Gear of the Year: Mtbr Founder, Francis Cebedos Top 10
Here are five products that Francis fell in love with in 2019.
Editors note: As we welcome a new year, we at Mtbr are taking a moment to look back at the bikes and products that improved our riding experience in 2019. Some products were new for the year, others are tried and true items that are still best-in-class.
Francis Cebedos 2019 Gear of the Year
My favorite type of riding is the last one I did. I have an easily addicted personality and Ive fallen in love with many types of riding. I didnt touch my road or gravel bike last year, but I delved deep into trail, enduro, XC, and even e-mountain bikes! I love technology, evolution, creativity and when it all comes together, the bike gear disappears in a ride. Its just pure bliss as the fancy products work in harmony and dont call attention to themselves. Heres what made some of those moments possible in 2019.
Ill go out on a limb and say that this is one of the best bikes Specialized has ever created. Its an all-mountain bike with massive, supple 29er travel, but it is also pedal-friendly. On my test rides, the suspension was like butter on Boondocks and Livewire of the Northstar MTB Park and my adjustment period was minimal. By mid-day, my confidence was high and I was riding like it was my regular bike. On one section of Boondocks, I veered right and went down an eight-foot drop, surprised ace photographer Harookz Noguchi and he yelled, Niiiiiiice Francis! I surprised him and myself. Since that all went so smoothly, I thought of the tagline for this bike, the new Specialized Enduroit lets you take the option lines.
This is indeed the plushest, most capable, and balanced Specialized Ive ever tried. I went outside of my comfort zone and it never let me down. Im not a fan of these Butcher tires on this North Tahoe sand, but the new compounds on this 2.6-inch Butcher on 30mm rims helped it out a bit. But everything else about this S-Works spec was spot-on.
More info: Specialized.com
Price: $4410 $9750
Vittoria Agarro tires
Tires are always a compromise between speed and grip. The Agarro achieves the best balance for trail riding.
Trail riding calls for a tire that walks a fine line between cross-country and enduro. To start, you need something more robust than the featherweight XC rubber, but without the heavyweight commitment of an enduro-minded tire. Vittorias Agarro G2.0 Trail 4C Tire aims to please with a balance between the two, providing considerably more grip than the Barzo cross-country tire, but without the enduro bulk of the Martello. It offers leading-edge steps, which work similarly to a ramped lug, but provides better climbing grip when things get technical and steep.
Progressive sipes offer tactile grip on rocks and roots, which is particularly advantageous when things start to get a little slick. Vittoria employs its 4C Graphene 2.0 compound on the Agarro, which utilizes four different durometers of rubber in the treat, each one strategically placed for the best combination of low rolling resistance, cornering stability, grip, and longevity. Graphene 2.0 takes Vittorias original Graphene-infused compound and betters it in every way, with special attention given to wet-weather performance. In summary, it is one of the grippiest, fast tires Ive ever tried.
More info: vittoria.com
Marzocchi Z1 and Z1 CR rear shock
There are some incredible front and rear shock options today but they may cost you an arm and a leg. What impresses me most about Marzocchis suspension is it can keep up with the best, but at a significantly lower cost. And when it comes to the suspension, its smooth as butter with great traction and control, and thats where the Z1 shines.
The Z1 departs from industry norms, foregoing fiddling with adjustment knobs and more time riding at a high level. The Z1 keeps it simple with intuitive compression sweep adjustment, from locked out to full open. Simple rebound adjustment covers the range from fast to slow rebound for a full range of rider weights and preferences without overcomplicating things.
This simple rear shock with a massive sweet spot pair well with bikes with travel from 130mm to over 200mm. Keeping in step with Marzocchis founding philosophies, this new rear shock prioritizes suspension performance, ride quality and durability. Simply set your sag and rebound, and go ride.
And as of January 2020, the Z1 is now available in a coil version and all older Z1 forks can be upgraded to a coil at a reasonable price.
Price: $700 and $300
YT Decoy E-bike
The YT Decoy is a full suspension eMTB sporting 160mm of front and 165mm rear travel. The name is crafty indeed as its a play on words on a bike that looks just like a bike. Mountain bikers, in general, dont want an e-bike that calls attention to itself and looks like a behemoth so YT made a bike that looks discrete and is dialed.
Its a big travel bike with a Fox X2 rear and a Fox 36 Grip2 in front at the top end spec. Its meant to perform at the highest level for trail and enduro riding. The YT Decoy comes in three spec levels, the CF Pro Race, CF Pro, and CF Base. Pricing is set at $6999, $5999 and $4999. The CF Pro Race and Pro sport full carbon frames while CF Base utilizes a carbon frame with an alloy rear end.
What sets the YT Decoy apart is it is the perfect blending of components, performance, looks, and price. It did it better than any e-mtb in 2019 and if it gets a 700wh battery option in 2020, it will continue to be a leader.
More info: YT Industries
Shimano XT M8100 group
Employing the latest technologies and performance from Shimanos flagship XTR mountain bike components, the new Shimano XT series features 12-speed versatility along with top tier shifting and braking. Where the latest XTR is aimed at the racing crowd, Shimano XT M8100 is more trail focused, from wide rims to trail-tuned brakes and gearing options with ergonomics that prioritize comfort and control.And the key is its around $800 instead of the $1700 top-end XTR.
The new cassettes employ SHIMANOs Beam Spider construction for weight reduction and improved power transfer utilizing a strategic application of aluminum and steel for a blend of weight savings, rigidity, and durability. It all adds up to a 510% gear ratio with the following gear steps: 10-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-33-39-45-51T. Meanwhile, the 10-45 Rhythm Step Cassette is designed for double or single front chainring setup, has a 450% gear ratio, and the following gear steps: 10-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-32-36-40-45T.
To shift these gears is to smile at how they respond in all situations. Its not instantaneous but rather deliberate as it waits til its on its shift point, then it fires perfectly.
More info: mtb.shimano.com
Pivot Mach 4 SL
With or without Fox Live Valve suspension, the Mach 4 SL will allow you to reach new heights. And you might set PRs on the way up and down.
Starting at 1845 grams or 4.05 lbs for the frame, the Mach 4 SL takes a front-row seat in the XC full suspension category and has the best stiffness to weight ratios Pivot claims theyve ever created. The new Mach 4SL is over 300 grams lighter than its predecessor, the Mach 429 SL.
Fox Live Valve integration gives the Mach 4 SL progressive cross country suspension. Pivot claims the efficiency benefits are undeniable, and the speed gained on every part of the course is truly mind-blowing. The shock layout may be different, but the 100mm travel DW-link suspension keeps its familiar ride qualities with solid pedaling efficiency, reactive to impacts under power, and fully active while braking everything that is important in an XC race bike.
It is pricey and it is fancy. But theres something to be said with a bike that makes you ride faster than you really are.
More info: pivotcycles.com
Price: $4600 to $11300
Saris MTR bike rack
Its nice to see an absolutely dialed product from a manufacturer that produces everything in the US and supports the local bike dealer.
Roomy wheel trays provide ample stowage for tires up to 5 inches wide, but that MTR rack can also adjust down to accommodate your kids bike or a BMX rig. It also has dual-arm wheel holders that keep bikes safely and securely locked in position, while assuring your bikes frame is never scratched or damaged. And its all built on a rugged hitch-based foundation that can be tilted away even when fully loaded with bikes. That makes for fast and easy vehicle access anytime anywhere.
Plus, because the Saris MTR features nesting bike trays, loading has never been easier. Thats because each tray is actually two trays, and those half trays can swing out of the way when not in use. So instead of reaching over trays that arent in use, you can simply sidle right up when loading and unloading bikes. No more lifting bikes over the rack. Just flip the trays out of the way and go.
More info: Saris.com
Santa Cruz Tallboy 4
For most folks who dont live in rad mountain bike meccas, this bike will allow you to have the most fun going up, down and sideways.
In the Mtbr stable, one bike more action than any other. And it wasnt the fastest tech bike or the most exotic high travel one. Rather, its this Tallboy 4 that made every ride better. Climbs were more frisky and even tame descents were more lively. And when it came to steeps and tech, the Tallboy 4 was game too. It simply made all kinds of riding more fun.
Its the kind of bike that makes you sprint while going up, along, over, or down due to the maximum efficiency of the VPP design and responsive, lightweight chassis. But because it shares the same engineering principles as our longest travel bikes, the progressive lower link-mounted shock feels equally at home doing cross-country as it does in extreme-country. Paired with a 130mm fork the new Tallboy becomes ever more appealing to riders who like to open it up.
The Tallboy 4 is open for anything with its aggressive geometry. And because there wasnt a glut of travel, the rider is more involved, albeit more alert. Using a car analogy, its like a Toyota FRS or Mazda Miata on windy, local roads. It doesnt have the massive horsepower or the heft of the supercars but it is an agile machine that one can rally everyday on local terrain.
More info: Santacruzbicycles.com
Price: From $2699
Ride Concepts Powerline Shoe
Do you kick rocks and roots? Or do they come up and attack you? In the past three months, weve done some good riding in Santa Cruz, Downieville, and Tahoe and on at least 4 occasions, kicked a rock or jammed a foot into a crevice while pedaling. I felt a lot of pressure and waited about 10 seconds for that dreaded piercing pain to commence indicating an injury. Each time, no intense pain and the alarm bells disappeared after a few minutes. This is a similar and satisfying feeling when a knee pad has done its job as well. One really has to pay attention to good protective gear since you think they didnt do anything since there was no injury, thus one tends to discount the impact. These Powerlines protect well.
Powerlines got it right. They seem to have enough flex and feel designed to achieve a good connection with the bike through the pedal contact point. The Powerlines seem to have benefited from early feedback and Ride Concepts adjusted to give these shoes more feel and bike feedback.
Replacing the D30 insoles, we noticed a little more feel and vibration transmitted to the rider so that is an option for some if they prefer more trail feedback.
Was there a piece of gear you loved in 2019? Let us know in the comments.
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