Is it just us, or does the space-time continuum seem to warp in November? You know that sensation of how time accelerates during the last few weeks of the year? How every day seems shorter and you can’t seem to fit anything in? Christmas work parties, family catchups, mid-week evening social rides, racing on the weekends, and the option to travel interstate means the calendar is quickly becoming stuffed fuller than a SWAT box!
We’re loving it though, especially the chance to travel more freely again. To mark the occasion we’ve kicked off the Ride High Country Test Sessions, where we match up an exciting test bike with a destination in the Victorian High Country. If you’ve not seen it already, make sure you check out our Scott Spark review, which we shot on the sublime singletrack amongst the lush green ferns of the Buxton MTB Park. Beautiful!
New test bikes are coming through thick and fast too. Wil’s been riding and racing on the 2022 Giant Anthem, while Mick has been high up in the mountains at Falls Creek with the new carbon Giant Trance X Advanced e-MTB. We’ve also received a YT Jeffsy that’s dressed up with the wireless RockShox Flight Attendant system, which we’ll be testing over the coming weeks to see how it stacks up against Fox Live Valve.
With state borders opening up through the Australian summer, you’ll want to make sure you’re updated on all that’s new in Thredbo and Alice Springs. There’s also a brand new multi-day mountain bike event coming to the Victorian High Country, and some exciting trail news for Mount Wellington just outside of Hobart. For something different, and for anyone out there who’s battled with their local council, be sure to check out Colin’s inspiring story about the Golden Jubilee Bike Park.
Yeesh, is it nearly December already? See, we told you time moves fast this time of year! Before you get sucked into the Christmas vortex, allow us to slow things down with a very fresh and totally juicy instalment of Flow’s Fresh Produce!
Shimano AM9 Shoes
Shimano has just launched a whole new range of footwear, including the updated AM9 shoes we have here. As the burliest and most gravity-oriented SPD shoes in the Shimano range, the AM9s are designed to suit larger platform clip-in pedals, such as the Shimano Saint M821 pedals. They feature a thick rubber outsole with chunky tread lugs for off-the-bike traction, and an extended cleat channel that mimics the shape of the pedal wings on Shimano’s SPD mechanism. As well as aiding pedal entry, this channel also provides a convenient place to rest your foot even when you’re not clipped in.
Featuring a tough synthetic leather upper, the Shimano AM9 shoes get a storm flap over the top of its speed-lace system, and a wider instep strap to keep your feet secure. The ankle collar is raised on the inside and padded for protection, and the toe caps are reinforced to keep your pinkies safe. Compared to Shimano’s XC shoes, the AM9s have a notably higher volume and a broader toe box, providing a more relaxed fit that’ll suit more riders.
- Price: $229 AUD
- From: Shimano
Shimano GR9 Flat Pedal Shoes
The Shimano GR9 is essentially the flat pedal version of the AM9. These receive a more significant update with fresh uppers and a brand new rubber outsole called Ultread. This replaces the Michelin rubber we’ve seen in the past, with Shimano switching to its own unique formula and a brand new tessellated tread pattern that’s said to perfectly match its own flat pedals. The lugs sit close together in the pedal zone, while being both further apart and deeper at the toe and heel for walking grip.
The upper has changed considerably over the old model, now featuring a standard lace-up closure and no Velcro flaps to be seen. The new GR9s also move away from the raised ankle collar, instead going for a lower cut with the addition of neoprene ankle gaiters to keep debris and muck from making its way into the shoe. The result is a more casual feel to the look and fit, along with improved breathability thanks to the addition of mesh side panels.
- Price: $219 AUD
- From: Shimano
Giro Source MIPS Helmet
While we’ve been mighty impressed with the latest Giro Manifest helmet, at over $400 AUD it is not a cheap lid by any means. Coming in at a vastly more appealing price point, the Giro Source we have here features a more conventional construction compared to the dual-shell design of the Manifest. You still get deep coverage around the temples and back of the head, a thick EPS foam core and a full in-mould polycarbonate shell that wraps underneath the helmet rim for improved durability and a smooth look. It also features an integrated MIPS liner to help mitigate rotational forces.
The fit is fabulously comfortable, offering a slightly narrower and more oval-type shape compared to trail helmets from Specialized and Fox. Adjustability from the Roc Loc 5 harness system is great too. There’s a simple dial at the rear for dialling in the fit, and you have the option to raise or lower the vertical position of the main cradle.
While you don’t get a fancy magnetic buckle or any integrated light/GoPro brackets, the Source does get an adjustable visor, and it’s also designed to be compatible with goggles. The straps are well managed too, and ventilation is respectable given there are only 16 small-ish vents. All-up this has to be one of the comfiest trail helmets we’ve used of late, and we reckon it’s priced well given the overall fit and finish.
- Price: $239.99 AUD
- From: Giro
Muc-Off Tubeless Valves V2
Muc-Off has recently updated the design of its tubeless valves, which now feature compatibility with tyre inserts such as CushCore. Compared to the original Muc-Off tubeless valves (that’s the blue valve shown in the bottom left photo), the base of the new valves feature machined slots. This allows air to pass through the valve even when a tyre insert is pressed up hard against it. They also have a 4mm hex key slot machined into them to help you tighten or loosen the valves.
The V2 valves are also now made from a higher grade of alloy – 7075 instead of 6061, which is claimed to be tougher. We’ve never broken a valve ourselves, but we have heard of it happening to others.
Available in a range of anodised colours and 44mm, 60mm or 80mm lengths, the Muc-Off Tubeless Valves come with additional rubber seals to optimise their fit with various rim shapes. You also get machined valve caps and an integrated valve core tool.
- Price: $52.99 AUD
- From: Muc-Off
Muc-Off Stealth Tubeless Puncture Plug
Also new is this Muc-Off Stealth Tubeless Puncture Plug kit. Designed to stow inside each end of your handlebar, the kit includes two CNC machined alloy capsules, with different sized rubber bungs to help achieve a snug fit. In one capsule you get a two-in-one tool that features a reamer for cleaning up the puncture wound, and the fondue prong for inserting the plug. In the other capsule is a mini-saw for trimming off the excess material after plugging your tyre, or for cutting open a tiny baguette.
While Muc-Off says these will fit most mountain bike (and road bike) handlebars, it’s worth noting that they aren’t compatible with closed-end grips – they’ll only work with grips that have an open end.
Our kit features a shiny oil slick colour, though as with the tubeless valves, you can get these in a variety of dazzling colours. Included with the kit are 10 tubeless plugs of two different sizes, and additional plugs are available separately for the habitual tyre-rippers.
- Price: $84.99 AUD
- From: Muc-Off
Muc-Off Deep Scrubber Gloves
Without initially knowing what they were, these might have been the weirdest thing we’ve ever unboxed here at Flow HQ! The Muc-Off Deep Scrubber Gloves are made from high-strength silicone and feature moulded bristles along the inside of the palm and fingers to provide a hands-on approach to cleaning your bike. Or the most bizarre massage you will ever receive.
We’ve seen a similar design for washing dishes, and the approach is much the same here. You either spray a cleaning solution onto your bike or directly onto the gloves, and simply use your hands and fingers to scrub it clean. We were initially skeptical, but after a couple of bike washes we found it surprisingly useful in being able to get into tight spots that would otherwise require multiple brushes. And keeping our hands dry and skin away from degreasers has made bike washing a more pleasant experience.
- Price: $24.99 AUD
- From: Muc-Off
Park Tool Advanced Mechanic AK-5 Bicycle Tool Kit
Arriving just in time for our latest Ride High Country Test Sessions road trip, this tool kit from Park Tool brings together a suite of shop-quality tools in a compact carrying case. It’s already proved to be mighty useful for throwing in the car when we’ve been heading out to test bikes, though it would also be a great foundation for someone who’s eager to start working on their own bikes at home.
Designed to help you cover a wide range of repairs and maintenance, the Park Tool Advanced Mechanic Kit features spoke keys, 3-way tools, a full hex key set, a disc rotor truing tool, a chain breaker and a chain cleaner, along with everything else shown in the above photo.
It’s not a cheap investment, and there are some tools in here that we’re unlikely to ever use. However, if you bought everything in this kit separately it’d set you back over $800 AUD, and that’s not including the carry case. That makes the AK-5 tool kit a surprisingly good value option for those who are looking to establish their home workshop, or for riders who want a totally separate kit for travelling.
- Price: $579.99 AUD
- From: Park Tools
Specialized 2FO Cliplite Shoes
Specialized has recently updated its popular 2FO Cliplite shoes, adopting the low-key stylings of the 2FO Roost model while bringing improvements to both fit and pedal integration. Compared to the previous model, the new 2FO Cliplite offers a significantly more streamlined upper with welded seams.
It also skips the Velcro strap and adopts low-profile BOA Li2 ratchets. While these don’t provide the same level of micro-adjustability as a pair of lace-up shoes, they’re super easy to slip on and off and you can also tweak the ratchet tension while on the bike.
The 2FO Cliplite moves to Specialized’s latest Lollipop nylon shank that aims to provide a stiff platform around the cleat area, while allowing for torsional flex through the arch. There’s also a ‘Landing Strip’ with chamfered edges to facilitate smoother pedal engagement, and a SlipNot FG sole for traction both on and off the bike.
We’re digging the understated stylings over the old version, and the sizing is more consistent too with a similar mid-volume fit to comparable gravity shoes from Bontrager and Shimano. There’s generous padding and great support from the Body Geometry insoles. They also feel sturdier compared to the 2FO Roost shoes, with more cushioning and a stiffer platform that’s ideal for longer trail rides, enduro racing and bulk shuttle laps. You’ll pay for the improved performance though, with the 2FO Cliplite coming in at $300 AUD for the pair.
- Price: $300 AUD
- From: Specialized
Truvativ Atmos 7K Riser Bar & Stem
Quietly released this year, the new Truvativ Atmos cockpit range is designed to be fitted to modern XC and lightweight trail bikes. It currently consists of three 760mm wide handlebars (two carbon, one alloy), and a single alloy stem that comes in 40-90mm lengths.
Nice to see that the entire Truvativ Atmos range is built around a 31.8mm handlebar diameter – there are no 35mm options. We reckon this is a good fit for XC and trail bikes, both from a style and ride quality perspective. And for those who prefer 35mm diameter bars, look towards the Truvativ Descendent range.
On test here is the Atmos 7K Alloy Riser Bar, which is manufactured from AL-7050 alloy. It features a 9° backsweep and a 5° upsweep, and it’s available in 0mm, 10mm & 20mm rise options. We’ve got the tallest option, and uncut it weighs in at 276g.
To go with it we’ve got the Truvativ Atmos 7K stem in a 50mm length. Made from forged AL-7050 alloy, it’s decently light coming in at 120g on our workshop scales. It also includes a nifty alloy GoPro mount that bolts directly in between the stem and faceplate, which can be used with an action camera or a head light that uses the same mounting bracket. And given the quality materials and finish, the pricing is impressive.
- Price: $107 AUD (Bar) – $116 AUD (Stem)
- From: SRAM
Bontrager Flatline Flat Pedal Shoes
More shoes! This time we’ve got some fresh flat pedal kicks from Bontrager. These are the updated Flatlines, which feature a Vibram rubber outsole with a low-profile waffle pattern. You don’t get a whole lot of grip when hike-a-biking on steep and loose terrain, but the pedal contact is smooth with a really consistent feel. Shallow grooves provide an anchor point for pins to grab onto, without being so deep as to totally lock your feet in. Further support and shock absorption is provided by an EVA midsole.
The uppers have been reworked, featuring perforations over the forefoot and sides to improve ventilation over the old model. There’s also thicker padding around the ankle and through the tongue for a more cushioned feel, and you get a pull-loop at the heel. Bontrager sticks with good ‘ol laces for the Flatlines, and there’s an elastic loop prevent them from flapping about near your chainring. Shown here is the Charcoal colour option, though they’re also available in black too.
- Price: $229 AUD
- From: Trek Bikes
POC Aspire Glasses
For those embracing the trend for wide-coverage riding glasses, the POC Aspire will be one to add to your list. Featuring a huge curved lens that measures 58mm deep by 147mm wide, the Aspire aims to provide uninterrupted vision from its low-profile grilamid frame. And being designed specifically for riding, the nose and arms feature hydrophilic rubber grips that claim to maintain their grip even when wet.
Aside from the shape itself, the big story with these is the Clarity lens technology that was developed by Carl Zeiss Vision Sunlens. According to POC, these lenses are designed to “filter specific peaks in the colour spectrum to enhance vision where you cycle“. As well as reducing glare, we’ve found the Clarity lenses to provide nice sharp vision and a sweet colour-boosting profile – a bit like riding on the trails with a lovely Instagram filter.
You can get the Clarity lenses in several different varieties, with options specifically designed for road riding or mountain biking. After running the same pair of Oakley Radar’s for years, Mick feels like he’s found the perfect pair, once he can get used to spotting himself in the reflection of a shop window on the way to the trails.
- Price: $350 AUD
- From: POC
POC MTB Pure Tee, 3/4 Jersey & Infinite All-Mountain Shorts
To go along with the Aspire glasses, POC has sent through a selection of kit from its new season’s riding range, which is full of classy low-key prints and plenty of colourful options.
Shown here is the POC MTB Pure Tee and MTB Pure 3/4 Jersey, both of which are made from a lightweight mesh fabric that has already proven to be plenty breathable on some stinking hot rides. The fit is casual without being freeride-baggy, and a small zippered pocket is discreetly integrated into the rear seam for carrying a card or some keys.
We’ve also got the Infinite All Mountain shorts, which are made from a mid-weight stretch fabric that is blended with Cordura for durability. They’re not as light or as breathable as the POC Guardian Air shorts, but they are designed to be harder wearing, and they’re also cut to fit neatly with knee pads. You also get zippered vents on the thighs to increase ventilation and Velcro adjusters for the waist. Confident in your ability to keep your riding kit clean? These shorts can also be had in Moonstone Grey for those not keen on black.
- Price: $100 AUD (Tee) – $130 AUD (Jersey) – $200 AUD (Shorts)
- From: POC
POC Essential Mesh Gloves
The POC Essential Mesh is a super-light mountain bike glove designed for summer riding conditions and those who prefer the minimalist vibe. They get a four-way stretch fabric over the back of the hand for breathability, and the perforated palm is super thin for maximum feel on your grips.
You won’t find any armouring or Velcro straps, but they do get some silicone prints on the middle and forefinger for a little extra grip on your brake levers. There’s also a Terrycloth nose-wipe, but that’s the extent of the features – these are about as stripped-back as gloves go, and we’re into it.
- Price: $70 AUD
- From: POC
POC Joint VPD System Knee Pads
Designed with pedalling flexibility in mind, the POC Joint VPD System knee pads are built with POC’s well-known VPD material. This visco-elastic polymer dough is designed to flex and move with your body, becoming more pliable as it warms up with your skin temperature. When struck however, the material hardens to absorb the force from the impact and disperse it over a broader surface area.
Where the Joint VPD System knee pads differ to other POC pads we’ve used is in the sandwich construction. Instead of one layer, three different layers come together to provide higher impact absorbency, while maintaining heaps of ventilation.
The overall fit and finish is as high as we’ve come to expect from POC, with a soft face fabric reducing any unwanted rubbing and chafing. There’s a single Velcro strap at the top for cinching them down on your thigh, but the articulated design and generous lower cuff does well to keep them secure in the first place.
- Price: $225 AUD
- From: POC
POC Kortal Helmet
We recently got our hands on the new POC Kortal Race MIPS trail helmet, and since then it’s been a rare occasion to see Mick not riding with it. The regular Kortal helmet follows much of the same form and function but strips back the MIPS liner to drop the price by $75 AUD. You’re still getting plenty of coverage, a full in-mould construction, and a visor that’s designed to break away in the event of a crash. According to POC, the regular Kortal still passes the Dutch NTA8776 standard, which means it’s certified for e-MTB use.
You also get the same 360° fit system, and the strap dividers provide a simple but comfortable fit around your ears. As well as being a great fit with the big Aspire glasses, POC states the Kortal will also fit neatly with goggles, and there’s sufficient adjustment in the visor for storing the goggles on a climb.
- Price: $325 AUD
- From: POC