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 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 a cross country racer for three 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 or that last 5% of performance and reliability, and I always find myself back on XTR.  Saint, built for downhilling, takes care of the brake caliber duties on my trail bikes which run XTR (and now XTR Di2) everywhere else. Who knew that XTR could get even smoother and more precise?!? The design synergy of the ME7 or 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 10 year hiatus of only riding flat pedals.

Protection, gloves, glasses and clothing: 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. Their 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 glasses, in particular the Crave, 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 Resistance Pro Enduro and 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, 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.

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, it has one of the smoothest remotes in the business, 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. A recent home workshop re-build, after 18 months of hard use, was simple to execute without requiring expensive additional tools or a mechanical engineering degree.

Oval chain rings and bash guides: 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. I am running a 30T Oval XTR M9000 series chain ring for all my riding. The bash guides are light, robust, easily installed and easy to use during maintenance. Like all good products, once fitted, one can almost forget that they are there.

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

T-shirts and 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. As a bonus Icebreaker socks come with a lifetime guarrantee. 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.

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.

Cassette: This is a key part of one’s drivetrain and as such should be worthy of significant consideration. I was searching for a reasonably light, robust, smooth shifting 11 speed cassette that did not have a huge space between the bottom (easiest) three gears. The e*thirteen TRS+ 9-46T cassette meets that requirement It has a range of 9-10-12-14-17-20-24-28-33-39-46. I do not need the 9T cog, if I am going that fast on a trail I am certainly not pedalling. In a perfect world e*thirteen would make a consumer 11 speed cassette that had a smooth 11% shift increment from 47T (the largest cog size that can be smoothly shifted onto by the standard Shimano GS cage) through to 13T. The cassette is well made, respectably light and, importantly, the three easiest gears, which tend to wear faster than the rest of the cassette, can be replaced as a separate part.

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. Chromag 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.