For me, 2021 has been very much about getting back into the swing of things, as I’m sure has been the case for everyone else. I’ve been getting back out to my favourite trails, back into a bit of racing, and testing some weird and wonderful kit.
Come to think of it, 2021 has been pretty eventful for me. It's been my first year working full-time at off.road.cc after a couple of years of freelancing, and that in itself has been quite the journey. The job started homebound amid lockdown, and as things have opened up, weekly trips to the office have become the norm. Making content for our YouTube channel has been a big step out of my comfort zone, as I'm usually happiest on the other side of the camera, but it's been a rewarding and interesting experience. Of course, I'm working around bikes, so there's no complaint here.
With the opening of everything, of course, racing picked back up, and I entered my first and only race of the year, the EX Enduro. It included a couple of months of bike-focussed training, 110km of riding over three days and 23 stages. It was a shock to the system but a very welcome one.
Perhaps the biggest milestone that I reached was that I swung a leg over a gravel bike for the first time towards the latter end of the year. While I've photographed and written about drop bar rigs an awful lot during my time at off.road.cc, I've never actually ridden one. I was so fresh to the experience of gravel bikes that I had to face the embarrassment of asking how to shift gears... The weather was just about as varied as the emotion as at some points on the gravel ride, even in the pouring rain, I totally got what gravel riding is all about, then others I really couldn't understand. Where's the fun in being rattled half to death along a fire road while nursing a literal pain in the arse? Although some of those techy climbs were pretty rad, it must be said. Whether or not they were worth having to adopt a cowboy pose when stood for a good couple of days after is up for debate.
So from the year, here are a few of my favourite pieces on off.road.cc.
Big Read: Racing after lockdown - Liam's Ex Enduro diary
During a normal year, I would usually try to get myself to at least one race but for 2021, racing was something I had written off. That’s due to a bit of social anxiety but also down to a lack of fitness having not ridden where I usually would for a solid year, and a bit of indulgence during lockdown. That was until I was invited to the Ex Enduro where I teamed with Fit4Racing to get myself fit enough for the three days, 110km event.
The whole build-up and the race had their ups and downs but reading through this article months after the even brings back memories of good laughs, tough training, and cracking trails.
Sendhit Nock Handguards review
This year, I’ve been thoroughly exploring some of the stranger products on the mountain bike market and handguards have come along with tonnes of controversy; I had to give them a go.
While the looks aren’t for everyone, they’ve grasped a solid foothold and I reckon they're actually pretty useful, especially if you’re riding overgrown trails in the summer. After testing most of the handguards I could get my hands on in the UK, Sendhit's Nock Handguards quickly became my favourite for their adjustability and MTB-specific features.
Fasst Company Flexx Enduro handlebar review
Sticking with the theme of weird kit, I’ve had Fasst Company’s Flexx handlebar on test towards the latter part of the year (I even rode the Ex Enduro with it). It’s a product that I approached with full scepticism at first but it’s one that’s completely surprised me with how effective it is.
In a nutshell, it’s a handlebar with elastomers built in to allow it to flex and absorb bumps. To put it short, it works.
Cotic FlareMAX review
In a world where big travel is the go-to for many and where down-country is a title that’s usually shelved as a fad, I was super keen to see what Cotic’s steel-framed FlareMAX was all about. The model I tested came with 120mm of squish at the front and 125mm at the rear but the FlareMAX is built with a geometry that makes even some enduro bikes look conservative.
After a month of riding, I’ve found that the bike’s lengthy reach and wheelbase combined with its little travel results in a bike that’s not only mega confident and blisteringly quick up and downhill but also an absolute hooligan if you're willing to cling on for the ride.
First Ride: Yeti 160E T-Series T1
Testing bikes for off.road.cc only really started as I began working full-time and spending a week with Yeti's first e-bike, the 160E was a hell of a way to round off the year. That's not only down to a price tag that can make grown men and their mums weep but actually... It's a bloody great bike.
It's one of few (if any) e-MTBs that has a suspension platform built especially for it and that's what made it so confident through proper rough terrain. That, and its geometry made it an accessible and easy bike to ride quickly. If I were to buy an e-bike it would likely be the Yeti but that would only be after I sold both of my kidneys and maybe a leg... Oh, wait...
Next for 2022
Heading into 2022, I would like to get racing a little more but above everything else, I want to become a better rider and writer both for my sake, and yours! As I'm sure is the case with most riders, I'm always looking at improving my skill and confidence on the bike with the goal of becoming a quicker rider. Hopefully, I'll also get myself signed onto some jump coaching as while I'm happy with trail gaps and air very much in moderation, I would like to lose some anxiety when it comes to bigger jumps.
Of course, I'm also excited to get testing some more unconventional mountain bike kit and even more bikes.
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