Mountain Bike RIder's editor reveals three standout products from the hundreds he's tried and tested this year.
A lot of product comes through the doors at MBR, and to be truthful, most of it these days is really good. Often we’ll pick on price as a criticism, as inflation has impacted how much we pay for new toys to play with in the dirt. Then there’s always the question over whether you actually need half of the gear on the market. When I started mountain biking, all I had was a hardtail and a helmet. I didn’t have specific mountain biking shoes, shorts, trousers, jerseys, glasses, or jackets. I just wore a t-shirt, tracksuit bottoms, and trainers. And I still had a blast. Not that I would choose to go back to those days, or course, but all the extras were just that; extraneous.
Now we have products designed to do everything we can possibly imagine to do with mountain biking, and quite a few that we probably couldn’t imagine. And most of them are highly functional. So to stand out from the crowd takes something special. Which neatly leads me on to the three bits of kit that really impressed me in 2023. Two products and a bike. Why did I pick them? Well, read on for the specifics, but broadly speaking I tried to stick to products that don’t cost ridiculous sums of money.
I’ve tested and ridden some amazing analogue and e-bikes this year, but most of them also cost serious coin, so you’d expect them to ride well. Ditto some of the new products that have come to market this year. So I’ve selected three things that bring a genuine performance advantage, for a price that compares well with rival products. Anyway, enough waffle; let’s cut to the chase.
The path that led me to trying the OneUp Carbon E-Bar was one that started with Bike Test Editor, Alan Muldoon, commenting about the harsh ride he felt riding Specialized’s latest Turbo Levo e-bike. That constant jarring on rough trails was not something I had really noticed, but maybe that was down to my familiarity with the bike – I was so used to it that it had just become normal. With a Turbo Levo test bike needing serious miles clocking up over the winter, it seemed like the perfect time to find something that toned down that harshness. And I wanted to find out if I could really feel a difference.
The first thing that came to mind was Zipp’s 3Zero Moto wheel set. These carbon rims use something akin to ankle articulation to provide compliance, and boy are they impressive. Noticeably more comfortable than most alloy wheels, on off-camber trails they actually feel like cheating, there’s so much extra grip. But they’re also very expensive, so I kept looking. And then I remembered about OneUp’s innovative Carbon bar, with its ovalised mid-section designed to bend and flex without compromising steering precision.
So I got one in, rode it for a few months, and liked how it felt without being blown away. Maybe I was expecting miracles. But when I finally got round to trying it back-to-back with the Truvativ carbon bar that came with the bike, the difference was stark. OneUp’s bar filtered out much of the noise coming back from the trail, chamfered square-edge impacts, and added a dose of valium to every ride. Where the stiff Truvativ bar would get pinged all over the place on busy trails, the OneUp found the path of least resistance. And while it is not quite as laser-accurate when steering, the loss of precision is slight. For under £150 it really can transform the ride feel of your bike. If you have a stiff carbon e-bike, with a big battery inside the down tube, the OneUp Carbon E-Bar is a brilliant product.
This lightweight enduro full-face helmet came to my rescue during a scorching hot trip to Morzine in the summer. With the mercury nudging 38ºC at one point, most of the full-face wearing downhillers in the lift queue were melting, struggling to take off their bulky lids with double-D loop chinstraps. Meanwhile, I could just loosen the Specialized Gambit’s retention device with clever integrated dial, unclip the buckle, and be cooling down while they were still fiddling with their goggles. On trail, the light weight and extensive ventilation also kept me from overheating, while providing full DH-certified protection in case the worst happened. Thankfully it didn’t, but the being able to fly, and ride, with such a light, cool, easy-to-remove helmet was a literal breath of fresh air. And, I’ve even seen the Gambit on sale for as little as £125, which seems like a total bargain.
Out of dozens of new and exotic bikes I’ve ridden this year, the Canyon Neuron 6 stands out for three simple reasons:
- It’s a really good mountain bike. There’s no pigeonholing with the Neuron. It doesn’t claim to fill some new micro-niche invented by the marketeers to make your current bike feel inadequate or unsuitable for certain types of riding. It’s just a full-suspension bike that works for most riders, most places, whatever you throw at it.
- The price tag is realistic. At £2,249 it’s pretty affordable and comes with everything you need right out of the box. The alloy frame is well made, with an eye on easy maintenance and durability. It’s up-to-date with modern geometry and a wide range of sizes, with 27.5in wheels on the small frames and 29in wheels on the larger ones. All the components are functional and from respected brands. The tyres roll fast, so you feel like your energy is actually going somewhere. And there’s even a dropper post so you can get your saddle out of the way for descents, and raise it again for the climbs without stopping and getting a tool out. There’s also a cheaper model at under £2k, as well as more expensive carbon versions if you’re feeling flush.
- With the latest Neuron, Canyon performed a U-turn that would be the envy of any cab driver. You see, the previous generation had outdated geometry and sizing that hampered the ride quality and thrust a stick in the spoke of the handling, whether you were an experienced mountain biker or just starting out. The new one hasn’t fiddled with the bits the old bike did well – the suspension and the frame construction – but focussed on making it an easier and more rewarding bike to ride. And Canyon has nailed it, to produce a fast yet fun bike that brings a smile to your face and a tear to your eye (because you’re going so fast!). Whether blasting along a fire-road, taking on a lap of a trail centre, or hitting an enduro track, the Neuron gets it done.