Hot stuff: what we’re excited about this month

Hot stuff: what we’re excited about this month: secret saucy suspension forks, fluffy layers, open back knees, Jackal hats, hose, hooligans, ropey kids and more.

Read more: Best mountain bike tyre deals, Maxxis and Schwalbe

Standard 15mm bolt-thru axle and 44mm offset

EXT ERA fork, £1590

There have been lofty claims and gushing reviews for the new EXT ERA fork. But is it all hype to justify the equally lofty asking price, or is the ERA really so disruptive that we need to recalibrate our expectations? Before we can answer that, let’s take a closer look at what the ERA is not… and that’s unique.

Sure, there are two positive air chambers and a self-equalising negative chamber, but Öhlins currently uses a triple-chamber air spring in the RFX 36. And Specialized had one before that too – anyone remember the short-lived Future Shock E150 dual-crown fork? In terms of the chassis, it’s a conventional fork with 36mm stanchions (upper tubes). The crown/steerer interface is pretty unique though, the crown extends up the base of the steerer to increase stiffness, but externally that’s about all that sets it apart. At the opposite end of the chassis, the ERA uses a standard 15mm thru-axle, with none of the fancy self-centreing features that come on the latest Fox 36 and 38.

Extended fork crown boosts stiffness

In terms of damping, the EXT ERA boasts independent high and low-speed compression adjustment with low-speed rebound at the base of the same leg, so nothing out of the ordinary here either. Travel options are what you’d expect too: 140, 150, 160 and 170mm. And to keep things simple this dedicated 29er fork is only available in the most popular 44mm offset.

Stanchions keep things conventional with a 36mm diameter

Ride the ERA however, and it’s apparent that EXT has combined all of the above ingredients in a unique way, while adding some secret sauce to create its own unique suspension flavour. Thanks to the HS3 hybrid spring design that also has an integrated coil spring, the ERA is incredibly supple off the top, so traction is never in short supply. And unlike most modern forks, the range of damping adjustment is very usable, so you’ll never find yourself at end-range adjustment, unless of course you genuinely are a physical outlier.

Rebound adjuster sits under right leg

Baseline settings get you off to a great start, but the real beauty of the ERA is the ability to easily manipulate the spring curve. Sure, it’s a pain having two positive air chambers rather than just one, but so is fitting volume spacers, and they don’t offer anything like the same degree of spring curve manipulation – the interplay of the two positive chambers having the biggest impact on mid-stroke support. Is there too much adjustment for the majority of riders? Probably. But then, the ERA was never designed as a fork for the masses or mass production.

We’re still not sure if it lives up to the hype, but for the first mountain bike fork from a brand that specialises in shocks, EXT has hit the ground running with the smoothest, most controlled landing. So if it is ultimate performance and control you desire, and you get just as much satisfaction tweaking suspension settings as smashing out runs, the EXT ERA should be your most wanted. It’s certainly ours.

Bomb squad

Specialized Trail-Series Alpha jacket, £190

The Specialized Trail-Series Alpha Jacket has a fluffy Polartec liner to keep you warm on properly cold days. Designed as a mid-layer, bomber- style jacket, it has side pockets and zips at the rear for extra venting and ease of movement.

Switch saddle

Mondraker OnOff Pija dropper post, €199.95

Mondraker’s in-house brand OnOff Components makes a dropper post called the Pija. It’s available in a 200mm drop, features a replaceable sealed cartridge, internal routing and a remote lever that runs on bearings not bushings.

Ride to roam

Race Face Roam Knee pads, £124.95

The Race Face Roam Knee uses a plastic TPU skid plate, backed by an energy-absorbing D30 foam pad. There’s also a layer made from Kydex, a really tough plastic that should protect your knee from the sharpest rocks. Open-back design, six sizes.

Day of the Jackal

Lazer Jackal MIPS Helmet, £149.99

Lazer’s new Jackal MIPS Helmet looks the business, with extended rear coverage, a visor that lifts high enough to stash your goggles underneath, grippy goggle platform at the rear, multiple vents, and a GoPro mount designed to break away in a crash.

Hot off the press

Orbea’s new finish

Orbea has a lustrous new finish available on its top-end Oiz, Alma, Orca OMX and Rise bikes. Called Carbon View, there’s no need for a paint layer so it’s 80-100g lighter. It’s available in matt or gloss when personalising a bike through the brand’s MyO customisation programme.

Air hose

SKS Airflex Explorer, £34.99

The SKS Airflex Explorer pump is simple but gets everything right – the internal extendable hose grips your valve easily, while the body is made from aluminium and polycarbonate, meaning it’s both flexible and hard- wearing in the right places.

Hooligan hoops

WTB HTZ Rim, $99.95

Built for e-bike use, WTB’s new HTZ rim is designed as an affordable and heavy-duty option for e-bikes and enduro racers. It has an increased wall thickness of 25-30 per cent over WTB’s KOM Tough enduro rim. Comes 23, 25, 27, 30 or 35mm internal width.

Paperback rider

Being Gary Fisher, $39.99

It’s been a wild ride for mtb pioneer, racer, designer and legend Gary Fisher, and you can read all about it in his new autobiography. It’s not all about bikes either; according to co-writer Guy Kesteven, those are the boring bits.

Tooth fairy

Wolf Tooth GeoShift Performance Angle Headset, £105

Wolf Tooth has developed an angle headset that lets you slacken your bike out by 1°. Called the GeoShift Performance Angle Headset, the bearings are aligned with the fork steerer to minimise wear and creaking. Made in the US from 6061 alloy.

Shotgun MTB Tow Rope, £55

Shotgun started out making a little bike seat that mounts to the top tube of your bike, letting your toddler get a taste of mountain biking by riding shotgun. Kids grow up fast though, pretty soon they’re on their own bikes, loving the descents and moaning on the climbs. Shotgun has grown too then, it’s next product a tow rope to get them to the top, maximising the downhill time and minimising tantrums. In our experience, kids are happy to ride all day long provided you keep them topped up with Haribo, but not when they have to ride uphill, making the tow rope spot on.

Shotgun’s tow rope is kind to your kids’ legs… and your ears

It’ll tow other things too. Not your car out of an icy ditch, but perhaps a regular bike from, dare I say it, an e-bike. The Tow Rope is load rated to 225kg, so in theory you get two of them and string them together like you’re a gang of climbers, bringing e-bike ease to everyone (except the sucker at the front).

The Tow Rope is 1.7m long but its stretchy nature means it expands to 3.3m under load and helps even our power surges and make the ride smoother. The idea is you loop one end round your saddle and the other round the stem so the kiddo can ditch it easily.