It’s a great time to be a mountain biker. The pace of innovation is dramatic, and it can be hard to keep up with the latest advances, but even if you’re not in the market for a new bike or upgrades today, many of the technologies introduced in 2014 will benefit you in the years to come — by which time they will also (hopefully) be more affordable.
I spend most of my time working in the dirt, and as a tech editor, I selected products that raise the bar, solve a genuine need among mountain bikers, or that I found myself reaching for each time I hit the trail.
These are the top five products I tested in 2014.
Bontrager Flash Charger TLR
Trek and Bontrager seem to be doing a lot of things right this year. The company introduced 27.5in versions of the popular Fuel EX, unveiled the RE:atkiv damper technology it co-developed with the Formula One experts at Penske Racing, and rolled out the extra-wide Boost 148 axle standard.
What impressed me the most was not the bikes or the new tech, but a tool – a lowly floor pump, to be more specific.
But Bontrager’s Flash Charger TLR is not just any floor pump; it’s a human-powered air compressor that makes short work of stubborn tubeless tyres. In my opinion, this is the most innovative mountain bike product of 2014, and I firmly believe that when it comes to mountain bikes, the Flash Charger TLR resets the bar for what a floor pump should be.
Related reading: Bontrager Flash Charger TLR review
US$119 / £TBA / £TBA
Yeti Cycles had a banner year in 2014. Not only did the company roll out an eye-catching new suspension system, but it also backed up its claims about the effectiveness of its new Switch Infinity platform when Jared Graves rode away with the Enduro World Series win aboard the SB6c.
Like Yeti, many companies pushed hard into the 160mm market with incredibly capable machines that put the downhill bikes of just a few years ago to shame. But as versatile as these new long-travel bikes are, they are still overkill for most riders on most types of terrain.
Enter my favourite bike of 2014, Yeti’s SB5c. Like its longer-travel big brother, the SB5c fully embraces Yeti’s long, low and slack ethos, but it does so in a package that’s more suited to the average mountain biker.
No, it’s not cheap, but it is incredibly versatile: it climbs better than some cross-country bikes and can hold its own on the descents — Yeti racer Ritchie Rude even rode it to several EWS stage victories.
Related reading: Yeti SB5c review
US$3,399 (frame only) / £TBA / AU$ TBA
SRAM Guide RSC brake
“Plenty of power, mountains of modulation” was how I described these brakes after I first rode them. Having logged more than 1000 miles on them this year, I stand by that statement.
This is SRAM’s best brake system to date – the Guide line of brakes have shed the inconsistent performance and noise issues that plagued past Avid/SRAM brakes with dramatically increased modulation and improved ergonomics.
I’m hopeful that many of the changes incorporated into the Guide RSC will spread throughout SRAM’s brake line in 2015.
Related reading: SRAM Guide RSC review
US$199 / £TBA / AU$ TBA
Race Face Indy knee guards
The Indys were one of two products I kept reaching for each time I rode away from my house to the trails (one of the perks of living in Fort Collins, Colorado).
The hype surrounding the rise of enduro has led to an effusion of ‘enduro-specific’ products and marketing drivel. But it has also led to a lot of great products suitable for weekend warriors. Soft body armour is one category of products that has seen a rapid increase in the number of options and quality of products thanks to enduro racing.
The Indy offers great protection in a light, slim and pedal-friendly package. I’ve never felt encumbered by them, having logged 40-mile rides in these pads without thinking twice about their presence, and I’ve tested their crashworthiness on multiple occasions.
The hallmark of any great product is that it works without having to think about it. On this score the Indy delivers.
Related reading: Race Face Indy knee guard review
US$69.99 / £64.95 / AU$ TBA
The other item I reached for each time I hit the dirt? Giro’s Terraduro. They’ve been my go-to shoes for nearly every ride that doesn't involve Lycra and a number plate.
Yes, I gave these shoes a one-star review. I had to – two pairs failed under test!
That doesn’t mean I don’t still love the Terraduro and believe that if Giro did, in fact, fix the sole delamination issues many riders experienced, that this is the best all-around mountain bike shoe.
“Trust but verify” are words tech editors like myself try to live by. I’m doing just that with these shoes. Giro claims it has fixed the problem, the 250 miles I’ve put on my latest pair of Terraduros supports the company’s claim, but I’m going to log another 250 miles on them before I update the review.
Related reading: Giro Terraduro review
US$180 / £TBA / AU$ TBA