Review: Bell Super Air R MIPS Helmet

Bell helmets have been my go-to since the first Super was released back in 2013. After the OG Super, I bought a Super 2R, then went back to using the original Super because it fit a little better. I then bought the 3 because it didn’t crush my temples like the 2 did - and now, I’ve added the new Super Air R to my line up.


“I haven’t crashed in the helmet, so I haven’t been able to really test it!” - is a line thrown around in almost every helmet review. Classic! The same is true here; I haven’t crashed in the Super Air but let’s be honest - most people are way more interested in how well the helmet vents and how compatible it is with goggles, because #enduro.

The helmet does a pretty good job of staying cool, with 26 vents (18 in the helmet, 8 in the chin-bar). I was a little sceptical at first, given the solid patch of helmet without vents on the back of your head, but Bell’s done a good job of directing the air around your head. I had the new Specialized Levo SL under review for part of the time I was reviewing this helmet so I thought, what better time to cut some full-face laps? And even with the chin-bar, the helmet doesn’t get too hot climbing (granted, it was assisted climbing). You do definitely heat up more though with the chin pads, so if I was embarking on a longer climb I’d probably opt to remove the chin-bar.


Goggles and glasses fit well in both open and full-face modes, and while it was a little bit of a squeeze to get my 100% Armegas to fit under the visor, they’d stay put for the most part. and besides, I’m more of a goggle-round-the-neck kinda guy anyway. The fit was great and easy to adjust with Bell’s Float Fit system. But helmet fit is subjective and everyone’s head is different, so if you wanna be safe - try before you buy!


So, what are my overall thoughts on the Super Air R? For most of my riding up here in Auckland, where there’s not a ton that’s super rough or steep, it’s perfect. In open-face it’s comfy, breathable and for the most part I completely forgot about it. If I wanted to go ride laps at 440 or a local shuttle day, the chin-bar is perfect and adds extra protection, while giving me the option to take it off and ride open-face if it gets super-hot or if I want to do some pedalling later on. If I spent more time racing Enduro, or lived somewhere with a lift, I’d lean towards the Super DH or a dedicated full-face.

Words & Images: Cam Baker

Review: 100% Cognito Gloves

Before I begin this review, I need to make it known that I hate riding in gloves. I don’t know what it is about them, I’ve just never meshed with them. Call me crazy, but I’d rather ride without them - and risk cheese-grating my hands should I crash - than ride with them and spend the entire ride questioning why I put myself through wearing gloves. I really only ride in gloves if it’s next-level rainy, icy cold or super-hot and dusty and, because I pretend they don’t offer any protection benefits, I usually find myself reaching for the most minimal pair of gloves I can find. Enter the 100% Cognito glove.


The Cognito glove is, for all intents and purposes, a minimalist glove. Featuring a thin, perforated palm, the glove rides pretty cool. The gloves are made up of a durable material that’s stretchy enough to keep movement free, with additional material between your thumb and index finger, right where your handlebars sit, to offer a little more comfort on long rides. The thing that makes these gloves different to every other pair I own, is that they offer protection against more than just abrasion. The Cognito’s feature D30 knuckles. You might have heard of D30 kneepads? If you’re not sure what D30 is, it’s a soft foam that firms up under impact, meaning you can absorb higher impacts with less material, versus traditional foams. I’m not a fan of the rubber some gloves place over the fingers to offer protection, so this was a welcome addition.

When 100% reached out and asked if I wanted to test a pair of Cognitos, I jumped at it and asked for a pair in L. It wasn’t until I got the dispatch notice that I realised they suggested going a size up a size from what you usually ride in. The gloves arrived and sure enough, the cuff was super tight when going over my palm. What surprised me, though, was that once I got the gloves on, the cuff sat as it should around my wrist and the rest of the glove fit well too. A few months in, the cuff is still super tight around my palm but once the glove is on, it’s super comfy. And the D30 is great: you don’t notice it at all when riding, but it’s nice to know there’s something there for you if you do come off. I haven’t, yet, so can’t attest to its ability to protect.

Durability wise, the gloves have been great. They’ve stood up to wet rides where I’ve spent the whole time death-gripping the bars, a little bit of patchwork at the local trails and a spin through the washing machine. I was expecting the silicone grip on the palms and fingers to come off pretty fast, but they’ve also lasted! Speaking of fingers - the gloves feature special material on the fingertips and thumbs so you can use your devices whilst wearing them…. but that’s one of the last things I care about.

No matter how nice a pair of gloves, I’ll never wear gloves on every ride. However, if I went riding somewhere and had to ride with them (say Wairoa Gorge for example) the Cognitos would be the gloves I reach for. They’re just as comfy as all of the minimalist gloves I currently own, while offering more protection than every other pair I own and that’s about as good as it gets…. from someone doing his best to channel his inner Blenki.

Words & Image: Cam Baker

Review: Specialized Turbo Levo SL

I bounce between bikes a fair bit. My stable is a bit of a revolving door, with a constant flow of review bikes passing through. Getting to try new bikes? It’s great, don’t get me wrong - but it doesn’t take long to realise that marketing shit-talk like ‘game-changing’ and ‘ground-breaking’ get thrown around a lot, and that more often than not, these terms are exactly that: marketing shit-talk.

Every so often, though, we get a bike that genuinely piques my interest with marketing shit-talk. One that I could see myself buying into. Specialized’s new Turbo Levo SL was one such bike. The Press Kit showed up in my inbox making statements like “this changes everything” and “so light you’ll forget it’s electric” and, after a quick read to learn a bit more about it, I was electrified (I’ll see myself out) - especially when Specialized said I could take one for a week. I’ll say it now: a week is definitely not enough time to put together a comprehensive review on this bike, but that’s okay, because the experience this Levo SL offers is completely different to anything else on the market, that I’ve ridden. And a week is plenty of time to fall in love with that experience.


I’ve always been pro eMTB, and whilst I don’t think they’ll ever replace pedal bikes, they’ve definitely established a place in the market. Climbs become fun, they’re capable descending and you can fit in double the laps. They’ve always been substantially heavier than acoustic bikes, though, and that becomes abundantly clear once the trails start to open up. The added weight definitely helps keep things stable and gets your centre of gravity a little lower, but for the most part you can assume the word ‘playful’ won’t be used to describe an eBike - if you’re comparing it directly against a pedal bike. This is where the Levo SL is a little different.

Specialized already have two eMTBs in their line-up: the 150mm travelled Turbo Levo and the 180mm travelled Turbo Kenevo. Both multiply your power by about four times, giving you the ability to blast up hills faster than you ever dreamed of without a motor, but to get all that power there’s also a lot more weight. The S-Works Turbo Levo comes in at around 21kgs and the Turbo Kenevo comes in at around 24kgs. The Turbo Levo SL falls into a whole new category of eBike; prioritising weight over power output. The Turbo Levo SL Comp I got to ride comes in at just under 20kgs with pedals, a bottle cage and the SWAT Steerer tool, but instead of quadrupling your power like its big brothers, the Levo SL only doubles your power.

One of the biggest advantages that Specialized have when it comes to eBikes, is that they don’t rely on third-party manufacturers for the drive systems. Instead, Specialized manufacture their motors in Switzerland, giving them the ability to design their drive systems specifically around their bikes, versus manufacturing their bikes around a drive system by someone else. At the heart of the Levo SL, you’ll find Specialized’s new SL1.1 motor. Launched on Specialized’s Turbo Creo SL eRoad bike, the SL1.1 motor weighs 1.1kg less than the 2.1 motor that features on the Turbo Levo and the Kenevo and, unlike the 2.1 motor - which was designed to maximise power output - the 1.1 was designed to maximise weight savings. The Levo SL also features a 320Wh battery, versus the 500Wh or 700Wh batteries you’ll find in the Levo and Kenevo, to save a little more weight.


I picked up the Levo SL from Specialized’s Auckland office. After a quick walk-around the bike, they sent me on my way with the bike, as well as a 160Wh Range Extender. The first thing I was stoked on was being able to put the bike straight onto my roof rack. Usually, with eBikes, I have to lay the seats down in the back of my wagon and carry the bike that way. When you take the usual 22kg-plus weights into account, the swing towards 29” wheels and the whole longer and lower geometry thing into account, getting an eBike into the back of the car is never easy! This time around, it was onto the roof and straight out to my usual spot to cut a few laps and dial in the bike. I set the bike up with 25% sag front and rear, and headed for the up-track.

Right off the bat, you notice the Levo SL’s power isn’t overwhelming and in your face like its bigger siblings, but it’s for sure noticeable. It’s not point-and-shoot climbing like a more powerful eBike - where you can crank the power all the way up and ride over almost anything at 25km/h - but it’s enough power that you can still tackle the tougher lines you’d potentially shy away from without the assistance, and more than enough to get you motoring along on shallower gradients. Something I learnt pretty quickly (and that was pointed out by the staff at Specialized) is that because the SL1.1 motor only puts out 35Nm of torque, versus the SL2.1’s 90Nm, you really need to make sure to keep your cadence up to stay in the power range. The range is super wide, with optimal power delivery between 50 – 90rpm, but that does mean you can’t just pick a mid-range gear, turn the power up and point the bike up the side of a mountain knowing it will carry you up. I tackled the climb as I would on a pedal bike, taking the same lines and shifting gears at the same points - albeit a couple of gears further down the cassette than usual - and didn’t have any trouble keeping the power on. Compared to a more traditional drive system, I’d say the Levo SL’s maximum power rating is comparable to most brands’ Eco modes. With that said, the lighter Levo SL is much easier to climb on max power, than climbing on Eco on a heavier eBike.


As far as power delivery goes, I think Specialized’s SL motor series offers the best power delivery of any eBike Drive System I’ve ridden, currently on the market. The power comes on and off super smoothly, with none of the sudden ‘joltiness’ (technical term) I’ve experienced with some of the other systems. Something I loved about the SL1.1 was that when the motor is off, or you’re travelling faster than the maximum assisted speed, it adds hardly any noticeable drag to your pedal stroke. This makes that one-last-lap climb, where your battery dies midway, just a little bit nicer - although you do notice the extra 5-odd kilos the Levo SL Comp has on your average 150mm trail bike. While we’re talking batteries, the 320Wh battery offered up plenty of life for rides up to two hours long. In two hours, I managed just under 1,100m of vertical gain over 30kms and used up 88% of the battery without riding super battery-conscious. Something to bear in mind, though, is that you can’t expect to ride the Levo SL like an eBike. To make the most of it, you’ll still need to get your heartrate up and put in some work. Rather than thinking of the Levo as an eMTB, you’re probably better off thinking of it as an assisted mountain bike, with the motor giving you a firm push up the hill versus giving you the ability to rail uphill berms. On the highest power setting, the bike will winch you up the hill to an extent, but you’ll chew through battery a ton faster. If you want more battery life out of the bike, Specialized make a 160Wh Range Extender that fits inside your bottle cage and tidily connects up to the charge port – a really nice tidy option to milk some extra kilometres out of your ride.

Before we get into my feedback on how the bike rides, we may as well touch on the Mission Control app Specialized have created. The Mission Control app grants you full control of your Levo SL, allowing you to customise motor modes and bike settings, record rides, diagnose problems, check the health status of the drive system and, amongst other things, utilise Smart Control. Smart Control automatically adjusts motor power based off your remaining ride distance, to make sure you don’t run out of battery. All you need to do is enter a few parameters (ride distance, how much battery you have left etc) and the Mission Control app will figure out the rest using an algorithm that’s based on data gathered over thousands of rides. It’s worth noting that the bike rides completely fine without hooking it up to the Mission Control app, something I can confirm as I forgot to pair it up more times than I remembered.

Now onto the build. As mentioned earlier, I tested the Levo SL Comp, which comes spec’d with SRAM Guide R brakes, a SRAM NX drivetrain, a 150mm Fox 34 with the GRIP damper, a Fox Float DPS Performance rear shock, a Xfusion 150mm dropper and Roval Traverse 29 wheels - all bolted to an aluminium frame. Considering the bike has an RRP of $10,500, this spec isn’t even close to what you’d hope to get from a pedal bike, for that money. For reference, $20 more will get you an S-Works Stumpy with AXS, and $1,500 or so more will get you an S-Works Turbo Levo. The price for the Levo SL sounds high, and I’d agree that it is but if someone was to give me $12,000 to buy either the Levo SL or the standard Levo, I’d still have a hard time deciding - and here’s why…


The Levo SL rides really well and leans much closer to the handling characteristics of a standard mountain bike, than an eBike. I had high hopes for this bike and it’s safe to say Specialized delivered. As mentioned, I started with 25% sag front and rear. On climbs the bike feels great, but I did find the front wheel a little light, which was amplified when I dropped a little pressure out of the rear shock. That’s not to say it was an issue, though, because once you’re aware of the light front wheel, it’s easy to manage without having to take any extreme measures. I never struggled to keep it down when it got steep, and it wasn’t ever difficult to get the front wheel to hook in on turns. I’d call it a handling characteristic rather than a problem. For the other 95% of climbs though, the bike did exactly what it should do: climb. The extra power helps tow you up the hills and because the bike is light and you’re not always charging up hills at the same speeds some descend at (as per other eBikes) the experience is way closer to that of a standard mountain bike, leaving you with a feeling of satisfaction at the top because you still feel like you’ve done something. The bike is light enough to be pretty manoeuvrable in tight ‘n techies, but you won’t be hopping your back wheel around with ease. Technical climbs are where the SL1.1 motor really shines. The smooth power delivery makes it a ton easier to work the bike around tight corners and over rocks and roots, somewhere I’ve struggled on other eBikes due to the initial surge of power.

It really becomes clear how good this bike is on the descents. Even with the Fox 34, something I personally would spec on a 150mm bike, the bike eats up trails. The bike hits a nice sweet spot between benefiting from the stability a few extra kilos gives you, and shaving off enough kilos to make the bike feel light and playful downhill. Thanks to our long, hot summer all of my local riding spots are bone-dry and dusty. The playful nature of the Levo SL meant my back wheel was skipping around a fair bit at 25% sag, but by dropping to 30% the back end was a little more planted and composed, especially on the way into corners.


It’s easy to feel like a bit of a passenger on eBikes once the trail points downhill, but that’s not the case with the Levo SL. Once again, the Levo SL feels much closer to an acoustic bike than it does an eBike, and it’s super easy to hold it wide-open and pin it. Regardless of how much speed you build up, the bike is eager to skip around the trail and go wherever you point the front wheel. On steeper riding, it’s much the same – the bike just wants to go fast and bounce around the trail. When I say bounce around the trail, I mean it in the best possible way: the bike encourages playful riding and I’d imagine that as you go up in spec, and therefore down in weight, this encouragement only grows.

I think the 29” wheels really help out here. I’ve found eBikes with 27.5” wheels tend to struggle a bit with sitting on top of roots and rougher sections of trail, due to the extra weight of eBikes. The 29” wheels deal with the added weight a bit better and skip across trail features a little nicer. You do find the limitations of the 34, especially if you’re out slapping berms and riding steep trails. The best way to think about the forks is probably the following: if I were to own a Levo SL I’d eventually upgrade to 36s or similar, but I wouldn’t be in a huge rush to do so. The same could be said for the rear shock - it does heat up and start to feel a little more ‘basic’ on longer descents and for some will definitely be under-shocked, but suspension is pretty difficult to spec when you consider riders’ ability, their local trails and other factors.

Overall, my thoughts? I love the Levo SL.


It’s the first eBike I’ve ridden that I’d happily own as my only bike. I’ve been describing it as the ‘mountain biker’s eBike’. That’s not to discredit other eBikes on the market, they’re great for plenty out there, whether it be due to lack of fitness, injury or just the desire to pin it up and down hills. I think where the Levo SL really shines, is by taking all of the feelings we associate with mountain biking – from slogging up climbs, to skipping and bouncing down hills to bunny hopping logs - and putting together a package that emulates those feelings whilst still offering enough of an e-vantage (I’m coining that term) to get in more riding and go further.

Words: Cam Baker

Images: Cam Baker & Cameron Mackenzie

Story: More Than ya Local

It’s not often I make the trip down to my local bike shop (LBS) but when I do, I don’t come back empty handed. These days, it’s usually only a spare tube or chain link that I walk away with and, very occasionally, my bike - if I’ve neglected it a little too much and can’t be bothered dealing with it myself but, that doesn’t stop them firing up the coffee machine and filling my cup for a caffeine-charged conversation comprising of bikes, life and general bike shop shit talk.

I feel like no matter how deep your loyalty runs to your LBS of choice, there’s always another shop that entices you, catches your eye and tries to draw you in. They have exotic brands you’ve only ever heard of, they have a beer fridge AND a coffee machine and, in the case of Cyclexpress in Howick, Auckland, they have a HAAS CNC Machine, a laser engraver and just about every other tool/machine you’d expect to find in a small engineering shop. And that’s before you get started on the collection of vintage mountain bike frames and all the little things around the shop that make you stop and stare.


Cyclexpress has been that shop for me for as long as I remember. Right around the time I arrived back in Auckland after a stint down south, I was wrenching in another Auckland store and caught wind of how Cyclexpress had just taken delivery of their new CNC machine. I’d known of Cyclexpress for a while and had always heard about how good their servicing was and that if you wanted suspension serviced locally, they were the ones with the tools and the know-how to get it done. The name Bruno kept popping up and, eventually, I managed to piece together that Bruno was the man behind the shop. This was a few years back now and it brings me a little bit of shame to admit that it wasn’t until this year that I satisfied my curiosity and went in to meet Bruno and lust over his setup.

The first thing you should know about Bruno is that he’s Swiss. With this in mind, it’s safe to assume you’re in safe hands with anything mechanical and that’s before you take his tool-making heritage into account. Over the past twenty years, he’s built up a reputation as one of Auckland’s best mechanics. Not only is this thanks to his tireless work ethic and constant pursuit of improvement, but also down to his active involvement in, and support for, both the mountain bike and BMX communities on a national level (prime example: he’s supported NZMTBR since Day 1). Over the years he’s evolved from a bike shop with a workshop, into a workshop with a bike shop. Bruno’s passion is working on bikes and problem solving and as he’s built his brand up over the years, he’s been able to put more and more into developing the workshop and rely less and less on the retail side of Cyclexpress. With his knowledge and ability to breakdown products from a manufacturers point of view, Bruno and his staff have been able to educate riders on what brands and products will work best for them. Because of this, Cyclexpress doesn’t hold a huge range of products, but you know that anything they do carry, they carry because it works. With some parts, however, you can’t always find something that works and as a result, Bruno’s been slowly upping his manufacturing capabilities over the past few years…


I’m a self-confessed tool nerd. In my bike shop days, I’d always supply my own tools - not because any of the shops I worked in requested me to, but because I couldn’t stop buying them. If you got ‘em, you may as well make some money off ‘em, right? Considering this, the first time I visited Cyclexpress it was a bit like walking into a dream. As I stepped out from the entrance corridor and into the open-plan space that makes up Cyclexpress, Bruno greeted me at their coffee-bar-come-counter and immediately had the espresso machine fired up to brew me a long black. Good start. We took a seat at their big shop table and the first thing I noticed was how established the rustic space felt. Cyclexpress has only been in their current space for a couple of years, but you wouldn’t know it and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking they’d been there forever. Culture is one of the reasons many of us support our locals and why we’re happy to wait a couple of extra days for servicing, or pay an extra dollar here and there for product. Cyclexpress have nailed the culture aspect, with knowledgeable staff who are always keen to chat, and a low-key atmosphere. Both Bruno and Dan, his mechanic, knew all of the customers who visited during my time there by name, and were more than accommodating.

The first thing I asked about was, of course, the thing that interested me most about Cyclexpress: their HAAS CNC Machine. The only other bike shop I’d ever heard of with a CNC machine is located in Canada and, from what I’ve gathered, they use theirs to manufacture derailleur hangers in a high-volume, busy workshop so, I was interested to find out why one worked its way into a small Auckland bike shop. Cyclexpress manufactures to find solutions, for two main reasons: the first being that we’re located really, really far from most of the rest of the world (something I hope you’d know). Even for big industries, this can make sourcing parts difficult, so for niche industries like mountain biking, it can be even harder to get our hands on products. If you’re cashed up, you can get anything here but even so, there’s nothing rad about spending the same amount on freight as you spent on the product itself, just to get it here. The second reason is to fill holes in the market - which really describes itself. Sometimes Bruno and the team identify ways products could be made better, or come across problems that they could solve by manufacturing a unique part, such as their GT Dogbone Upgrade Kit.

The CNC machine is located in what’s probably best described as a ladder-accessed pit, alongside the workshop. As Bruno set up the machine to CNC one of the faces of a stem he was working on, we got talking about the products he’s manufactured under his CXP Racing brand so far. From BMX crank sets and prototype mountain bike stems, to suspension top-cap tools and narrow-wide chainrings, they are all things that Cyclexpress either had a need for and weren’t able to locally (or easily) source, or thought they could do better. Cyclexpress has the unique advantage of also being a bike shop. Because they service bikes, they not only get to engage with their target consumer face-to-face but also, get to see and track the performance of not only their products but also, other manufacturers products. With this unique insight, Cyclexpress can tweak their products to make up for where other manufacturers products may have let consumers down. This is before you even consider the fact that CXP Racing have the ability to get product tested by real-world riders as well as athletes.


With an instore laser-engraver, Cyclexpress are able to brand all of their products in-house too, meaning the only thing they can’t do is anodize but, there’s plenty of local companies that can handle that part of their process. As Kiwis, we take pride in anything that comes out of New Zealand; be it athletes, products or television stars, so it’s pretty rad to see New Zealand designed and made products coming out of a humble old local bike shop.


Even with the fancy machinery, standard servicing is still a big part of Cyclexpress. A combination of mountain bikes, BMX bikes and even a Cannondale commuter bike, were all in queue to pass through the work stand and, to me, that plays a huge part in making the shop what it is today. Call this ex-mechanic bias, but to me a shop’s culture stems from the workshop and is built upon the unparalleled shit talking that takes place in said workshop. Mechanics dictate a shop’s vibe. If they do a good job, the customer stokes because they know they’re going to be able to ride all weekend, worry free, and that’s exactly what Cyclexpress does; a good job. Not everyone benefits from CXP’s CNC machine, but everyone benefits from a good service - and I think that’s ultimately what Cyclexpress’ success comes down to, they’re simply good people doing good things.


If you’re ever passing through Auckland, make the visit to Cyclexpress and have a look around. Bruno and the team are flat out, but they’ll always take time out for a chat and to show off whatever it is they’re working on at the time. If you’re super nice, they might even offer you a coffee…

Words & Images: Cam Baker

Story: Liam Keenan's Journey

Mountain biking is a lifestyle. There are obvious health benefits that come alongside riding, but to most these are considered added value; with the satisfaction of rhythmically flowing down your favourite trails and the sense of adventure that comes alongside exploring backcountry canyons and dense forests that attracts us long before the thought of getting in a good workout does. Once you’ve had a taste, more often than not you end up hooked and mountain biking is all you think about and all you want to do. The sport is unique and there’s not many others that will take over your life in quite the same way.


Like any pursuit, each come with their risks and for us, crashes are an unfortunate necessity in our pursuit of adventure. If all that’s bad, goes well, a brush of the hands is all it takes to get you back up and pedalling. If all that’s bad, goes bad, it often takes much more than a simple brush of the hands to get back on the bike. We all have that one crash, the one that we think back on when we’re about to push our limits, the one that keeps us humble and asking is the risk worth the reward. That one crash for Liam Keenan, however, left him asking where to next.


I’ve known Liam for a while now and the one thing that’s remained constant throughout our friendship is how stoked he is on bikes. I see him all over mountain biking Facebook groups and naturally, pretty much every time I see him it’s at something bike related. I remember the first time we met, he was down in Queenstown riding and came by the store I was working in looking for a part that he’d just broken on the first or second day of his trip. I, for the life of me, can’t remember what said part was but I do remember that I couldn’t supply one, so I sent him on his way. I’m pretty sure he was also looking for employment – something I also couldn’t offer. We kept in touch over the years and as I was coming back to Auckland, he’d just lined up work in Queenstown and was making his way down the line. Swapsies!


Queenstown life is pretty rad and, almost exactly what you’d imagine – work your nine to five, then take to the hills after work and ride until the sun goes down. If you’re into snow sports, the winter is much the same. There aren’t many better places to be if you’re into both! Liam managed to take things to another level though and had found a job at Cardrona Bike Park taking care of their rental fleet. Lunch time laps? No worries. It’s about now in the story that things take an unfortunate turn. That one crash I was talking about earlier; Liam had it.


For those not familiar with Skyline Queenstown, as you exit the gondola you roll down a shared, fenced gravel path towards the trail head. The path is, as you’d expect, pretty loose and being that it’s a shared area, if you don’t take things slow you can end up hitting walkers or, in Liam’s case, a fence post. As Liam joined the path, his front wheel washed out and sent him over the handlebars and head-first into a fence post. He saw the path was clear and came in a little fast, ignoring the slow down signs. It was a stupid crash that should never have happened, as he puts it. While knowing it’s a stupid crash doesn’t necessarily add to the story, I feel like it’s a good reminder that even the easiest sections of trail can lead to crashes with big consequences so if you see signs telling you to take it slow, do just that. Anyway, trail wisdom aside…


Liam knew immediately that something wasn’t right and, after being assessed by the team at Skyline was evacuated to Queenstown Hospital where it was discovered that he’d fractured two vertebrate and had lost all sensation from the chest down. He’d also done a lot of damage to his shoulder but as you can likely imagine, that was the last of Liam’s concerns. From Queenstown he was transferred to the Burwood Spinal Unit in Christchurch, where Liam was told he would likely never regain sensation from the chest down. His first thoughts were “how can I ride again?” and so, once he began rehab he also began researching adaptive mountain biking, a niche sub-genre of mountain biking where bikes are modified to suit riders disabilities. The obvious option was a bucket bike, as per the bike Martyn Ashton now rides.


Bucket bikes, as you can imagine, aren’t terribly common so Liam had a lot of work in front of him to get a bike together. He started with a Pivot Phoenix – a 200mm travel downhill bike. The first, and most obvious, problem to address was having no use of his legs. With the rise of eBikes, Liam opted to run the bike with a Paradox Kinetics electric motor that can be controlled via a thumb throttle. All in all, a relatively easy process. The rest of the bike, however, was, and still is, a constant work in progress.


As able-bodied mountain bikers, we’re able to control our weight distribution and let the bike move around underneath us. If you watch a side-on video of someone riding over rough ground whilst out of the saddle, for example, you’ll notice that their chin and hips stay at a fairly constant height from the ground as they can allow the bike to move up and down underneath their body. Liam on the other hand, is strapped into a seat, meaning his weight moves with the bike and that the suspension system is constantly loaded supporting not only Liam’s full weight, but also the weight of Liam’s adaptive chair and the battery for his drive system, making for an absolute nightmare as far as suspension setup is concerned. Mountain bike suspension is typically setup with a dynamic load in mind, as your average mountain biker will work in conjunction with the suspension system to absorb impacts. Liam’s weight is more or less static once it’s on the bike and as a result, it’s been difficult to dial in settings that suit. Because of the extra weight of the seat and battery, Liam needs to run a higher spring rate but because he can’t absorb impacts with his body, he also needs a really slow rebound rate to control the bucking he’d otherwise face with more typical rebound settings. The problem with this though, is that the rear shock packs out because it can’t rebound fast enough on repeated impacts, like braking bumps. He has similar issues with the fork, but they’re far less exaggerated than the problems he has with the rear.


The seat is another component that’s given Liam issues. Liam’s adaptive seat does more than just give him somewhere to sit. It also holds him upright as he no longer has use of his core. As a result, it’s a lot bigger than your typical mountain bike seat. This is where adaptive bikes really start to get tricky. Because you’re adapting a standard mountain bike frame to work with someone who, ultimately, wasn’t even considered a user in the design process, there’s certain elements that are trickier to work with than others and the mounting of an adaptive seat is the prime example for this. Liam’s adaptive seat has to mount to a standard seatpost which to be frank, is simply not up to the task. This has resulted in multiple re-designs of the mount, with some iterations lasting a mere day.


While the bucket bike is about as close as Liam can currently get to replicating riding a mountain bike, the other big issue is that he can’t ride by himself. His feet are clipped in with standard SPD pedals and because it’s a two wheeled bike, Liam needs people to send him off, catch him and pick him up if he falls. Many of us have the luxury of throwing the bike on the car and going, but unfortunately Liam needs to convince at least two people to go with him.


Well, needed to, I should say…


Liam’s recently picked up one of the raddest things I’ve ever seen: a Bowhead Reach Adventure Cycle. The Bowhead is basically an all-out off-road trike designed to get people adventuring outdoors again. Using mostly mountain bike components and being designed to fit down mountain bike trails, it was the obvious choice for Liam. Being a trike, he can set off by himself and stop mid-ride without having to worry about having someone on hand to catch him. He can also load, and unload it, from his car without assistance, giving him back the option to go ride by himself. As Liam put it: “it doesn’t give me the sensation of two wheels that the bucket bike gives me, but it gives me the freedom to ride whenever I want and to go so many more places.” And, he plans on going to plenty of places. There’s already talks of an Old Ghost Road trip, with Liam even offering to tow my gear aboard a trailer that attaches to the Bowhead. Sign me up! With the Bowhead completing Liam’s fleet of adaptive bikes, he can experience the flow that comes with riding two wheels aboard the bucket bike, with the freedom of exploration aboard the Bowhead – the two main aspects of mountain biking we all chase.


When one of the things that you love most, takes away something massively from important to you it’s easy to see why you’d give up. Especially when, there’s no conventional method to carry on doing that thing you love – such as mountain biking. Liam’s attitude, though, has been nothing but inspiring and it’s humbling to watch him continue to chase the lifestyle mountain biking brings us. Having found ways to feel the flow, explore beyond where anyone else would reach and to ultimately, have a rad time enjoying trails with his buddies.

Words: Cam Baker

Images: Todd Wallace

Review: Shimano XT M8100 Groupset

Getting this groupset reviewed started out as a bit of nightmare. Originally the XT Groupset was going to go onto a Santa Cruz Bronson and out with one of our experienced reviewers, being put through it's paces on a content trip to Wairoa Gorge before staying on his bike for a long-term test. When our reviewer pulled out at the last minute, Helen (who has never written for us) was the ideal candidate for the trip, for two reasons: One, I knew for a fact that her Juliana would take all the parts with no worries; and two, since she works for the magazine full-time, she couldn’t tell me that she wouldn’t be able to get time off (that said, who’d turn down a riding trip to Nelson?!). The problem here, though, (and looping back to what I said earlier) was that she’d never written for us - or anyone, for that matter. Our solution: Helen would ride the groupset in the Gorge and afterwards, we’d find a bike I could run it on. What follows is an amalgamation of Helen’s thoughts from Wairoa and my thoughts from testing the groupset since.


Shimano XT is best known as a sleek, no-nonsense, no-compromise groupset. It would have been great to come out and confirm what we’d all already assumed but, unfortunately, the groupset was almost impossible to get a hold of, after production setbacks and a fire at one of Shimano’s production facilities. Right at the end of May this year, Shimano released the XT 12-speed and, as you’ll know by now, we managed to get our hands on a groupset. What was even better was that this time around, Shimano also had the groupset available for you to spend your hard-earned dollars on, upon release.


The biggest change to the Shimano XT M8100 groupset is the jump to 12-speed. Two cassettes are available, a 10-45T and a 10-51T, which was something I was pretty stoked to see. I don’t usually use the dinnerplate-sized gear on my cassette at my local trails, but there are times when I can’t quite find the gear I want - one’s too hard and the next one down is too easy - so it’s rad to see Shimano has taken riders’ needs into account and offered a couple of cassette options. There are also two derailleur options – a long cage option to accommodate both cassettes, and a not-so-long cage option that offers more ground clearance, but will only take the 45T cassette. Worth noting is that the not-so-long cage is also 2x friendly if you feel the need to re-live a time pre-dropper post and run a front derailleur. Said front derailleur is available to suit D, E and M-type mounts but I’m not even going to pretend I know what either of those are. Brakes are available in 2 or 4-piston and are more rigid than previous XT models, offering a shorter free stroke.


Right, that’s the tech stuff out of the way. So, how does it ride?


Full disclosure: I run red, not blue, on my personal bike but, in the best way possible, the new XT is just so typically Shimano. Something I’ve come to appreciate with Shimano is that they always deliver a no nonsense, reliable product - and M8100 is no different. The shifting is fast, crisp and accurate and that doesn’t change whether you’re in the saddle spinning up the road for a loaf of bread, or out of the saddle dropping crank-warping watt bombs on the way to your favourite descent. The brakes are also exactly what you’d expect, a firm bite-point with plenty of power on tap to slow you down. Our 4-piston models also felt great at the lever, with a little more modulation than previous XT brakes and that feeling of security, knowing there’s always a little bit of power left in the tank, should you need it.


Anyone familiar with Nelson and/or Wairoa Gorge will know how rocky and steep the terrain down there is, and I’m stoked to report that the groupset was trouble-free the entire time. We rode everything from steep and gnarly Grade 5s that you have to creep down, to wide-open Grade 3s where you’re either not braking at all, or you’re braking with full power. Consistency is important when it comes to riding gravity and even after two days of shuttles, the brakes still performed exactly as they should, with Helen not noticing any brake fade. Obviously, a shuttle-access gravity park isn’t the best place to test shifting performance, but it’s a great test for chain retention and even without a chain guide, we couldn’t once get the chain to drop. All in all, typically Shimano.

Words: Cam Baker

Images: Cameron Mackenzie

Ride Wairoa Part 1

It’s not every day Shimano throw a brand-new XT Groupset at you and ask you to put it through its paces. So, when they did, I wanted to make sure we did them justice and spent a couple of days asking anyone and everyone where we should head. The most popular answer by far (that wasn’t on the other side of the world!) was Wairoa Gorge - and I definitely wasn’t complaining. Can’t say no to a couple of days of private shuttles on some of the best trails I’ve ridden!


I could have sworn someone (or something) was trying to stop the trip from going ahead. As each week of planning went by, it felt like something else we weren’t expecting was thrown our way. The night before we were due to leave, I stupidly thought ‘what more can go wrong?’ Right on cue, my phone started ringing. A member of our content team had a family emergency and could no longer make it. Thankfully our Subscription Manager, Helen, came to the rescue through means of a late-night phone call, giving her about 12 hours to pack her bike, book flights, sleep and make her way to Nelson. All sorted! Nope, wrong again.


Auckland Airport is approximately 20kms from my house and I had to be there by 8:30am. ‘If I leave at 6:45am, I’ll have almost two hours to get there – easy!’ … or so I thought. The morning I chose to fly to Nelson was the same morning a digger fell off its trailer on the motorway, blocking all three lanes and bringing traffic to a standstill for 50 minutes. A couple of hours and $150 later, I was running through Auckland Airport scrambling to make my re-booked flight. I made it – by five minutes. I sat in my seat on the plane and accepted that this trip was destined to keep throwing curve balls our way.


I made it to Nelson and after a day of meetings that all ended with; “we’re going for a ride, if you want to join us?” and me having to turn them all down because I had more meetings lined up (rookie mistake), I made my way back to my hotel dreading what would go wrong next, but also itching to get on my bike. I had planned to get breakfast at the airport that morning but obviously those plans had fallen through and with everything I’d had to do in Nelson, I hadn’t actually had the chance to eat - so it’s safe to say I was starving by then!

Helen had arrived in Nelson by this point, so I picked her up and we went for dinner. On the way to the restaurant, Helen starting chewing on what I thought was nothing. A little strange but hey, each to their own, right? Turns out she was chewing on something – half of her tooth, that had spontaneously broken off. It was around this time I started wondering if we’d even make it out of the Gorge alive. Sounded like a tomorrow problem.


The next morning, we met up with our content team and made our way to the Gorge. The mini-van we’d hired slid all over the icy forestry roads and every time we came across a small creek running across the road, we’d nervously point the wheels at the other side, push the gas pedal in a little further and hope for the best. To our surprise, the van wasn’t deterred and to our shock (and relief) we rolled up to the Gorge carpark with the van still intact. After all the drama on the lead up to our arrival, we were all itching to ride, so we dove into our kit, threw our bikes onto the trailer and piled into the truck, then made our way up the hillside.


It wasn’t until we were in the truck, on the way up the hill that the magnitude of what we were doing hit me. The remoteness, the incredible landscape and sheer rad-factor of the Gorge sunk in and I couldn’t believe that for the next two days we had this Gorge all to ourselves, with a shuttle on-call to take us wherever our hearts desired. It was definitely one of those, ‘I can’t believe this is work’ moments.

Stay tuned for Part Two coming soon, to find out about the riding the Gorge has to offer - and Shimano’s new XT Groupset.

Words & Images: Cam Baker and Cameron Mackenzie

Review: Santa Cruz Tallboy

There’s a bit of a trend in trail bikes. They start life as something short travel, aimed at cross country whippets, then grow up alongside the market. There are numerous bikes that have undergone this evolution, but the latest to join the fray is the Santa Cruz Tallboy. The original Tallboy went into production back in 2009, at which point it had 100mm of travel and geometry steeper than a cliff face. The 2020 Tallboy, the fourth of its name, is a very different beast.


A bump up to 120mm of travel, paired with a 130mm fork, pushes the bike solidly away from the XC crowd and into the all-round trail bike category - a group that has seen a massive resurgence of late. That’s not the only trick up the Tallboy’s sleeve, however. The geometry is rather radical; the most obvious part of this being the 65.5 degree head angle which is exactly the same as it’s enduro-ready big brother, the Hightower, a bike with 20mm more travel at the front and rear. The reach, stack and default chainstay length are almost identical too, although the Hightower gets a slightly longer wheelbase and taller ground clearance by virtue of having a longer fork. They’re remarkably similar on paper, albeit one being aimed at the trail crowd and the other at the Enduro crew. Santa Cruz have set out to make the new Tallboy as capable as a mid-sized bike can be. In their own words, it’s built “for going hecka fast, everywhere”.


Gone is the familiar layout that Santa Cruz aficionados have come to know so well, with the new lower link VPP system keeping the weight close to the bottom bracket for better balance and handling. This system is being rolled out on all new-season bikes, including the Megatower, Hightower, Bronson and Nomad. Only the 5010 and Blur retain the old system. As effective as this system is, I must mention that it’s a pain in the a-hole to set sag on, with the shock shaft disappearing off inside the seat tube. This is one of the few times where I would love an on-the-frame sag meter to be incorporated in the bike’s graphics package. Speaking of which, I’m not sure if the colour choice really cuts the mustard for me, but there’s a more conservative black and dark purple option available in any case. 


There’s variable geometry built into the Tallboy in the form of adjustable chainstays. A pretty nifty trick: they allow you to alternate between 430mm and 440mm of stay length, to make the bike a little more stable or wheelie-friendly, depending on your preference and choice of terrain. For my test I left it largely in the 440mm setting. 


My test build was on the money, with a SRAM XO1 Eagle group-set, the new G2 brakes and a swanky feeling under-bar lever for the Reverb dropper. Santa Cruz’s Reserve Carbon wheels were also a highlight, with plenty of width and stiffness to play with. I have no doubt they will live up to their strength claims. It’s not an especially lightweight bike for the money, I’d pick something different if I were looking for something to serve double-duty as an amateur marathon racer’s bike.


The influence of the Tallboy’s longer-travelled sibling is evident from the get-go. It’s a well-balanced bike that’s a breeze to wheelie, even in the longer setting. I found it easy to lift the bars and get the rear wheel pumping through terrain, on demand. The low weight and bottom bracket certainly do it favours in the corners, as long as you remember to get your lean on. It’s so capable, in fact, that I often found myself double checking that I hadn’t been given a Hightower to test instead. I was expecting a trail bike, but what I got instead was a mini enduro bike with 130mm of travel. Santa Cruz have hyped this thing up to be a warp speed wagon wheeler and in that respect, it delivers.


As we know all too well, what goes down must go up, and the Santa Cruz is a traction-rich pedaller. I doubt you’ll have issues with spinning out on all but the wettest roots. It’s efficient, but I never felt compelled to leap out of the saddle and charge the hills on this bike. Some 130mm 29’rs encourage that (my own bike is one such example) whereas others are a little more planted. The Tallboy fits firmly in the latter category. To its credit, I never had issues with the front end wandering despite a slack head angle, short stem and wide bars as standard.  


I found that to get the most out of this bike I had to send it on some really steep stuff, but in doing so I couldn’t help wondering that with the main difference being 20mm of travel, would I be better off just riding a Hightower? 


Santa Cruz have a place in their range for a 29’r all-rounder’s trail bike and the Tallboy was built to fill it. But does the Tallboy skirt too closely to the Hightower to justify itself? To me, the thing that makes a great trail bike is its ability to make the rider feel equally happy entering a stage race as he/she does lining up for a bit of light enduro racing. Most importantly, in my mind, the defining characteristic is being incredibly fun to ride on a range of trails. In this respect, I feel the Tallboy is very single-minded: it’s fixated on speed (and certainly offers that) but has lost some of the liveliness of its old self in the process. Given the Hightower is very similar to ride on the tamer trails but can huck bigger stuff when the going gets tough, I feel the Tallboy becomes a very specific tool for a very specific job, rather than a true all-rounder. Maybe I’ll look back in a few years and declare it was a bike ahead of its time, but for now it’s progressive for the sake of progression. 


If you’re wanting to set the KOM on your local flow trails but still have something to spare for the steeper stuff, look no further. This is a very fast, capable, confident bike worthy of the Tallboy name. Just be sure a mini enduro bike is what you’re after and it will treat you well.

Words: Robin
Page Images: Cameron Mackenzie