I’ve never been a sponsored rider. I chalk that up to my being generally uninterested in racing and the fact that I’ve never been fast enough to deserve having someone else pay my bills for riding. In fact, most of my riding career has been spent scraping together enough coin to support my habit. As a tester for Mountain Bike Action, I wouldn’t even be allowed to have a sponsor, even if I did somehow uncork the riding speed I’ve always envied among the racing elite. The reason for this is pretty simple: I never trust the product endorsements of paid athletes, and neither should you. Their livelihood depends on them saying, “Brand X is the best.” If MBA test riders had sponsors for racing, it would create a serious conflict of interest for all of our testing.
The riders at Mountain Bike Action are dedicated to giving a fair evaluation of all the products we test on the trail. It’s our job to discern the good products from the great ones. So, then, I must have a few favorites, right? These are the products I ride when I’m not out testing and the ones that I would spend my hard-earned money for.
Jersey and shorts: I stay far away from Lycra “monkey suits.” I prefer to leave those to the thin-as-a-twig cross-country-racer types. I really don’t need to feel like I’m riding in my underwear on the trail, which is exactly what a pair of bib shorts is. For shorts, I gravitate towards Troy Lee Designs’ Ruckus. They’re light enough for the summertime riding here in SoCal but also abrasion-resistant enough for when I inadvertently decide to “toss the biscuits” and crash my brains out. I don’t like to pretend that I’m sponsored with a jersey that has more company logos than a NASCAR driver’s. I like the TLD Network jersey. It basically looks like a T-shirt, but it’s made of wicking fabric to keep it more comfortable.
Shoes: Depending on the ride I’m heading out on, I really only have two favorite shoes. I’m the kind of rider who likes to find a perfect cleat position and then run a pair of shoes into the ground. If I’m headed out with a group of fast cross-country guys, I always go for my Sidi Drako shoes. They’re super stiff, very lightweight and amazingly comfortable. They make me feel faster. If it’s more of an all-mountain jaunt that might include some hike-a-bike sections, I go for my 5.10 Kestrel shoes. They’re still clipless compatible, but they use a sticky rubber sole and a slightly more flexible build to make them a little more versatile than my Sidis.
Helmet: As with my shoe choice, my helmet choice depends on the riding I’m doing. On a cross-country ride, I love the fit, feel, ventilation and styling of the Specialized S3. It’s not Specialized’s highest-end helmet, but it feels so natural when it’s on. For more aggressive rides, I go with the Troy Lee Designs A1. It’s not nearly as well-ventilated, but it offers more coverage and a better fit with goggles should I choose to go full enduro.
Underwear: I would never show up for a ride wearing only bib shorts, but under my baggies, there’s no better solution. They never fall down. They’re supremely comfortable, and they are 100 percent prevention against the dreaded “plumber’s crack.” I have several pairs that work well, but my favorites are Pearl Izumi P.R.O. bibs. Pearl also makes an awesome base layer called the Transfer that I rarely ride without. This combo seems to keep me cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
Eyewear: Whether it’s goggles or glasses, I never ride without some kind of eye protection. For glasses, I’ve had the best luck with the Smith Arenamax. It’s a shield-style super-light glass with tons of coverage and easily swapped lenses. These glasses work in every light condition—from bright sun to night rides. When I go for the enduro style, I like 100% RaceCraft goggles. They offer plenty of protection in a stylish package.
Hydration pack: I’m still a hydration pack guy in a world where many riders are opting to carry their water and supplies in their jersey pockets. If I’m on the trail without a pack, I feel like I’m forgetting something. I am such a perfectionist when it comes to bike setup that I like riding with extra tools and a shock pump too. Try to fit all that in a jersey pocket.
The Acre Hauser pack has been my choice lately—not because it works exceptionally well (in fact, I’ve ridden with many packs that are more functional), but because it’s so stylish. I have to admit that I’m a slave to fashion on this one.
Gloves: Thin gloves always make me feel faster than chunky ones with tons of protection. As long as I have a comfortable palm area with adequate protection paired with a lightweight back and minimalist closure, I’m happy. My latest favorite has been the 100% RideFit.
Final touches: If you’ve been reading this magazine the past five years, you’ve probably noticed I run name decals on most
of my test bikes. I should mention that this doesn’t mean I’m the only one who rides these bikes. We test our bikes as a group, and every MBA test rider’s opinion matters. Still, the placebo effect of having one’s name on the top tube can give “faux pro” strength. This is as close to sponsored as I will ever be. I go through VC Graphix to have these printed. You can buy them in a 10-pack for about a buck a decal.
It’s a great time to be a mountain biker, because the products we use improve with every passing year. My favorites change from time to time, but this is the kit that I’ve learned to fall back on time and time again. Some of these product picks will change in time. For now, though, I can’t think of a better kit for my riding style.
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