06 Jan 2020

Flow's Mick Ross reflects on the year past, reminiscing on the moments that made it so special.

Whoa, exhale, 2019, done, finito, 12 months in the bag. It has been an absolutely momentous year for the tiny powerhouse Flow Mountain Bike. Reflecting on what exactly made it so eventful by choosing key highlights is a pleasing way to remind us of how fortunate we are to work with talented people on amazing projects, to remain significant in a busy media space, within an ever-changing and exciting world of everything mountain biking.

We love what we do and sincerely hope Flow continues to inspire, inform and entertain whether that be through videos and stories from around Australia, new bike reviews, new tech stories, coverage of events, or news from new places to ride.

There’s been a stack of original content go up on Flow in 2019; we’ve created 68 videos for our YouTube channel, 413 pieces of Flow created content on flowmountainbike.com and 257 Instagram posts. It’s been a busy time for our small team.

Flow’s effervescent news and tech editor, Wil Barrett has given us his top-ten bikes and products from 2019, so now it’s my time to recount the events of 2019 that stood out to me.

A sad farewell to Chris Southwood, and a welcome to Wil Barrett.

Chris and I met at the downhill races while still in high school, worked in bike shops together and formed a wonderful friendship and working relationship in media that spanned 15 years. Freelancing as bike testers when the Kona Magic Link and Shimano Dual Control Shifters were cool, we somehow slipped into becoming the editorial team behind AMB Magazine, adding 28 printed copies to the long and still growing list.

Flow’s co-founder, and great friend of mine, Chris Southwood, farewell’s mountain bike media in search of new challenges.

Flow was born, out of digital dreams, briefly engaging in the print world and later focussing solely on online media. Seven years of Flow and making a significant impact in the mountain bike space in Australia and no doubt getting more bums on bikes, Chris made the call to move on and seek new career challenges and spend more time with his young family.

His trademark weirdness, random-energy, ingenious creativity, intensely competitive riding spirit, passion for the sport and utter dedication to quality media continues to live on in Flow. If you spot him on the trails, please ask him how much he misses riding e-bikes, and now loves paying for bike parts.

Bendigo’s walking mountain bike encyclopedia Wil Barrett return to Australia from the UK was splendid news to Chris and I. Wil has always been the rare type of talent we would love to have in the Flow team.

A shining member in the exclusive list of the world’s most excellent bike reviewers and writers, Wil has brought immense credibility and quality to Flow Land, and I have very much enjoyed the first six months working together.

Flow welcomed the effervescent Wil Barrett to the team this year. Such a legend!
Wil in the Flow zone, out testing bikes.

Wil’s passion and curiosity for new bike releases and technical details are amazing, and the dedication to creating quality content for the viewer is what makes him stand out from the pack.

Who else can produce a thorough 15-minute bike review video and keep you glued to the screen to the end, or concisely describe the concept behind short-offset forks? Wil can! Do yourself a favour and check out some recent bike reviews videos on our YouTube and you’ll see what I mean.

Flow’s Fantastic Freelancer Family.

I am grateful to have a fantastic team of freelancers around us that can carry out projects alongside Wil, myself or independently.

Josh Stephenson from Ready Aim Media, integral to many great projects we were involved in through 2019.
The super-talented Tasmanian oddball, Jasper Da Seymour in his element.

Huge shout outs to our long-serving hard-working and talented crew; Josh Stephenson, Jasper da Seymour, Oliver Smith, Dominic Hook, Fiona Dick, Reiner Shuster and Matt Staggs.

Thank you!

Attending two MTB Forums, the scene is thriving and more on the way.

Australian MTB Summit, Derby and Destination MTB, Maydena.

Flow was fortunate to attend both events and presented on mountain bike media in the destination space at the Maydena Summit. Hearing the talks, and meeting the attendees bolstered our confidence that mountain biking has a beautiful future, with constant investment from all levels into building and supporting mountain bike infrastructure.

New regions with mountain bike trail plans are popping up on the map. With ultimate success stories like Derby and Maydena to reference, it’s clear for those to see how mountain biking can engage tourism as well as engage local communities in cycling activities. 

Wil’s feature of the handbuilt bikes in Beechworth; TOR Bikes.

This project was extra nice to see unfold, coming from a place I have a real affinity for, and a fellow that I’ve followed about the trails there, Shane Flint and Beechworth, Victoria.

tor bikes workshop manufacture fillet brazing beechworth
Shane Flint from TOR Bikes, hand-built in Beechworth.

Wil jumped up to Beechworth from Bendigo to learn more about TOR Bikes, how they are made, how they ride, and the theories behind construction methods and frame geometry.

The images and stories are fascinating, and so well captured, it’s total editorial class. Bike geeks will love the detail, and anyone who would appreciate a custom bike should consider an Australian made masterpiece like this.

Port to Port to Reef to Reef to Cape to Cape.

I absolutely love being a part of these events, and as a photographer, it’s a wild week of high-paced camera slinging good times. The photogenic Port to Port was treated to magnificent conditions each day, and the riders were buzzing; hence the photos are so much fun to flick through.

Port to Port.
Cape to Cape.
Reef to Reef.

It was my first time shooting the Reef to Reef in Tropical North Queensland, a break from mid-winter at home, and the event was enjoyable to follow. Travelling around from Cairns to Port Douglas via the spectacular Atherton Tablelands is something we’re lucky to have witnessed from behind the camera.

It was a new experience for Wil, also, and with a foreign camera. He picked it up like a pro and captured so much great imagery.

Over to WA for the big one, Cape to Cape. I was feeling a little fatigued with the C2C, counting around eight visits, racing and photographing, it can feel challenging to photograph with enthusiasm and produce a fresh set of images. But this year was the best yet, I don’t know exactly what it was, but working with the clever Tim Bardsley-Smith, bouncing around in the ute tray like Skittles in a Pringles can, and the warm team atmosphere from the experienced crew who get s#$t done and party mighty hard. See you all again!

Riding trail bikes with XC tyres for s%$ts and giggles.

A standout riding experience this year was an unexpected one. To convert a trail bike into a capable XC race bike for the odd XC race, I messed with a Giant Trance by exchanging the wheels and tyres from 2.3” Maxxis Minions on 30mm rims to 2.3/2.35” Maxxis Rekon Race on lightweight 26mm rims. This was a huge change, and it turned a bike I knew well into a wild rodeo!

The Giant Singletrack Charmer, a marvellous trail bike that I enjoyed riding a lot.

Blasting into turns at full speed with limited braking bite to keep speeds under control, while focussing on line choice to stay upright and expecting nothing to go to plan was damn fun. I will plan to do it again on the next short-travel trail bike. Give it a try! 

Megatower-ing on the mighty trails in Nelson, NZ

Taking part in a small press launch for the new Santa Cruz Megatower held in Nelson, NZ I was thrown head-first into some genuinely challenging riding! The bike was up for it, but my weakling editors arms still recovering from that bone-breaking incident in Maydena’s Zen Garden were not.

Wow, Wairoa Gorge is quite a place! The remarkable story of its conception alone is mind-boggling, and the terrain and trail construction was unlike anything I’d ever ridden in all of my years. With the majority of the press and Santa Cruz staff riding super hard and fast, it was a few days of fury, attacking steep turns with commitment and keeping the momentum high to avoid falling off the side of the planet into the jaws of hungry cheese grater rocks.

Getting rowdy in Wairoa Gorge, Nelson, New Zealand. Hectic trails!

Nydia Bay is a pretty place, too. A part of the NZ Enduro, the trails and scenery around the Marlborough Sounds are stunning and stoked I got to sneak out for a sunrise shoot and solo peace and quiet before the savage riding resumed.

Also, how good are dual-direction, multiple-user trails in New Zealand? So good.

2019 EWS, World Cup season and World Champs! Rebecca McConnell, Sam Hill, Brosnan, Tracey Hannah, Bruni, Pierron, amazing!

Race fans were treated to a thrilling season of racing, with remarkable performances. I was pumped to watch Bec McConnell’s fast finish to the season which culminated with a bronze World Championship medal, fantastic stuff!

Sam Hill’s narrow EWS season win, the Bruni and Pierron fierce battle and Brosnan’s remarkable precision and consistency. And watching the relief on Tracey Hannah’s face when she sealed the 2019 overall World Cup, lots of fuzzy warms from where we sat watching on RedBull TV.

E-MTB adventures, some of the best feelings on a bike.

I’m a considerable enthusiast of e-bikes and have clocked up a tremendous amount of time on them since they landed in Australia to a mixed reception and fiercely polarised internet audience. Right now, I give very little attention to people who go out of their way to rage about e-bikes, I’m not fussed at all, sorry angry people of the internet!

My go-to e-MTB, the superb Specialized Levo, has been my bike of choice for all sorts of rides. Pushing the limit on extremely hard trails, adventuring with large groups or riders, carrying camera gear around the High Country on film shoots, riding entire stages of the Port to Port as a photographer, exploring potential new zones to ride close to home, spinning out km to recover the legs from hard days out, self-shuttling DH race tracks and for getting out in the bush when you don’t have all of your best energy. The list goes on, I’ve stopped thinking about it too much, and just focus on enjoying the completely different experience that they offer.

I’ve been riding for 25 years, so I tend to lean toward a new riding experience, none have come along with such significance as this.

Filming the Mission Impassable series, and the Sugarloaf Mega-Levo video on e-MTBs pretty much sums it up, I highly recommend watching.

Shrrallllp!

After about four years of riding and testing e-MTBs, I’ve developed an appreciation of how using the various power modes can impact on your ride. Don’t just sit back and boost your way, hit those buttons.

I have been riding to the trails in full-power mode to warm up and get to the juicy bits, then knock the power right down, so there’s still a lot of effort from the legs and body going into the ride. Power up the shuttle roads, or boost up a techy climb, then back the electricity down, pedal hard to feel the burn like we did before these wonder-machines graced our lives.

And you know what tops it off? The development and technological advancements are stimulating, and I feel that I’m often more excited about what’s yet to come in the e-MTB world than analogue bikes. The competition is hot and raging forwards, and it is exciting to watch. Imagine what we’re in for over the next few years! 

Riding endu-road in Italy, breaking all the etiquette.

At a Trek media launch this year, where Trek released the new 2020 Rail and Fuel EX, the Oceanic contingent of Alex Malone from Cyclist Magazine, Liam Friary from Cycling Journal NZ and I arrived one day earlier than official proceedings.

Alex Malone in the Italian zone.

With only road bikes available, it was rude not to borrow one and shake off the jetlag with a cycle around the quintessential Italian countryside. Though to the disdain of my slick roadie pals, I was dressed in full ‘enduro spec’ gear, big Giro Chamber shoes, helmet with a visor and large Camelbak. Oh, the horror!

Damn, it was a good ride, though! Disc brake road bikes are the greatest, does anyone want to buy my rim-brake roadie? 

The Canyon Strive, so clever, much enduro.

Canyon’s quiver-killing Strive (haha, I said it) is an impressive bike, and I enjoyed riding it in Maydena and also on trails that didn’t warrant such brawn, but it still outshone many in its category.

Competent suspension, modest numbers, low weight, high value and the effective Shapeshifter come together in a strikingly aesthetic package that would suit a considerable portion of hard-charging riders out there. It rates high on my ultimate bike list.

Pondering features.

Giant Trance 29, the singletrack charmer.

This bike came at a time when I was missing the super-technical trails in Sydney, faced with the flatter and calmer terrain of a newer home in Newcastle. Short on travel, big on character, the Trance 29 is a real winner. After reviewing and really enjoying the mid-range aluminium model, a top-level carbon model became available.

The DVO suspension never really resonated with me, the rear shock, in particular, wasn’t a great match to the frame and wondered how DVO would be a selling point for the flagship models, and hey, presto, all DVO has vanished from the 2020 line-up without a word. Hmmm.

First ride of many on the Trance 29er.

I fitted the new Shimano XTR to the Trance 29, and it felt amazing, that stuff is all-class. Though maybe not worth the dollars over SLX or XT, it feels delightful to the touch and the key to a lightweight build. The Trance managed to handle a wide variety of trails; it is lively, confident and ultra-quick.

The Trance 29 lit up the singletrack, ask Terry.

Shimano XTR and SRAM Eagle AXS drivetrains, experiencing the cream of the 12-speed crop. 

2019 was a kick-ass year for drivetrain nerds like me. New-ish 12-speed SRAM AXS and Shimano XTR were becoming more regularly available for upgrades and stock on high-end bikes, and I built a Giant Trance 29er and Focus Sam with the fancy stuff.

Smoothest shifting in the universe.

Marvelling at the performance, feeling subtle differences between the two, understanding their unique strengths and weaknesses and forcing myself to choose only one consumes so much thought and discussion when out testing.

Oh no, I put myself on the spot now, which drivetrain would I choose if I could only use one? Is this the place to do it?

Cleaner than a wireless whistle.

SRAM AXS gets my pick. SRAM AXS takes the cake by a whisker solely for the clean aesthetics that the wireless system brings, and the way robots make a perfectly consistent shift action each time. I dig it.

In my experiences this year, Shimano XTR has a superior shift action under load and does it so smoothly like some kind of mechanical sorcery. And the brakes also high-class, but now we’re getting over-complicated once again, and weren’t were talking about drivetrains?

I can only imagine what wireless XTR would bring to the high-end playing field. 

Crank Brothers Synthesis and Zipp 3 Zero Moto wheels. 

High-end carbon wheels add value in more ways than one. Put a set of these on your bike, and you’ll need to adjust your home and insurance policy, they cost a lot of dough. But in my experience of tinkering with bikes, they feel like the ultimate upgrade, especially if you are in-tune with your bike and know it’s every move, sound and reaction.

The single-wall carbon wheels are a new introduction to mainstream mountain biking, and they bring something to the table that I especially appreciate; compliance. When for years we were searching for the stiffest wheels and frames so we could ride them harder and feel confident, we’re now at the point where the frame geometry and suspension is so dialled that other things matter more. We’re able to even notice effects like compliance from individual components, wheels in this case.

Zipp 3Zero Moto Wheels. Solid, supple, expensive.
Crank Brothers Synthesis wheels. Quiet, smooth, expensive.

Fitting the Crank Brothers Syntheses wheels to my Norco Sight test bike with the same tyres, pressures, etc. was clear as day. The bike was so much quieter, smoother and tracked the ground with higher positivity.

Same goes for the Zipp Moto wheels, first onto the Levo the low-profile rims had a monumental impact on the ride. The weight of an e-bike can make some components feel pretty dull and lifeless. With the Moto wheels fitted, there was a considerable boost in traction and control, and no flat tyres despite expecting too.

Throw about $4K to make a massive improvement to your bike? Consider some extravagant carbon wheels like the Synthesis or Motos.

Retro nostalgia addictions. Send help, or elastomers.

For a frothing mountain biker that grew up in the 90s right amid the golden boom-time of the sport, reflecting on the events, personalities, bikes and media that captured the mind of a teenager with amaze and wonder is a real buzz. 2019 saw a few golden finds added to the collection.

A new addition to the Flow Garage of Dreams, an amazing Foes LTS 16, complete with the F1 fork, amazzzzzing. Does anyone know how to rebuild a Kuster rear shock?
GT’s iconic STS, so many stories…

I’ve always been a hoarder, keeping as much from the past as possible. However, more recently I somewhat regret joining retro ‘trading and appreciation’ groups on Facebook so I can make unjust purchases on old junk in poor condition that I’ll never ride, I wanted it so bad in 1996. The collection is epic, though private, maybe one day we could feature a few gems in the Flow HQ garage of dreams, I’ll think about it.

I am currently seeking a good RockShox Judy FSX, a Schwinn Straight Eight frame, a GT Lobo an Outland VPP or my stolen 1997 Intense M1 back, please. Or maybe just send elastomers, as they don’t age too well.

Gravel Grit Laguna, an event of all-sorts.

An event that stood out in 2019 was an unlikely one, a gravel ride organised by The Bicycle Network. Simply put, it was a 70km ride on roads and gravel roads around a beautiful part of the Hunter Valley, starting and finishing in a groovy old bar/café/pub/hangout place with no phone reception and an epic food menu, The Great Northern Trading Post.

Camping and long rides on bikes! Perfect.
Love the Trek Checkpoint, a solid, comfortable and versatile rig for days like this.

This year we camped, brought our cool dog and sweet 1970’s Viscount caravan, a Trek Checkpoint, and mingled with roadies, mountain bikers, bike-packers, bike riders and more bike riders. Gravel riding is a lot of why we love mountain biking, the outdoor experience is lovely, but it’s so social!

You can talk and ride at the same time, most of the time, not just when you meet at a junction or lose 20 minutes chatting before heading up a climb. It was a glorious day of fresh air, quiet roads and chats over the pleasant sound of crunchy gravel.

It wasn’t a race, it wasn’t too hard, I loved it, and so I will return. 

Tasmanian spectacular, Enduro World Series and discovering St Helens.

After the buzz and highs from the World Champs in Cairns, the Enduro World Series coming to Tasmania was a way for us to get a solid fix for international racing with our own eyes. Derby played host to a spectacular week of action, the town was buzzing with people from all over the world, and it felt like many riders, teams and media squids were happy to return to Australia’s quirky little mountain bike town.

AMB Flow sandwich. TBS, Flow and Mike from AMB representing Aussie media.

The trails were running mint, dry and dusty, and the photos were turning out great. The racing was tight, exciting and with Derby being a little town, it was normal to bump into a pro at the pub and pluck up enough courage to say hey.

From a photographers point of view, this was one of the greatest weeks of my life behind a camera!

Swapping over from action photographer to video story-teller, I made the drive to St Helens right after the EWS. St Helens is the newest buzzing location in the mountain bike landscape, with World Trail constructing loads of sweet trails from scratch.

I was lucky to score a sneak preview of the yet to open trails, catch up with the World Trail crew, shoot with Ryan de La Rue and Sean Doust on select sections of the trails and stay at the stunning Bay of Fires Bush Retreat, seriously memorable times indeed!

The Bay of Fires, just out of St Helens is so incredibly beautiful!
The trails are great, yet to properly ride them myself, soon I hope!

Rocky Trail GP, racing my local with Terry the Tyre Tearer.

Got to love it when a there’s a race on the calendar 10-minutes from home, there are no excuses. Rocky Trail put on excellent events, family-oriented and well-organised with a refreshing and distinct absence of stress.

I entered with my mate, Terry, into the 4-hour. Terry is an old friend of mine; he’s a life athlete with a big heart, a poorly maintained bike and dresses in my hand-me-down riding clothes. Though I think he dresses deliberately in clashing colours to induce feelings of anxiety in those that pair gloves with jersey colour. We raced many 24-hour races together back in the early days of open dropouts and multiple chainrings. He probably could have eventually raced pro, maybe.

Terry did the first lap, as he is fast like a hyper-coloured fox. As I waited in nervous anticipation to take the baton and valiantly head out for our second lap, hopped up on coffee and dance music, the sinking feeling that something had gone wrong with Terry washed over me as the riders filed past grew in age and decreased in the apparent effort.

Terry watch.
The podium for the unfinished and washed-up.

I spotted at a remarkable distance my old fluorescent lime Giro helmet, bobbing up and down, in some sort of jogging motion, not fluid like his peers that were still riding. Terry was running. A flat tyre reasonably early on in the lap was evidently a surprise to Terry, as one who never carries spares due to the miraculous Maxxis Minions compared to aged 26” Maxxis Crossmarks on his previous bike.

It’s ok, I was so excited, I was just glad to be there, so it was funny at that moment in time. Though Terry’s first lap didn’t exactly put us into a good position, and I filed in behind a long line of contentedly pedalling folk, the congestion sedating my twitching hairy pistons.

Working my way as swiftly and politely as possible through the field, I raced into transition only to find Terry walking around holding his bike, with no rear wheel, not even close to being ready. I went out for a second. I was warm; it was ok.

The shaky start set the tone for the rest of the day, so after Terry’s second catastrophic flat we laughed, looked around for anyone watching, and joined in spectating the kid’s races before quietly returning to the esky for leftover pizza and a mid-strength beer.

Ah, the glamour of racing, huh!

Ignition MTB Festival, dance with your knee pads on!

Another standout weekend in 2019 was in Falls Creek, way up in the Victorian High Country, the opening weekend festival for summer, Ignition MTB Festival. This event rules, it has all the ingredients for a great time, and we appreciate the care and passion from the Blue Dirt crew in creating such a vibe.

This year the trails were so dry, there were fires in the valley below, but the turnout was huge and the atmosphere was buzzing. The bands rocked SO hard, the food was delicious, and sampling local beers and gin became quite a journey.

Ignition MTB Festival, hold on tight!
Vanderham descends into a smokey valley.
The Orbea Occam high on air supply.
Toby washing down the dust with a Beechworth Pale Ale.

Keen for a new bike for 2020, so keen it was built in record time.

How exciting, an all-new bike is in the Flow Garage of Dreams. A Santa Cruz Tallboy 4 was high my list to replace the Giant Trance 29er as a test-sled for various testing and riding purposes.

santa cruz tallboy v4

Dressed in the best from SRAM with the Eagle AXS drivetrain, G2 brakes, Zipp Moto wheels, Deity cockpit and FOX suspension it is a super high end, and a delight to ride. I already have a lot to say about it, but I’ll bide my time for now

Stay tuned for more on this build, and what makes it tick.

Vanderham in Derby, sorry, who in Derby?

Yep, the gang at Shimano and Lazer Helmets brought Canadian mountain bike legend, Thomas Vanderham out to Derby and Falls Creek. I was fortunate to head up the content side of things and brought on the unbounded talent of Jasper da Seymour to shoot and edit the video.

Toby Shingleton from Shimano sharing beers with the tourist.
Thomas and Jasper in the Crack House, if you’ve been to Derby, you’ll understand, sort of…
Boosting out of the granite boulder field on Derby’s Kumma Gutza trail, voted EWS Trail of The Year 2019.

Things didn’t go to plan, however, with Thomas crashing his bike on a shoot one week before flying to Australia, stepping off the plane in Melbourne with a humungous haematoma on his thigh. Ouch!

Riding nowhere to his full potential, and ultimately calling the shoot early, Jasper and I did our best to produce a story, video and photo gallery of a mountain biking master riding trails we love. And hey, it turned out brilliantly!

Yew, 2019. Yikes, it’s 2020!

Wow, 2019 was epic. When do the highlights finish? I should mention shooting with Troy Brosnan for the Maxxis Dissector launch, riding Narrow neck in the Blue Mountains on a Focus/Shimano e-MTB and making a bonfire on a cliff, tramping around backcountry Beechworth searching for Ned Kelly’s cave, racing enduro at Awaba or testing the Orbea Occam…

2020 is shaping up to be a great year; we’re looking forward to all that goes along with the Olympics, the racing and new bikes from Scott, Cannondale, Specialized perhaps? The World Cup season can’t start soon enough, and what new tech will we see from the big movers, Shimano, SRAM, Specialized, FOX etc.? Oooooh.

We’re going to be racing the new three-day stage race in Tasmania, the Dragon Trail MTB. And we can’t wait to see the mammoth mountain bike development at Warburton begin and unfold. Whoa, let’s go.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for engaging in our content, now if we could please get some rain and some positive change to our climate crisis for our future, we can at least get 2020 started on a more positive note and make the most of it. I hope.

Cheers, Mick Ross.

Flow Mountain Bike.


Mo’ Flow Please!

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