Real World Reviews

Reviews of biking stuff that have proved useful, or taken a battering over the years and survived proving you don't always need a second mortgage to get out and ride,

Gravity Dropper Turbo Seatpost  -

Revolutionary piece of kit, bought imported for just over £200 it has seriously  taken a battering over the years, and is still going strong. This dropper is cable actuated and has three pre-set heights. It needs your body weight to make it descend, but rises almost instantly when the lever is pushed - in a kind of comedy "mind your nether regions" way (not whacked the jewels yet) -

This has been fitted to numerous bikes for 6 years now and has been everywhere (including on the Megavalanche), and even now is fitted with a cane creek shim to fit my new (larger) frame.

The thing I really like about this is that it is mechanical (no squirty hydraulics here) and user maintainable, even to the extent that you can dismantle it by hand on the trail. If you ride a lot of really muddy trails, this can be quite handy! As a seatpost fiddler, I can say hand on heart that this has speeded up my (and those I've ridden with) rides on no end of occasions, where I've got to the top and just pressed the lever. It also compresses lower on some frames than a solid seatpost can lower due to kinked seat tubes.

Quechua Diosaz Raid 27 from Decathlon -

 Particularly noteworthy since it only cost about £25, this is a riding sack rarely left behind on a ride and usually appearing at events and races. It's made of a good strong material, has zip (haribo) pockets on both halves of the hip belt, plenty of adjustable (through zig-zagged elastics on the base) volume, a reservoir pouch (it comes with a pretty poor reservoir of its own), a zipped compartment on the rear for small items, and a waterproof cover.

The main positive about it is the balance. It puts the volume at the bottom and keeps it wide and low, so balance is great, and it sticks in place, moving about with you wherever you go. The only negative about this sack is that the chest strap height isn't adjustable and rides a little high on larger riders. Compare this with other sacks and you'll be left wondering what to do with all the cash you've saved. Mine is still going strong at 6 years old.

Bit of Old Elastic Round the Steerer -

 Getting to the top of a climb sweating profusely, and trying to cool down, you take off your gloves to cool down and grab a handful of haribo from your side pocket. Setting off again, you forget to put them back on again until a mile or so along the trail.... ever been there? 

I have, and then tried to get everyone else to wait while I ride back, but not since I attached the patented 'bit of old elastic', now I reach down to the stem, and grab them from where I stashed them earlier. Try it if you're not convinced. Price (less). Just have an easy to pull 'tail' and you can simply stuff the index finger through the loop and attach them to the steerer.

Skabs -

 One of a number of alternative self sticking inner tube patches, I find that these really stick - something some of the others don't always do. They also come with a 'mini-cheese grater' for roughing up the tube first, and they're very slightly larger than some of their competitors. I don't relish fixing punctures on the trail, buy if I have to; I always carry these.

NOTE: there is a new lighter version of skabs out now, which so far I have not been impressed by. I've found these to be as poor as most of the rest of the competition, so I'm hoping the originals are still out there.

Wheels Manufacturing emergency derailleur hanger -

 Having ripped a few of the little charmers off the back of the frame in my time; I have found the emergency hanger completely invaluable - especially when my rear wheel decided to 'eat' the derailleur twice on the same trip round the Pentlands (sorry John) - I've since fixed the issue causing it, but in the meantime, having got through my spare hanger, I was so happy to have this second one on me.

This design fits under a quick release, and will fit any rear axle that you can slip it under, on any QR frame. It cost £25 and saved me a long and frustrating walk. I've not tried the new version yet which reputedly fits other bolt through frames but if you're rocking a QR - get one

KMC Magic Links, Topeak 2 part Chain Tool and an old bent spoke

- Otherwise known as the chain fixing tools, these will mend a mangled chain in minutes, and disappear nicely into a repair kit. I prefer to have a separate multi-too, hence the chain tool.

I rarely get this out so don't need it on a multi-tool, and it means my multi-tool is smaller, lighter, and less likely to make me cry when I realise it slipped out of my pocket somewhere in the last 15km of trail.

The Spoke holds the two ends of the chain together to take the tension off while attaching the magic links with ease. By the time I retire a chain, it often has between 3 and 5 of these links on it, and doesn't suffer for it. The links are about £4 depending on where you get them, and the tool was about £10 a good few years ago.


Tumble & Fall pro1000 bike light

(and helmet mount) - Compact and easily good enough to ride most stuff at night for a good ride, this light only has four settings: Searing, Bright Enough, Disco, and off. You cycle through them with one button on the back of the light which also glows different colours to tell you the state of charge (which doesn't help much if you're on a solo ride with it helmet mounted, but is really easy to use).

It's pretty robust (has been clattered off tunnel roofs), and will serve bar mounted for commuting as easily as on the helmet for trails. Especially if combined with a bar mounted fire-road light, and used at bright enough other than when you really need it, it will last a couple of night rides (a good 2 hours or more), and charges overnight. It has lasted through 3 summers in a box, and come back strong, and I have only needed to replace the charger (£35).

There is a pro 1600 too if you need to melt the wildlife. Finally - while some may find fault with the beam pattern; I've raced on the downhill tracks at Innerleithen with this bad boy strapped to my head, and it did me a treat.

November 2015 - after a 3rd summer in a box, it was broken out again for a night ride in Torridon for a wee bothy trip. I ran it down fully (it still had charge from last winter) and then charged it up and it was as good as it was when it came out of the box. There are more swanky and arguably better (and definitely brighter) lights out there, but for the price, this is an awesome and well made bit of kit that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.

Jan 2018 - Still going strong folks!!

Crank Brothers Mallet C Pedal -

Having ridden clipped in for years, I had been pretty committed to Shimano SPD's, but after a few bonkers winter enduros with pedals clogged with sticky mud I was ready to try something else. 

A friend lent me a pair of crank brothers pedals and I haven't looked back. I quickly got on e-bay and bought these. I believe these are longer in production now, and superseded by the Mallet 1-3 and DH pedals, and I'll be grabbing a pair of these at the point mine give up.

Crank brothers pedals have a nifty cleat that allows you have either 5 or 20 degrees of swing before they disengage. This is not only a good adjustment but also allows a bit more foot movement which is great for creaky old knees like mine. You can also clip in from any direction, which is an advantage in the rougher stuff over the SPD. There is no adjustment of the 'grip' of the cleat like SPD's but I've found they disengage as well as my old SPD's.

So are they any good? - well in essence they are very good - especially in the 'not getting clogged up' stakes. They release well, and have a good big platform for when you're riding clipped out. They've also lasted really well, both the mechanism as well as the bearings on the spindle. I've been very happy with these pedals - they've kept me from going to the dark side during the winter for several years until I began to dabble with flats......(see below)

Aug 17 - Having finally killed these (remember I got them 2nd Hand) - I've invested in both Mallet 2's and Enduro pedals and have never looked back whether it be trail riding, enduro racing or multi-day epics in the Alps - I'm crank bros all the way.

Crank Brothers Multi-tool 10 -

I'm on my second one of these. There's no chain tool (you've read my Topeak chain tool review earlier) on this but it has all the other tools you need, and (and this was the clincher for me) 10 tools has cost £10 from Chain Reaction.

Good value, and always in my pocket all the time for little adjustments during the ride, and this puts it at risk as it's easier to lose than my chain tool (all nicely tucked into my repair kit). So when the last one fell out of my pocket it was a shame, but no tears. It's also really robust, and has even had a chain wrapped round it to try to pull a chain from 'round the back of a rear cassette of a bike, with hardly a scratch. As a well designed, functional, good value and robust bit of kit, the multi-tool 10 comes well recommended

Pedros Tyre Levers -

Contrary to some opinion, Tyre levers are really important bits of kit to get you going quickly after a tyre issue. I've tried all sorts of levers, and even thought I'd found the 'holy grain' in stainless steel plastic covered levers, but even they gave up after a few months, but then, just when I was ready to give in - I was given two of these in a 'goody bag' at a  Scottish Enduro Series round . Now I know I have found what I was looking for. Ok, a little wide, these are dead easy to find in my bag, don't break, don't bend, and slip under the bead of a tyre with ease - I wouldn't recommend (or use) any other lever out there.

250mm Adjustable Spanner -

Having used this in anger on a few occasions this past few weeks, I thought I'd shake things up a little and include this very useful bit of kit in the review section. Now it does adjust so will undo a wide range of  bolts, which is quite handy (especially for getting wheels off old single speeds), but it is even more useful for a) getting dings out of wheel rims and not mangling them in the process, and b) adjusting abused derailleur hangers. Check out the Facebook page for the before and after pics, and the home mechanic pages on the site here.

TMARS Dropper Seatpost. 

At around £50 and with some very good reviews from people I know, I decided to review the TMARS seatpost from EBay and then let you know how I found it. It's been fitted for a couple of weeks now, so here's some initial thoughts. Firstly as an upgrade to a bike it has seen quite a bit of interest from friends, mostly because it won't break the bank, but also as it comes in 27.2mm diameter, so will fit some of the older XC oriented frames out there (as does the Gravity Dropper above btw).

So far I have found that the 'actuator' needs careful placing on the bars as it needs to move quite a bit in order to release the pin, and obviously that it needs a lot of movement of the pin.

The mechanism needs a little tap of the seat to lock it in place but it's really obvious when it's locked down, and it has an up, down and half way locked position too which is handy. Long term will tell us about its durability but so far so good. - 9th September 2015 (4 months use)

November 2016 - still going strong with admittedly fairly light use of late, the post is now on the hardtail for the winter so should be getting some good levels of abuse for a verdict on longevity in the spring.

Jan 18 - Still going strong with no cable issues, this was finally sold while attached to my trusty tourer. While not as 'fancy' as some of the others available at £60 you can't complain. Haven't looked for a while, but I assume these are still available.

timber! Mountain Bike Bell

Every so often you come up against something where the designer has taken a step back and really thought about a product from a new angle. This bell from timber! is one of those things. Why do we carry a bell? - well if it's for letting folks know you're coming so you're not a surprise to them, in a way that is socially responsible and inclusive (being a responsible rider), then this bell does the trick.

It's basically a mini cowbell, so as well as letting fellow path-followers know you're coming, it also speeds you up! (maybe made that bit up), but it does only have the two mechanical parts - the clapper, and the dampener. The massive difference between this and 'traditional' bells is that it can be switched on and off with ease, and once on will ring continuously. This means you can switch it on at the start of a technical section, and not have to negotiate that massive rock drop while trying to ring a bell at the same time.

Because it is so high pitched, it carries, and because you tend to turn it on early means that walkers get a lot of notice of your approach, and can sense your speed due to the rise in volume (and Doppler effect as you pass, but lets not get technical), and this makes them happy. The bell itself makes them happy too as it's a non threatening pitch. I've found through several months of intensive use on mixed paths that it actually makes walkers smile and very friendly (yes really!).

So: no hands to ring it so no fear of falling off, hardly any mechanical parts so no loss of function (unless you fill it with mud), and makes walkers smile and cheer as you pass...

Why haven't you got one yet?

Source 'Hipster' Hydration Belt

Photo to come

So I'd just like to start by stating that this is their name for it, not mine, and obviously normally I'd give anything with the label 'Hipster' a monumental body swerve, but in this ONLY instance that would be a mistake.

Having tried a number of ways of getting rid of the rucksack on rides I had some time ago stumbled upon the re-emergence of the classic old bum-bag. I have even used it on a couple of Enduro stages, and it really does help keep you cool on the hottest days (yes we get them in Scotland too). Having winced at the cost of these things I finally decided to part with a small wedge as I suspected this may be the one. Specifically designed around active sports, it has a lumbar reservoir for juice meaning you can dispense with the too small waterbottle, but crucially also has plenty of storage for repair kit too. There are 3 small secure pockets on the back which are great for small repair bits, and then two huge mesh pockets on the belt too. Topping this there is the option to attach stuff to the outside too.

Designed for active sports the optional and removable shoulder straps, and the base of the bag itself make it a very stable gear carrier, almost like one of the decathlon bags, but without the top section, keeping your balance low, and importantly, securing it well.

Finally, the reservoir has a nice long tube with a magnet on the end so that you can place the tube anywhere you like for easy grabbing, either round your waist or up onto one of the shoulder straps.

Overall verdict - so far only a bit of use, but impressed so far. Not an impulse buy due to the cost, but if you're going along the 'bum-bag' route this is definitely the way to go if you're going to do it properly.

Superstar 'Nano' Flat Pedal

I went over to the dark (clipped in) side a long time ago, but recognised some time ago that flat pedals are a must for training in and also for some of the more esoteric rides either involving copious mud, snow, bail-worthy terrain, or all three.

I've had the Nano's for three years now and matched with a pair of 5:10's have been really impressed with how much traction I've had on them, they are almost as secure as a pair of loose clip in cleats, and for me are so much easier to get onto and off of say for sticking a foot out when drifting.

So a few details I'd highlight. Firstly they are HUGE - a seriously large surface to find with your feet, easy to hit and great if you have big old shoes on your size 13 feet. You do need to be careful if you are riding through narrow technical stuff though as pedal strikes are more common. Next up are the pins - firstly; my shins will never be the same, but some advice on pins for you:

The Nano's come with two sets of pins. Don't fit the long ones. They can only be for taking shin bone samples, nothing else - seriously; the short ones are grippy enough! Lastly, the pattern of the pins - just because there is a hole there, doesn't mean you have to put a pin there. I've missed the middle pins on the front/back off, which gives a curve to the foot surface and also provides less sharp edges for removing shin material if you don't quite make it onto the massive platform.

The bearings seem to be holding up nicely, and so with good grip and great platform, I'd thoroughly recommend these pedals to anyone.

Others to come:

Uberbike Ceramic Bottom Bracket - How awesome is this bit of kit? it's the bearing equivalent of a zombie attack - surely it's dead now - oh no, it's still going.

Mudhugger rear mudguard - muddy bum or dry pants? Simple question - simple solution

Fabric 'No Cage' Waterbottle - how does it stay on?