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Product reviews

We ride a lot of bikes and spend a lot of money on bikes, often testing kit to destruction on our mountain bike trails in Kent and our trips beyond, why not benefit from our experience. To make it easy to find the info you want we have divided the reviews up into sections.

Bikes | Frames | Tyres | Wheels | Drivetrain | Clothing

Tyres

Panaracer Trailrakers

Price: paid £22 each

Where: Chain Reaction Cycles

I bought these tyres specifically for the British winter conditions around East Kent, namely lots of thick mud, wet roots and general slippiness.

Panaracers always come up a bit on the skinny side and these were no exception, they are supposed to be 2.1" but look more like 1.95". They have a really chunky tread pattern and I looked forward to my first ride.

Well, they are incredibly good at gripping in wet mud, exceptionally so, I was not dissapointed. But, and this is a big but, they are very slow on tarmac and fireroad, really draggy. If it is relly claggy then it is worth the effort to roll them along to get where you are going but I found if the trails were drying out I would revert to my favourite setup of Schwalbe nobby nic up front and a racing ralph on the back.

pros: Very grippy in the mud

Cons: Very slow rolling, not the cheapest tyre in the world.

Would I buy them again? No


Schwalbe Nobby Nic

Price: 24 Euros

Where: Bikes 24 Gmbh

To be honest I bought these as they were touted as the tyres to have on many mountain bike websites so being the sheep that I am I bought one as a front tyre to go with the other "fashionable" Racing Ralph at the rear.

Well they actually lived up to the hype, really fast rolling, grippy enough in dry or damp conditions but all over the place in the wet.

I have ridden these tyres in Kent, Wales and France, including trail centres at Afan and Coed y Brenin plus some fast descents in the Pyrenees and found them great. They are a little fragile and puncture quite easily especially when worn but it is a small price to pay for the fast rolling tyre.

pros: Very fast rolling

Cons: Quite fragile

Would I buy them again? Yes

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Wheels

Custom wheel build - Maviv 717 rims on Shimano XT hubs

Price: Around £120

Where: Merlin Cycles

A sweet set of custom wheels make a big difference to how a bike rides, light wheels means faster acceleration and well designed hubs will spin freely with little resistance. Merlin Cycles have built my last three sets of wheels and I have never been dissapointed, they arrive after about seven days build time and run true straight out of the box.

pros: Good price, nice build

Cons: err none

Would I buy them again? Yes

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Drivetrain

Shimano XT Hollowtech II crankset

Price: £80

Where: Chain Reaction Cycles

I am on my second set of bearings on these external bearing crank sets and think that shimano must make the bearings out of swiss cheese as they only last six months in the kentish mud. having said that the whole thing is good value at £80 it just grates having to shell out £20 every six months for new bearings. Hollowtch II was supposed to be a great leap forward over the old square taper units and it is a lot lighter but square taper bottom brackets would last a lot longer. All in all I think they are good, if only thay could sort out the bearing wear.

Pros: Good value and easy to fit

Cons: Bearing wear

Would I buy them again? Probably


SRAM PC951 9 Speed Chain

Price: £15

Where: Wiggle

Having recently converted to SRAM chains from Shimano I think that the SRAM chains are great, hard wearing and tough and the powerlink makes fitting a real doddle, much better than Shimano's fiddly affair. This is the bottom of the range SRAM chain, which considering the amount of mud we ride through makes perfect sense, I used to use Shimano XTR which is eye wateringly expensive.

Pros: Cheap and hard wearing

Cons: Can't think of any

Would I buy it again: Definately

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Clothing

Specialized Decibel Helmet

Price: £80

Where: Evans Cycles

I bought this as a crash replacement for my old Spesh S1, which was the most comfortable helmet I have ever had. The Decibel is a different design, with carbon fibre reinforecent, the Spesh S1 saved me when I hit a tree, so I thought stick with Specialized.

The helmet is comfortable and well vented and very light, it is finished in matt black for that stealthy look.

I have used the helmet on both road and off road rides, the removebable peak makes switching between the two very easy. My one criticism? The straps are light grey and look grubby after a couple of off road rides, other than that great helmet

Pros: Lightweight, good venting

Cons: Not the cheapest but a new head is more expensive, grey straps would be more practical in black.

Would I buy it again?: Yes

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Tales from the Trails

Why mountain biking? Well remember when you were twelve and you had a Raleigh Arena to which you bolted a set of cow horns... read more

In the woods at night you get to see a wide range of wildlife: badgers, foxes, owls, lots of rabbits and if you are at the back the drooling fanged monster off the cover of the Iron Maiden album that is right behind you - just don't look round... read more

100k, six of the toughest hills in Kent, temp -1, wind chill - 7, that will be the Hell of the Ashdown then... read more

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