Our personal favourite bikes, bits and rides of 2016
The best bikes, the hottest kit and the most exciting places to ride of 2016.
The best ride of 2016
From craggy highland epics to root-ripped woodland hacks, we’ve explored the UK’s finest trails in 2016.
An impossible task, this one, picking our favourite ride of the year, so brilliant and varied is the natural riding on this green isle. Two stand out though, because they shook up our idea of riding and because they embodied the spirit of this magazine, and hopefully you too.
The first we called a Trail a Day — pretty descriptive, because it’s about our search to find a new local trail every day for a week. This is our bread and butter — trying to help everyone find new and exciting places to ride. There’s something really special and exciting about riding a new trail, and it’s even better when you discover it like some modern Howard Carter, raiding King Tut’s tomb: “Can you see anything worth riding? Yes, wonderful things.”
Our second favourite ride of the year is a classic, and much known trail, but it’s really a story about adventure… as all good rides are. And this one was great.
Sligachan on Skye in the Hebrides has some of the most beautiful and most technical riding in the UK — impressive and daunting enough to ride in the summer, but how about the dead of winter with a foot of snow on the ground? We had to find out, and it proved a ride of extremes: exhilaration and pure joy mixed with cold (so cold) and a bit of fear too. But hey, isn’t that why we ride? Download the route.
Trail centres and bike parks
You could hardly move for new trails in 2016, so fast and furious was the pace of change. They popped up like wild mushrooms poking through the loam, ready for harvesting by hungry mountain bikers.
Most notably, the long-awaited 417 Project bike park in the Cotswolds opened its doors, revealing indoor dirt jumps and a couple of uplifting downhill runs. BikePark Wales had something new too (of course), the longest red line in the park opened to glorious fanfare, as did the news the venue could double in size thanks to planning permission: up to 23 more tracks.
It wasn’t just new trails either. From Swinley in the south to Penmachno in Snowdonia, trail centres couldn’t stop themselves upgrading their old sections and adding berms and flow. Dalby in Yorkshire removed fire road from its blue route, while the Marin Trail in North Wales created a 2km section called the Dragon’s Back.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg — we’ve been to over a dozen trail centres this year and each is making strides to improve the riding you’ll find. So if you haven’t been to your favourite man-made loop in a while perhaps it’s time for a visit — chances are you’ll find something new to ride.
One big trend and a Whyte wedding of price and performance dominated the bikes of 2016.
It’s Desert Island Discs time — if we had to pick just one bike to ride for the rest of time it would be the Whyte T-130 S. It’s been on sale for less than 12 months but it’s already a modern classic and the ultimate blend of performance and price, at £2,299.
The backbone of any good bike is the frame, and the T-130’s alloy build is exceptional — stiff enough to punch through rough terrain and featuring all mod cons like single ring-only build, internal cabling and a wider Boost back end. The geometry is spot-on too, long, low and slack for really challenging terrain.
All that sounds good but not exactly exceptional… until you factor in the suspension performance of the T-130. British brand Whyte has been building well-priced, well-designed bikes for years now, but this is the first time we’ve seen its suspension performance go from adequate to amazing. When all this comes together the end result is quite simply one of the best trail bikes to grace the pages of mbr in our 20-year history, and it joins a handful of other all-time greats, like the Orange 5, Lapierre Zesty and Specialized Stumpjumper.
Long, longer, longest
When the Mojo/Nicolai Geometron bike was launched in 2015 its sizing spoke volumes — you could get the bike in long, longer or longest size. This influential machine led the long bike revolution in 2016, pointing the way for new bikes: ever longer and slacker with it.
Pretty much every bike brand we can think of is adding millimetres to the length of its bikes, and some have even bought Geometron test bikes to see what all the fuss is about. And the really smart brands are building more length into once-cramped cockpits, stretching the reach and making room for short stems.
How far will it go in 2017? We’re not sure but we certainly haven’t reached the limits just yet — Geometron is adding an even bigger size XL in the near future.
It landed. SRAM launched its Eagle groupset in 2016 with an incredible 12-speed cassette, eclipsing rival Shimano’s 11-speed XTR set-up and taking single-ring drivetrains to the next level. Twelve gears is no good if you don’t have a decent spread of ratios though, something SRAM didn’t neglect, creating a 500 per cent range from its tiny 10t sprocket right up to a pie-dish-diameter 50t for really steep terrain. SRAM said this makes a bigger range than any 2×10 system out there, while still boasting less weight and clutter.
Adding an extra gear is more evolution than revolution, but the improvement in shifting performance was dramatic. There’s more to Eagle than just a big cassette: the chainring has longer, positively raked teeth, together with a host of other improvements like increased shifting performance and reduced chainsuck.
We reckon this is what Eagle will be remembered for and why 2016 goes down as a pivotal year. Is this the year the front mech died? SRAM says yes, but at over £1,000 for the XO1 drivetrain there’s life in 2×10 yet.
Tubeless pumps popped up everywhere
Riding without tubes in your tyres gives extra grip and reduces the likelihood of punctures — a winner then. Just getting to that tubeless state and setting up the tyres has been a nightmare on some tyre and rim combinations though… until this year.
Now there are multiple dedicated tubeless tyre inflation pumps on the market, taking the sting out of the set-up. All work in pretty much the same way: there are two conjoined chambers, the first a regular floor pump barrel used for pumping and the second a big chamber to store the pressurised air.
This means that for the first time since going tubeless we’ll be able to swap our tyres around with impunity as the conditions demand.