Brands I like (and why)

A common question I hear asked of me as a guide and instructor is “why did you chose “that brand or item” for your bike or to ride with?

The simple answer is normally that I think that the brand or the item in questions is representative of the best design, quality, reliablity and (normally) light weight that is currently available in mountain biking.

I am happy, in many cases, to be an early adopter; for example I am the first person, that I know of in my circle of riding friends and associates, to adopt UST tubeless for trail riding and then the first guide to adopt it for teaching and riding downhill in the bike park.

I have a strong enough sense of product technical development to see past the marketing hype that comes from some of the bigger brands and I always ask if something could be designed better to do the job it is expected to do or re-designed to a better job than it is expected to do. Unfortunately I am more of a thinker than a tinkerer so quite a few ideas are unable to be excecuted.

So here are the brands and products that I use and a little blurb about the “why?”:

Drivetrain: I was lucky enough in the ’90s to be sponsored as an cross country racer for a couple of years and was introduced to Shimano during this time. I fell in love with the silky smooth reliability of XTR and have never lost that love. There is the saying in the laptop world “go Mac never go back” and I feel this somewhat applies to my relationship with Shimano and XTR. I have tried other drive trains, both in brand and level of specification but at the end of the day there is always something missing, some intangible essence, and I always find myself back on XTR.  Saint, built for downhilling, takes care of the gear duties on my V-10 and Jackal but my trail bikes have XTR (and now XTR Di2), who knew that XTR could get even smoother and more precise?!? The design synergy of the M200 shoe and the XT M8020 or XTR M9020 pedal is so good that I moved back to riding SPD pedals more often than not after a 15 year hiatus of only flat pedals.

Wheels: I have followed the progress of the spragg hub, with interest, for the last ten years, so I was excited to see that a ‘local’ Canadian company had advanced the technology and developed their own hub set to compliment their incredible carbon rims. For a balance of wide rim, traction and reliability I asked for the TR38 rim built with DT Aerolite spokes on NOBL hubs. They are an amazing wheel set. With the just the right amount of vertical and lateral compliance built in to an amazing level of precision. I don’t think I am ever going to get tired of the silent rolling, instant engagement rear hubs. The silky smoothness of the ceramic bearings is also a revelation and an addition to my bike that I will not be going back from.

Rear Suspension: The PUSH Elevensix rear shock is a game changer. I would not be so bold to state that I am a good enough rider to find the performance limits of the Nomad but I am a strong enough, large rider to find the limitations of the VPP suspension path when paired with a limited air shock. In search of a rear shock that could let me get the best out of my bike, and ride as close to my limit as possible, I tried two other air shocks, with varying levels of performance (traction) improvement. At the end of the day I had to accept that the anecdotal evidence of many other Nomad riders was correct and the Nomad just works better with a coil shock. PUSH designed the Elevensix so that one can have two completely separate bespoke compression circuits (you can read the tech details on their website rather than me repeat it here) and it just works. The performance increase (for me) is the difference between night and day. The rear of the bike tracks accurately and precisely over everything.

Information: (Power meter). Due to my foray into competitive cycling, as a much younger me, I learned the benefits of monitoring training and performance and I have never lost that love of this kind of information. The XTR M9020 based power meter, paired to a Garmin Edge 520, allows me to add power and cadence to the other metrics it records such as, time, route, speed, distance, elevation and gradient. It is a diarist’s dream to have all this information to compare and contrast between training days and rides.

Protection, gloves, glasses and clothing: POC make fantastic riding gear, no question about that. Their VPD knee and elbow pads are much admired for their protection and comfort. The newer VPD Air range is my go-to choice for trail riding as they are a bit lighter (for either wearing all day or carrying on a trail pack for longer climbs), they fit well without constricting blood flow, are not too hot and do a sterling job of protecting pointy and soft bits in a crash. Their helmets are their core product, combining great design and technology to increase the chances of surviving a crash with less head damage. The gloves hit my requirements of being “almost not there”, thin and conform to the hand and handle bar with no bunching, another important consideration for long riding days. The glasses have a certain Scando chic and do a great job of keeping the sun, bugs and dust out of one’s eyes. The Contour bib shorts are quite frankly one of the most comfortable and quick drying bib shorts I have ever used. I would rank them above Assos in overall performance and comfort. The VPDS chamois in unique to POC and equates to more comfort with less bulk. The Trail Vent shorts do what they are supposed to do; stop mountain bikers looking like roadies and providing somewhere to put a hankie, some emergency funds and the ubiquitous cell phone, this zip up pocket increases one’s chances of still having the phone at the end of the ride. Due to a desire to advertise my own company I do not wear POC jerseys but would if I could get them printed like the Pros do.

Dropper post: Their Fall line dropper post is a game changer. I know that this is an expression that is used a lot in the mountain bike industry but the small team at 9point8, another Canadian company, rightly recognised that the dropper post could benefit from further development and hit a home run with their design. It is simple, they sell the tools so one can maintain and rebuild it at home, complimented by excellent set up and maintenance instruction manuals. It uses a cable rather than hydraulic fluid to actuate and a mechanical brake to hold the post so it actually gets better as it wears in. The seals are well made and it tolerates being used in cold temperatures, the seat clamp and angle adjust system is one of the best I have ever used, allowing air pressure and/ or saddle changes without losing the carefully set saddle angle. Changes in seat post air pressure make noticeable differences in return speed. 9point8 have taken an evolutionary product for trail riding and totally revolutionised it.

Oval chain rings: The oval chain rings are a thing of CNC beauty and they simply work. One can pedal a little more smoothly, with a little less effort and a little more traction with an oval chain ring compared to the same size round chain ring. The adjustment period of it feeling slightly odd lasts anything from 500 metres to 2-3 rides depending on how leg and pedal aware one is. But the benefits are certainly there. 32T Oval XTR M9000 series chain ring for most riding and a 20T Oval XTR M9000 chain ring for anywhere really steep and in order to have a lower ‘easy’ gear for the 2016 Trans-Provence.

Chain guides and flat pedals: What I like about this Canadian company is that they are local, their products are very well made and offered for an excellent price. More importantly, their chain guides really work so well. I had no idea that a chain guide was noisy until I switched from my other brand to the Blackspire DER. They are light, easy to install and reliable so much so that I have some type of chain guide on all my bikes. Despite being an ex-XC racer I moved away from SPD pedals and shoes when I tried racing Masters DH in the UK. With the introduction of Five Ten stealth rubber and the DMR V-10 there seemed no good reason to ever use SPD again. Blackspire make excellent flat pedals, they are robust, clear mud well, offer amazing or insane grip depending on the pins one installs and are easily serviced with an affordable re-build kit. As a bonus they look great too.

Brake adapters and derailleur hangers: Another local company, the machinists behind a lot of the better known brand Chromag’s stems, pedals and chainrings.

Shoes: This is the company that made riding flat pedals as awsome as riding clipless. I remember tracking down one of the (rumoured) fifty pairs of 5.10 “Intense” Impact shoes that were made in the first run. I have not used anything else since. The new Impacts are lighter and more water resistant than ever before and their Ascent approach shoe is a great everyday shoe that can still do its duties on a pedal for a lap of the pump track or to and from the shops. I don’t think I have worn anything else as much as my Ascents since I first bought them two years ago.

Socks: Socks I hear you ask, yes socks, these are an important aspect of all day comfort. One’s feet are working hard when mountain biking especially on mixed trails, i.e. the one’s where one ends up walking as well as riding. A good pair of socks can be the difference between a great day and a painful one. These one’s are mostly wool, made by Sockguy who have a great reputation of making comfortable, high performance socks that fit well, wear comfortably and last a long time. As a bonus the price is about 50% of a lot of the ‘name’ brands.

Note: I am not sponsored, I choose to use these companies’ products because I believe that they make quality bikes, parts and accessories and truly contribute the mountain bike community and experience world wide. I do receive some product support from some of these companies.