Our little sports industry mostly doesn’t crank out model-year newness like the automotive and moto world, but we do see a stack of spankin’-new toys each season that can be distracting. As mountain bike editors, we could become lost in all of the fancy “innovations” that pass through the shop, glowing brightly like an overdecorated tree, but there are a handful of items that outshine that annual light pollution. We wanted to celebrate some of our favorite mountain bike gear here, with a nod to performance and durability for each piece.
Blackburn Switch Wrap Tool Kit
I first tested the Blackburn Switch Tool Wrap two-and-a-half years ago. Unfortunately, I lost it this past summer along with a fanny pack that I must have left on my bike rack as I drove away from the trailhead. I knew long before that the Switch Wrap was my favorite yet, so I quickly ordered a replacement.
The Switch Tool Wrap has just about everything you need in a trail multi-tool in a lightweight and ergonomic, easy-to-use package. There’s a T25 and T30 Torx bit, a chain breaker, and hex bits from 2.5mm to 8MM. The Big Switch Multi-tool morphs into a T and you can use bits to make an extension of the wrench for better leverage. At only $48, it’s a hard tool to beat.
Fox Speedframe Pro Helmet
Gerow first reviewed the Fox Speedframe Pro almost two years ago and found that “The Speedframe Pro is the first gravity oriented half shell I have tested in a while that immediately fit comfortably, with a well considered aesthetic. Loads of the helmets I have reviewed could eventually be adjusted to fit, but this one just slid on and locked right into the sweet spot.”
By good fortune, I received a Speedframe Pro this last summer in the same color and quickly set aside my other helmets and left space on my dome for this one. First, Fox nailed the low profile and jet-like aesthetic. The Speedframe Pro is an easy choice by looks alone. Fox uses a traditional MIPS liner, and though some helmets are doing great moving into the next phase of MIPS and concussion tech, the Speedframe is still a cozy and well-vented helmet. At $170, the Speedframe is as comfortable and pleasurable as lids that are twice as costly.
Garmin Edge 530
It seems like the big brands crank out at least a couple new and/or updated GPS units every year, and that keeps product reviewers busy. I’ve lost track of the number of GPS units I’ve either tested or owned over the past two decades, though lately I’ve been defaulting back to the Garmin Edge 530 when it’s time to ride.
The Edge 530 isn’t the most fully-featured GPS, nor is it Garmin’s top of the line. The screen isn’t huge, there’s no touch screen capability, and many of the best features still require a nearby smartphone. But I’ve found the Edge 530 is one of the most intuitive to use, which means I don’t have to relearn all the buttons and menus every time I fire it up. Unique features like jump and flow scores make mountain bike rides more fun, and the navigation is dialed with helpful cues along the way.
I’m equally committed to the Garmin Forerunner 235 GPS watch I’ve been wearing for a few years now, and it happens to play nicely with the Edge 530 (and other GPS units too). It’s also convenient to have all of my activity data, from riding to sleeping, pushed to the easy-to-use Garmin Connect app from the Edge 530.
Gore Wear C5 Infinium Hybrid hooded jacket
This Gore C5 Infinium was first tested more than two years ago, and I still wear it regularly throughout the year, no matter what season it is. It’s really more of a shell or layer with moderate rain protection versus a full on storm jacket, but the jacket is so versatile. Whether I need some breathable and weather-resistant protection on the trail, or I’m being stingy with the thermostat, the Infinium jacket is there for me, and I often find myself wrapped in it like lounge-y, evening wear.
The jacket will ball up fairly easily to fit in a pack. It has a light and durable feel, and a reserved appearance. At the time, the C5 Infinium Hybrid jacket was priced at $230. We’ll have to wait until the spring to see what Gore offers that’s most comparable to the jacket, though the C5 Gore-Tex Trail jacket is still available on Backcountry for under $200.
- MSRP: $230 (at time of testing)
Lululemon Paceline cycling chamois short
I first purchased the Lululemon Paceline short in 2013 to haul two toddlers and two striders around town in a double chariot. Back in the day Lululemon released cycling gear once a year in the spring. Due to their popularity in the yoga and running spaces, this cycling gear was mostly overlooked and these shorts have since been discontinued. The Lululemon Paceline cycling short was one item in the Spring collection for many years, and is one of the only “padded undies” I wear. Partly because, well… they’re hot pink; swoon. I’m not going to lie, the hot pink hue is what piqued my interest initially because I’m known by some to be a bit flamboyant with my trail outfits. Guilty. Also in part because I hadn’t found any chamois that didn’t completely destroy my nether regions. However, what was once a color obsession, quickly turned into the purchase of several pairs of the Paceline shorts in rapid succession, because they are the most incredible chamois I’ve ever worn.
Mission Workshop Integer backpack
Packing expensive camera gear on a ride can be somewhat stressful, making a trusted storage satchel a clutch piece of gear for any trail photog. I’ve tested several camera bags and I keep coming back to this trusty Integer pack form Mission Workshop. The shell fabric is about as tough as it gets, and the bag is wicked comfortable to wear all day long. It keeps my lenses well organized, and there are pockets all over the place for all the small bits that I need to be well organized. Like most packs, the Integer’s internal padding can be shifted around or removed to suit the day, and the fastening velcro has held up well through the seasons.
In addition to optimal functionality that makes photo days more pleasant, this pack looks really good. I use it to roll to the cafe with my laptop occasionally and the clean lines give it a smart shape compared to the “I do outdoors stuff” look of most packs. The other camera bags I’ve tested have eventually been passed on to other photogs, but this one will likely collect my gear for many seasons to come.
- MSRP: $485 (at time of testing)
- Comparable bags available at Mission Workshop
Oury V2 Lock-on grips
Oury has been around for more than 50 years, and their simple, blocky grips are iconic in terms of both look and feel. Over the past 18 months I’ve tested far too many grips; it seemed like every other ride was with a new pair. But now that the dust has settled and (hopefully) we’re done testing grips for a while, I’m loving the Oury V2 Lock-ons from Lizard Skins. The bright orange is now looking a little dingy with dirt from my dusty paws, and they’re now riding in that sweet spot of being worn-in without being worn-out.
So what makes the Oury grips better than the others? For starters they offer a firm feel without being overly harsh. There’s a lot of rubber here, which helps, and also gives the grip a slightly wider outer diameter for my large hands. The grid pattern drains sweat and rain for maximum grip in all conditions, and I love how these feel when riding gloveless.
Reynolds TR 309 S carbon wheels
Has it already been two and a half years? The Reynolds TR 309 S wheels have proven to be plenty durable, and surprisingly adaptable. Sure, at one point the rim tape started peeling back, but it was an easy repair and they’ve been holding air like a high-pressure SCUBA tank ever since. Another time, I needed to update the hub body for a microspline driver, and it was a cinch to order the part and swap it at home.
Knock on wood, but I haven’t had to replace a single spoke, and there are exactly zero dings or major blemishes to speak of. While they’re rolling as straight and as true as an arrow, at this point I should probably double check the spoke tension just in case. It’s a long-term relationship for sure, despite other wheels rolling in and out of my life.
- MSRP: $1700
- Currently out of stock, find a used set
Rudy Project Defender riding glasses
Each of us get a handful or two of sunglasses to test each year. Most of them are great glasses, and over the past few years I’ve tried a number of premium brands. The Defenders have remained my glasses of choice for nearly every ride for over two years now.
What’s more, is that the Defenders have resisted scratching and material degradation that sweaty face ride after sweaty face ride regularly induce on sunglasses, and they’re ready for a few more years, granted I don’t lose them or step on them.
Rudy Project still makes the Defenders, and they are not a cheap pair of specs at $260. Normally we review products within a few weeks or months of testing, so here’s a second testament to their durability after the first review two years ago. The Defenders have a great fit and feel with adjustable temples and a nose piece. It’s easy to change the lens, but with the photochromatic lens, you don’t really need to. The lens naturally adjusts and darkens to the amount of UV rays. On a grey day, they remain light. In the sun, they darken up. The Defenders are also lightweight and vent well. We’re gearing up for another season of gear testing, and hoping some new models will challenge the Defenders, but so far they have lived up to their name.
Schwalbe Magic Mary tires
Alongside a staggering pile of tires in my house that are destined for the recycling center there’s forever a fresh stack of Magic Mary rubber. I dig the Super Gravity casing as much for its puncture resistance as its supported cornering feel, and I mount the soft tread compound for the tail and the purple extra-sticky version under the handlebars. No matter how good the other tires I’ve tested have been this remains the tread I want to ride on my personal bike. Magic Mary is the tire I purchase when I’m out of test tread. It’s good enough that I would glue it to my shoes if I were into hiking.
I have broken a few carbon rims and dented countless alloy circles under these tires, and only one of those resulted in a puncture. One. That puncture occurred when a carbon rim exploded into multiple pieces and ripped through the dual-ply after I cased a jump. No tire would have survived that mess. These tires are somewhat heavy, and they’re worth every gram. Given my jackass riding style, this is the only rubber that gives me enough confidence to keep pedaling if I hit the trailhead and discover I’ve forgotten a tube. The sturdier soft tread lasts about as long on the rear as the “Ultra Soft” stuff does up front, which is two or three months if I’m riding six to seven days per week.
In addition to all of its puncture protection accolades, the Magic Mary is one fo the most predictable tires I’ve ever pedaled. It lets you know when you’re about to drift, and the traction breakaway includes a little wiggle room so you can reposition before the tires begin to slide. If sent to a deserted island, packed with unknown gnarly trails and varying weather conditions, Magic Mary would undoubtedly be my tire of choice for both ends of the bike.
Specialized 2FO Cliplite shoes
Years ago someone told me Specialized shoes fit on the narrow side, so I decided to bite. Truth be told, I don’t own many Specialized products because I’m not a brand loyalist. However, I do make an exception for the Specialized 2FO Cliplite MTB Shoe, which I adore and continue to purchase year after year. I ride clipless and the 2FO is fashionable enough to stomach and I like the idea of two BOA dials and a velcro toe strap for tightening purposes. Before I go further, let me explain; I have extremely narrow feet; it’s ridiculous honestly. Even the women’s specific shoes that claim to be for “narrow” feet rarely do the trick. I can slip my foot out of almost any MTB shoe, completely tightened, no problem, but not the Cliplite 2FO’s.
The Cliplite 2FO seems to be made for narrow feet (not an official Specialized claim) because the shoe itself is on the narrow side. Add the top and mid-foot BOA tightening adjusters, coupled with a velcro strap over the toe box, and you’ve got yourself a secure fit. I have used other BOA systems in the past, ones that only tighten from the top, and though they’re still my preferred lacing method, I need two. Two BOA adjusters is the magic number.
Specialized also likes to do fancy things in their footwear, by including Body Geometry soles and footbeds. Specialized claims that these soles and footbeds are “ergonomically designed and scientifically tested to boost power, increase efficiency, and reduce chance of injury by optimizing hip, knee, and foot alignment.” I’d never previously thought about this claim, though the shoes do come with two different insoles so you can select the one that jives best with your foot/body geometry. Aside from being the narrow foot champion, the shoes are also stiff. The inner plate offers a nice platform for efficient pedaling and protecting the feet. Despite the rigidness, they are still comfortable to hike-a-bike. They also have an extended, recessed cleat pocket that offers 4mm of rear to aft adjustment for the cleat mounts, making them easy to adjust for any type of cleat (I’ve had SPD and HT in mine) and never had an issue connecting with any type of pedal. Bonus. Specialized recently revised their Cliplite 2FO shoes and we’re looking forward to checking out the new versions.