The 2013 model year is quickly winding down, and all the companies at Interbike 2013 were displaying the latest and greatest products about to hit showroom floors for 2014. A couple of weeks ago we announced the Top MTB Gear of 2013, as rated by you, our members, in the mountain bike gear database.
Now it’s our turn: we’ve called on our blog team members to choose the best mountain bike gear of the year. Read on for all of our editors’ choices:
Best Hardtail: Salsa Beargrease
This was a hard choice. Ultimately, I didn’t pick the bike I wanted most. Instead, I chose a bike that represents an evolution in a niche: the Salsa Beargrease. The Beargrease may not be the first carbon fatbike, but it is the first widely-available carbon fatbike thanks to QBP’s distribution system. It, and others like it, are a new direction for fatbikes–not just fat anymore, but now fat and fast at the same time. Living in Georgia, I don’t think I want or need a fatbike, regardless of material, but this is certainly one bike I’d love to throw a leg over! -dgaddis
Best All Mountain Bike: Yeti SB-66c
26in wheels may be on the way out for cross-country applications, yet many people still appreciate their maneuverability and quickness on technical trails. Although not new this year, the Yeti SB-66c remains my favorite trail/all mountain platform. It’s quick, efficient, and capable of taking hit after hit without losing traction. It’s not the plushest six-incher out there, but you can’t beat it on a climb or for holding a line on the descent. -skibum
Best 29er: Ibis Ripley
Just the thought of a 29er version of the Ibis Mojo is making me salivate. Six years in the making, this 120mm full-suspension carbon wonder bike combines sexy lines and incredible performance into one of the best-looking and best-riding bikes you might ever see. -mtbgreg1
Best Downhill Bike: Norco Aurum
Despite my beloved Santa Cruz V10C, I have to say that at nearly half the cost, the Norco Aurum is a rock-solid DH bike. It was hands-down my favorite bike to ride this year: a great looking bike, from both an engineering and an aesthetic aspect, and chock-full of go-fast goodies. Add in the fact the Dorado and Cane Creek DB, my favorite suspension products, come stock on this bike, and it’s a true winner. -syd
Best Brakes: Shimano XT
Shimano’s XT brakes offer powerful stopping performance, top-notch modulation, superb adjustment, and best of all: they’re quiet. They’ll perform for hundreds (if not thousands) of miles without complaining, but when it does come time to replace the pads, maintenance is problem-free and often doesn’t even require a bleed. Plus, they just look dang sexy in silver. -mtbgreg1
Best Drivetrain: SRAM XX1
I admit it, I have drivetrain jealousy issues. Ever since I test rode the XX1 drivetrain at Interbike last year, I’ve been lusting after one of these 11-speed drivetrains. Of course it’s just not about the gears, it’s also the other things this magic drivetrain can do: no more chain drops or chain slap, plus a clutch-style derailleur to make rear tire changes easier. And before you chuckle, this truly is a magic drivetrain, because it’s perfect for both XC and gravity riders alike. Wow.
Everything about the XX1 is new-and-improved, which is also kind of a problem. It’s impossible to upgrade without swapping your entire drivetrain out (including the rear hub and chain!). -jeff
Best Fork: RockShox PIKE
Seeing that the new PIKE fork from RockShox keeps the same name as the classic fork offering, the all-new PIKE is a game changer as far as what we can expect a trail fork to be. I can’t deny the fact that the PIKE works as well as all the marketing materials claim… this time, they’re not stretching it. The PIKE has a stiff chassis, great bump compliance, and tracks the ground as a good fork should. The best part: it can be found for under $1000 (MSRP). -syd
Best Shock: Cane Creek DBAir
The CaneCreek DBAir is still hands-down my favorite rear shock, and it’s now available with choice of extra volume can, updated tool-free controls, and a climb switch! A super-low weight and superior wheel control set this shock apart. The only down side is that some people may need a Vehicle Dynamicist to set it up. -syd
Best Saddle: Selle Italia SLR XC Flow
You’ve probably heard it a million times–choosing the right mountain bike saddle is all about personal comfort–and that’s true. Selle Italia claims the SLR is the “#1 saddle of pro racing cyclists” and “the most demanded by professional cyclists,” so if you want to be pro, the SLR XC Flow is a pretty safe choice.
I’ve been running this saddle for almost four years now, and it’s held up remarkably well despite its feather weight (the latest model is just 175g and features titanium rails). I love it as a cross country saddle, and Selle Italia even recommends it for freeriding, too. The reinforced edges haven’t torn or frayed in the slightest, and the white finish has only slightly faded to resemble a light coffee drinker’s teeth. Grab another espresso and ride with the SLR XC Flow saddle! -jeff
Best Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth
The RockShox Reverb Stealth was such a revolutionary product that most of the time a dropper post line is routed inside of a frame, it is now referred to as “stealth” routing. This revolutionary product doesn’t show any signs of being knocked off of the dropper post podium anytime soon, either, with refinements every year and a variety of different sizes and drop amounts available. -mtbgreg1
Best Handlebars/Stem: Easton Havoc 35 carbon bar and direct-mount Stem
Once you get your hands on this bar, you can’t imagine going back to anything else. Let’s face it: with laser-control, a bar that takes the sting out of any hit, and a bar/stem combination that weighs less than other bars by themselves, Easton has a true winner. -syd
Best Tire: Surly Knard 29×3
If a 29er tire and a fatbike tire had a few too many post ride beers, and one thing led to another…. the Knard 29×3 would be the result. Not a new tire size, Surly dubbed it “29+”. It fits on standard 700c/29er rim diameters, but at 3″ wide it’s much larger than anything before it. Surly isn’t the only company making bikes around it, either: many custom builders, including Engin, have embraced this new tire as well. I’d like to try one on the front of my rigid singlespeed. -dgaddis
Best Wheelset: Specialized Roval Control 29 Carbon
Specialized’s Roval wheel brand has done good things for MTB wheels. Many of the newer generation of affordable carbon rims can thank the big red S for all the R&D they’ve put into wheels the last several years–it’s helped advance the technology and lower the costs for everyone. The Control 29 Carbon wheels are significant because they don’t have a bead hook. The hook is the hardest part of the rim to mold, so by removing it you save weight and manufacturing cost. The tight fit between the bead shelf and tires, along with the stronger tubeless-ready beads in most modern MTB tires keep the tires on the rim. Thanks to the lower manufacturing cost, these wheels retail for only $1,200. Will we see hooks disappear on more rims in the future? It’ll be interesting to find out. -dgaddis
Best Pedals: Crank Brothers Eggbeaters
I’m just going to say it: Crank Brothers Eggbeaters are the best pedals ever, not just for 2013. SPD fans are going to hate, and all three Time ATAC users are silently raging, but be that as it may, you just can’t beat the simplicity, light weight, mud shedding, and serviceability of a good pair of Eggbeaters.
Best Shoes: Mavic Scree
The Scree shoes from Mavic are listed as an “All Mountain” shoe. They aren’t light, but they are incredibly comfortable and durable, and they provide excellent support for all-day epic rides. Their hiking boot-shape and generously-lugged sole are perfect for hike-a-bike or mid-ride sightseeing on foot. Watch for a full review, coming soon. -maddslacker
Best Full Face Helmet: Bell Full 9
With a great fit and light weight, I have to say this helmet rocks. I truly love the added safety you get with the Eject system (that for some reason, other people forget to talk about). The added Eject (sold separately) just adds to the list of items I need to see in future designs from other people. -syd
Best Cross Country Helmet: Giro Xara
Through hail storms, dusty summer rides, and more, this helmet has protected my head from everything except the sun. The ventilation is great for summer riding and the micro-adjustable fit of the Roc Loc 5 system will be perfect this winter when I need to add a skull cap for some extra warmth. For a similar men’s helmet, check out the Giro Xar. -mtbikerchick
Best Hydration Pack: Dakine AMP
The Dakine AMP 12L is the best organized, most comfortable, and most secure pack I’ve ever encountered. You truly forget it’s on your back, no matter how gnarly the terrain. It’s big enough for anything short of an all-day epic, yet light enough for those quick sprints, and the design keeps the main compartment completely clear of your back for maximum ventilation. -skibum
Best Women’s Gear: Osprey Verve Hydration Pack
In one week in Park City we took on two different rides of 4+ hours, and having a pack that would hold 3 liters of water, several snacks, a rain jacket, and more, was crucial. The Osprey Verve was up to the task. The padded mesh shoulder straps kept the pack comfortable during even the longest ride, and being able to adjust those straps meant that during rocky downhills the pack stayed firmly in place.
Your Turn: Which products were your favorites in 2013? (And if you haven’t reviewed them yet, be sure to do it before the year is over!)
As a Crankbrothers lover, I can say that I was surprised to see the eggbeaters as the “best pedal.” They are a great pedal, however there are so many people that despise them.
I have Mallets, but love the eggbeater clip mechanism!
I have to disagree on the pedals. Yes they’re light and don’t clog with mud, but the durability sucks compared to others like the Shimano XT’s and TIMEs. I have to rebuild mine once a year to keep the bearings for seizing (which results in the pedal body coming off the spindle!!).
All three of my bikes have Crank Brothers pedals BTW. I want to switch to Shimano….but that would mean buying 3 sets of pedals, and my money tree hasn’t bloomed just yet.
I always thought egg beaters were the best pedal . . . for that very brief period between when you get a new set of cleats broke in and when those soft brass cleats become so rounded with wear that they no longer provide adequate retention. I switched back to shimanos (one bike at a time since I had two pairs of shoes) and have never had to replace cleats since.
On a related note, I recently went back to flats on one bike. I spent a lot of time shopping shoes for riding flat and have been thoroughly pleased with my Five Ten Impacts.
Yep, that too. I have two pairs of shoes, one of which is an insulated winter shoe, but I still only get one ‘season’ on a pair of cleats.
I agree that the cleats are soft, but I’ve got over a thousand miles on a 10 year old set of Egg Beaters and the bearings are still spinning.
That’s the thing with Crank Brothers, some folks have them with no issues ever, other people break the wings with pedal strikes or have the pedal come off and get stabbed in the calf by the spindle.
I’ve had mine for years with no issues either. Makes me wonder about their quality control if some are great and others have the Problems similar to dgaddis.
I’ve had zero problems with my Eggbeaters, despite a certain laissez affaire attitude to maintenance. I guess I’m not strong enough to pull out of them despite my rounded cleats, either 🙂 Just one of those great products that haven’t changed because they haven’t had to.
Gotta back up the choice of the XTs as best disc brakes. I have had three pairs of discs (including Hayes El Camino and Avid Juicy 7) and the XTs are the ones on my bike that gets the most brake abuse and are the only on of the three that have provided long-term, consistent, trouble free performance. They are rock solid every time I point my rig downhill.
1. The Beargrease is a great choice, and I have to say I not only enjoy it more than my 20lb Niner Air 9 carbon XX1 on most trails, I prefer it more than my Rip9RDO on a lot of local trails too because of the traction, ability to roll over things I normally pick through on other bikes, the sound the tires make, and the fact that very fit women trail runners usually stop to compliment on it…haha. I always want to reciprocate with ‘nice six pack’ but refrain. 🙂 Seriously, fatbikes in general reinvent the way you ride, and make you feel like a kid again…taking a lot of pressure off of ‘Strava-ing’ every climb and descent, and just have fun tooling around on trails and finding ways to ride lines on your favorite trails. Then the snow comes, and there is nothing better than snowboarding in the morning, then hopping on a Beargrease and exploring your favorite white-covered singletrack…all alone…just you and the deer.
2. The XT brake IS the best brake for the price. No one with half a brain can disagree.
3. The Yeti SB66…I personally think is the best 26er out there…but I have to say, in partial disagreement with the best mountain bike and best 29er categories, that my Niner Rip9RDO has given me super powers and helped me ride faster than ever before. I rode at Moab with friends recently and was hundreds of yards ahead of friends on the Porcupine Rim decent, one of whom rides an SB66c and most of whom are WAY better riders than me. I was stunned. The last time I rode porcupine I did it on a Trek Remedy 26er, and I felt like I was moving like a technical snail over those same rocks, but with the RIP 9 RDO, I just leaned back and felt like I was on a rocky DH race course, listening to my Fox34 140mm fork cycle faster than I could keep up with…with total confidence. That bike is amazing, as I am sure the Ripley is, though I have never ridden it. The SB95 is crap, btw…just got to say that, despite last year’s accolades, and can’t hold a candle to the benchmark SB66c. Is the Niner Rip9RDO the best 29er? Probably not…there are lot of good bikes from Pivot, Specialized, etc.. that are awesome too…but me likes it.
4. Got to throw my hat in the ring for the Scwalble Hans Dampf as the best front tire…light, solid, and it lasts…unlike other Scwalbe counterparts. But the Knard is a game-changer for sure, just as the Dillinger, Husker Du, and Escalator have been for fat bikes.
5. Eggbeaters as the best pedal? Please. Adam broke one on our Golden Gate ride, Corey, doing an easy rocky decent…and my 15 year old SPDs have never failed me. Ever. And I have tried to kill them, believe me. 🙂 Ok, knock on wood. Just kidding around…I like my Spike Spanks too…but they hurt a little more when they hit my shins. Ouch.
I’ve decided I’m anti-anything Schwalbe after tearing three Schwalbe sidewalls in three weeks time on three different bikes in three different cities… and one of those was a Hans Dampf. I’m sure they work fine for some people, but after those back-to-back-to-back episodes, don’t think you’ll ever find me dropping my hard-earned pocket change on a Schwalbe.
In response to the SB95… that’s tied with the Ripley for funnest bike I’ve ever ridden. Admittedly, I haven’t gotten on the RIP9 yet, so I’ve gotta give that one a whirl.
I’ve also bailed on Schwalbes. I’ve never actually torn a sidewall, but the sidewalls do seem very soft as they give whenever I lean into hard cornering. Way to flexy for my comfort. I guess that light weight has to come from somewhere. They might do well for a much lighter rider.
Yeah, to be clear…I have never torn a sidewall but I have worn out Nobby Nics after only a few rides (10-12). They are good tires until they are not, and then they are garbage, so I too will NOT be putting one of those on the rear. But, so far, the Hans Dampf on the front has been the best tire I’ve ever run. I usually catch them 1/2 off, so they haven’t been that bad, but they are very, very pricey. I recently started using Conti Mountain King, black chili, 2.4s on the rear and so far I’ve been pleased. Heavier, but they seem grippier and most of my friends that run them like them…despite the fact that about 15-20% of them out there are being warrantied because of a ‘wobble’. Maxxis Ardents are great too I hear.
It’s funny about the SB95. I rented one for 3 days in ABQ and couldn’t wait to get my hands on one after all of the positive reviews and ‘Bike of the Year award’ by one prominent magazine. It was a new bike, never ridden…and it just had problems. Spec’ing that bike with a 680mm bar and 100-110mm stem is crazytalk, but Yeti did. So, okay, anyone can change that. But they also set it up to run LESS travel than the fork was build for..more crazytalk, but also can be changed. I had problem after problem with the spec’d 3×10 drivetrain, and I stopped counting the dropped chains and major misshifts in the 20s. But overall, the bike just felt clunky. On downhills, I could see what people were talking about with the Switch suspension…no doubt…but it was not the agile climber some had raved about and I was really disappointed. It was a 31lb bike, and felt heavier, contrary to what MTBaction wrote…to me. That being said, YETI builds fantastic bikes, and I am sure the carbon version with a custom kit is a hoot.
I’ve talked to guys at a number of Yeti dealers who all ride what they sell and, to a man, they all say their sticking with the SB-66 even though the SB-95 is becoming the big seller and the poster child for Yeti. These are guys who ride hard all the time on challenging terrain.
Having said that, though, I did give the 95 a spin and found it much to my liking and it was indeed an agile climber and I nailed tight uphill switchbacks with no more difficulty than on my 26, which was a big surprise to me. My rig came with very wide bars and a short stem which fit me and my riding style perfectly. It also had a 2x drivetrain which performed flawlessly. As for being a 31lb bike, any long-travel 29er will be that heavy on an entry level setup. More expensive setups come down to the 28lb range and if you really want to go light, bet the carbon frame. But, just like all bike lines, losing weight means losing a lot more $$ in the process.
6. Greg, the XX1 is awesome. I run it on my Rip9 and Air 9 and it is smooth as butter….although I had quite a bit of problems in the beginning until I discovered I had an incorrectly machined chainring. But SRAM was awesome and warrantied the entire drivetrain. Now it is clutch. I really want to put it on the Beargrease, but I have to get a third job or go work for SRAM.
7. After riding several dropper posts this year, I have to say the KS LEV is the best, and I bought one after the MTBaction test review and could not be happier. I have friends with both, but only my friends with the RockShox droppers have had problems. Low number of test subjects…but still.
Thanks for the reviews this year guys. You all do a GREAT job and we enjoy reading your articles and I personally take into account your opinions and write ups before I shop for products. I am sure I speak for many that I am jealous you get to ‘test’ so many products…as I have to go out and buy all this stuff and figure out what works, and what doesn’t. Thankfully God has given me a great job and understanding wife that allows me to indulge my hobbies. So thanks for the insight…you do a great job!!
In response to the Lev, I got on one of those recently and it was awesome… but didn’t have stealth routing. Stealth routing is pretty awesome. It is good to see that there are so many good dropper options on the market now, when a few years ago the pickings were pretty slim.
And thanks man, glad to hear that you’ve been enjoying all the reviews!! It’s always nice to get some positive feedback 🙂
I agree stealth routing is awesome…I guess I don’t think about it much because I have cables routed behind the seatpost and through the grommet for my front der since I no longer need it with the XX1.
Great round up of MTB Gear for 2013.. I needed assistance staying awake at work and checking out some gear helped get my juices flowing again, hopefully enough for the next 2 hours before I hit the parking lot.. Since everyone’s chiming in (because what we individually use is the best for us whether due to cost or familiarization).. I agree XT components rock like no other, prefer SPDs, KS LEV dropper is so Money!, and I couldnt see any bike ever feeling as incredible as my 1 yr old SC Tallboy LT.
I agree the SC Tallboy LT is one of THE best 29ers I’ve ever ridden. I rented one for a week in Grand Junction, Fruita, and some CO front range trails and it was a BLAST to ride. It’s tied with my RIP 9…I just liked the way the Niner looked more 🙂 The Bronson C is nice too, but I think I prefer the Tallboy LT. Enjoy!
Rode the Bronson C at Outerbike, and it was a great rig! Wanted to get on a Tallboy LT, but they didn’t have my size at the moment.
The long and short of it is, there are SO MANY great MTBs out there, which leads to other reasons I chose the Ripley for 2013:
1. Just released this year (unlike the others we’ve been discussing.)
2. Been in production for 6 years (massive anticipation)
3. Fantastic ride quality to follow up on that hype.
Now maybe we need to put together a medium-long-travel 29er FS roundup… 🙂
I rode a Specialized Epic S-Works for the past 3 days at the CAMBA trails and it was pretty amazing, even compared to my Tallboy. So many great choices!
I’m going to disagree with you on the dropper seat post Greg. I was able to demo a Trek that was equipped with the Reverb for a couple of hours last summer . I will say it performed perfectly except for one annoying design flaw (at least in my opinion). That was the actuator. I found that when bouncing around the trails I had a hard time finding the relatively small button on the tube and that my thumb would actually bounce off or not find it at all. It also put my hand/thumb at an awkward position although that may have been the way the bike shop set it up. Maybe not a biggie especially once you get used to it but because of that I went with the HS LEV. The LEV actuator is actually designed more like a Shifter and far easier to use.
Both units are smooth as silk and beautifully engineered but for my money the LEV was far more ergonomic… my thumb seems to intuitively find it no matter how rough the terrain. The Reverb was about 50 dollars less than the LEV so that may be a consideration for someone looking to make the leap.