Torture tested: 15 MTB products that survived years of full-time travel

Professional product reviewers simply don't have the time to test products to the point of failure (or beyond) — but Greg had the chance to do just that for these 15 products.
Photo: Christine Henry

Professional product reviewers can only afford to spend a limited amount of time testing each product before they sit down to write their review. It’s just the nature of the beast: each helmet can only be worn for so long before it’s time to swap it out and test the next one. The stream of new and improved gear never ends.

As a result, it’s rare to read an article that truly offers a long-term review. Taking the time to test a product to the point of failure is simply incomprehensible… unless the product fails quickly, which is a real red flag. But in recent years I’ve had the opportunity to do exactly that.

For the past six years, I stepped away from the rigors of tech reviews and doubled down on trail and destination content, which meant that I had to purchase my own gear or use products that I already owned. When your own hard-earned cash is on the line, going out on a limb to try an unproven product or one that may or may not work for you no longer seems like such a great idea. But on the flipside, it can sometimes take years of experimentation to find just the right pair of shoes or helmet. But once you’ve found it — you might as well stick with it.

During my six-year hiatus from Singletracks, which included four years of full-time travel, I put the beat down on a slew of MTB products and components. Here are 15 of the best that have withstood the test of time.

ION Rascal Amp clipless MTB shoes
Photo: Greg Heil

ION Rascal Amp clipless MTB shoes

I’ve been known to shred review shoes in less than a month, so when I discovered that I can get well over a year of use out of a single pair of ION Rascal Amp shoes, I was sold for life. The one time I didn’t plan far enough ahead to order a pair of Rascals and I bought a pair of mountain bike shoes at an LBS that looked promising, the sole started peeling off in less than two weeks, and I promptly returned them.

Now, I won’t spend my money on anything else. Despite endless hike-a-bikes on sharp rocks, thousands of miles of pedaling, and riding/hiking in all types of terrain across North America, South America, and Europe, the Rascal Amp shoes have been absolutely bomber.

I’m currently on my third set of the standard ION Rascal Amp. I also tried the Rascal with the BOA dial, but unfortunately I cannot recommend them. The fit is loose and sloppy, and the BOA dial can’t reel in all the extra volume. If you buy a set of Rascals, stick with the reliable lace and strap closure.

Maxxis tires

While I’ve ridden several different brands and models of tire over the years, I keep coming back to Maxxis. I’ve even honed my specific tire setup: up front, I run a 29×2.6″ Minion DHF with 3C MaxxTerra rubber and EXO+ casing. In the rear during the winter, I run an Aggressor 29×2.5″ WT with DoubleDown casing. During the summer, I’ll often run the DHF front and rear, with a 29×2.5″ WT with MaxxTerra rubber and DoubleDown casing in the rear for a little extra braking traction when it gets steep and deep.

Sometimes I’ll run a Minion DHR II 29×2.4″ WT with MaxxTerra rubber (if I can get it) and DoubleDown casings, but I don’t like dropping that small bit of volume. It’s noticeable, and has led to a dented rim. I’ve also run the Assegai before, but I prefer to stick with the DHF generally.

Dakine Drafter 10L hydration pack

I bought this Dakine Drafter Hydration Pack in early 2022 and have ridden countless miles since then. Despite years of use, it only shows wear along the bottom where the metal frame is beginning to poke through and where the shoulder straps cross the hip straps. Even a sharp tree branch to the hip pocket hasn’t stopped it, and the zipper still works. The durable ripstop polyester feels hardy the first time you pick it up, and it’s proven to be durable over the long term.

  • Price: $150-$160
  • Buy from Amazon
Photo: Christine Henry

Fox Racing and Pearl Izumi clothing

Over the past six years, I’ve tried many different brands of mountain bike clothing based on what I could get my hands on in whichever obscure bike shop I happened to wander into. Unfortunately, some of the newer and trendier brands that I’ve tried, like 7mesh, just don’t hold up to my torture testing (especially considering the premium price tag).

However, tried and true brands like Fox and Pearl Izumi have proven their mettle time and time again, and are often easier to procure while traveling, too. I’ve ridden thousands of miles in some of my Fox and Pearl Izumi shorts, and I even still use a Pearl Izumi base layer that I’ve had for about a decade. I’ve used multiple models of shorts and jerseys from both of these brands (if you’re counting, this is where the “15” number comes from).

Generally speaking, both Fox and Pearl Izumi get two thumbs up.

Photo: Specialized

Specialized Mountain Liner bib shorts with SWAT

I have used multiple iterations of these bibs over the years and have found them to not only be the most comfortable and best-fitting bibs I’ve used, but some of the most as well. Known as the “SWAT bibs” for short, I still have one pair of bibs that is roughly 7 years old and one pair that is 5 years old sitting in my drawer in case of emergency. While both of these bibs are stretching out and a few small holes are forming, the fact that they haven’t fallen apart completely is downright impressive. Of course, I normally use newer models of the SWAT bibs on most of my rides, but the fact that these old bibs are still hanging on is a true testament to their longevity.

I’ve also tried both 7mesh and Yeti bibs in recent years, and while both were very comfortable, neither made it even two years in my bib rotation. The 7mesh, in particular, were quite expensive and didn’t even last a year.

Photo: Christine Henry

Giro Montaro MIPS II helmet

I’m currently on my third or fourth Giro Monatro MIPS II helmet after crashing out a couple and (mostly) wearing one out. I’ve tried on countless helmets at bike shops across the country, and the fit, adjustability, and features for the price keeps me coming back to the Montaro. One standout feature is the easily removable integrated GoPro mount, which I use to attach a low profile light mount for night riding.

I also love the adjustability of the visor because I can move it entirely out of my vision if need be. However, this adjustability does come with a drawback: after enough use, the visor has a tendency to get loose and wobbly, even with the screws tightened down securely. Otherwise, I have no other complaints about this helmet.

Photo: Greg Heil

Oakley Radarlock Pitch Sunglasses

I’m not quite sure how many years of use I officially got out of the Oakley Radarlock Pitch sunglasses that I reviewed in 2014, but it was a lot. While I did wear a few other pairs of shades in the intervening 10 years, I only finally retired the Radarlock glasses in 2023. I’ve found Oakley’s lenses and frames to be extremely durable over the long term and well-worth the monetary investment over cheaper brands. While the Radarlocks are no longer being produced, the Oakley Radar EV Pitch is basically an updated version.

While Tifosi, for example, offers a much lower pricepoint, in the past they haven’t provided the same long-term durability that I’ve gotten from Oakleys. That said, I’m currently about 9 months into using a set of Tifosi Rail Race glasses, so we’ll see how long it takes me to push them to the point of failure.

Photo: Zach White

Gore Rescue Windstopper Active Shell Jacket

The Gore Rescue Windstopper shell that I reviewed in 2016 has ridden around in my hydration pack and been worn all around the world since then. I swapped it out for a different jacket that I received for review in 2023, but the Rescue Windstopper is still in storage in case I destroy my current jacket and need a backup. It’s still going strong, although it could probably use a waterproofing treatment.

  • Price: $200
  • Model no longer available
Photo: Greg Heil

Shimano Deore XT 12-Speed Drivetrain

Out of all the bike components that I’ve used over this six-year period, the Shimano XT 12-speed drivetrain was the most impressive. I put over 3,700 miles on this particular drivetrain before the cassette even needed to be replaced! While the drivetrain pictured here does have a refreshed cassette, the derailleur and shifter are still cranking away with north of 4,000 miles on them.

While I have a similar number of miles on a set of 4-piston Shimano XT brakes, and they have survived the torture test, I still can only give them a “they’ll do” review. Lever pull can be inconsistent, and the brakes require frequent maintenance. This was confirmed recently by a long-time bike mechanic who commented that Shimano brakes need to be bled much more than any other brand. The power also leaves something to be desired compared to burlier brakes, such as Hayes Dominions.

  • Price: $669.99, including brakes and bottom bracket
  • Buy from JensonUSA.

The problem with wheels

Finding a wheelset that can handle the punishment I dish out has been the bane of my existence. I’ve tacoed several rims, blown up multiple hubs, broken countless spokes… the list goes on and on.

Every time I thought I had found the perfect wheel, something would happen. The best alloy wheels I’ve ever ridden, from Spank, were mounted on a bike that got stolen. A wheel replacement/upgrade I bought from Crankbrothers for a different bike didn’t have nearly the durability that I demand.

Eventually, I decided to invest in burly carbon enduro wheels, and so far that seems to have been the best money I’ve ever spent on a wheelset.

At this time, I can’t yet give a true “torture tested” wheel review of these carbon hoops, as I’ve only spent about half a year on the pair of Industry Nine Hydra Enduro S Carbon wheels that I purchased — but all signs were positive. I later received a pair of Reynolds Blacklabel 309 Enduro Pro wheels to test out, which also use an Industry Nine Hydra hub. After another half a year of riding, those wheels have also been flawless thus far… but again, I don’t have enough time on either pair to provide a true “torture-tested” review.

I guess I never fully escaped that product review grind.