First Impressions: RockShox Pike

“We have been lucky enough to get our hands on the brand spanking 140mm Pike Ultimate and will be putting it through its paces throughout the year.”

Earlier this year, RockShox rolled out a major update of their range with an all-new Zeb, Lyrik and Pike, not to mention a bevy of new rear shocks. We have been lucky enough to get our hands on the brand spanking 140mm Pike Ultimate and will be putting it through its paces throughout the year. First though, the Pike was already a fantastic fork, so what have the SRAM engineers been tinkering with to make it even better?

For starters, one look at it and you can tell this is more than just tinkering, this is an all-new fork. The chassis and arch, in particular, look markedly different to earlier models, but the changes are worked throughout; starting from a blank canvas has meant that engineers have been able to make a unified approach to integrating all the best new ideas they had at one time. On the outside, you’ll see a new crown, upper tubes and lower legs and pressure relief valves on the rear, but the insides are all new too.

Previous Pikes spanned a wide travel range, but this has now been narrowed down to focus specifically on the 120-140mm travel range —smack bang in the middle of what SRAM see as the trail bike market. If you want more travel, you’ll have to go for the Lyrik; less travel, you’ll be on the Sid. This tighter range of travel means that SRAM engineers have been able to narrow the parameters of what they are working with and therefore optimise around that. The result, lower weight in some areas, and better torsional rigidity, meaning they are less likely to twist under braking load and navigating off camber terrain. Forks that don’t twist are free to move through their travel, so that rigidity creates a consistent, supple fork, even under the toughest conditions.

The new Charger 3 damper has been designed from the ground up and features a new spring backed, IFP cartridge damper. Fully sealed and self-contained, this new damper is designed to offer riders a much more consistent feel throughout the stroke, and an increased ability for riders to easily tune the ride to suit their riding style and preferences. The result? Totally independent High-Speed Compression (HSC) and Low Speed Compression (LSC) adjustments, and no “cross-talk” between the two.

On top, you’ll find new adjusters with a new twin dial layout, also with handy visual indicators so you can see at a glance where you are on the adjustment scale. They feature noticeably clearer indents between each setting too. Inside the forks, the bushing design is brand new too — these feature longer bushings now, which actually reduce the overall friction in the system.

On the other side is the new Debonair+ air spring, again, tailored to the specific needs of a fork in the 120-140mm range. The shaft is now an all-aluminum piston instead of plastic, there are improved glide rings, and a tweaking of the volume in the positive and negative air chambers. So, what’s the end result of all of this? RockShox believe the new Pike can initiate travel easier and that it will feel plusher off-the-top, while still having great mid-stroke support. It also means a higher ride height; it won’t dive through its travel under braking which means that you’ll be able to utilise every millimeter of travel when things start to get rowdy.

In terms of weight, ours weighed in at 1.90 kg with a 190mm steerer. That’s comparable with the previous generation, but the fact that they have managed to get 13.5% more torsional stiffness inside the same overall weight is pretty cool.

The final new idea that engineers worked in was the addition of what they call Buttercups. What are Buttercups, you say? Well, first, let’s talk about what they are trying to address. Ever felt like your hands have been battered after buzzing through a section of ripples on a fire road? Those are high-frequency, low amplitude vibrations. RockShox call it ‘trail chatter’ — those fast, small vibrations that ‘vibrate your eyeballs’ so to speak. As fancy as they are, fork dampers aren’t really designed with this specific example in mind; dampers are designed to absorb impacts, vibration-like trail chatter can often make its way past the damper without really activating it, up the fork, and into your hands.” Ok, so that’s what they are working to resolve — but what exactly are they? Buttercups live on both the damper and air spring shafts of Ultimate-level forks. Inside their gold packaging, Buttercups utilize rubber pucks and a metal plate to absorb frequencies that would otherwise travel up to the rider. These little Buttercups add about 4mm of vertical compliance to your suspension and RockShox believe they achieve an average of 20% reduction in vibrations from reaching your hands. Impressive!

Having owned the previous Pike, and a Fox Factory 34 (albeit the previous generation), I was eager to see just how the new Pike had improved over its previous version, and also over its nearest competition that had recently been upgraded.

Setting it up on my Banshee Phantom down-country bike, I was immediately impressed with the new look. The whole chassis has a modern, muscular look about it… and the silver was a great match too, which didn’t hurt. Straight away, I could tell that these were going to be a vast improvement over my previous Pikes in terms of small bump absorption — these things were smooth and would initiate into their travel with almost no force. The amount of stiction that is needed to be overcome to get the stanchions moving was almost non-existent. The first trail I rode, I could tell that these were indeed a whole new kettle of fish compared to the previous version.

The biggest realisation was how the first 30-40mm of travel seems to be noticeably more active. Whereas I was previously reasonably happy with my old Pikes (yes, regularly serviced) these new ones made the old ones feel, well… let’s just say, they’re not around anymore. Fast forward a few rides and the next thing I started to notice was how much more regularly I was using all the travel. I’d look down at the travel indicator O-ring and see that I had used all the travel, however, while riding I never noticed feeling like I’d bottomed out. They seem to have also improved the feel of the curve as you move towards the end of the travel to make it feel like you never really hit bottom.

This is just a ‘first impressions’ review but we are looking forward to putting some serious miles on these throughout summer and seeing how they hold up over the long haul, as we test them through a variety of conditions and have time to fully experiment with the various tuning options on offer.




Product Review: Rapha Trail Shorts

“Every piece of clothing comes with a field repair kit containing fabric matching iron-on patches to keep you looking good after a crash.”

It’s no secret that this brand comes from the ‘roadie’ scene. But this means they know a thing or two about use of good fabrics and have been making ‘roadies’ look good for years. Rapha has now employed their knowledge around textiles to mountain bike apparel. Their focuses are on sustainability and longevity — and I can vouch for their products lasting many seasons. Rapha’s colourways are normally subtle, so you needn’t worry about being out of vogue whilst on the trail.

The Trail Short is a built from four-way stretch material that is Bluesign certified, meaning it is built from sustainable sources with minimised environmental impact. An integrated, contoured waistband allows for precise fit adjustment and there are four pockets, two of which have zippers with an integrated phone sleeve to keep items from sliding around. The cut is fairly form fitting but has been designed to work with or without knee pads.

The Trail Short have a relaxed and comfortable fit that slides over small to medium knee pads with no issues. Larger, downhill style knee pads may cause the shorts to bunch up and sit on top of the pad, though. I found they fitted my medium knee pads well and were also good without, too. The short is a little more form cut, which means there’s no bunching and they don’t get in the way when you’re pedalling. They certainly don’t have the bagginess of other shorts on the market.

The adjustable waist is neat and easy to use, locking in a personalised fit with no slipping of the belt. The size medium was a perfect fit in both the waist and length for me. Having had these shorts for a while, I found the breathability to be moderate even in the warmer months. They breathe well and don’t overheat, but a few vents would just allow a bit more airflow, especially if you’re wearing a bib-short underneath. The zippered pockets keep trail essentials secure, and the phone sleeve is a very well thought out solution to keep your phone from bouncing around. I really like this feature, and the position means the phone feels like it’s out of the way but always accessible for that quick pic or vid.

Rapha has priced these shorts consistently with the market and offers several services, such as free repairs and free returns if you’re not happy with them. Every piece of clothing comes with a field repair kit containing fabric matching iron-on patches to keep you looking good after a crash. Heck, if you shed some kilos they will offer 50% off your jersey in a smaller size. I’m a big fan of buying a quality piece once, rather than buying cheap stuff every year — and Rapha promises exactly that: quality and longevity, with repairs if you do happen to find a way to destroy it.



RRP: $195 AUD

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Bike Review: Trek Fuel EX

In the bike world, we often hear about ‘incremental improvement’. Teams take a lot of things into consideration that seem trivial but, taken on the whole, they add up to the small advantages that make the difference between winning and losing.

The same sort of thing applies to the bikes that get trotted out each season.

The reality is, within most categories, the bikes available have been very good for a long time now. The stuff that gets bolted on has been equally good for just as long. That high level of functionality means incremental improvement is what we get.

In the case of the latest Trek Fuel EX, it is a revision of a model that has been a mainstay for trail riders for 17 years. My personal bike has been one of these things for the last two iterations, and I can attest that although my first one was a very good bike, the next was slightly better and the latest one is better again – for my purposes anyway.

I switched from more boutique brands for a variety of reasons. Practicality, to start with. The bike shop I work with in my day job is a Trek dealer and, yes, I admit I got a good deal on my first Trek. But the main thing that made me give the bike a go was a conversation I had with a friend who runs a high-end bike and sports retail store in Germany.

In his country, Trek is seen as a market-leading brand with the best technology, and customers pay a premium for the products. The retail environment in New Zealand is a bit different, and Trek is one of the brands that is available in the two big chains of retail stores. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it puts a brand in a different sort of light.

I looked at my mate’s input as a reinforcement of my decision to go mainstream, and ordered my first Fuel EX.

I rode that bike for two years, and had the same amount of strife as I had on the boutique brand bike I had been riding. That is, not much. Everything worked, and there were no big problems. So, I was a lot more confident upgrading when the next major model change came along.

My current bike has also given me two years of trouble-free operation, and it was a lesson in the benefits of going with a gigantic company’s offer. A full carbon frame, carbon rims, and decent pile of components for a very keen price.

When I got the chance to spend some time aboard the latest version, I felt well-qualified to feel out what I expected to be very small differences.

The improvements turned out to be more than incremental.

The frame is a thing of beauty – but that is in the eye of the beholder, of course. It has a very similar suspension system to the previous model, with ten millimetres more travel at both ends – they have upped the numbers to a very middle-of-the-pack level for a 29er trail bike: 140mm at the back and 150 in front.

The new model features more adjustability. Trek has offered their ‘Mino Link’ flip chip in the rear suspension for many years. That is an eccentric unit in the upper link of the rear suspension that lets a rider choose between a lower BB height – that makes the front end a fairly slack 64.5 degrees – or a higher BB and half a degree steeper head angle. In the 2023 model, they added a flip chip in the lower shock mount which gives you the option of a linear shock rate in the ‘Less’ setting or a noticeably more progressive rate in the ‘More’ setting. There is also provision for a headset providing a total of two degrees of adjustment.

The frame design makes a coil shock a possibility, and you can even mulletise the beast if you so desire.

The frame is definitely burly. There is a lot of material in the big tubes and tough-looking support struts in the well-reinforced design. The claimed weight of the Medium sized carbon example is 3.4kg. That translates to a complete bike weight of 14.15kg for this top-drawer model on review. That is not a super light bike these days, and the lower-specced versions can see an extra couple of kgs added on. Does that make much difference to the overall experience of the ride? Not in my opinion.

Heading out into the woods on the new bike, the first thing I noticed was the change of perspective from my cockpit point of view. My ‘old’ bike is a 2020 model, which has a 66 degree head angle and a 140mm fork. A degree and a half slacker, and 10mm more travel, doesn’t sound like much, but it puts that front wheel way out front. The effective seat tube angle has steepened by a whopping 2.5 degrees, to 77.5. The reach is stretched out by 5mm compared to the old machine, but that seat tube angle puts the rider over the centre of the bike.

The next thing I noticed was how spritely it felt. How a bike ‘feels’ is so subjective, I have always wondered why reviewers wax on about it, but now I am one. And how the bike feels is actually more interesting to me than all the numbers, especially the ones that refer to weight.

It feels light. It pedals incredibly well; the suspension platform is very stable with the air and compression settings set according to Trek’s online guide. It goes uphill better than anything in this reviewer’s experience – at least, that is the feeling I got from it. It isn’t a miracle machine, my Strava segments were still very average, but there were some PRs!

Same going down. The bike definitely transmits more chatter to the rider than my previous Fuels, but that could be down to the very stiff, unified bar/stem fitted to the model I had. Dropping a little tyre pressure settled it down a lot. I have not had great relationships with previous sets of Bontrager rubber, but the tyres fitted to this bike worked very well. They are big and heavy, and at a spongy 18psi in the front and 20 odd in the rear, they stuck to the dirt.

The extra ten millimetres of suspension travel doesn’t sound like much but, combined with the geometry tweaks, it really inspired confidence on downhill trails. I might not having been going any faster, but I felt great.

The down tube features the same storage facility that has been on the Fuel from 2020, with a cover that is secured by a lever tucked under the bottle cage, which bolts to the cover. There is enough room in the tube for a spare tube, a small pump, and a toolkit as long as everything is packed so it can’t rattle around. I have been paranoid about damaging the inside of the frame by having something loose floating around in there, so on my Fuel I have repurposed some neoprene things I had kicking around to contain my pump and a multitool. The bikes come with a long folding tube holder, which will hold a lightweight tube if you are patient and careful. It has a red tape on the end to haul it out with, and stowing the tube holder stops anything else form sliding down into the bottom of the tube and out of reach. The only downside to this baggage compartment is that the lid can rattle – it has the weight of a bottle attached to it, which probably doesn’t help. The test bike’s lid didn’t rattle at all. While we are on acoustics, the very generous chain stay protector on the new model quiets the back end of the bike down.

My take on the 2023 Fuel EX is very positive. I liked riding it. For everything I like to do, it was hard to imagine much improvement.

There is a range of build options that all share the same carbon frame.

The test sled was the 9.8 AXS model. It is listed at $12,699 – and that is a fairly eye-watering investment but, when you look at the tech you get, it is a way south of what you would need to spend on many more boutique brands with the same level of kit. Wireless shifting, carbon wheels and bars, Fox suspension.

There is an XTR version at $14,499, but the one that stands out for me is the XT model, at $9499.

Same carbon frame as the pricier bikes, unified carbon bar/stem, carbon Bontrager wheel set, Fox suspension, and the tried-and-true shifting and braking of Shimano XT. Very hard to beat that combo, and you get the back up of a large operation when it comes to the fairly unlikely prospect of a problem. Sometimes big is good.

RRP: XT: $9499 / 9.8 GX AXS: $12,699 / XTR: $14,499

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #111

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #111

Review: Continental Kryptotal & Xynotal Tyres

Reviewed by Lance Pilbrow
Distributed by Worralls
RRP: $148

Continental have recently done a major overhaul of their gravity tyre offering. The range they offer now is almost overwhelming. Four new names, five new tread patterns, three casings, and three rubber compounds. It’s a lot to get your head around. To try and simplify things, let’s run through the tread patterns, which will help you narrow your choice down to match how dry or wet your riding conditions are. For hardpack conditions you start with the Xynotal tread pattern; mixed terrain is the Kryptotal (front and rear specific tread pattern); the Argotal is for loose terrain; and the Hydrotal is for mud. Got it? We’re just getting started. The Xynotal, Kryptotal and Argotal are all offered in Trail, Enduro, Downhill, or Downhill Supersoft casings (the Hydrotal is only offered in DH super soft). Oh, and then you choose how hard or soft you like your rubber: Endurance (harder); Soft (softer than Endurance); or Supersoft (pretty self-explanatory). Still with me? If you like Subway and getting your Sub just the way you like it, then you’ll be in tyre heaven. For all that choice, width wise, the Kryptotal Re is 2.4” or 2.6”, everything else is 2.4”, and that’s it. Everything is available in 29” or 27.5”.

Ok, so you have lots of variants to choose from. No, I did not test every variant. As much as I love new tyres, I have other things to do with my summer. I’ve been riding the Kryptotal Fr (Front) and Kryptotal Re (Rear) in the Enduro Casing, with the Soft compound, in a 2.4” width, this summer. This probably represents a fairly middle of the road option across the board. The tread pattern on the Kryptotal Fr has a 2-3-2 pattern down the centre, whereas the Re has a consistent 2-2-2 pattern. The Enduro casing has three layers of 110 tpi thread count and weighed in at 1125 gm

Out of the box, the tyres actually just look great. I didn’t know I was so attuned to what a quality tyre felt like, but these are that. The finish on the tyres is top notch. The graphics are perfect and there is a unique kind of embossed pattern in the side walls and in between the lugs. It screams German precision and quality. Getting them mounted up on my WheelWorks wheels was pretty tough, I’m going to be honest. Were these the hardest tyres I’ve ever had to mount? No, but it would be getting close. The casing is incredibly stiff. Just getting them on the rim felt like I was going to break tyre levers or damage my rims. Thankfully, that was all in my head, but it took a LOT longer to get them on than any other tyre I’ve used in the past. Once they were on, they sealed up nicely.

Visually, you can see that these tyres mean business – the lugs are tall and on the front there are generous gaps to help with mud clearance, enabling the tyre to really dig in. Out on the trail I have been really happy with the Kryptotals. The 2.4” width is spot on for trail riding and gives you plenty of rubber for when things get just a bit squirrelly. Having spent a fair bit of time recently on lighter, faster rolling tyres, coming on to the Kryptotals felt like I had traction in spades, and I always felt in control. I could push and push and it would always seem to hold. When heavy braking occurred, it would always hook up strong and this really made me feel confident riding them. I really noticed how, on a few favourite turns, I would try to push through and stay off the brakes, and the Kryptotal held the line incredibly well. Occasionally, I was actually surprised that I didn’t lose the front end, and was left thinking, ‘huh, I rode out of that?!’ with a great big smile across my face. This really helps with confidence and keeping your fingers off the brakes; holding your speed through the corners.

After a summer of riding, I’m happy to say the tyres still look great. The side walls are in great condition, and I haven’t had a single puncture, tear, or burps. If you’ve been a fan of Maxxis Assegai’s or DHR’s then I think you’ll find the Kryptotal to be right up your alley. I’ve been really impressed with these and will be leaving them on my bike for as long as I can. They gave me great confidence to push hard into corners and control when navigating heavy braking down steep descents.

I also was able to spend a small amount of time on the Xynotal tyre too. This one is not offered as front or rear specific and, at a distance, it looks incredibly similar to the Kryptotal Fr. So similar it was a little like one of those ‘spot the difference’ cartoons but, after a bit more of a careful inspection, the Xynotal’s tread pattern is slightly closer together. On the part of the pattern where there are ‘2’ centre lugs, the Xynotal groups these closer together, whereas the Kryptotal keeps these further apart – presumably this helps the Kryptotal with mud clearance and hooking up in looser conditions (which is what it is targeted to do.) The Xynotal’s lugs are also considerably more bevelled down at the leading edge which should help reduce rolling resistance. All in all the Xynotal is theoretically designed for more hard pack conditions and may help the rider retain a bit more speed. On the trail, I found it really hard to tell the difference between the two – aside from generally feeling that the Kryptotal just had a bit more ‘bite’ to it. If I noticed it anywhere, it was on steep chutes under heavy braking. The Kryptotal just seemed to be able to hold traction for that fraction longer. This is all pretty arbitrary really, as it’s hardly a controlled test, but if hardpack conditions are where you ride, the Xynotal would do the job perfectly. As an all-rounder, I’d probably err towards the Kryptotal – and I like the front and rear specific options it gives.

The fact that the new Continental range is offered in so many variations of patterns, compounds and sidewalls is slightly overwhelming at first, but it means you can find a tyre that perfectly suits your riding style. Pricing varies across the range, depending on your variant. The Kryptotal’s and the Xynotal come in at $148 each.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #109

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #109

Review: Marin Rift Zone 2

If you’ve been around biking long enough, you’ll no doubt be in sheer disbelief over the price escalation that has been part of the sport. I’m not sure who is buying the $20,000 bikes on offer, but clearly someone is. In many ways, though, at the other end of the spectrum, the quality of ‘entry level’ bikes we are getting is incredible too. The Marin Rift Zone 2 (RZ2) is probably in this category, although we’re aware that calling a $3,499 bike ‘entry level’ clearly shows we’ve been drinking the MTB industry Kool-Aid by the gallon!)


Marin Bikes have been around for, literally, ever - arguably among the ‘first’ of a group of mountain bike companies hailing from Marin County California. In recent years, they have been absolutely hitting it out of the park with quality bikes that look the biz - and at great price points too. The Rift Zone 2 is a perfect example of this; it hits so many of the right notes and, if you’re just here for the summary, it’s this: the Rift Zone 2 is all killer, no filler. A great choice to take your trail riding game to the next level, and feel really quite smug at your clever purchasing.


We tested the alloy framed RZ2, priced at $3,499. There is also a slightly lower spec RZ1 at around $2,899, and a flashier, more aggressive specced XR version, plus two carbon options above that as well. But it’s this mid-range option that will hit the sweet spot for lots of riders (or parents of riders). Spec wise, the Rift Zone 2 has a 140mm Marzocchi Bomber Z2. It may not be as flashy as its Fox or Rock Shox brethren, but this fork is a true workhorse and is capable of handling a wide range of terrain, from flowy singletrack to technical descents and everything in between. If you’re old enough to remember the original bright orange Bombers it’s got a certain nostalgia to it too. Handling the rear is the Rock Shox Deluxe Select RT Debonair, delivering 130mm travel. Despite being quite a mouthful of a name, the shock is pretty straightforward and proved to be highly responsive and supple. The Debonair technology provides excellent small bump sensitivity and a highly progressive ramp-up as you charge bigger hits and drops. This allows the shock to provide good levels of control and stability in most riding conditions.

Shifting is handled by the Deore 12-speed system. Well, at least the shifter and the derailleur are Deore; the derailleur features Shimano's Shadow technology, which provides good chain stability and reduces chain slap, ensuring that you get a quiet and smooth ride. We reviewed the Deore drivetrain a few issues back and were impressed by it - so long as it is kept clean as it does seem more ‘temperamental’ when it gets bogged down in grit and gunk. Sadly, you’ve got a Sunrace cassette, but that is something you will naturally update down the track. The cassette features a 11-51T gear range, which provides a 510% gear range, making it highly versatile and capable of handling a wide range of terrain.


A Tranz-X dropper provides a simple but totally functional dropper seat, and it’s great to see it offered at a 170mm drop on all sizes apart from the small, which gets a 150mm version. The only other notable spec was the 2-piston Shimano brakes which felt like a swing and a miss. Even the low-cost M520 4-piston Shimano brakes would be a welcome addition, even if this raised the price fractionally.


Both carbon and alloy frames sport full internal cable routing in the front triangle with Marin’s all-new internal cable routing grommets providing a clean and rattle free cable set up. Colours are subjective, but most of our riders were impressed with the simple grey/white fade and striking red graphics. Geometry wise, our size large had a fairly lengthy 485mm reach and fairly slack 65.5 head angle. Remember, this is only a 130mm travel bike, but it is clearly pitching itself at the aggressive end of the ‘trail bike’ spectrum.


On the trail we were immediately impressed with the Rift Zone. The phrase that kept coming up was ‘bang for buck’. It doesn’t have any particular bling, but that doesn’t hold it back from doing everything it needs to do. Marin’s MultiTrac suspension system delivered a balanced ride capable of absorbing big hits with an ‘efficient enough’ pedalling platform. We were really impressed with just how much of a lively combo the slack head angle and moderate amount of travel made. Longer travel bikes can feel like they take excessive rider energy and input to ‘get up and going’, but the Marin feels spritely; the short chainstays and low bottom bracket height make for nimble and agile handling on tight turns and technical terrain. Despite being on the lower end of travel, the slack head angle gives the rider plenty of confidence to have fun and attack whenever the trail presents an opportunity. This is a winning combination for many of us, who need one bike to do most things well.


The Vee Snap tires specced also performed well. Being a new tyre for our testers, it has an aggressive pattern and seemed to pump up wider than its 2.35” label. They gave good grip and cornering ability on a range of terrain types, from loose dirt to rocky surfaces. Other parts handled suitably well too. The Bomber fork was surprisingly capable, and even outshone the RockShox rear shock which we never quite managed to get dialled, but maybe reflects its price point. The only thing we kept coming back to, were the brakes. The bike wants to be ridden hard, but 2-piston brakes have their limit and longer, steeper descents reminded us why 4-piston brakes would be a better option. It’s not a deal breaker, but something that could have made the RZ2 an absolute home-run.


Talking to a local bike shop mechanic about the Rift Zone, he pointed out that, from a shop perspective, they have been really impressed with the Rift Zone and have seen very few issues come up, which should give buyers confidence too. They’ve sold a lot of them to teenagers, where parents are looking for a bike that is going to let their child really expand their capabilities without breaking the bank (too much). I can see that being a great fit.


Ultimately what really stands out about the Rift Zone 2, is its versatility. This bike is designed to handle a wide range of terrain, from flowy singletrack to technical descents and everything in between, and it’s not afraid to jump - something a teenager, in particular, will really like. The bike's geometry and suspension system make it highly capable and able to tackle any trail. It all comes together in a package that really feels like value for money, and greater than the sum of its parts.


Distributed by Advance Traders l RRP: $3,499


Words: Lance Pilbrow

Images: Julia Moore-Pilbrow

Review: Aeroe Spider Rack

Review by Odin Woods
RRP: $199
Find out more here.

“The Spider Rack system is comprised of a rear rack, rear cradles, front cradle, and some nice dry bag options to suit just about every bikepacking pursuit.”

When I think bikepacking, I think of drop bars, janky bags and loose straps hanging off every corner of the bike.

Some of those janky seat bags, front rolls and frame bags have become more refined over the years – to stop stuff bouncing, swaying, and ultimately falling off your bike – but there still isn’t the perfect solution for all occasions by any means. Consumers pushing for cleaner, simpler, less faffy ways of mounting bags on bikes continues to drive innovation. Innovators, like brothers Mike and Paddy Maguire at Aeroe, have certainly played their part in that move. You can thank them for the original freeload rack (now sold by Thule) – which I’m sure many of you have seen over the years – and now for the Aeroe Spider Rack system. The Spider Rack system is comprised of a rear rack, rear cradles, front cradle, and some nice dry bag options to suit just about every bikepacking pursuit. All the parts have a very modular feel about them, and you can tell each component has had a lot of love poured into it, design-wise, allowing for a very simple and easy-to-use product.

I’m kind of a ‘rip the packaging open first, read the instructions later’ person, and if how something is supposed to work isn’t immediately apparent then, in my opinion, it isn’t effortless for the customer. I applied this logic when first fitting the rear rack to my gravel bike and was quickly impressed with how simple and easily adjustable everything was. The mounting brackets can rotate to accommodate different seat stay angles and the rack itself can flex to achieve different widths. The rack height can also be adjusted +/- 30mm by loosening the four bolts and sliding it up and down through the mount to adjust the clearance around the rear tire. Nipping up the 5mm Allen key, the Silicone coated straps effortlessly tension up to keep the rack secure, without risking damage to your frame.

“I more or less forgot that there was a 12L dry bag strapped to the back of my bike. The rack was rock solid and didn’t make a sound.”

I pulled it off and within three minutes had it mounted on my Santa Cruz 5010. I chose to flip the entire rack 180° so the cradle sat back a bit further and lower down to clear my seat on compression. Aeroe note this as a ‘hot tip’ in their install guide.

It was time to put this stuff to use! We gapped it out of town to a quiet wee hut for the night and opted to use the Spider rear rack, with a single cradle, and the 12L dry bag to hump our gear up-river to the night’s accommodation. It was a quick transition in the pouring rain from empty bike to loaded bike. We simply clicked the cradle’s integrated buckles over the dry bag, then we were off. Jordan opted to mount his rack facing back as well, and had plenty of clearance over a 29er rear wheel as we bounced our way across tussock, river lands and the beech forest beyond. Without the usual constant swaying of a loaded seat bag, I more or less forgot that there was a 12L dry bag strapped to the back of my bike. The rack was rock solid and didn’t make a sound. When it came to dismounting and crossing some of the bigger rivers, I could fully drop my seat and climb off easily! Getting to the hut, it was nice to just unclip two buckles and not have to fumble around under the seat trying to pull straps through to remove a bag. My clothes and sleeping bag were nice and dry, courtesy of the super durable dry bags.

Loading up was, again, as easy as stuffing a bag full of gear and strapping it on. I gave my rack the once over just to see if anything had moved, but everything was where it was supposed to be and riding behind Jordan over some of the rougher sections of trail made me realise how little the entire system moved as well.

As mentioned, we only used the Spider rear rack with one 12L dry bag, but it’s worth noting that if you wanted to you could add another two cradles to each side and strap on another two dry bags – or a tent, fishing gear, whatever you want. One small thing to mention is that the straps that hold the rack on could be easily lost when the rack is removed, so putting a small rubber band around the end while on the rack would stop them being accidently dropped.

The weight weenies will note that the rack and cradle weigh in at 996 grams, not as light as a seat bag, but there is no questioning the robustness of the rack and cradles solid design. With that in mind, if you are planning to use this system for bikepacking, on rougher trails, it is reasonable to accept the 400-odd additional grams for the sake of longevity.

Rounding out, I found my time using the Spider Rack system sturdy and reliable with no surprises. For the price, I think it’s fairly good buying considering its versatility to move between bikes without too much hassle – plus, you can add to it when you need to.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #109

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #109

Bike Review: Trek Fuel EXe

This is a review of the Trek Fuel EXe, a great example of a new category of mountain bike.


It will not be like any review you have read before. To be honest, there is not much point in rattling off the geometry, the parts spec, the wattage and the torque figures. Anybody who is remotely interested in this bike has already watched a dozen in-depth videos, and people moderately interested probably know more about the kit that comes on each model than I do.


The exact version I got to test is not even available in New Zealand, so I am not going to pick that apart in much detail either.


What I am going to try to do is relate how this bike has affected me, and what it has meant to my bike riding. My last year or so has been so weird and life-changing that I have been planning to write a story about it, and this bike has come along at the right time to get me started.


Some context: I took up mountain biking almost 40 years ago. I had taken a few years off bike riding after I threw in the towel on my track racing career, and got sidetracked by learning to be a designer. I didn’t really miss bike riding until I saw my first mountain bike. I bought the first one I saw that was for sale.


Since then I have slowly worked my way through many kinds of bike riding. Six-week bike packing trips, cross country races, downhill enduros, a short stint on a BMX, over 20 laps of Lake Taupo on various road bikes, single speed races, 24 hour races, multi-day mountain biking expeditions - I even ended up back on a velodrome.


I have always been able to ride enough that if any of the above activities came along I could select the appropriate bike and have a go at it. Even as I got older, fitness was never a consideration - I could get away with going on any of these outings without any need to prepare.


2020 was one of my best years since bike riding once again became my thing. A weekly fang on the track bike, an unusually mild winter for mountain biking, some great days out on the gravel bike, then two trips to the South Island for long weekends riding legendary trails in great company.


Come February that summer, a swelling in my neck became a major health problem. I was very lucky - what I had was treatable. The treatment was pretty heinous.


So this story is about what it means to be a bike rider who is fairly capable, rendered completely incapable in order to stay around.


Treatment lasted seven weeks, plus another six or seven in a bit of a mess, and as many months in a much reduced state. On the plus side, I got down to what was my 1977 racing weight. On the down side I was weak as a kitten and needed to sleep a lot.


I started back on regular food about a month after treatment, and got the last of the tubes that were installed taken out a couple of weeks or so later. I had my first bike ride post-illness about then, and managed ten slow kilometres on the flat. With some half-hearted wheelies and skids.


Over the next few months I got better at bike rides, got busy on some landscaping projects, and tried to remember what I do for a living.


My specialist, to whom I owe the success of the treatment he designed, happened by chance to also be a mad-keen bike rider. Bizarrely, he ordered a product from our online business the day before our first clinic, quite by coincidence. He understood what I would be trying to do when I got back into it. He encouraged me, with a round of cautions. Don’t expect too much, you won’t be like you were before, and get yourself an e-bike.


I sort of listened, but mainly figured if I ate a lot and was patient I would get back to normal eventually.


I didn’t get an e-bike.


I slowly added kilometres to my distance covered and metres to my altitude climbed. By six months out I could do a decent three hour ride in the trails, and climb up to the best bits under my own steam several times in a ride. I was probably back to being ok for my age, regardless of being in recovery. So, pretty good.


My problem was a ride like the one described would lay me out for several days. I might not get back on a bike until midweek, if at all. My old coach used to say “a little, and often” was the best formula. I didn’t follow that adage, I went out and did the ride I really wanted to do, smashed myself, then took days to get over it.


That was my status when I got the chance to do a long-term review of the new Trek Fuel EX e.


Getting acquainted with the bike was very easy - my daily ride is a Fuel EX from 2021. The e-sled shares that DNA, and is a logical development of a model that has been around in the Trek range for seventeen years.


It looks really good. Whether you like the look of a bike is obviously a matter of personal taste, and for me it is one of the best looking mountain bikes of any kind, ever. The design of the full-carbon frame is considered and resolved. That it is electric assist is irrelevant, it is a good looking thing.


The initial thrust of the bike industry’s e-bike thinking was to give riders heaps of grunt over a long day out. Like, if we want to sell any of these things we have to make them go as far as any of our customers will ever go, even if they only go that far once a year.

























Well, OK. But that means riding a big, heavy beast on all your outings. The Fuel EXe weighs in around six or seven kilograms less than its full power brethren, and the electrics are packed into a much smaller part of the bike.


The motor and electronics from German robotics company TQ fit into a slightly enlarged bottom bracket casing, and under a neat little display buried in the top tube. A discreet pair of switches next to the left grip controls the system.


Whether it matters or not to the general populace, it doesn’t look like an e-bike.


On my first ride I met some people I know at the top of the trails, about to head into the jungle. One of them came and had a good look at the bike, which certainly is attention-grabbing with its one piece carbon bar and stem, honeyed butter-coloured frame and electronic gizmos on the suspension and valves. We chatted about it. We rode more or less together to the first junction on the trail. Later that day I posted a photo and a few notes on Instagram and my friend messaged to say he had not even realised the bike was an E.


The other thing that really stands out on the EX e is the noise it doesn’t make. If you are used to hearing what sounds like a blow dryer coming up the trail, you will be surprised by the silence of this bike. Honestly, I struggle to hear it over my tinnitus.


It does emit a bit of a whine when it is really under load, but even that is usually smothered by tyre noise and heavy breathing.


Which brings me to next part of my story - what the Fuel EX e is like to ride.


It feels like my regular Fuel EX. The motor is not engaged with the cranks when it isn’t driving, so riding the bike around with the system turned off just feels like a normal bike. In factory default settings, the Low power mode feels like a normal bike might feel to Anton Cooper. The way the power comes on is very subtle, almost imperceptible, you just feel a lot stronger than usual.


That is where the heavy breathing comes in. In Low power, I was working as hard as I normally would, or nearly as hard, just going faster. It isn’t at all like the full powered bikes I have giggled my way around the trails on. If you don’t punch the power up you still have to earn your turns.

Mid power offers more of a surge at the pedals, but is still fairly muted and gentle. Full gas is definitely a big boost, but nowhere near the rowdiness of the Rails or Levos I have ridden.


And going hard on the power will rinse the battery fairly quickly.


I started a lot of my rides with a 150m, one and a half kilometre, singletrack climb. Low power would see me use seven or eight percent of the battery charge, high power double that.


By riding nearly everywhere in Low power, I squeezed 49 kilometres and 1350m of ascent out of a charge.


On another day, using a bit more throttle here and there, I got 40ks and a little over 1000m vertical.


But for this bike and me, the sweet spot was about 35 kilometres of trail and around 800 up. At that distance and elevation gain, I could ride the entire distance on Mid power or Full power, which is at least 37% more fun, and get a really good workout at the same time.


On the example I had, with its 150mm RockShox Lyric fork and RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate (seriously, that is what it is called) shock working at their best, it was a real pleasure on the trails. Going downhill the bike was quiet and predictable. And quiet - it will be interesting to get astride one that doesn’t share the AXS shifter and seat dropper of the review sled. I wonder if having two less cables makes the bike less clattery, but honestly the only bike I have been on that made less noise was a single speed.


One of the interesting aspects of the motor is the lack of drag. On some other e-bikes, once you hit the built-in speed limit, you go from having considerable assist to having the drag of turning the motor over. This one completely disengages, so you dont feel like you are fighting anything.


Another aspect of the lower power of this bike compared to the full-on versions, is that the rider is rewarded for maintaining a good cadence. For me, a pretty fast spin seemed to be the way to get the best out of the motor, I found myself changing gear maybe more often than usual to keep the revs up especially on flat or climbing trails.


And that right there is the real beauty of e-bikes in general, for me anyway. Trails that are a bit of a chore become a lot of fun. There is a favourite of mine in our local patch called Old Chevy. It is three kilometres of tight singletrack, with 49 metres of ascent and 78 metres of descent. It is full of short pinch climbs, and fun but very quick downhills, connected by contorted trail. Like I said, it is one of my favourites, but it always hurts. I am sure it is fun for the very fit, but now I KNOW it is fun for the electrically assisted. And on the EX e, it is fabulous. Coupled with enough torque to make the climbs fun to attack, the light and natural feeling of the bike means the downhill and traverse sections just feel like you are having the best day on a bike, ever, fitness wise. Every time.


And that brings me to the effect having this bike for a month has had on me.


As my specialist predicted, access to an e-bike has been a big help. I can go out on consecutive days, and give it what feels like a decent serve. I have ridden the bike much more than I was riding my bike before, and while the assist obviously makes that easier, the extra riding is putting kilometres in the bank and the benefits that brings.


I have done a couple of rides on my other bikes during the month of the EX e, and they have been the longest and hardest since I got going again. A big ride on the roadie, in the wind and rain, which incorporated a decent chunk of forest gravel, and a week later a long mountain bike ride all over the forest - neither one made feel anything other than satisfied. I could ride again the day after both outings, and did!


So not only did riding the EX e get me out more often, it added to my ability to get out more often.


That is a big deal from my perspective. I feel like I am more or less back, if not to normal (what exactly does that look like?), at least to a stage where I am up for whatever kind of bike ride presents itself. Like I was before I got hammered.


I have figured out what it’s good for. And who it’s good for.


It isn’t the guy who overtook me the last time I took the regular bike out. He came past me on a big climb, seat about ten centimetres too low, gear about four sprockets too high, shorts maybe a size and half too small. On a big e-bike, motor hauling him skyward while he pedalled with feet akimbo, heels on the pedals. He would not like the EX e, he would feel short-changed by its comparatively low power package.


But a mountain biker, looking for a way to cram more riding into a busy schedule, or get a decent ride in when not at peak fitness, or maybe a person on the rebuild trail, I can’t recommend the bike enough.


Trek sells a range extender, which sits in the bottle cage and provides an extra 40% of range. Well, “up to 44%”, according to Trek. I will get one, when I get my own Fuel EX e.


There, I said it. When I get my own Fuel EX e. It’s that good.


Words: Gaz Sulivan

Images: Savanna Guet


Review: 100% Trajecta Helmet

If you’re racing enduro, you are often faced with a bit of a dilemma when it comes to helmets. Do you wear your downhill full-face helmet? Or stick with your regular open face? Full-face helmets are by default, a lot hotter and heavier - but there is no denying the extra protection that you get from having proper chin and cheek protection. Having to wear a full-face helmet all day – with all the climbing you inevitably do - is a deal breaker for some; the sense of overheating outweighs the benefit in protection. But, what if full-face helmets were lighter, breathed more, and still gave you all the protective benefits? Enter the 100% Trajecta, which does just that.

The Trajecta is a modern, enduro-friendly full-face that seeks to offer all the benefits of a traditional full-face in a lighter weight and more breathable package. What’s apparent even before you put it on, is the massive vents designed into the chin bar. I have owned plenty of full-face helmets over the years and, while they all had vents around the chin bar, none of them come close to the amount of open space the Trajecta has.


Safety wise, the Trajecta has its own Smartshock® Rotational Protective System, designed to act as a version of the MIPS system popularised by other helmet manufacturers to reduce the severity of oblique, angular impacts that produce both rotational acceleration and deceleration forces on our brain. Taking the liner out reveals some blue elastomers moulded into the main polystyrene body of the helmet, and these are what the liner connects to. The system improves protection by immediately compressing and absorbing direct impact, and allows the elastomers to move independently from the helmet's shell. Both features help reduce energy transfer to the brain over a wide range of speed and impact types.


Style is a personal thing, but I think the 100% gear always looks on point. The Trajecta has the super aggressive moto look about it and just looks fast. I tested the matte black option, but it is available in six other more colourful options too. Weight wise, the Trajecta weighs in at 860gm (size medium) and feels light in your hand and on your head. Regarding fit, I find I sit on the cusp of a medium and a large. Testing the medium, I found it was just on the tight side and I would go up to a large if I was doing it again. Each helmet comes with a spare set of pads so you can customise your fit, however the medium came with a thicker set of pads that would have resulted in a tighter fit still. There isn’t too much margin when it comes to full-face helmets so it is something I would try on in a shop instead of ordering online.

Out on the trail, I began to really appreciate the gaping vents in the chin bar. They create airflow like no other full-face I’ve worn, and I definitely found my breathing more natural than the huffing and puffing I usually end up doing when wearing my downhill helmet. No surprise, but worth mentioning, the helmet shape around the main opening sits great with my goggles and they didn’t seem to interfere with each other.



Could you ride in this helmet all day? Yes, definitely. Is it hotter than a regular helmet? Yes it is. But can you live with it? Well, I rode this helmet during the changeable weather of spring, and on the odd colder day I really appreciated wearing a full-face - it takes the chill off nicely. I didn’t get a chance to ride it on a full-on summertime scorcher, so it’s hard to tell just how it would feel then. For all bar mid-summer, I think I would be pretty comfortable in this temperature wise, but it really comes down to what you’re setting out to do on your ride. If you’re just smashing out an XC loop of the forest then no, you’re not going to wear this. But, if you’re doing a few shuttles, or doing a more skills-based day where you might be working on a particular jump or drop, there’s no reason to wear an open face. Save your pretty teeth! Personally, I’ve got a few enduro’s I’m tentatively booking into the calendar, and I think this will be my helmet of choice. I believe this will be a helmet that really appeals to those riders who go a bit of everything, the odd DH race, the odd enduro, the odd just mucking-around-on-some-local-jumps and, while regular downhill helmets no doubt offer a greater level of comfort and protection, if you are only going to have one full-face helmet, having one that you will actually wear on a larger variety of occasions surely means there is a greater likelihood that it will actually be on your head when you need it. For that reason, I think these are a great option.

Words: Lance Pilbrow

RRP: $449

Review: 100% Tarka Body Armour

You don’t have to be in this sport long to know that there is some real potential to hurt yourself. In fact, if I’m away on a group ride for a weekend I almost always assume someone will be going home with a body part in plaster, a sling, on crutches, or all three. My own X-ray file is proof of all of this, so I’m a big fan of riding within my limits these days and, if I want to push them, I will only do so when I’ve armoured up.


Lots of people own the requisite full-face helmet, elbow pads and knee pads, but fewer people opt to go for a chest and shoulder protection system like the 100% Tarka. And that’s understandable. Chest protection is kind of another level of hassle and has tended to be uncomfortable to wear, bulky and awkward fitting. The Tarka seeks to address some of these issues.


The Tarka is available in three versions: a vest (chest and back only); a short sleeve (chest, back and shoulders); and a long sleeve (chest, back, shoulders and forearms). We tested the short sleeve option. The Tarka features unique ‘Smartshock’ material in all three impact zones, and is impact tested and certified to the highest level of CE impact protection. The Smartshock panels are a blue, impact resistant material that look a little like they are made from camping pad foam, albeit a fair bit firmer and, on the front and back, there are three of them stacked on top of each other. They are malleable yet firm. How firm? Well, I think you could hit a rock at any speed and if it hits you in the blue zone - that zone will be the least of your worries. All Smartshock plates are removable, so if you just want the back protection, you can remove the chest protector for example, which also means you can easily wash the vest to keep it fresh.


Fit wise, it is slim. I would err on fitting up a full size from normal, but once it’s on it's comfortable enough. Some other body protection I have worn seemed to itch from the get-go, but this felt fine. I didn’t need to wear a liner shirt underneath generally, but some people might. Silicone logo grippers on the lower hem also keep it from riding up your back too. All the blue panels are ventilated, and the material of the body is a breathable mesh. Don’t get me wrong, wearing body armour is still warm, but this breathes about as well as you can expect from this kind of product. On the trail, I was impressed with the free range of motion, it never really felt ‘in the way’ like some armour can. It’s definitely a solid piece of kit, so much so that I’m not going to put it on for a regular trail ride but, if I was spending a day on the shuttles or a gondola, it’s something I would definitely take. It’s got enough heft to it that I think the target market is much more the gravity/DH crowd, rather than trying to add a little bit of protection to your everyday trail riding. Basically, I think if I was doing something where I was planning to wear a full-face helmet, I would take this too.


At $399 it’s a wee bit of an investment, but it’s cheaper than time off work when you injure yourself or when you have to take care of your young grom who’s smashing out laps on the bike park, trying to be the next Blenki or Bulldog, but ends up smashing themselves. I also think that wearing appropriate protection for the risks that are taken in our sport is not only common sense but, really, it’s about being a good citizen too. So, if you’re taking risks, suit up, your future self will thank you for it.


Available through FE Sports.


RRP: $339

Review: 100% Corridor Stretch Wind Jacket

“I’ve tested this jacket in all possible riding conditions...”


The 100% Corridor Stretch Wind Jacket is currently my go-to for riding. It’s the one thing I’ll carry with me no matter the conditions. Made from mechanical stretch woven fabric, with a water resistant coating, this jacket protects against the harsh weather conditions Wellington is so well known for. Thanks to it being super lightweight, it’s easy to stash away in a small pocket without being a hassle whilst riding when ‘Welly on a good day’ makes an appearance.


I’ve tested this jacket in all possible riding conditions. It’s been great riding through light winter snow on back country trails down south, keeping me warm and protected in harsh and exposed conditions. Being lightweight and protective, I reckon it’s a go-to jacket when riding under the trees. It’s proven to be great on the trail in light showers and snow, though not extremely waterproof when riding through heavy rain in less sheltered and more exposed environments.


With zippered pockets on each side, I’ve found that I can keep my essentials – phone, sunglasses and keys – with me, securely, when going out for a ride. 100% has also paid attention to the finer details on this jacket. With one pocket equipped with a microfiber lens-cloth, it’s easy to stop and wipe dirt and sweat off the phone. This jacket is slim fitting and flattering, designed with back-venting making it not only warm, but breathable too. With reflective taping and logos on the front and back for visibility, the jacket stands out from your regular bitch ass riding coat.


Overall, the 100% Corridor Stretch Wind Jacket helps in battling the elements, is lightweight and compact, and has proven to be highly effective for blocking wind and light rain on the road or trails. The 100% Corridor Stretch Wind Jacket is made of robust material and has, so far, been exceptionally crash proof. The perfect cool-season accoutrement.