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GravelBikes’s Top Bike & Gear Picks: Editor’s Choice Awards 2018

Best Gear of 2018

Another year has absolutely blown by, and we’re already starting to plan for 2019. But before we pop the champagne and start making ride plans in the new year, it’s time to look back on some of the best gear from 2018. As usual, there was no shortage of incredible products making this selection process quite difficult. Everything below is something that I have actually used, but more importantly would continue to use. If you’re looking for the best, our Editor’s Choice lists are a great place to start.

About Zach

To me, riding is all about fun. If I had to describe my riding goals, fun would be one of the most important descriptors. I (try to) wheelie everything. I’ve never been that into racing, and I’m not all that concerned about fitness – except to be able to ride longer, go faster, and have even more fun. To me, traction, ride feel, and handling are more important than having the lightest, stiffest, etc. While I’m a mountain biker at heart, I also spend a lot of time on drop bars. However, the proliferation and improvement of the gravel bike means I’ve spent almost zero time on a road bike this year. During the winter (or summers on the beach) I ride a lot of fat bikes, and have been dabbling with the occasional e-bike for commuting.

EXPERIENCE EDITOR’S CHOICE

Picking out your favorite riding experience is similar to what I’d assume it’s like to pick your favorite child. Each riding destination brings something unique to the the table in terms of terrain, environment, and atmosphere. But more often than not, it’s the people you’re riding with that make the greatest difference. Which is probably why for two years in a row now, one of the events I’ve most looked forward to is the Atomik Adventures Rocks, Roads, and Reggae ride. There’s no one reason why it’s one of my favorites, but trading the cold, wet midwestern shoulder season for the warm and (mostly) sunny weather of Florida surely doesn’t hurt. Then there’s the road trip aspect of it all – driving for hours with a good friend, making ridiculous pit stops along the way, and planning out the adventure. Pre-event, we set up camp on the beach and rode our fatbikes for hours, only to ride even more the next day, and the day after that on some local mountain bike trails. Three days later it’s time for the main event, Rocks, Roads, and Reggae II – a two day bikepacking/slackpacking ride through the sandy back roads of Gainesville, FL. No one was racing, everyone was just riding their own pace, chatting, and having a great time. Follow that up with some incredible Jamaican cooking and live Reggae jams from Garner parchment (with some help from The Gravel Cyclist on “Down Under“), and you have a party within a ride (or maybe a ride within a party?). I’ve made some great friends from the event, and I’m already looking forward to next year (which may or may not be back in Florida). It’s easy to get stuck dreaming about rides in far off, exotic lands. But don’t discount the rides in your backyard. Sometimes those can be the most fulfilling, and don’t even require a passport. Photo c. Jens Stoudt/Pivot

HONORABLE MENTION

There are so many other adventures this year that would certainly be worthy of mention, but riding Porcupine Rim on a big bike was a utterly memorable experience. I’ve ridden this trail a number of times prior, but never on a bike like the Pivot Firebird 29. This trail is made for long travel and 29″ wheels, and the Firebird pedals well enough that the few spots that aren’t downhill weren’t an issue. The only thing that would make this ride better would be starting out at the top for the Whole Enchilada, but I’ve never been lucky enough with the weather while I’ve been in Moab to make it happen. The Hazard County trailhead is the highest I’ve been able to start due to snow and mud up top, but this at least adds some incredible trail to the full ride. Some day…

ROAD/GRAVEL BIKE EDITOR’S CHOICE

Kinda letting the cat out of the bag on this one before the final review, but the Kona Libre DL has been such a fun bike. The geometry and positioning is pretty wild compared to some of the competition, but I think that’s part of why I like it so much – it certainly meshes well with riders coming from an MTB background. While the bike sits you up fairly high, and the bars are super wide, the ride is incredibly comfortable and I realized the other day that I haven’t been getting numbness in my hands on rides which tends to happen on other bikes almost no matter what. It’s super easy to wheelie, handles mountain bike trails like a champ, and has plenty of mounts for just about anything you’d want. It’s also ridiculously fast. Faster than my current “road” bike, and this thing has 45mm knobby tires. Add in a light build that doesn’t resort to too many carbon parts, and you have a great bike for bikepacking or just gravel adventuring.

MOUNTAIN BIKE

Specialized has always had great bikes, but for whatever reason, they never really struck me as my “favorites.” That all changed with the 2019 Stumpjumper 29. With a complete redesign, Specialized got nearly everything right. The suspension, the frame stiffness, the tire clearance, cable routing, dropper length compatibility, SWAT, quietness, the list goes on and on. My first impressions of the bike were great, but it was when I got it onto my home trails that I really fell completely in love with the bike. Every time I ride the new Stumpjumper, I find myself thinking ‘this is a proper mountain bike’. Not an enduro bike, trail bike, or any other designation. Just a mountain bike that can ride just about anything, and ride it extremely well. It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve built my review bike up with a number of other EC winning parts, but even at the base level Comp Carbon 29 12 speed version, it’s an incredible bike. Photo c. Jens Stoudt/Pivot

HONORABLE MENTION

As mentioned in the experience section above, riding the Pivot Firebird 29 on Porcupine rim was a transformative experience. The big wheels and the suspension were perfectly suited to riding the rough, ledgy trail at warp speed and it was a ride that I didn’t want to end. The Stumpjumper just edged the Firebird out on accessory storage and overall versatility though – I could ride the Stumpjumper on Porcupine rim or on my trails back home, but the Firebird would be a little much. With that said, if I had a choice for which bike to ride Porcupine rim again, it would still be the Firebird. But that’s just me – if you lived somewhere where you could use the Firebird on a daily basis, it is one hell of a fun bike and would be a great choice.

HONORABLE MENTION

We’re often riding very expensive bikes because well, they’re usually the most exciting and companies want riders to at least lust over their high end bikes. But that typically leaves consumers looking for reviews on affordable bikes disappointed. I had the chance this year to put a lot of miles on the Polygon Siskiu T7 which retails for $1,899. Granted it doesn’t ride like the Stumpjumper, but you’re getting a lot of bike for the price and it’s more than adequate for a beginner, intermediate, or even advanced rider on a budget.

Fat Bike EDITOR’S CHOICE

I’m jumping the gun here with a lot of my end of the year reviews, but my EC pick for a fat bike in 2018 is an easy choice. As I see it, when it comes to fat bikes these days, you have two choices – either you go with 26 x 3.8-4.6″ tires and 27.5 x 3.8-4.0″, or you go the full 26 x 5″ and 27.5 x…

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