Editor’s Note: Katherine, our new web editor, wasn’t on staff when the 2015 Editor Choice Awards were being collected for Dirt Rag Issue #188, so her honorable mention list is made up of stuff she purchased during the past year on her own dime.
If you want to know what the rest of the staffers chose as their favorite bikes and gear of 2015, pick up the latest issue off a newsstand near you, or purchase a digital copy now.
Chromag Trailmaster Saddle – $96
The Trailmaster is my just-right saddle. It features a medium-sized platform, has a “medium” amount of padding (it’s not super soft, despite how thick it looks) and is neither too flat nor too curved nor too deeply channeled. Similarly to SRAM’s Guide brakes, I can ride my full-suspension bike all day and not notice this vital component because it just works. I usually ride wearing lightly padded liner shorts, but the saddle is padded and comfortable enough for a brief outing if and when I forget my chamois.
The perforated natural leather top wears a classy striped pattern and has aged admirably, with just a small amount of barely noticeable cracking on the rear after almost a year of rides. Otherwise, it still looks remarkably new and doesn’t feel as if it has lost any of its support.
The Trailmaster looks smaller than it feels under butt thanks to its padding and edges that are generously rounded off for ease in maneuvering off the saddle. At only 4 mm longer than Chromag’s dirt jump saddle, and featuring a soft nose, it might not be the best platform for people who spend a lot of time slid way far forward to grind out climbs, but I have been pleased with the Trailmaster on 99 percent of my rides.
The Chromag Trailmaster has chromoly rails, weighs 310 grams and measures 284 mm by 140 mm.
SRAM Guide RSC Brakes – $410/pair
SRAM’s Guide brakes have gotten so much love in the past year and have worked so well that they have nearly been forgotten, but they should still be on your radar whether you’re upgrading or building a bike from scratch. In fact, after choosing them for this list, I had to go for a quick pedal to think about how they feel; these brakes are so good that I have been able to ignore them, trust them and just ride.
The RSC Guides have impressed me with their modulation, reliability and adjustability. They don’t feel grabby nor do they replicate the unnerving, brake-pedal-to-the-floor-then-catch feeling of the old Avids I replaced. As a smaller rider with smaller hands, I appreciate tool-free reach adjust and true, one-finger braking that is always smooth. After many rides—not always in great conditions—these brakes have stayed true, quiet, powerful and proven to be very low-maintenance. Read Mike’s review if you want all the technical details.
Giro Wind Vest – $80
Simply called “Wind Vest,” this is Giro’s least-expensive outerwear offering (price is the same for men and women). Despite the steep price tag for what seems to be a simple piece of gear, I have found it to be worth every dollar. On any ride when the temperature is 70 degrees or below, this vest goes with me. I never know if I’ll get cold on a long descent or end up sitting outside a coffee shop in the shade. It wads up small, stuffs into its own pocket (inside the vest) and can fit in the hip belt pocket of my hydration pack or a rear jersey pocket.
Giro’s vest is made of Pertex Nylon Rip Stop fabric and features a perforated rear panel that means a less-sweaty back when riding with a pack. My vest shows no signs of wear after almost a year of abuse being worn under backpacks, stuffed into gear bags and rained on. It wicks moisture and is highly wind and water resistant. It’s an indispensable piece of gear with multiple uses that I’m never sorry I carried and often very glad to have.
The vest is slightly fitted but doesn’t have the upside-down triangle shape of hardcore roadie gear. It lacks grippers and still has room in the hips. It is comfortable enough off the bike that I also wear it running and hiking. The women’s sizes run almost a full-size large, especially if you want this to fit closely.
Surly Bikes Racing Sucks Hat – $28
Before you wave a rigid carbon pitchfork in my direction over my bad attitude, know that I bought this hat specifically to wear at a 12-hour mountain bike race. Since then, I have ditched my other baseball-style head coverings and reach for this Surly cap exclusively. It features fancy pinstripes, a high-qualty embroidered patch, Flex-Fit stretch, polyester and Spandex construction and a standard brim (as opposed to flat, bro-brah nonsense). The hat has even held up to multiple trips through the washing machine. Those are nice touches but, really, my favorite thing is that this hat says “Racing Sucks.”
Most people understand that the sentiment is supposed to be funny, and I can feel good about my day knowing that I made some people laugh. Even better are the ones who don’t know how to react to a woman wearing a hat that says “sucks.” I wasn’t allowed to say that word as a young child but we’re all adults now and, if you have a sense of humor, you should have this hat.
SRAM went back to the drawing board when it designed the Guide brake series introduced last year. We tested and reviewed the RSC model and found they are vastly improved over previous SRAM/Avid designs.
The new Guide Ultimate model takes the design a step further with a slightly revised caliper and carbon fiber lever arms. The S4 caliper gets changes to the seals and piston coatings that help with rollback and consistency that SRAM says will help with proper alignment to minimize drag. Each caliper holds a pair of 14 mm pistons and a pair of 16 mm pistons for both power and modulation. Heat management is aided by aluminum heat shields that break the thermal connection between the pad and lever body, insulators integrated into the pistons, and a large pad opening to allow more air flow.
The calipers also features the new Bleeding Edge bleed port that simplifies the bleed process. A dedicated adapter plugs into the bleed port and seals the system to minimize air contamination and fluid loss.
The lever body still features the adjustable reach and contact point of the Guide RSC model, but adds a carbon fiber lever and titanium hardware.
The Guide Ultimate brakes will retail for $288 per wheel, in either black or Arctic Grey when they go on sale in May.
Finally, the pair with the new Ultimate line is a new set of Centerline X rotors, a two-piece design that sheds weight over the one-piece steel models. Available in 140 mm, 160 mm and 180 mm, the rotors have an alloy center and steel brake track. They will be available in July in both six-bolt and Center Lock versions for $72 each (140 mm and 160 mm) or $78 (180 mm).
The long awaited change to SRAM’s brake line is finally here. Don’t look for the Avid name or the usual XX or X0 style designations, the new brakes are named SRAM Guide, and model level is identified by features rather than drivetrain family. We received one of the first sets available back in May of 2014 to begin long-term testing.
Because of issues with the TaperBore master cylinder design from previous brakes, SRAM now uses a cup seal and timing port to pressurize the system, along with improved sealing throughout. As a result, the recurring problem of air getting into the braking system and causing the lever to pull to the grip should be eliminated.
“Part of what led to an occasional increase in deadband with previous designs was the EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber) bladder. As pads wear, fluid from the reservoir is pulled into the increased space behind the slave pistons at the caliper. The displacement of fluid creates a bit of a vacuum in the reservoir,” said Duncan Riffle, SRAM’s MTB PR coordinator. “The new Pure bladder’s flexibility does a great job adapting to this situation and minimizing the vacuum effect. Previous EPDM bladders had a bit more ‘spring’ to them which meant they were trying to ‘pull’ fluid back into the reservoir from the caliper when the pads wear, which in turn leads to inconsistent rollback at the slave piston and then potentially a change in feel at the lever.”
But the changes didn’t stop there. Our Guide RSC (which stands for Reach adjust, Swinglink, Contact adjust) is loaded with features. Starting with the Swinglink, a new cam shape at the lever lessens deadband for minimal lever throw before pad contact. It also changes the curve compared to previous Avid brakes for a very linear feel that ramps up strongly yet controllably. A new sealed bearing at the lever pivot also provided a silky smooth feel. Tool-free contact point adjustment and reach adjust allow you to quickly and easily personalize the feel and performance of the brakes before or during a ride.
The 4-piston dual-diameter caliper carries over from the Elixir Trail brakes, and is just four grams heavier than previous double-piston, cross-country-specific Avids. Total weight per brake for the top tier Guide RSC averages 375 grams, depending on hose length, making these ideal for cross-country, enduro and all-mountain riders.
Once installed, dialing in the feel takes minutes. I have found myself on occasion slightly adjusting the front brake’s contact point to keep it matching the rear—usually within the first half hour of a ride if the bike has been sitting for a day or two. It’s quick and easy (I don’t have to stop pedaling) but it is something I’ve noted.
On the trail, these are easily the best brakes the SRAM group has released. The levers are nicely shaped and pull is incredibly smooth, with a strong yet predictable initial engagement that continues to come on powerfully without ever being grabby, even at slow, poke-along speeds in rugged terrain where careful braking is required. High speed stopping is also strong and seamless with no tendency to lock up the rear wheel. This is how brakes should work—never having to think about what they’re doing or going to do. Adding to this is the new Centerline rotor that completely eliminates squawking with a new surface that keeps the pad friction point consistent throughout rotation.
After nine months of testing it’s becoming clear that SRAM has a brake that finally rivals or possibly surpasses its main competitor in both function and price—they’re going for $199 per wheel. We’ll continue to use and abuse our Guides (we have three sets among the staff) to see if they maintain this excellent performance. Thus far, we expect they will.