Flow’s Fresh Produce | New wheels, lightweight suspension and clever tubeless tools

A’hoy there fellow Flow Frothers! Well we don’t know about you, but we are still reeling from a thrilling weekend of XCO racing action from the opening round of the World Cup in Brazil. Yep, racing is back, and it’s back in a BIG way!

For the three people on the planet who hadn’t heard the news, Bec McConnell took her first Elite World Cup victory in an incredible display that had us all glued to our screens. It was a seriously exciting race, as was the men’s, and you can read all about it here.

The news isn’t all about racing though. There’s a huge trail development set for the NSW South Coast in Narooma, and Tasmania continues to add more feathers to its cap with an important update to the Bay of Fires trail.

The entire Flow team was glued to our screens as Bec McConnell put on a stunning display of technical prowess and smart racing tactics to take victory at the opening round of the 2022 UCI World Cup. Go Bec!

There’s heaps of exciting releases on the bike front too. We’ve just received our brand new Canyon Spectral:ON test bike, and we’ve wrapped up a juicy review and video on the Canyon Spectral 125. Fox Racing Shox has also finally unveiled that dedicated gravel fork, and it ushered in an updated 36 that features a new crown and steerer that’s said to ‘improve durability’.

Along with all that, we’ve been swamped with high-tech goodies here at Flow HQ, so strap yourself in for a hefty edition of Flow’s Fresh Produce!

Fox 34 Step-Cast Fork

fox 34 step-cast factory series
The Fox 34 Step-Cast has been redesigned for 2022, and is significantly lighter than its predecessor.

Redesigned from the inside-out for 2022, the Fox 34 Step-Cast is a lightweight XC fork that’s available with 100-120mm of travel. It features 34mm diameter stanchions like the regular Fox 34 fork, but that’s about the only similarity between the two platforms.

Here the Fox engineers have gone to town on weight reduction, with the 34 SC built around unique one-piece magnesium lowers that are chiselled and hollowed-out to the wazoo. Even the EVOL air spring and damper have been shortened to remove every unwanted gram. The result is a claimed weight of just 1,496g, which is lighter than the old 34 SC fork (1,623g claimed) and the 120mm RockShox SID (1,537g claimed).

Because the 34 SC has a narrower stance compared to the regular 34 fork, it’s a little more focussed when it comes to tyre and brake rotor clearance. Fox states a maximum tyre width of 2.4in, and a 180mm rotor is the biggest it’ll handle. It’s really designed for XC racing and riding, and as such you’ll see it on the front of many World Cup XCO racers who are choosing it over the skinnier Fox 32 Step-Cast fork.

We’ve got our hands on the top-end Fox 34 SC Factory Series version, complete with Kashima-coated upper tubes and the FIT4 damper cartridge. Our test fork is the remote lockout version, as it’ll be heading onto the front of our Scott Spark long-term test bike. You can get the same fork with a crown-mounted lockout lever though, and it’s also available in a cheaper Performance version with a GRIP damper that sells for a few hundred bucks less.

As to how it stacks up directly against the excellent RockShox SID Ultimate fork? Stay tuned for our in-depth review!

Stan’s NoTubes Arch MK4 Wheelset

stan's notubes arch mk4 wheelset
The Stan’s NoTubes Arch MK4 is a premium alloy wheelset that features asymmetric rims and high-tech hubs with a clever magnetic freehub system.

Stan’s NoTubes has been busy redesigning its mountain bike wheel lineup, having introduced both updated rims and some snazzy hubs, which you can now access in a range of complete wheelsets.

The Arch MK4 is the latest version of the popular Arch rim. Designed for trail and enduro riding, the Arch MK4 rim is made from 6069 alloy and features a 28mm inner width that is claimed to be suitable for tyres from 2.2-2.5in wide. As well as being wider than its predecessor, the new rim is also now asymmetric to improve the spoke bracing angles and provide a stronger overall wheel. A big benefit from this design is that the spoke length is exactly the same for the front and rear wheels, both on the drive and non-drive side. Brilliant!

At the centre of the wheelset is a brand new hub design called M-Pulse. These have been developed by Stan’s NoTubes, and feature US-made freehubs and internals courtesy of Project321 in Oregon. The pawls utilise Neodymium magnets instead of traditional leaf springs, which are claimed to offer minimal drag when coasting, but stronger engagement thanks to the magnetic pull that occurs as the pawls lock into the ratchet ring. They’re quick-engaging too, with 216 engagement points providing just 1.66° of rotation between each click.

Built with Sapim double-butted J-bend spokes and alloy nipples, the Arch MK4 wheelset has a claimed weight of 1,782g in its 29in form. They’re of course supplied with Stan’s yellow tubeless tape and valves, and you can choose between Shimano Micro Spline and SRAM XD freehub body options. We’ll be putting this test wheelset through the wringer over the coming months to see how well the new hubs and rims perform on the trail.

Stan’s NoTubes Arch S2 Wheelset

stan's notubes arch s2 wheels
The Arch S2 wheelset is said to be heavier but more durable, and is rated for enduro thrashing and e-MTB use.

Coming in at a substantially cheaper price point to the Arch MK4, the new Arch S2 shares a similar asymmetric rim profile with a 28mm inner width. However, the use of 6061 alloy and a sleeved rather than welded construction helps to bring the price down. The rim also features stainless steel eyelets that add some weight, but are said to improve long-term durability.

On the complete wheelsets, the Arch S2 employ the new E-Sync hubs. These are heavier and slower engaging than the M-Pulse hubs, though thanks to heavy duty chromoly axles, heat-treated steel ratchet rings and double-row Enduro bearings, they are rated for e-MTB use. The four-pawl design still produces an 8.18° engagement angle, so they’re not exactly sluggish.

Stans’ NoTubes offers the Arch S2 wheelset in both 27.5in and 29in sizes, with numerous axle and freehub configurations. Claimed weight for our 29er Boost wheelset is 2,030g, so it’s around 250g heavier than the Arch MK4. Given the clear focus on durability though, these look like a solid option for trail and enduro riding, particularly for those on e-MTBs.

Specialized S-Works Carbon Mini Rise Handlebars & SL Stem

specialized s-works mini-rise carbon handlebar
The Specialized S-Works Mini Rise handlebar is super light, but it also offers a beautifully compliant ride and classic looks with its 31.8mm diameter.

Wil’s been on the lookout for a lightweight 31.8mm cockpit for the front of his Chisel LTD, and has found exactly that in the latest Specialized S-Works Mini Rise handlebar and SL stem. Weighing in at 264g for the combo (159g bar & 105g stem), this is a very light setup while retaining a traditional two-piece design with a 31.8mm clamp diameter. The ride quality is lovely too, with a neat amount of compliance and vibration control compared to stiffer one-piece cockpits.

Manufactured from SL FACT carbon fibre, the S-Works Mini Rise bars measure 760mm wide. They feature a subtle 10mm rise with a 6° upsweep and an 8° backsweep. Despite the feathery weight, Specialized claims these are still rated for proper trail riding.

Meanwhile the S-Works SL stem is made from 3D-forged and CNC-machined 7075 alloy, and it’s decked out with titanium bolts. Wil’s gone for a 70mm length for his Chisel, though it’s available in 10mm increments up to a gargantuan 130mm length and in a more aggressive 13° drop for the contortionists out there.

Specialized Trail Thermal Jersey

specialized trail thermal jersey
Utilising a thin and flexible Polartec fabric, the Trail Thermal jersey keeps things casual and comfortable while offering an impressive level of warmth on cooler rides.

Specialized has continued to develop its casual mountain bike clothing, choosing a path that’s defined by earthy tones and fewer logos, which draws clear inspiration from technical outdoors apparel. We’re digging the new direction for sure.

One of the new garments on offer is the Trail Thermal Jersey, which is designed for riding in cooler conditions. It’s made from Polartec’s Power Grid fabric, which uses a blend of polyester and spandex to provide a slightly stretchy fit over your arms and torso. The inner face of the fabric is then fluffed up slightly, providing cosy insulation in a thin garment that offers much better breathability than a full-on windproof jacket.

Following the casual theme, the Trail Thermal Jersey gets kangaroo pockets on the front with a hidden zipper inside for drugs your keys. There’s also a zip on the side to make it easier when pulling the jersey on and off. Otherwise the cut is tailored for mountain biking, with longer arms and a slightly dropped tail for coverage while on the bike.

Specialized Trail Supima Cotton Jersey

specialized trail supima cotton jersey
Not everyone wants to wear polyester jerseys plastered in daggy logos, and that’s who Specialized made this super-soft riding top for.

We’ve also been getting a load of mileage out of the Trail Supima Cotten Jersey, which offers a similarly relaxed fit and casual style. These are made from a US-grown Supima cotton that is mineral washed to produce a deceptively soft and luxurious feel that sets it apart from the cheap cotton t-shirts you’d find at a department store.

The jersey is longer and looser than your typical riding top, so XC racers need not apply. Also, while the fabric feels lovely against your skin, it can get sweat-logged on hot summer rides, and it doesn’t evaporate moisture as effectively as polyester. It doesn’t get anywhere near as stinky though. In our experience, it’s best suited as a stylish outer layer for shoulder season rides that’ll see you blending in seamlessly at the post-ride drink stop.

Lezyne CNC Cage

lezyne bottle cage
The Lezyne CNC bottle cage, resplendent in its oil slick finish. Also available in black for the shy.

Is your biking lacking some pizzaz? Are your bottle cages regularly leaving you thirsty? Then Lezyne’s CNC cage might be the answer to both of these problems.

Made from CNC machined and heat-treated aluminium, the cages have a pretty eclectic look, and not just because of the oil slick colourway — which Lezyne calls Neo Metallic. Tipping our scales at a svelte 28g, the cage has a strong hold straight out of the box, however, because it’s made from metal, you can snug things up further with a squeeze at the sides.

The finish is anodised, so it’s not going to rub off on the sides of your bottle. The cage also comes in black for those who aren’t looking for an intergalactic peacock finish — it also knocks $10 AUD off the price.

Lezyne CNC TLR Valves

When the valves match the bottle cage. Lezyne builds these trick tubeless valves out of CNC machined 6061-T6 alloy for durability.

Not all tubeless valves are created equal, and Lezyne’s CNC TLR Valves are pretty fancy-schmancy. As the name suggests, they’re made from 6061 T6 CNC machined aluminium, and the base, locknut and valve cap are all grooved to improve purchase when snugging things up.

The valve cap has an integrated valve core tool, and the tip is a T25 which is handy because there is a Torx slot machined into the valve body to help you tighten or loosen the assembly.

Available in a range of colours, including this high zoot Neo Metalic finish, they come in 44mm, 60mm and 88mm lengths. These are the 44mm length, and they tipped our scales at 6g each.

Lezyne Tubeless Co2 Blaster

Lezyne brings its trick machining to this CO2-enhanced tubeless tyre plugger tool.

In a crowded field of bacon strips, tyre plugs and darts, Lezyne’s Tubeless CO2 Blaster is an interesting solution to trailside tyre fixes.

Combining a fondu fork, a reamer to clean up the hole and CO2 inflator into the same tool, the package comes housed in a tidy machined metal canister that includes five plugs, two 20g gas cartridges and a velcro strap.

Should you find yourself with a puncture that sealant can’t plug, find the hole and clean up the edge with the reamer, thread a plug through the end of the fork, and jam it into the hole until you can just see the ends, and inflate. There is a dial-based valve on the inflator so that you can moderate the flow of gas, and the gold sleeve unscrews and can be used the hold the burned bacon strip in place as you pull the tool out  — viola, your tyre is holding pressure, and you can continue on our merry way.

It’s all stored in a velcro strap with neoprene sleeves to hold the capsule and CO2 canister that can be strapped to your frame. Lezyne also sells a BYO CO2 version.

It’s a nifty solution for trailside tyre repair, however, the glaring problem is that the inflater can’t be used as a standard CO2 head, so if your plug fails or you lose a bunch of pressure as you remove the tool, you’ll also need a separate inflator to top up your tyre.

It seems like a major design flaw not to make the fondu fork modular in some fashion so that the head could be used as a standard inflator — and a nice one at that with the flow control dial.

Lezyne RAP II 19 Multi-tool

Lezyne does multi-tools darn well, with the RAP II being an excellent example.

Lezynes RAP II multi-tool packs 19 tools — as the name suggests — into a surprisingly compact package. Measuring 81 x 46 x 23mm it has all the basics from a tool of this size — hex from 2-8mm, torx T10/T25 and a phillips head, each measuring ~40mm so there is enough length to get into tight spots.

The chain breaker packs in an 8mm and 10mm wrench and four spoke wrenches on the flap of the chain tool, which is more than large enough to hang onto as you’re trying to pop a stubborn pin, out in the bush.

On the back of the tool, there is a clip-on CO2 head — which makes this the ideal companion to the Tubeless Co2 Blaster kit above — and the frame of the tool has magnetic storage for a set of quick links.

All of the steel parts are coated in what Lezyne calls Black Anti-Corrosion Technology to prevent the RAP II from becoming an arthritic rusty brick when it comes time to pull out the 6mm hex.

There is one extremely important tool that Lezyne has forgotten to include, which is nearly an unforgivable transgression — the bottle opener (gasp!). Fortunately, the frame of the tool has a square edge, and a scalloped shape can pop tops with a bit of elbow grease.

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