I've tried a mountain of shiny new bikes and gear this year, but here's what I'd actually buy with my own dosh...
I’ve been testing mountain bike gubbins for nearly two decades at mbr, but I’m still surprised at the quantity, quality and diversity of it all. The most exciting development in 2023 must be the realisation of automatic shifting, from Shimano in the form of Autoshift and SRAM with, well, Auto Shift, but underneath the tip of this iceberg are hundreds if not thousands of new designs making bikes better than ever.
How do I pick my three favourite products from such a sea of ideas then? The simplest method must surely be to ask myself what I’d buy if I was let loose in a bike shop with a Gold Amex Card and a healthy disregard for interest rates. This way I’ll be picking products that I really covet, rather than those I think I should want.
Case in point, I have enjoyed trying out SRAM’s new Powertrain motor and its clever predictive shifting, but would I want to spend my own money on it? Probably not. On the flip side, would I want to be able to fix my motor for a few hundred quid if it went wrong, or pay a thousand or so for the manufacturer to do it? Damn right I would.
Without further ado then, here are my favourite products of 2023, split into bikes and gear. Here’s hoping Mrs JD sees this page…
I’m sure you’ve noticed, but it’s rained a lot recently. Look out the window, it’s probably doing it now, provided it’s not snowing, sleeting or hailing. In years past a really dirty winter like this one would have made me reluctant to go out but the Endure has genuinely changed things. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a magic dreamcoat that can turn off the sky taps, but it’s tipped the balance in favour of going out instead of staying in and watching other people ride bikes on YouTube.
It’s not the waterproofing quality of the Endure that’s had this effect. Although it is ridiculously good at keeping out rain thanks to its Gore-Tex liner with a 28,000mm hydrostatic head rating (if you’re not into your membranes that’s a sh1t ton).
What’s made the switch is the Endure’s breathability. My old mantra had always been “be bold, go out cold,” which I borrowed from the great Toby Pantling at Ace Bikes, meaning underdress for riding with the idea you’ll heat up and feel toasty after 20 minutes. It does work, but the first part of any cold wet ride is a miserable affair because of it, and that right there is the part that puts you (me) off.
The Endure is just that little bit better at shedding heat than jackets of yore though, meaning you can wear one more layer underneath it without boiling up midway through a ride. Bingo, no more cold starts.
How it performs this feat is a blend of good design from Gorewear and an excellent waterproof membrane from GoreTex. The Endure jacket is what’s known as a two-layer design, where the inner liner is the waterproof membrane, toughened and smoothed to be durable and comfortable enough next to your skin. The outer layer is the membrane’s protection against foliage, bits of bike, the trail itself or anything else you’re unlucky enough to rub up against.
Until recently it was necessary to sandwich the membrane between two layers of protection, thus creating a three-layer garment. More layers means more insulation to get in the way of your evaporating sweat. Then came 2.5 layer jackets, with a very thin mesh layer inside – better, but not by much. And now we have genuine two-layer designs for maximum breathability.
What does Gorewear add? Minimalistic design, with no chest pocket to get in the way of the wicking process, waterproof zips, a baffle to protect your neck, a high neckline and pre-shaped arms with velcro cuffs, and a hood that’ll fit right over your helmet. Winter, nil: GoreTex, 1.
I hate having to choose the Relay as my bike pick for 2023, but I’ve got no choice. I’ve ridden a lot of great-value bikes this year, like the new YT Jeffsy with a starting point at £2,500 for the Core 1, or any of the hardtails from our mega test in the summer (particularly the Voodoo Bizango Pro). They’re a sensible way to spend your money, and the kind of thing I’d recommend to friends or other parents on the school run who ask me which bike they should buy.
But mountain biking isn’t always about common sense, and my thoughts kept coming back to the Relay, the most fun bike I’ve ridden all year. Yes it’s stupid money, but to quote Emily Dickinson (pretentious twat alert) ‘The heart wants what it wants’.
The Relay uses Fazua’s new(ish) Ride 60 motor, it’s the best realised lightweight unit out there, with the optimal blend of power and battery capacity. I won’t harp on about it too much, as Mick Kirkman’s listed the motor itself as one of his best products of 2023. So while the greatness of the Relay does rest in part on Ride 60 it’s not why it’s my favourite bike of the year.
Instead it represents what I’ve always wanted from an e-bike, which is for it not to feel like an e-bike. The ride feel is feverish, like Piccadilly Circus on a Friday night there’s always something going on and it sucked me into a kind of trance. Making creative line choices, firing myself off anything lippy, slashing corners – all very foreign to a normal kinda trail rider like me, but the Relay made me go for it all the same. If the Transition could be distilled into capsule it’d be illegal.
The eBike Motor Centre isn’t exactly one of the best products of 2023, but I’m shoehorning it in because it offers a unique service. Besides, a service is really just a product you can’t actually touch.
What does the New Forest based centre do then? Simple, it’ll fix your e-bike for you when it’s out of warranty. Owner Peter Collard and his team will source, make and fit pretty much any mechanical part of an e-bike motor that’s become damaged. The electronics side of things are outsourced to a local firm. Motors that can’t be fixed are replaced with used motors of similar mileage and condition.
And instead of a £1,200 bill from the manufacturer, the price of a new motor and fitting Peter says, a repair will be in the low hundreds.
This is an incredibly important service, as e-bikes proliferate and bikes pass from owner to owner, and gradually slip out of warranty. If e-bikes are to continue as viable mountain bikes they need a complete support structure lasting multiple years to ensure riders aren’t left with 20kg lumps of plastic and metal.
The eBike Motor Centre also has a neat preventive measure for Brose motors powering Specialized Turbo Levos and Kenevos. For £200 you can upgrade the internals of the motor, fitting heavy duty sprag clutch bearings, extra seals, exotic grease, and electrical plug treatment to stop water seeping up the wiring.