only gripe that they definitely take a little longer to get on and off. But hey, fashion does have its price.
PUSH Complete Lower Leg Service Kit
If you’re not the work-on-your-own-bike type, this product may not appeal. But for the more mechanically inclined PUSH’s Complete Lower Leg Service Kit is a great way to freshen up your fork (we used in on the FOX 36 of an Ibis Mojo HD 4). The key here is you get everything you need in one kit and don’t have to hunt around. This kit includes the same parts, fluids, and tools that PUSH uses in-house when doing suspension servicing (which is a great option for those who’d rather have someone else do this job). The parts list includes fork seals, high absorbency foam rings, crush washers, fork seal install tool, assembly lube, lower leg fluid, and a helpful 60cc syringe. The only thing missing is a tool to remove your old seals, but a tire iron actually works just fine.
More info: www.pushindustries.com
What are your picks for gear of the year? Let us know in the comments section below.