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 that I think that the brand or the item in question 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 was the first guide in Whistler to adopt XTR Di2 and the first to adopt Eagle AXS for Whistler and multi-day back country guiding.

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.  I am more of a thinker than an engineer/ tinkerer so most ideas are given in feed back which hopefully help develop refinement and improvement in products.

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

After it was noticed that I was running Eagle AXS as a back country guide, and had been deliberately running the battery for as long as possible to see how long it would last (12 days of guiding for 5-6 hours per day is the answer), I was invited by SRAM (www.sram.com) to join their product development team as a rider that rides a lot of hard kilometres, serious vertical metres with a lot of load in challenging soil and weather conditions. In the Chilcotin the days are long and the lava ash is possibly the most oleo-scopic and abrasive substance one can dust over a mountain bike drive train. The trails in the Sea to Sky are well known for their ability to challenge the robustness and longevity of any mountain bike part. From September 2019 my drivetrain, suspension and brakes are SRAM/ Rockshox products.

Drivetrain: Since chatting to Jerome Clementz about the AXS drivetrain, during the 2018 Trans-Madeira, I have been watching for its release and tracking its development. I decided to try it for multi-day guiding despite the doubters telling me that the battery life would be an issue and calls of ‘what if you hit it on a rock?” Since being installed on 13 June 2019, the Eagle X01 AXS derailleur and shifter has been ridden for 1500 kilometres in 14 weeks. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot of kilometres if one is a roadie, or commutes to and from work, but that is 90% Chilcotin and Whistler single track and tech trail, including being loaded in and out of the Beaver (float plane), constantly having the wheels taken out of the frame and on and off vehicles. It has not missed a beat, the derailleur has obviously survived several rock hits and the battery has been consistent even when faced with freezing overnight temperatures. I installed the X01 Eagle crankset, paired to a GX X-Sync 2 6 mm offset 30T Direct mount chain ring (steel) on 27 September 2019 and it is running very smoothly. I miss having a power meter but I have a solution to that ‘problem’ in the pipeline.

Suspension: My front suspension is a 2020 Rockshox Lyrik Ultimate RC2, on both bikes (150 mm on the Sight and 170 mm on the Range), as I prefer to be able to adjust my own high speed compression. Both forks are 42 mm offset (shorter) versions which provide a slightly quicker steering feel on the trail and actually encourage the rider to angle the bike rather than steer the fork which has been an interesting effect to play with. They have the Charger 2.1 dampener, adjustable air spring volume and ramp up (using tokens), adjustable low speed rebound (14 clicks), low speed compression (20 clicks) and high speed compression (5 clicks). Essentially the forks are stiff, supple and provide great traction on the trail.

Dropper post: I installed the Reverb AXS dropper post on 17 September 2019, in time for my last period of guiding in the Chilcotin. It has been exceptional since fitted. It is faster than my previous post and the ease of use makes it more likely that I will blip it to get the perfect position. The return is quick without threatening one’s safety. The new seat post head is also easy to use and allows very accurate micro changed to saddle angle. The fact that rail clamps and angle adjustment are separated is excellent. Removing the hydraulic remote from the system, as well as making significant changes to the seals within the post, has markedly improved its robustness and ability to survive rough handling and cold temperatures.

Brakes: I also fitted Code RSC brakes with a 200 mm Centre line rotor on the front and a 180 mm Centre line rotor on the rear. It was not as seamless an install as I had hoped, finding that it is possible to install the brake olives backwards leading to leaking brakes and a full re-build and bleed in order to get them working properly. One immediate change I made, based on experience with a guest at Tyax Adventures, was to install a small strip of grip tape in the curves of the lever blades to provide better finger grip. I have found them to be powerful, well modulated, consistent and predictable.

Wheel sets: www.weareonecomposites.com. I have two wheels sets made by this small Kamloops based company. My first set are Agent 29″ rims which have a 30 mm inner width, built with Sapim CX-Ray spokes on Project 321 32H ISO 6 Boost Hubs. I have run these since May 2018 and they have been ridden (hard) for 1393 kilometres, mainly on a 2018 Norco Range, including being my wheels for the 2018 Trans-Madeira Enduro Stage Race. Other than a small issue with the magnets detaching from the pawls on the rear hub, which was quickly resolved by We Are One sending me new parts, these wheels have been fantastic. Stiff, burly, seemingly impervious to trail chunder and as true as the day they arrived. My second set of wheels are Insider 29″ rims, which have a 27 mm inner width, built with Sapim CX-Ray spokes on DT Swiss 240S 32H ISO 6 Boost Hubs. I have ridden these since mid July 2018, buying them as a lighter wheel set for my Chilcotin/ trail bike. They have travelled 3228 kilometres and other than a broken spoke from having a guest crash into me (it was better than the option of running into an ATV coming up the trail!) and resulting replacement and truing session, they have been reliable and true since the day they were installed. Sure both sets of rims are looking a little more beaten than the “polished, work of art” state that they held when they arrived. They are incredibly well made rims with an excellent wheel build backed by outstanding customer service. And they are hand made in Canada.

Saddles & handle bars: www.sqlabusa.com. Contact points are one of the most important aspects of the mountain bike and I reached out to SQ-Lab during the spring to see if they were interested in helping me establish a bike fitting service in Whistler. Their products are all about getting the rider to be more comfortable and more capable of performing on a bicycle. I am running the SQ-Lab 612 Ergowave Active S-tube 13 cm saddle. This has the elastomer which helps the saddle follow the bio-mechanical action of the pelvis when pedalling. It is, without a doubt, the most comfortable saddle I have ever ridden on in 26 years of mountain biking. My handle bar is the 30X 12º Carbon MTB handlebar with 30 mm rise and trimmed to 770 mm width. One immediately feels the difference in wrist angle at the radial joint and on the ulnar pad of the hand.

Stems: www.9point8.ca. These are a critical aspect of proper bike fit and I was interested to see the detail that 9point8 applied to creating their Stout stems. They have improved every aspect of the stem such as bar wrap, steerer pre-load and steerer clamping. All in a light weight (40 mm stem weighs just 112 grams), attractive and synergistic package. They are one of the few companies offering a 30 mm reach (32 mm reach in 35 mm clamp versions).

Sunglasses: www.ryderseyewear.com. I have been lucky enough to be supported by Ryders Eyewear. This summer I wore, almost everyday, a pair of Roam Fyre glasses with a yellow-brown lens. They live up to their claims of being anti-fog as I don’t think I have ever had a set of glasses that I can put on the morning and wear all day whether climbing, hike-a-biking or descending. Even in high relative humidity, rain and snow they stay remarkably clear all day. The yellow-brown provides great clarity on the trail and in the woods and the photo-chromatic is so fast to adjust as to almost be unnoticeable. They are a little worn after a long hard, dusty spring and summer but they are faring well considering the amount of wear that they have had.

I was also given a set of Roam Fyre with a light grey – grey lens and whilst I don’t naturally reach for these glasses for most trail rides they were certainly very good the brighter days. To cover every type of light condition I was also given a set of Seventh glasses with a photochromic anti-fog Rose-Copper NXT lens, this is a very interesting lens, not quite a contrast boosting as the yellow-brown but excellent for brighter days and stark contrasts in light.

Protection, gloves, and shorts: www.pocsports.com. POC make fantastic riding gear, there is no question about that. Their Joint VPD System knee and elbow pads are much admired for their protection and comfort. The Joint VPD System knee is my go-to choice for trail riding as they are light (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. POC’s helmets are their core product, combining great design and technology to increase the chances of surviving a crash with less head damage. I use the Tectal Race SPIN for all round riding and the Coron when a full face helmet is required. The Resistance Enduro gloves meet my requirements of being “almost not there”. They have a thin seamless palm and conform to the hand and handle bar with no bunching, another important consideration for long riding days.  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 Resistance Pro Enduro 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, the zip up pocket increases one’s chances of still having the phone at the end of the ride. Due to a desire to wear merino fabric where I can I do not wear POC jerseys but would if they made a merino short sleeved shirt.

Bash guides & EDC system: https://can.oneupcomponents.com.  The bash guides are light, robust, easily installed and easy to use during maintenance. With the improvement to the top chain guide it is possible to open and close it without tools. The EDC pump and tool system is excellent. It is possibly the best mini-pump I have ever used and it contains an emergency multi-tool and a quick plug tool. Like all good products, once fitted, one can almost forget that they are there.

Brake adapters and derailleur hangers: www.northshorebillet.com. Another local company, the machinists behind a lot of the better known brand Chromag’s stems, pedals and chainrings. A little of bling to compliment the bike’s colour and make your bike stand out from the crowd. It is your bike after all.

T-shirts and Socks:  https://ca.icebreaker.com/en/home. 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. As a bonus Icebreaker socks come with a lifetime guarantee. I have been wearing Icebreaker t-shirts in one form or another since 1995. The merino wool allows moisture to wick away from the body, the remain stink free over multiple days, have the ability to feel cool when it is warm and warm when it is cool. It is truly an incredible product that is easy to speak highly of.

Grips & flat pedals: www.chromagbikes.com. What I like about this Canadian company is that they are local, their products are very well made and offered for an excellent price. Their recently introduced Format single lock ring grip is almost perfect. It is super tacky, providing excellent grip even when wet or covered in ice and snow. I have been running these gloveless since June and I am now installing them on all my bikes as my Ergon GE1 grips wear out. Chromag also make the excellent Contact 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.  Even though I ride clips most of the time it is good to have a ride on flat pedals every now and then to keep the skills polished. They are also pretty much mandatory on my fat bike in winter. As a bonus they look great too.

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.