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. Here are five products that Jason Sumner fell in love with in 2019.
Jason Sumner’s 2019 Gear of the Year
I’m a creature of habit. Whether it’s meals, music, or mountain bike trails, if I find something I like I’ll go back to it over and over again. Sure I appreciate new and unique experiences, but I’m also a big fan of guaranteed good times. I apply that same philosophy to gear, especially the mountain bike variety. If a product works well and is reliable, I’ll use again and again. Because honestly, I don’t like to think about my equipment. I’d rather be lost in the moment, shredding sublime singletrack. And that’s where this list comes in. The five products below have delivered the coveted duality of performance and reliability, making them some of the best products I used in 2019.
Shimano XTR 12-Speed Drivetrain
While I’ll forever love and appreciate what SRAM did for modern mountain biking, ushering in the 1×12 drivetrain era and simultaneously killing off front derailleurs, when it comes to actual shifting, Shimano’s newest XTR offering simply works better than any of the Eagle options. It’s truly a pleasure to ride thanks to its smooth and precise shifting even under pedaling load. It also has logical gear steps, particularly at the extreme ends of the cassette. And the 510% gear range covers virtually all terrain scenarios. Throw in the multi-release function that allows you to drop two gears with a single push, and 2-way release so you can shift gears with a lever push or pull, and you have the best mountain bike drivetrain to date. Period.
More info: https://bike.shimano.com/
Yeti Enduro Bib Shorts
In my continuing quest to never again wear a hydration pack, the Yeti Enduro Bib became a staple of my mountain bike riding kit in 2019. Besides being comfortable and breathable in all the right places, these bib shorts, which are worn under your normal riding shorts, have ample storage. In back are three easily accessible jersey-style pockets (great for tools, a water bottle, and/or light rain jacket). There’s also a secure waterproof zip pocket (for your phone) and a pair of leg pockets (for snacks). Strap a spare tube to your downtube, and jam a second water bottle in your bottle cage (my bikes all have one), and you’re good to go for at least a couple hours — no back sweat-inducing hydration pack necessary.
More info: www.yeticycles.com
ENVE M735 Wheels with XTR Hubs
When ENVE launched its M7 series wheels, the Utah-based carbon specialists made the bold claim that they’d all but eliminated the possibility of pinch flats thanks to a flexible rim strip that sits between the rim bed and tire. Following a season’s worth of testing on a set of M735’s with an internal rim width of 35mm, I can’t argue with that claim. While shredding everything from smooth loam to desert chunk, I suffered zero flats, burps, or other unwanted losses of air. These wheels were also easy to set-up tubeless, several different test tires easily snapping into place with the help of a booster floor pump. As for ride quality, they are plenty stiff, but thanks to the trust in rim-tire seal you can run lower pressures, thus taking a little edge off and enhancing traction. System weight when built up on a set of 32-hole XTR hubs was a healthy 1,960 grams including valve stems, but the 4.5mm thick carbon layup has proven 100% bombproof despite all manner of bad line choices. And ENVE offers a host of decal color options so you can do that matchy-matchy thing.
More info: www.enve.com
Alpinestars Paragon Plus Knee Protectors
As this old body ages, it’s gotten to the point where I almost always ride wearing knee pads. And this year, the slip-on Alpinestars Paragon were the go to choice. They’re light, breathable, and comfortable enough that you can pedal in them, but also offer legitimate protection in the instance of a fall. And unlike many of the pads that come through the Mtbr test lab, these have not frayed or otherwise fallen apart after a few months of use.
More info: www.alpinestars.com
Schwalbe Magic Mary Tires
With a similar look and layout to the ever-popular Maxxis Minion DHF, the Schwalbe Magic Mary’s aggressive cornering knobs provided loads of traction and cornering confidence, especially on loose-over-hard terrain. It also cleared mud extremely well and has held up well to full season of rough trail riding. Yes, at 1124 grams for a 29×2.6 they’re a touch on the hefty side, but Schwalbe’s Addix Soft rubber compound with SnakeSkin protection has proven hassle-free. Tubeless set-up was easy and I suffered no flats during a season’s worth of testing.
More info: www.schwalbetires.com