Best of Vital 2013 - Ten Products That Are Hard To Beat
The mountain bike industry has impressive capacity for innovation, and produces a considerable amount of new equipment each year that allows us to get more enjoyment out of our sport. Lighter, stronger, and sometimes even cheaper, this stream of fresh bling seems to spring from an endless source of fancy molecules and clever engineering, ready to inundate the shop floors and leave our credit cards gasping for air. In this tidal wave of bike parts and riding gear, some products rise to the top. While only one product could be chosen for the coveted Product of the Year Shreddy Award, here are ten new heavy hitters that made a big splash in 2013 and certainly deserve extra recognition. These are all products we've tested in the field with great results.
RockShox Pike Fork
The RockShox Pike is the best production trail fork currently in existence. It offers incredible damping characteristics and a ride quality that is second to none. Riding high in its travel it still manages to be very compliant, and the result is improved traction which makes you want to charge everything head on. It's a game changer.
Race Face Next SL Cranks
The Race Face Next SL cranks are among the lightest MTB cranks out there. With weights as low as 425 grams they would seem predestined for a life of XC racing - but not so. We rode these as hard as we could, and with stiffness and durability second to none, we wouldn't hesitate to run them on our downhill bikes. They are certainly not outright cheap, but if it's weight-savings you're after, the dollar per gram ratio is impressive. For new-school chain management without the need for a chain guide, pair them with Race Face's Narrow/Wide chainring for a killer setup.
TLD A1 Helmet
The Troy Lee Designs A1 helmet is hands down the best fitting lid on the market, and with looks to match you are sure to be turning heads at the trailhead too. There's plenty of adjustment available to make sure it will conform to the most unusual of noggins, and the inspiring amount of coverage makes it perfect for the new wave of aggressive trail or e-word riding. If lightning bolts aren't your thing, the introduction of the A1 Drone means there's a more affordable AND more subtle alternative available too.
Öhlins TTX Shock
The Öhlins TTX shock certainly knows how to make an entry, with its very yellow spring, gold body, and a distinctive twin-tube piggyback design. Even the name makes itself noticed with strange letters hailing from ancient times in its home country, Sweden. Far from just eye-candy however, the TTX backs up its brazen demeanor with impressive performance. The fruit of a collaboration between moto suspension specialists Öhlins and Specialized, the TTX is simply the best coil shock we’ve ever spent time on. It creates a bike that has a remarkable amount of control over all terrain, incredible small bump compliance, increased traction, and better braking characteristics. We really wish it was available for more bikes!
Scott Grenade Pro II Knee Guards
The Scott Grenade II kneepads are from the newer generation of emergency landing gear, made with that mystery molecule D3O instead of hard plastic for the main pad feature. Light and comfortable enough to work as trail riding pads, they are still sturdy enough to serve as full-on DH pads too. With time on all the major options out there, we can confidently state that someone finally did it - they made the perfect kneepad.
Cane Creek DBair CS Shock
The Cane Creek DBair CS shock took the impressive adjustability and performance of the Double Barrel Air shock and added a little something extra for those pesky uphills - a "Climb Switch". Not a traditional pedaling platform, the CS feature provides a specific oil circuit for both low speed compression AND low speed rebound which is activated with the simple flick of a dedicated lever. When engaged, the CS redefines control when riding uphill, and combined with the near infinite adjustability of the DBair, it’s a package that can improve any Enduro/all-mountain ride.
Spank Spike Race28 Wheels
Just a few short years ago, a sub-2,000 gram wheelset would not have been up to the rigors of downhill or freeriding. Recently, fancy materials and improved machining have led to the emergence of several such options, but none that combine very high levels of performance with incredible value for money in the way the Spank Spike Race28 wheels do. These hoops have proven themselves at the DH World Cup as well as at Rampage, and they can be yours for less than $500. Strong, light, and cheap - we no longer have to choose just two.
Five Ten Freerider VXi Shoes
The FiveTen Freerider VXi is a solution only FiveTen could pull off, incorporating the best of Five Ten’s innovations in a bespoke package designed specifically for mountain biking. The treadless innovation, when combined with the refined uppers and improved construction techniques, yields the best flat pedal shoe for trail and all-mountain riding that we've tried to date, especially in the new VXi Elements variety.
Teva Pivot Clipless Shoes
Lightweight, breathable, incredibly comfy, and for the most part very well thought out - we’ve yet to hear from anyone who doesn’t love the Teva Pivot shoes. Unfortunately they won’t be available for much longer. Teva, we thank you for your contribution to mountain biking, and here's to hoping it's just a rain check.
SRAM XX1 Drivetrain
No list of innovations would be complete without SRAM's XX1. While we already awarded it the 2012 Product of the Year Shreddy Award, it's wide-spread adoption in 2013 earns it a spot on this list. XX1 is simplicity at its best. With lots of clever improvements on almost every component included in the mountain bike drivetrain, XX1 offers wide-range gearing on a single chainring with far superior chain management to any other solution out there - on par with a chainguide in terms of chain drop prevention, while being much lighter, quieter, and without performance penalty at the pedals. If you are still not convinced XX1 is worth its considerable price tag, SRAM has recently introduced X01, a slightly more affordable solution that retains all the features its bigger brother but at a lower price point.