Best Biking Experiences in 2018
Over the course of the year, we see and ride some of the latest & greatest the cycling industry has to offer – new bikes, new components, and new gear, often in amazing new places to ride. In lieu of our usual holiday wish lists, the editors of GravelBikes are shifting gears to honor the cream of the crop each year. Each of our core editors will pick the best of the best across a number of categories. If you are looking for a last-minute gift idea, this is a solid place to start, maybe even write up a nice IOU for that special cyclist in your life and start planning next year’s big adventure together. Here are those things that struck a chord with me in 2018…
For a little context, I’m an off-road guy who ends up spending a lot of time grabbing drop bars, on & off the road. Essentially a rider who thinks everything with disc brakes is a mountain bike, I ride a lot on cyclocross & gravel bikes as it gives me the chance to take a bike right out the back door and down the shortest route to the nearest singletrack. As our European editor I’m all about embracing adventure by bike, and sometimes that is closer than you think…
Editor’s Choice: Gravel Blinduro – Staré Město pod Landštejnem, CZ
I probably most enjoy getting out for multiple days on the bike, where I can go to sleep after a long day’s ride, knowing that tomorrow all I have to do is get up and ride too. My days of overly serious racing are behind me, and many stage races are simply too far away or too long for a working father of two. So color me surprised when I found the Gravel Blinduro being held almost in my backyard in Czech Canada (yes, that’s a real region in the Czech Republic, on the southern border with Austria.) With two days of racing, timed enduro segments, a dusk cyclocross segment, and friendly off-road riding in between stages, it was the most fun race in recent memory. Even knowing the general region, the Gravel Blinduro held roughly 130km of surprises with every kind of hardpack, sand, smooth gravel, baby heads, rooty singletrack, and quiet field & forest roads you could wish for. And thanks to the format, we were able to ride between stages in a group of mixed abilities, then hammer it out when the stopwatch started. The trick here is that registration is super limited. You need to register now (until Dec 31) to secure a spot for next year’s race Jun 22-23, 2019. Information is pretty thin (in Czech or English) besides the event’s Facebook in Czech (with robot translations available.) Actual registration is in English, though, once you set up an account. And who knows, like last year you might catch a glimpse of that SRAM engineer up top testing out the next gen Red eTap 1x with a stealthy clutched derailleur setup on Czech gravel like we saw this year?
Honorable Mention: Self-guided Switzerland
If paying to go ride open roads & trail isn’t your thing, might I suggest packing your bikes and heading to Switzerland. If you favor all-mountain or enduro, head to Davos for the Bahnentour 100k. It’s 100km of riding and 10,000m of descending thanks to 8 uplifts in various cable cars & gondalas. Can you do it in one day? Go in late spring or summer to get the longest days (you’ll need it!) We went after several lifts were closed for the season, and will be sure to return in 2019 to knock it out. Hint: Buy the trail book with all the GPX files & a map. And if you stay in a Davos-Klosters hotel, the lifts are free, but you have to buy a lift pass for your bike for just 10 Swiss francs. If gravel is more your thing, head deeper into Graubünden, the heart of which is just a couple of valleys over. Switzerland is known for mountain & road riding, but there is an endless supply of gravel that you can link together if you are willing to explore a bit. Just think, all of those ski lift access roads, plenty of Alpine cattle tracks, and a ton of walking trails that are open to bikes as well. When you can mix pavement, gravel and light singletrack, there’s nowhere you can’t explore. And the views are amazing. Hint: Mobile data & roaming charges are stupidly high in Switzerland. Plan ahead and grab a local SIM on your way in. Everything is pretty expensive in Switzerland actually. But the views are free!
Honorable Mention: Toros de Gravel, Mallorca gravel gran fondo
OK, one more event. The new Toros de Gravel, Mallorca gravel gran fondo was amazing this year. Between a festive atmosphere, a mix of quiet back roads, gravel, and technical singletrack that I’d guess 99% of cyclists who head to the Mediterranean island have never seen. It was a one day 150km race, where you could camp out on site, and party in the velodrome. The October weather was still a bit hot for me to race, but the riding was excellent. Plus, there were the local Dimonis out on the trail and lighting up the killer after party with unbelievable fireworks.
Mountain Bike Editor’s Choice
OK, now to the bikes. When the Cube Stereo 150 29er enduro bike debuted in late April I was convinced that it was too much bike to be an everyday ride. But, I had a blast riding up and (mostly) down on the new carbon race bike. It’s fast, light, forgiving, and offered surprisingly affordable complete bike builds. It doesn’t hurt that it has been raced all season through the Enduro World Series. Well, it’s half a year later and I want that efficient yet supple Horst-link shredder back. I spent the later half of 2018 riding my own trails, all-day Alpine epics, and bike parks on a mix of mid-travel trail bikes (longer than my usual XC bike) and I lust for that do-it-all, soak-up-all-the-big-hits ride of the Stereo 150 29er. It weighed just 13.9kg/30.6lb and I can always lock out the suspension if I need too (maybe even give it Fox Live Valve!)
I’ve been trail riding on short-travel XC bikes & hardtails since the late 1990s. There’s something to tossing a light hardtail off rock drops & down technical chutes. Riding Cannondale’s new carbon World Cup XC hardtail the F-Si with the all new Lefty Ocho fork, I came away thoroughly impressed. It was super light, yet trail capable, even a lot of fun to ride loose & out of control in the slick mud. But as high-performing that race bike was, it was the Heritage edition of the F-Si hardtail that earned it an honorable mention. Bringing back memories of riding that first Olympic XC mountain bike course just after the racing wrapped up, I would love to build up one of these retro looking bikes into a modern singletrack slayer, maybe with a new XTR M9100 1×12, some silver alloy components & skinwall tires?
Cyclocross Bike Editor’s Choice
Cyclocross season is short, but a ‘cross bike can make for an excellent all-rounder. Merida’s new Mission CX is a perfect example. Updating their old Cyclo Cross model, the new Mission brings the bike up to modern standards, while retaining a ride character that balances being fast on the course, and comfortable enough to ride a mix of road & trails all day without feeling beat up when you get home. Unfortunately, it’s not super cheap, but it’s light and certainly versatile. Fortunately, it also comes in affordable alloy versions, even a sweet 26″ bike for young ‘crossers.
Not every cyclocross racer needs a bike for every purpose. In that case, the Stevens Super Prestige is hard to argue with. This is the bike of World Champions like Wout van Aert & Sanne Cant. We’ve ridden and raced the bike, too. The latest generation is lighter and a bit more forgiving…