While it's definitely been a rollercoaster year for the bike world in general, 2023 has also brought us some very interesting and useful new tech. As the year draws to a close, the key testers from the Bike Perfect team have picked out their favorite products from the hundreds tested over the proceeding months. So here's the top seasonal MTB and off-road offerings from our five wise men...
Rich Owen's Gear of the Year
SRAM GX Eagle Transmission
SRAM's Transmission drivetrain is arguably the most significant new MTB product of the year and it's definitely been one that I've been putting plenty of miles on. While the initial release of XX SL, XX, and XO versions made all the headlines, the GX option unveiled a few months later is the one that most of us have been/will be riding and is now appearing on increasing numbers of bikes.
The ability to seamlessly make ultra-hard shifts into lower gears when smashing up climbs without brutalizing cog and chain is the big step forward – even more so if riding an e-MTB. Yes, this is a bigger boon to less experienced riders and habitual drivetrain mashers, but being able to rapidly and safely downshift on a climb without having to ease off the pedals is a great thing for all of us.
The only real drawback is that you'll need a UDH-compatible bike if you want to upgrade to Transmission. And while the hangerless system (the mech bolts directly to your bike) is a concern for some, we've still not heard any of broken chainstays or any other crash/stress-related issues.
Shimano GF800 GTX flat winter boots
If you ride clipped-in, there are tons of excellent winter-specific shoe options for you. However, the cupboard has been basically bare of worthy winter choices for flat pedal riders – until recently. Announced in August with a load of other new Shimano shoes, the GF800 GTX flat winter boots immediately caught my attention as winter riding usually means perma-frosted toes, so I got hold of a pair as soon as I could.
I've been testing the Gore-Tex lined GF800s for several months now and they are by far the best winter shoe I've ever used and have made riding in frigid Five-Tens a thing of the past. Ok, they look like something Herman Munster might wear if he took up MTB, but they're weather-proof enough to keep most of the cold and wet out, and impressive grip means I'm not pedal dancing on ice either.
Guy Kesteven's Gear of the Year
SRAM Eagle Powertrain
I’m polishing my crystal balls here and picking a product that we might not even realize the full significance of for a while. In fact, experienced riders will wonder what the point of it is at all – and they’ve already said so vocally. However, by combining ‘not perfect, but good enough’ Powertrain e-MTB auto shifting with ‘slower but foolproof’ T-Type Transmission drivetrain, SRAM has done something very clever and very forward-looking.
They’ve not only made MTB gears a lot closer in operation to automotive automatic systems in terms of thought-free operation. They’ve also added extra insurance against inexperienced/impatient/ignorant riders who haven’t had to learn the needy nuances of conventional derailleur shifting the hard way. And those are exactly the riders that MTB is probably going to see a lot more of now WB/Discovery is doing the marketing and motor companies are getting increasingly involved.
Graham Cottingham's Gear of the Year
100% Sling glove
Until I tested out the 100% Sling glove I wasn't really a glove guy, much preferring the direct feedback and control of having direct skin to handlebar grip feel. That said, I'm not much of a fan of direct skin to trail feel, which is a potentially common scenario while out mountain biking.
100% Sling are super lightweight summer gloves with an incredibly thin single-layer palm, topped with a four-way stretch woven material. Designed for summer ridding there are perforations across the entire palm, as well as laser cut holes across the back to keep your mitts as cool as possible. There is no fiddly Velcro closure, they just pull on and stay in place thanks to their great fit.
Sure, they probably won't offer a huge amount of protection from the ground, or the cold, but even having an extra layer between you and terra firma could significantly reduce the quantity of little stones you need to pick out your hands post-crash. Most importantly, the minimalist design still offers an amazing bar feel and better grip, enhancing control without missing even the faintest of trail brail.
Michelin Power Gravel tire
The low-profile triangle-shaped tread is a proven design and is similar to many other gravel tires. The tread uses Michelin's Magi-X Compound and the tire casing has Bead to Bead Shield Technology. The Bead to Bead Shield in the tires I reviewed used three layers of 100tpi sheets, Michelin has since updated this to 120tpi which should increase suppleness. The Power Gravel is available in 33mm, 35mm, 40mm, and 47mm, with the 40mm weighing in at a reasonable 469g.
When riding the Power Gravel is an excellent all-rounder that manages to balance rolling speed and grip impressively well and in all conditions. Comfort levels are decent too and despite slamming them through some particularly unforgiving rocky trails, throughout the 1,200km riding I did on these, they remained air tight. If picking a dependable do-everything gravel tire, I would be hard-pushed to look past these.
Sean Fishpool's Gear of the Year
Decathlon Compact Waterproof Windproof Overgloves
On a similar theme to Rich's warm toes, I'm all for versatility and I'm all for warm fingers, and these cheap and cheerful packable over-mitts from Decathlon score well on both counts. The Compact Waterproof Windproof Overgloves are definitely no lookers and you wouldn't want to wear them for normal MTB operations, but they add an extra layer of windproofing, waterproofing and warm air to your normal gloves when worn on top of them. I've found them particularly welcome in the chilly first half hour of a winter ride, and handy insurance in case the weather turns biblical mid-ride.
I was amazed to find that these little fellers kept my feet bone dry on a three-day waterlogged Welsh MTB trip this autumn. Even though they're mainly designed to seal the top of overshoes, the GripGrab CyclinGaiters worked beautifully over the top of my waterproof boots. Like my Decathlon over-mitts pick, these gaiters come with a bargain price-tag too.
Neal Hunt's Gear of the Year
Peaty’s HoldFast Trail Tool Wrap
While it's not the most exciting innovation, the Peaty’s HoldFast Trail Tool Wrap is the only product that's been with me on every ride, regardless of what and where I'm riding. It's easy to fit all sorts of frame shapes and locations and carries just enough essentials for my needs. I don't generally like carrying much with me when I hit the trails, so I avoid hip-packs and rucksacks when I can, and the Tool Wrap means I've always got the essentials with me.
DT Swiss 1900 wheels
I've had the very competitively priced DT Swiss 1900s on my trail bike all year, and although not the shiniest or fanciest wheels, they are great to ride, stiff enough, light enough, and have zero issues with setting up tubeless and being able to easily swap between Micro Spline and XD rear hub drivers is plus. Anything that means I can get on with riding with zero faff always gets a thumbs-up from me.
If our 2023 MTB and off-road cycling kit picks don't catch your eye we have selected a fine choice of discounted bikes over on our New Year bike sale bargains article. You'll find some massively discounted bikes, including the Santa Cruz 5010 with a huge 40% reduction.
There are also loads of January sales deals from the best mountain bike brands, including the best mountain bike clothing, helmets and footwear, with our favorite flat pedal shoes the Five Ten Freerider Pro.