SRAM GX Eagle
Bikes aren't cheap. GX Eagle doesn't eliminate that, but it does bring massive range closer to the masses. Once a rider has spent time gently spinning that luxurious 50-tooth granny gear, bigger-than-an-old-DH front chainring, it's hard to go back.
"But it's so nice," seems to be the resounding response whenever testers were forced to part with Eagle's 500-percent gear range. A 2×11 drivetrain still will net you more range, but when you compare previous SRAM 1×11's 420-percent, 500 is ... 80-percent more FREE! Just like our favorite cereal boxes tell us.
What's not to like? It does have a pinned cassette, which the fashion-conscious may deem unsightly, and the long-and-low cage could theoretically be more prone to striking things, though we have yet to witness it. It adds 238 grams in total over X01 Eagle, more than half a pound--but, and this is a big but, it is less than half the price of X01 Eagle. Most importantly, we found no discernable difference in shifting performance between X01 Eagle and GX Eagle. The true test will come months from now once we've accrued more miles on this group.
What does this mean to you, kind reader musing over a sea of options? It means that you will see bikes in Bible from $4,000 to $5,500 sporting this drivetrain. You can't even find a $7,000 bike within these pages that's full X01 Eagle devoid of its GX sibling.--Will Ritchie
Today's trail bikes tackle unruly terrain incredibly well, but also scamper uphill more efficiently than ever imagined. To accommodate modern riders' needs, Fox Shox has cross-pollinated cross-country and downhill-oriented shock features to deliver the well-rounded performance required to feed the bell curve of trail bike demands. The Fox DPX2 shock gets its name from the Dual Piston Base Valve that oversees the internal circuitry for the shock’s three modes operated by the blue lever: Open, Medium and Firm. The DPX2 also features the damper found in Fox’s aggressive-terrain-oriented X2 shocks, all designed to deliver small-bump compliance with reliable mid-stroke support. In the Open setting, 10 clicks of compression tuning are available for fine-tuning how the shock manages the rear-wheel travel through its stroke. The one-piece EVOL air sleeve allows for lower air pressures, which translate to better small-bump absorption and traction. Additional customization of the shock's progressiveness is easily accomplished with the addition or subtraction of volume-reducing spacers. Designed for today's mid-travel bikes, the DPX2 is currently available for frames requiring either imperial or metric shock sizing.
Fox's DPX2 provides long-travel air-spring tunability in a platform ideal for scaling hellish climbs, yet it remains active and progressive for when, against better judgment, one actually does go ‘full enduro.’--Ryan Cleek
Maxxis DHF 27.5 x 2.6 3C Exo TR Maxx Terra
Whatever happened to boundaries? There used to be order in this industry. Tires used to be either fat or they were ‘normal.’ Then plus size happened, but apparently that just wasn't good enough. Now there are 2.6-inch tires, and we're having hour-long meetings to discuss what we even call these things.
Part of it depends on the brand. Options from Specialized and Schwalbe look and ride like traditional tires. Although the 27.5 x 2.6 Maxxis Minion DHF casing doesn't quite measure 2.6-inches wide (it was a hair under 2.5 on our 35-millimeter inner-rim-width wheel at 18 PSI), it definitely doesn't ride like a traditional tire.
Most who would run 2.8-inch tires at 15-17 PSI would run a 2.6 closer to 17-19. At that pressure, the compliance is remarkably similar to the 2.8. The 2.6 tires feel noticeably lighter and slightly less squirmy, and they're just as grippy and soft over small, sharp edges. But there's a smaller margin of error for pinch flats, which can already be a problem in the 2.8-inch world. Riders who like the true plus-size experience may be better off getting it from true plus-size tires. But then we did some experimenting while up around 21 or 22, and I'm not talking about college. A moderate approach to pressure perfectly bridged the gap. We could ride nearly as aggressively as with ‘normal’ tires, but with a little more grip and a little more sharp bump absorption. But we still don't know what to call them.--Travis Engel
Bontrager Turbo Charger MTB
A good pump is a good thing. It is strangely hard to find a pump that doesn't squeak, doesn't seem poised to immediately topple over and doesn't promptly break. Throw in well-thought-out features that actually make sense and the options further narrow.
Bontrager's Turbo Charger MTB Floor Pump ticks those boxes and comes in at a not-absolutely-horrendous-but-not-inexpensive $90. It touts a very readable, top-mounted gauge that maxes out at 80 PSI, which the hose attaches to, netting you quite a bit of extra length. This may seem insignificant, but when quickly topping off tires, there's something very pleasing about not having a pump fall over when attaching a pump head to a 12 o'clock valve position. More than one tester at the Bible finished using the pump, set it aside, then quickly made a sidelong glance back in a my, that's certainly a good pump extra moment of musing. We were impressed.
Now before we get overly excited, let's know what the Turbo Charger MTB is not. It's not a tubeless magic pump, no irrefutable ability to tubeless-ify a not-yet-set-up-tubeless setup. For that within the Bontrager line, look to the TLR Flash Charger.
Even despite lacking the tubeless forced-air wonderment component, one adept tester was able to set up a tire tubeless purely through getting his sweat on stroking away. The especially tall, large-diameter barrel moves a lot of air quickly through the hose, so it is possible. In a world of ho-hum options, the Bontrager Turbo Charger MTB is a standout.--W.R.
SRAM Code RSC
We're about to tell you how much we like SRAM's new brake. Just like we did the Guides before, and the Elixirs before that. Yeah, we see a pattern too. But SRAM has solved its production problems. If you're hung up on the past, you'll miss out on the future.
The Code lever actuates its master cylinder with a slightly beefed-up version of the cam used on the Guides. The mechanism allows the pads to rest farther from the rotor before the lever is compressed. After it's compressed, the leverage increases, offering more modulation earlier in the stroke and more power later in the stroke. The fluid reservoir sized up so the Codes can take more heat, and the slave cylinders and surrounding assembly material followed suit so they can apply more heat.
But their extra power is just part of why the Codes made our list of favorites this year. We were quite impressed with how easy it is to control that power. They're a lot like the Guides in that way, but with access to what feels like an extra 30-percent more on-demand deceleration.
And they achieve their modulation without feeling squishy. That wide spectrum of force occurs within a tiny amount of lever throw, and it may be what we love most with the Codes. They feel right. The ball-bearing pivot is smooth under heavy and feathery loads. There's no rattle and no rub. And that feeling is just as valuable on a lightweight trail wanderer as on a reckless downhill party machine.--T.E.
If there's one component everyone's a little touchy about, it's grips. Simple as they may seem, it's where we spend the most tactile time with our bikes. Most of our testers are die-hard lock-on fans, but we were very impressed by WTB's new PadLoc grip that came aboard our Pivot Mach 5.5. The PadLoc system is quite innovative and features a wedge-shaped inner sleeve that fits over a bar that is cut to fit the wedge shape of the grip. Where the bar is cut, WTB added extra material to the grip, making the ends super comfortable.
The grips we tested were Pivot's own Phoenix Team PadLoc grips, which fall under the WTB system, meaning they are compatible with other PadLoc options.
The inner wedge fitting also allows for a non-slip fit because the sleeve of the grip is able to securely lock onto the diagonally cut plane of the bar--something that is impossible on a traditionally round handlebar. One of the downsides is that you either need to cut your bars or buy one of the bars that is built to fit the PadLoc system (WTB offers detailed instructions on how to cut existing bars on its website). The PadLoc is available in six models in various colors with thicknesses ranging from 28 millimeters to 33 millimeters and retails for $35.--Lacy Kemp
Lezyne Digital Shock Drive
Do you need a digital shock pump? Considering sometimes all you actually need is a sharp-edged rock to adjust your suspension’s air pressure trailside, technically, no you don't, but damn if it's not nice having one stashed in your pack. And damn if it's not nice having this one stashed in your pack. Lezyne's aluminum Digital Shock Drive is light, sleek--as one could expect from the designed-focused brand--and fits nicely in a hip pack, whereas some competing digital pumps are too long for narrower bags.
And while the digital option could be considered unnecessary, especially when Lezyne's analog version costs a third less, seeing a clear, concise reading on the display is an extravagancy that's difficult to give up once you're used to it.
The digital gauge outputs pressure in PSI (up to 350) or Bar (up to 24), and is powered by a lithium CR1220 battery, which automatically turns off after several minutes of inactivity. Operation is simple--press the power button for 2 seconds to turn on and off, and hold it for 10 seconds to reset the gauge when it's on. The zero-loss chuck design unthreads from the shock after the valve pin seals to ensure the reading on the gauge stays true after you're done pumping, and the hose threads into the handle when it's not in use.
Lezyne's shock pump quickly turned into one of the most valuable tools of the test--riding multiple bikes per day requires continual shock set-up and fine-tuning on the trail, and it was reliable and accurate every time, making it a need, not a want. --Nicole Formosa
Shimano Deore M6000
I'd rather review a glass of water than attempt to conjure up 250 words about Shimano's Deore brakes. I'd delve into the finer points of water quality, excoriate or extol its flavor as bitter, earthy, metallic or perhaps even mountainous. I could investigate the actual cost of this very 16 ounces of water, comparing its value--given its quality--relative to that offered by other municipalities. If I tired of writing about the water itself, I could turn to the glass: its ergonomics, durability and aesthetic. I could crank out 10,000 words on a glass of water. But Deore brakes? There's just not much to say.
Which is to say that they work--really, really well. The two-piston stopper offers as much modulation as Shimano's SLX-, XT- and XTR-level brakes. SRAM's Guides are more easily modulated than any Shimano brakes, but we'd take a set of Deores over Guide Rs any day: They give you more power and more consistent lever feel.
There's no pad contact adjustment, and an Allen key is required to adjust the lever reach, but that never bothered us since it's easy to get the Deore lever where you want it. When it's finally time for a bleed, you won't have to look like a drunk nurse juggling two syringes thanks to Shimano's one-way bleed system. We'll confess to being annoyed at having to grab a tiny Allen key to hit the release button to open the hinged lever clamps, but that's getting awful persnickety. As in the past, Deore brings all the performance you need in an affordable brake that's consistent and easily serviced. Now that's a tall glass of water.--Jonathon Weber
Feedback Sports Team Edition
Go into the pits of any bike race in the world and you'll see a lot of two things: bikes and Feedback stands. Park Tool might rule shop floors, but the ubiquitous red repair stand has carried more bikes to race wins than big blue could ever dream of. But simply holding the world's fastest bikes is apparently not good enough for Feedback anymore--they want to turn some screws too.
The Team Edition Tool Kit houses 19 items capable of just that--along with picking, bending, prying and cutting stuff--in a case that's designed to hang from a repair stand. It's not a complete set of tools, but it'll get you off to a solid start--that is, if you plan on working on reasonably high-end, modern bikes. You won't find cone wrenches, but you will find a curated selection of well-designed, pro-level tools. Standouts include the high-polish pedal wrench, rotor realignment tool, and bottom bracket/cassette combination wrench, steel-skeleton tire lever/disc pad spreaders and an ergonomic valve tool. And while the good old chain whip definitely doesn't require re-invention, Feedback's Cassette Plier is pretty sweet.
Feedback seems to be aware that the three supplied Y-wrenches won't quite pass muster for professionals, evidenced by an empty flap opposite the Ys, where Feedback's super nice (but spendy) T-Handle set will conveniently slide right in. Feedback's handles look and feel is less refined than what you'll find from, say, Snap-On or Knipex, but they do have good hand feel, and more importantly, the tools are accurate, durable and backed by a limited lifetime warranty.--Ryan Palmer
DT Swiss E1700 Spline 30
DT Swiss has been manufacturing industry-leading hubs and spokes for some time, but some of the brand's first tries at hoops produced less-than-stellar results. DT quickly learned from its missteps and now produces some of the best wheels in the game--aluminum ones especially.
There are a few things that separate DT's rims from others, starting with something that's often overlooked: the actual aluminum that forms them. Some rims are so soft they dent if you look at them funny, but these things are tough. And when you do dent them, they hold up to the damage better than other rims. After running his tires way too soft, one tester returned from a loop with several dents in a rear E1700 Spline wheel. It was still true, had maintained spoke tension and the tubeless seal was still intact--that is, the wheel was still 100-percent functional.
DT has done its homework on tire fitment as well. Most tires will mount up and can be removed without levers, and in many cases, a tubeless tire can be seated with a traditional floor pump. The E1700 is available as pictured with a 30-millimeter internal-width rim, perfect for 2.5- and 2.6-inch tires, or with a more conventional 25-millimeter width, both in 27.5- or 29-inch diameters. There's also a 35-millimeter option designed for proper 27.5-plus tires.
When you lace up a hoop this nice with 3-crossed DT Competition straight-pull spokes to DT 350 Centerlock hubs (the pictured 6-bolt configuration pictured is OE-only), you wind up with a wheel that's pretty tough to beat. And pretty tough to beat up.--R.P.