Best of 2015 – Andrew’s Picks

Words Andrew Major
Date Jan 3, 2016

As someone who loves gear that is well proven to be reliable, a top five-for-fifteen list is actually a bit of a challenge. In truth none of these products was newly-released in 2015 (though a couple were updates of previously released products) but all were items I acquired in the calendar year.

Without futher preamble, my top five-for-fifteen:

Abbey Tools Crombie Tool:

If you are serious about tools – and fussy about form as well as function, the Abbey Tools Crombie Tool (single or double sided) may be for you.

From a purely functional perspective this tool doesn’t accomplish anything more than my previous cassette tool + wrench provided except for the minor niggle of saving me from opening two drawers in my workbench.

But, if you pick up a Crombie (single, double, etc) and the above is your very first thought… I cry for you. It’s simple. It’s elegant. It’s beautifully made. It’s a joy to use. It’s sexy-looking and sexy-functional, It was designed by an awesome gentleman named Jeff Crombie who used to turn wrenches and manage a shop here on the North Shore (Different Bikes West Vancouver), and it’s impeccably made by Abbey Tools. Valentines Day is just around the corner, and if you’re trying to impress someone special with a tool fetish… *cue Barry White and/or Barry Manilow

Maybe you just have to use one to understand…

Park Tool CT-6.3 Chain Tool

best quality, tools Park makes, folding or otherwise, and combined with a minimalist multi-tool the total weight is comparable to most multi-tools with useable chain tools." src="/media/original_images/park_chintool.jpgw1600" alt="park_chaintool" data-recalc-dims="1" />

It isn’t light weight, but it’s one of the nicest, best quality, tools Park makes, folding or otherwise, and combined with a minimalist multi-tool the total weight is comparable to most multi-tools with useable chain tools.

I have an aversion towards the chain tools that come equipped as part of 10,000-function multi-tools, which evolves rapidly to a snooty enmity any time I actually have to use one. In my pack it’s always a multi-tool paired with a separate chain tool and I have owned a few generations of this beauty going back to the original CT-6.

They have actually proven to be more durable and ergonomic in use than most dedicated chaintools I’ve handled and the CT-6.3 folds up into a very minimalist product.

The new CT-6.3 will install a chain on any bike in my house from a fat Wippermann 108 to a super-narrow SRAM 11-spd, and it fits nicely in my tool roll next to my well used, first release, Park IB-2 multi tool.

Magura MT5 Brakes

If you’re willing to spend a bit more time setting them up, in the year I’ve been recommending the MT5 I have not known a single rider who wasn’t pumped on them.

These brakes are not as easy to align as Shimano’s latest but once you get the calipers centered and the pistons set they are simple to bleed and similarly low maintenance. They have, in my opinion, a much nicer feel at the lever, easier to control power, overall greater braking force, and they are at least on par in terms of quality.

I’ve used the higher priced MT7 model and for my small hands the much cheaper MT5 offers better ergonomics and identical performance at a much lower price.

If you’re looking for overall ease of maintenance, including being able to buy pads & parts anywhere/anytime, and a brake that your kids can bleed/adjust for you while you’re at work then the Shimano Zee is still the leader in terms of overall ease of ownership compared to performance and price; if you’re willing to spend a bit more time setting them up, in the year I’ve been recommending the MT5 I have not known a single rider who wasn’t pumped on them.

In terms of both performance and value, the Magura MT5 are the best brakes on the market.

Wolf Tooth 64BCD 26t Ring // BlackSpire Granny God

Andrew’s winning combination: Wolf Tooth 64BCD 26t Ring // BlackSpire Granny God

For a number of reasons, I wanted to convert my wife’s Chromag hardtail to 1x. I tracked down a One-Up 42t cog and a RADr cage, and then – after the fact – did some gear calculating. Then I ordered a Wolf Tooth 26t Ring for “standard” 104/64 cranks and a BlackSpire Granny God.

This combination saved me from having to purchase a new crankset, offers fanastic chainline (Nb. I did space the granny in 1.2mm using washers), and looks very clean. The Wolf Tooth ring uses the 64 BCD granny ring position and the BlackSpire Granny God is a 104 BCD affair that bolts into what would normally be the middle ring position on a triple. Frankly, here on the Shore, it offers plently of range from low-to-high.

In an age of me-too products (who doesn’t make an aftermarket 42t cog add-on?) I’m surprised that with the huge number of 104/64 cranks out there – and the popularity for smaller rings for RaceFace and SRAM direct mount cranks – that more companies aren’t offering 26t and 28t rings for 64 BCD. Then again the Wolf Tooth product is very good quality, so it is an easy choice if you’re looking for an easier gear than a 30t for your four bolt (104/64) crankset.

Giro Empire Shoes VR90

Could it be a fetish? If you were going to crush on a pair of shoes to get muddy in the Giro Empires would be the ones.

I’ve tried most every ratchet system around, including the very usable BOA, and at the end of the day I still vastly prefer the performance, simplicity, reliability, tensionability, replaceability, and I suppose the out-there-and-something-goes-wrong-easy-fixability of laces. The problem is that most cycling shoes with laces are cheap junk.

Then Giro released a limited (400 units) production run of their beautiful Empire Road shoes with an MTB sole last year and I was hooked. My camo limited-edition shoes have taken an absolute beating and, while they show many signs of wear, they are still ready to go for any ride.

This year Giro released a production version of the shoe (VR90) with one obvious update being the Vibram sole. Laces and the super-thin, super-stiff, Easton EC-90 last of the first gen shoe with an increase in walkability for the local terrain? SOLD!

All has not been unicorns and rainbows. The Vibram sole is definitely not as durable as that of the first generation shoe; I’ve had to get the Freesole out a couple of times now. If I was to choose between the pairs I own I would definitely go with the recommendable durability of the first gen shoe compared to the recommended-with-a-caveat grippier-when-walking VR90 model.

That said, if you want a high-performance mountain bike shoe with laces then the Empire VR90 is your shoe and it is awesome.

What catches your eye?

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6 years, 5 months ago

I hate to be that guy but the Cannondale Trigger I was demoing was spec'd with the Mt5's. I found the power really lacking in situations where I needed to shed a lot of speed quickly. Take that with a grain of salt as I'm also a guy who enjoyed the old Juicy and Elixirs immensely, and hated his 785's…(My most regrettable purchase ever)


6 years, 5 months ago

That might be a pound of salt… Elixirs and all…

Curious the state of the Trigger you were demoing -- brand new, lightly ridden, well beaten?

I've had the opportunity to ride a fair number of demo bikes, and sadly I find unless I am one of the first people to throw a leg over them their condition can rarely be used as an indicator of the relative performance of any of their components. My brakes suck (any make/model) when the pads are glazed over and/or contaminated too.


6 years, 5 months ago

I was among the first view people to ride the bike. It wasn't show room new, but I swapped out the pads before riding it and threw on a chunkier set of tires. I find there's a massive difference between LBS and manufacturer demo bikes in terms of condition. A bike in a shops demo fleet is likely used (at most) once per month, while the industry bikes have to endure being abused by all you bike reviewers out there.

Good bike, O.K. brakes. I liked them more than any On/Off Shimano up to and including Zee and M8000, but a nice pair of guides will be on wish list for when these 785s finally kick the bucket.


6 years, 5 months ago

Variety is, as they say, the spice of life.

Assuming you get a good set, the Guide is a fantastic feeling and performing brake. I'm hesitant to recommend them as everyone I know with a pair either bleeds them very frequently (especially compared to a Shimano or Magura brake) or accepts sub-par performance to cut down on service.

That said, you definitely sound like you know what you like and know your way around bikes. If they're in good shape I'd be surprised if you couldn't find someone willing to trade your M785 brakes for their Guides: might be able to make two people happy for the price on none!


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