After two years of scratching about for new stuff to test, 2023 has seen the development taps opened in every category from clothing to tools, tire to suspension and analogue to AI. Some of the kit I’ve picked is fancy first gen tech with a ton of promise, some of it is simple but brilliantly functional. Some of it stands out for performance or price in an already crammed category, a couple are evolutions of established favorites and there’s even a tool that’s proved a real joy to use this year but certainly isn’t perfect. Anyway, that’s enough drum rolling, let’s crack on with my top ten in no particular order.
And once you've read this, you may well be interested in taking a look at my best bikes of 2023 article too.
1. Peaty's Holeshot Tubeless Puncture Plugger and ‘Holdfast’ Trail Tool wrap
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Peaty’s got their tubeless sealant sorted last year and they’ve followed it up with some excellent small in size but big in usefulness pieces in 2023. Their ‘Tubeless Puncture Plugger’ cleverly removes one side of the traditional ‘claw’ so it does less damage going in and doesn’t pull the plug out when you remove the tool. It comes complete with fat and thin plugs in a neat anodized case in loads of color options, but it’ll take any conventional plugs when you need to reload.
Want to go pack free but don’t have internal storage? Peaty’s ‘Holdfast’ Trail Tool wrap is a really clever take on a tool wrap, complete with zipped valuables pocket and a subtly reflective, frame safe securing strap that works with or without an inner tube underneath.
2. Feedback Pro Mechanic HD bike repair stand and Reflex Fixed Torque Wrench ratchet kit
The new HD version of Feedback’s Pro Mechanic Stand has taken over primary stand duties in my workshop this year and it’s an absolute beast. The signature anodized red legs and telescopic centre post have been beefed up to handle extra weight of E-bikes without flinching and it handles my Nicolai Enduro tandem fine. The quick release ‘slam clamp’ and rotating clutches have all been uprated and sped up in operation too. It’s still light enough to fold up and take to events or trailheads though and Feedback’s reputation for longevity is second to none, making it big, but very wise investment if you’re serious about your home servicing.
Another Feedback freshie I’ve come to love is their multi-configuration Reflex Fixed Torque Wrench ratchet kit, which might not be perfect, but feels so good to use that it’s rarely not in my hand in the workshop.
3. 7mesh WTV Chilco fleece and friends
Eco-friendlier, non-PFC DWR coatings are great for not killing the environment but they’re weakening predictable waterproof and weatherproof hardshell performance along the way. As a result, I’ve tested a lot of weather gear this year that’s fallen short of the mark, including 7mesh’s own Cache AirMap Anorak.
The Canadian clothing innovators have scored a huge success with their new WTV fleece gear though, to the point where very everyone I know who has a Chilco ‘Telly Tubby’ top basically lives in it. You can get close to the same performance with other fabrics like Polartec Powergrid and Alpha, or other smart fleeces, but WTV somehow manages to deliver sweet spot performance from mild conditions climbing to snow descent cold. The Seton kit performs equally superbly if you want a skinnier fit and there’s even a 7mesh WTV ear flap hat in the fabric too now. I’ve not seen that since my wife took it for her daily commuting ride and promptly became the latest convert to the cult of the Canadian super fleece.
4. Rab Cinder Kinetic waterproof jacket and pants
While we’re on the subject of weatherproof clothing that actually works, legendary mountain gear brand Rab released a range of riding kit under the Cinder brand this year. Like 7mesh it hasn’t all been a hit (the fabric mix and rear pockets on their wind fronted jerseys need work in my opinion), but the bike cuts of their Kinetic waterproofs have been really impressive. Both Cinder Kinetic jacket and Cinder Kinetic pants are soft, quiet and stretchy enough to disappear when you’re riding and a lot more breathable than the numerical stats would suggest. Plus the eco-friendly DWR actually lasts longer than ten minutes of rain or the first wash, so you stay dry for a decent amount of time. Add excellent back up including in house repairs and the only potential downside is that they look a lot more ‘rambler’ than ‘rad rider’.
5. PNW Loam Carbon bar
This one is a late addition to the list, but PNW’s bravery to jump into an already crowded market with their Loam Carbon Handlebar has really paid off. A bit more sweep than most bars is kind on wrists and the carefully curated ride feel from the ‘CBD’ Compliant Bore Design is a genuine sweet spot of accuracy and forgiveness on tough tracks. Add a low (232g) weight but with full MTB Gravity Category 5 rating from the independent EFBE’s Tri-Test lab, 11 different color options and PNW’s usual excellent product support at a great price and the Loam Carbon should definitely be on your cockpit upgrade shortlist.
6. Enduro Bearings
I don’t know if it’s been the dismal weather recently but a bunch of bikes I’ve tested recently have suffered from rapidly degrading, stiff bottom brackets after only a few weeks riding. I’ve had zero issues with the Cervelo ZFS-5 I’ve put way more miles into than any other rig though and that’s surely down to the Enduro Bearings MaxHit DUB bottom bracket.
Precision machining makes it a joy to fit, and as the cups are the actual bearing surfaces not just a holder for separate cartridge sets, Enduro can fit much bigger stainless steel bearings behind the green double lip labyrinth seals. The bigger balls can also handle impact loads better, hence the Maxhit tag. I’ve got the even faster rolling and lighter XD-15 Ceramic Hybrid bearings in my gravel bike and ‘basic’ stainless steel sets in my tandem. Enduro Bearings headsets, jockey wheels, suspension pivots and replacement wheel bearings are also on test and the results have been outstanding throughout.
7. RockShox SID Ultimate 2024
RockShox SID Ultimate 120mm race/downcountry fork was already an outstandingly controlled piece considering its World Cup winning weight, but the 2024 model is a significant step up again. New crown and more stanchion overlap increase stiffness and banish bushing knock issues. There’s a new Maxima Plush Dynamic lubing fluid, 50 percent more negative spring volume and a more robust damper valve with an intermediate ‘Pedal’ mode between ‘Open’ and ‘Lock’ that aggressive riders will be a big fan of. The result is smoother, more accurate, more controlled, slightly lighter and ultimately faster fork. The new blue looks sick too.
8. Maxxis Forekaster
The new Maxxis Forekaster came out last year but while I only got sample tires this year I've been running them as my go to fast all-rounder ever since. To be honest I was a bit disappointed with the weight gain over the previous Forekaster for dirty race use, especially as it only sizes up to 2.25in not the claimed 2.4in too. Its fast roll and weather versatile traction make it a welcome agility and acceleration boost compared to ever bigger, stickier ‘trail’ tires though. With similar tires from Schwalbe and Vittoria falling short, it’s become my go to front rubber for ‘downcountry’ duties when paired with a faster rear tire. There’s an e-MTB approved Exo+ version too, but it does leave a hole in the Maxxis line up for a properly light and wet weather gripper, as the new Maxxis Severe is a seriously quick but slippery race only option.
9. Hunt Proven Carbon Race XC wheels
It’s been a great year for MTB race/trail wheels, with the new Zipp HiTop joining existing favorites DTSwiss XMC, Roval Control / Control SL and Reserve 28 as a lightweight, wide rimmed, efficient but not sketchy option for easy extra speed. Hunt have jumped into pole position with their new Proven Carbon Race XC wheels when it comes to value though by offering extremely competitive performance (only Control SL and HiTop are significantly lighter from the list above) for just under a grand. They’re trail tough, wide enough to fatten tires and support low pressures and you get a lifetime rim warranty too.
10. SRAM Eagle Transmission AXS and Powertrain
I’ve left this combination until last because if you can already shift gear fine you don’t need them. In fact, the ‘won’t shift until the chain is perfectly synced’ lag of T-Type Transmission means it’s a slower shift than previous AXS mechs. You’ll need a bike with a UDH dropout to access the locked in place cassette and rear mech relationship and it’s attendant extra strong, modular construction benefits too. However if you can’t – or don’t want to – time your shifts perfectly to terrain and temper your pedal torque to keep your chain and rear mech intact, then T-Type Transmission is an almost totally fool proof solution.
SRAM’s new Powertrain e-MTB Auto Shift takes away the need to read terrain or manage your own cadence freeing up a remarkable amount of thought space for pushing the pace, or just fully embracing the fun everywhere on the trail.
The US mega-brand's move towards components designed to make riding as easy as possible certainly represents a big shift in their focus that some might see as dumbing down. However, World Cup race wins with Transmission and prototypes of their latest RockShox Flight Attendant AI suspension proves this kind of tech can be a competitive edge at the highest level, as well as a big help at the entry level.
If you consider that more stable geometry, increasing suspension travel and tougher/grippier tires have already moved mountain biking significantly in that direction then it makes perfect sense too.
And if you don’t want to buy into the whole batteries and electronics on bike thing, then that’s fine – there are still plenty of simpler, totally proven transmission options out there, not least Shimano’s bombproof Linkglide range.
If Guy's top 10 2023 MTB and off-road cycling kit picks don't appeal, we have selected a fine choice of discounted gear over on our New Year bike sale bargains article. There you'll find some massively discounted bikes, including the highly rated Santa Cruz 5010 with a huge 40% reduction.
There are also loads of January sales deals from the top mountain bike brands including the best mountain bike shoes, helmets and tech.