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Guy Kesteven's gear of the year 2021

Guy Kesteven Gear of the Year
(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

It’s probably been the hardest year ever for companies to deliver fresh products, but that hasn’t stopped some real gems from arriving at Bike Perfect. That includes the exotic, the economical, the super-adjustable, the simply just right, the progressive, the proven, wireless, weird and every material from cutting-edge carbon and alloy, to wood. So here’s a round-up of some of the best mountain bike kit I’ve used in the past twelve months and why it’s stood out to me.

Best bike: Canyon Spectral

Canyon Spectral 29 CF 8.0 2021

Dialled ride and wide range of price points from affordable alloy to super lightweight carbon (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Canyon’s first batch of Spectral CF 29er carbon fiber bikes was already on my favorites list thanks to a mix of radical geometry, utterly sorted suspension, impressive stiffness and even more impressive value for money. Now, the Koblenz firm has #completeditmate. 

At the top end, Canyon added a 2,250g CFR-framed Spectral 29er with 160/150mm travel, that’s lighter than a lot of 120mm-travel bikes. The flagship Spectral is a coil-shocked mullet bike for the rowdy park shredders, that comes equipped with RockShox’s latest Flight Attendant AI suspension tuning. 

What will matter for far more people is that the same superb attention to detail and 'a ride that's so good it’s almost boring' ride dynamics are now used in an alloy framed range in both 29er and 27.5er formats, with prices from $3,299 / £2,449 upwards.  

Read our Canyon Spectral 29 CF8 review for more.

Best e-MTB: Whyte E-150

Whyte E-150

Alternative battery and motor setup really benefits the ride quality (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

A very short ride (literally two stages of the Ard Rock Enduro) on Nukeproof’s new Megawatt has definitely put the Irish brand on my watchlist thanks to superlative suspension performance, great value build packages, and handling that makes the absolute best of the naturally playful mullet wheel format. 

When it comes to a proven trail advantage, Whyte’s unique frame design that allows the battery to be slid right down in front of the rolled Bosch motor format, gives its e-bikes incredibly slammed stability, but also stops the double-decker bus, high-side fear that haunts most battery-packing rigs. Excellent suspension and hardcore tire spec mean the E-150 can charge techy descents harder than a lot of more expensive, longer travel bikes too.

Check out our review of the Whyte E-150 S e-MTB for more information.

Best groupset: SRAM GX AXS 

SRAM GX AXS

Sleek and clean wireless shifting, just cheaper (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

It’s easy to see why SRAM’s GX AXS groupset has become the must-have gear shifting setup for both complete bikes and upgrades. The super slick, remarkably reliable, user-tuneable, app-referencing AXS wireless ‘ecosystem’ has already been thoroughly proved by the top-end XX1 and X01 groups. The new GX uses exactly the same AXS electrical elements as its pricier siblings, but with some structural cost-cutting that makes it slightly heavier and far more affordable, with no perceptible difference in performance. You can even mix and match it with AXS road or gravel groupsets for a monster cassette drop bar option.

We thought the SRAM GX AXS drivetrain was so good we awarded it a full five stars.

Best wheels: Hunt Trail Wide and Enduro Wide

Hunt Trailwide wheels

Hunt continue to offer high performance with its budget wheelsets (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Hunt has been kicking some very prestigious and pricey ass with its alloy wheelsets for a while, but the first-generation rims did have a tendency to dent when properly hammered through rock gardens. This doesn’t have to be a ride-ender though, and I generally didn’t even lose the tubeless seal when it happened. Plus, being alloy rather than carbon meant the dent could often be persuaded straight again with pliers back at base. 

The new Trail Wide and Enduro Wide wheels both benefit from several years of research and testing to make a more resilient rim that still has the excellent ride characteristics that made the original rims such rider favorites. Weights are still competitive with many carbon wheels, let alone alloy, and pricing is excellent too. 

Best tires: Teravail Kessel

Teravail Kessel

Grippy and supple MTB tires from the new kids on the block (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

You might have heard of Teravail tires if you’re into fat bike or gravel riding, but this was the year the US brand really burst onto the MTB scene globally. To be honest that’s exactly what one of my first Honcho ‘Fast and Supple’ lightweight carcass tires did when I tore the sidewall open while testing it on a deliberately savage and rocky trail. 

Thankfully the Kessel only comes in tougher Durable or Super Durable formats, and it’s proved impregnable so far. It’s also amazingly grippy and eerily well-damped yet still stable in the 66mm wide 2.6in format I tested. It is heavy at 1,200g, and even more expensive than most premium options, but I still reckon it’s worth an award just because it’s good to have a new brand right up there in the rankings.

Best pedals: Burgtec Penthouse MK5 flat pedal

Burgtec Penthouse MK5 flat pedal

Bombproof, seriously grippy and the anodized looks last too (Image credit: Burgtec )

Burgtec products have a cult-like following that’s firmly ‘ahem’ underpinned by their super grippy flat pedals, which have been evolving constantly for season after steezy season. This fifth version of their legendary Penthouse pedal echoes #flatpedalthunder louder than ever before.

Good as their previous footholds have been, the MK5 pedal delivers even more precise grip, is remarkably stable and has incredibly robust qualities that make it a noticeable upgrade when things get properly rowdy. This true top-level performer is available in a host of anodised colourways that are matched through the rest of the Burgtec range too.

 Best shoes: Specialized 2FO Roost flat pedal shoe 

Specialized 2FO Roost flat pedal shoe

Specialized's Roost tick all the boxes for what we are looking for from a MTB shoe (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

It has been a busy year for flat pedal shoes with new several brands rethinking their ranges, plus newcomers from Crank Brothers and others. Specialized have totally refreshed their shoe line from ultralight carbon XC kicks to a whole host of DH/enduro/trail shoes with clipped, clipless, dial-in or lace-up options.

Specialized’s new 2FO Roost flat pedal shoe is one of the best performing products of 2021 – thanks mainly to its SlipNot ST pedal-hugging grip which is a match for the leading rivals. Combined with a flawless fit and killer looks, this is a shoe we’ll be rocking right through to 2022.

Read our Specialized 2FO Roost flat shoe review.  

Best tool: Topeak Joe Blow Tubi 2 Stage 

Topeak Joe Blow Tubi 2 Stage

Smart pump tech from Topeak makes tubeless setup easy (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Yes, it’s the price of a powered compressor and costs more than most of the combo tank and pump sets I’ve tried, but none of those have the concentrated genius that is the new Tubi2 head from Topeak. This uses an ‘airlock’ design with a plunger that slides onto the valve core so you can unscrew it, use the low or high pressure setting on the heavy-duty metal Joe Blow 2 Stage pump to blast your tubeless tires into position with ease. Then you just screw the core back in, pull off the valve head and crack on. Tubeless made tube bliss.

Object of Desire: Santa Cruz Blur 

Santa Cruz Blur 4

As fun as it is efficient, the Santa Cruz Blur is a XC rocket (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

I tried everything I could to avoid Santa Cruz’s new Blur XC bike after I’d tested it. That’s because every ride on it had been a showcase of just how much fun a freakishly light but glued to the ground, supple traction race bike can be. So while Scott’s hidden shock Spark has more travel, more aggressive geometry and a stiffer frame for significantly less cost to make it the efficiency and economy winner of the new crop of much more capable XC bikes, when it comes to charisma it’s the Cruz that stole my maxed-out heart this summer.

Read our full breakdown of why we thought the new Santa Cruz Blur CC X01 AXS RSV was so much fun.

Gamechanger: Giro Chrono Pro Neoshell 

Giro Chrono Pro Neoshell

Designed for road but technical fabrics means it works well on the trails too (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

As the name suggests Giro’s Chrono Pro Neoshell came in for a test on our roadie-focused sister site Cyclingnews, but I’ve actually worn it mostly off-road. That’s because the single zipped chest pocket is great for teaming with a hip pack or backpack, while it's a bit lacking for road. 

The outstanding breathability of the Neoshell fabric also works really well in a lower speed and higher effort MTB scenario where heat management is more important than conventional, extended hard shell waterproofing. The same ‘great off-road’ remit applies to the slim but causally styled cut which gives balloon-free mobility on the trail, but still looks OK in the pub afterwards. 

Anticipated: Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Alloy

Specialized Stumpjumper EVO Alloy

Top spec, rowdy geo with an alloy chassis should make this a winner (Image credit: Specialized )

Like my Canyon Spectral bike of the year, Specialized’s Stumpjumper Evo blew me away last autumn with its totally sorted 150mm-travel ride and beautifully balanced asymmetric frame. It also added a huge amount of adjustment to already extreme geometry, and it’s only been the high pricing that kept it from taking this year's overall prize over the Canyon. 

That potentially changed when the original MTB mass producers announced a new alloy version with all the same features, including geometry adjustment to as slack as a 63-degree head angle, internal ‘SWAT’ storage and optional mullet rear-wheel link. With the Comp at $3,800 / £3,250 and the Elite at $5,600 / £4,500 complete with Kashima-coated Fox Factory suspension, pricing is very aggressive too. 

The only problem is I haven’t had my test sample yet, so you’re going to have to wait until the new year to find out if it lives up to its considerable promise.

And while delays have been an inescapable part of 2021, at least I  can be glad that when things do eventually arrive, bike design and development is still pushing performance fast enough to make patience pay off. So keep your eyes peeled for even more testing of the latest and greatest gear (plus all the other good, half-decent, meh and disappointing stuff that creates the comparative podium for my top picks) on Bike Perfect in 2022.

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg