Best Of

Cam McRae's Best of 2022

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2022 ended with a bit of a fizzle for me. I concussed myself riding near Chilliwack in early September, started to feel better just in time to get COVID (for the third time) and then I got it again 6 weeks after that. I've actually been identified as a super catcher. As I write this I'm test riding what might be an unreleased version of the flu. (shockingly I tested negative for COVID this time). This has made my riding sporadic and clumsy, but more precious than ever.* This scarcity has me itching to get back on bikes and has me thinking about some of the gear that had a nice influence on my riding experience. These were some of the belles (beaus?) of my ball last year.

*I did get out yesterday, flu be-damned and the extra suffering today was well worth stretching my legs.

2023 Trek Fuel Ex E Dane Perras 2

The Fuel EX-E I tested had all the bells and whistles but the most exciting prospect for me was the idea of this bike's technology trickling down to lower-priced models and up to eMTBs with more range and more power. Photo - Dane Perras (plus cover shot)

Trek Fuel EX-E (9.9 AXS)

Trek's Fuel EX-E represents a breakthrough in the eMTB world, largely because of its TQ power plant. While the motor is very natural feeling and responsive, with enough power to get you up hills faster, for me the real breakthrough is the absence of whine or whir. In most situations it was difficult for me to hear the motor at all, while it was completely silent to any other riders I was with. The TQ motor requires no chains or linkages connecting it to your crank spindle, because the inline motor drives it directly. That removes any mechanical noises while any motor whine is barely perceivable in most situations. Add the subtle form factor and size, and you have a bike that can easily pass as meat-powered.* I actually managed to win a couple of races and bag some KOMs and nobody noticed I was...

*with apologies to Andrew Major

I kid. I don't use Strava and I haven't (really) raced in years, but I have taken the Fuel EX-E on rides with some too-fast-for-me buddies on conventional MTBs and managed to feel unobtrusive and far less annoying than I would have on a full powered eMTB. I'm hopefully this technology can be scaled up to faster eMTBs with more range and I can't wait to see what Trek comes up with next using TQ's incredible technology.

The model I tested retails for absurd price of 18,300 CAD but you can get one that is still well-spec'ed for 9900 less at 8,400 CAD.

Long term impressions to come, once I get riding more.

Fuel EX-E

2023 Trek Fuel Ex E Dane Perras 24

I have since swapped out the slippery Bontrager SE5 tires that contributed to me crashing here and I'll be back a little later with my full review of the EX-E. Photo - Dane Perras

Loamlab's Counterpunch

I slapped a set of these on my Norco Sight VLT and have had no desire to remove them. I generally don't notice they are there but if I'm dodging trees I sometimes lean in and use them to push off the bark which would be far too risky otherwise. The Counterpunches give me a feeling of security and confidence while reducing the odds of having my pinky touch my wrist as I ride by some immovable object. The grips are nice and thin at 29 mm and they have cores with cutouts to approximate a slide one where contact is most important. The entire system is also remarkably unobtrusive. At times I have wished they were a little longer so I could climb old-school, using them as bar ends, and honestly, I wouldn't complain about a longer version. (#bringbackbarends) I only have them on my eMTB at the moment, which makes sense because of the higher uphill speeds, but I'd happily put them on every bike I happen to be riding.


LoamLab Counterpunch.jpg

There isn't much there but it protects your outermost digit. Photo - Loamlab

LoamLab Counterpunch 3/4 rear view

Installed they are small enough that only the most observant jerks will ask you about your bar ends. Photo - Pete Roggeman

Appleman Cranks

Ugly cranks annoy me. Is it really more expensive to make them beautiful? Are industrial designers in short supply? I don't get the fuss about eeWings either. If there's one place I'd rather not see welds, aside from my stem, it's on my cranks. They should at least be beautiful if they are expensive. But I digress, and I'm aware many of you love eeWings, which is great. I can't defend my tastes. Like you, I like what I like. But if you don't like these, well.. you're wrong.

The slick looks were what first drew me to Appleman Cranks, but the story is pretty great as well. At least what I know of it so far. Matt Appleman's a tough guy to get hold of. Matt builds custom carbon frames (you read that right) and does carbon frame repair and, not liking the cranks the industry made available, he made his own. The result is a modular system that is easily installed without any special tools (aside from what might be required for the bottom bracket). They come in 5 lengths from 135 - 175 mm and the install was a snap.


The cleanest cranks I've ever seen. I opted for 165 mm arms and a 30t ring. Photo - Cam McRae

deniz merdano hope e4 appleman send hit 9

What is wrong with this picture? Photo - Deniz Merdano

Out in the wild the Applemen have performed perfectly, with the help of a wolf tooth chainring. I installed a 30t ring to preserve my largest cog and while there was a little overlap with the 104 x 4 spider, it isn't enough to disturb the chain. The eagle-eyed among you may realize the directional Wolf Tooth ring is backwards.* I assumed the chain-line would be determined with the outer position, (cranks with two positions for chainrings? I've never heard of such things!) but in fact the Boost chain-line of 48 mm (despite the Super Boost hub - well done We Are One - except for the Super Boost hub part) is achieved using the inner mounting points.

*Because the Wolf Tooth ring is threaded, it can't be mounted on the outside position of these cranks while facing in the correct direction for a SRAM narrow-wide chain. I'm not sure if it's good news or not but it worked perfectly mounted backwards. I have since swapped it the right way and I'll see if I can notice a difference and improve my chain-line at the same time. Maybe one reason it's directional is to reduce wear?

I've had a few rides on these and they have been perfect thus far. I'll return with a full review as well as install details, and hopefully some info from the Appleman himself.

Appleman Cranks (from 485 USD)

Finding the right Drop in your Dropper Post

I made a discovery this year while testing the 2022 SCOR 4060 LT (a bike that was some awkward cable routing away from making my best of). The bike was great but I wasn't getting along with it and I was having a hard time figuring out why. After I swapped out the 170 mm dropper post for a 210 mm OneUp, my whole world changed. I started to ride the bike like I knew what I was doing and it was a dramatically different experience; I could get it off the ground, feel confident and planted on rock faces, and handle the bike reasonably deftly (for me) in high speed chunky situations. I was very clear that I preferred longer droppers, but before this I had no idea how dependent on that extra clearance I'd become. Going back to a shorter post pushed my riding back several years and I didn't like that feeling at all.

oneup_240mm_dropper_post1 1200

While I had enough exposed post to deal with it, 240 mm drop was a little too much for me. My ass scrubbed the rear wheel a little more than I liked and sitting down to pedal, or even coast, was uncomfortable. Luckily OneUp's posts are adjustable and in ten millimetre increments and I had it tweaked to 220 in five minutes.

In the past, each time a longer dropper became available I'd reluctantly give it a shot. I remember back in the day when downhillers would ride with their saddles relatively high so they could pedal smooth sections while seated, and I was happy with my 125 mm post thinking I was emulating my heroes. Then I tried a 150 and realized it was way better, and probably couldn't get any better. That was until I tried a 170 drop. This continued to 210 mm and beyond but I finally found my limit from 220 (courtesy of OneUp's adjustable 240 mm drop post) to 225 using a prototype Bike Yoke Revive Max.


The Bike Yoke Revive Max was just a prototype when it arrive in the mail, all 225 mm of it. Since that time the Max has been released at 213 mm but only in 34.9 diameter. It now lives on my Norco Sight VLT eMTB

Bike Yoke has since released the Revive Max in 213 mm form but only in 34.9 diameter, which makes a lot of sense. (edit: the regular Revive posts are now available with up to 210 mm drop)

Despite this revelation lining up with my long-legged frame, I honestly had no idea how much an optimal dropper post influenced my riding performance until I found the limit. The lesson, to keep exploring new ideas and bracketing your experiences to find the sweet spot, isn't a new one but it seems to be one I need to keep learning over and over.

Curiously I wrote about long droppers in my 2020 best of and while I liked them, I had no idea how my riding would go to shit without one after getting used to it.

The Küat Piston Pro X 2-Bike Rack

This rack is a little outrageous, with Kashima coated stanchions and integrated brake lights, but those aren't the features that make it so great. The real highlights are the next-level build quality and ease of loading and unloading. Normally I try to avoid using a rack and I just load my bikes into the back of my Tacoma. The Küat Piston Pro is the only rack I've used that is almost as user-friendly as a pickup with a tailgate pad. And it's much easier when you are loading a 55 lb eMTB.


The Piston Pro-X from Küat is the best looking rack on the market and the easiest to load. It also has great security features. What might scare you away is the 1389 USD price tag. Until you ask yourself what your bike is worth to you that is...


Kashima of course...

Other features include a patented cam lock, that ensures the rack won't wobble or bounce independent of your vehicle, an easy locking system, one-handed operation, (aside from lowering and raising the rack - although I've figured out how to lower it with one hand now) 67 lb capacity per tray on a two-bike setup with a 2" receiver or 60 lb per tray on a 1.25" receiver. It's also expandable to three or four bike capacity and has an optional eMTB loading ramp.

At 1389 USD, this is a pricy bicycle carrying apparatus. Fortunately, Küat will inevitably release a version of the Piston Pro with fewer premium features for fewer of your hard earned rubles.

Kurt Piston Pro-X

Hope Tech 4 E4 Brakes

I can't shut up about these brakes. They are made in Barnoldswick, England where the weather is likely almost as crappy as it is here in North Vancouver, which may have something to do with the performance, which is rather impressive. Because of my aforementioned ailments, it's taken me awhile to get enough time on the Tech 4 E4s to gather enough experience to write my full review, but I'm just about there now. The take home is that power, modulation, adjustment, ergonomics and craftsmanship have all been top tier thus far.

hope tech4 e4 brakes lever

Lots of adjustments and a very light lever feel contribute to incredible power and control.

hope tech4 e4 brakes rotor

I'm not sure how much influence the rotor design has on performance, but they sure are pretty to look at.

With many brakes I am quick to reach for after-market pads to reduce noise, and improve wear, power and modulation. Hope pads are so good I haven't even considered swapping them out yet. Stay tuned for my full review early in 2023.

Hope Tech 4 E4 Brakes

Honourable Mentions

This was a year of a lot of surprisingly good products being released. The Rock Shox Zeb with Butter Cups is high on that list, and the 170 mm version of We Are One's Arrival is a beast. I had a great time on the EXT Storia V3 Log coil shock and I'll be talking about the EXT Era fork early this year as well. Hopefully this year I'll get my body to cooperate half as well as all of these bikes and parts!

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+3 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman Skooks

For those unfairly compensated or less ano-stentatious and for whom cranks are a wear item, Trailcraft sells an open mold set w/ 24mm aluminum axle complete with ring and bb for USD 199. Sorry Drew Bob no purple


+2 Lu Kz Cam McRae

COVID can kiss my ass. Sorry to hear you’ve had a rough go! Get better and keep shredding, Cam.

I’ve been drooling over the Hope brakes for a while now. I’m really digging my SLX 4 pot; but as they will soon be going to my HT build, maybe I’ll throw a set of Hope on my Ripmo. 

All the best in 2023.

- Chad


+2 4Runner1 DanL

I hear that, if I could justify a Hope hub, brakes, and rotor build I'd do it (plus stem, seat collar, and a bunch  of other needless cosmetics, haha). But the stuff I have now works so well... At least I was able to pick up a set of Hope hubs for the DH bike this fall after the stock rear hub finally shit the bed. A good friend has had his set of bright Orange V4s on so many bikes at this point, it seems like a no-brainer... maybe next time!



I moved over to Hopes (T3V4) after coveting them for some time and I have really enjoyed using them. And bleeding them/setup is very very straightforwards - motorcycle brakes basically. The modulation and lever feel are exactly what I wanted and paired with floating rotors, have been consistent all year and a half of testing.
All the parts are always available and Hope even provide 3D print files for additional bleed blocks setups to allow you to move a single piston in and out. Simple and straightforwards to strip down and replace every part once you get a few tools as well.
 I've also used Hayes Dominions (which are top notch as well), Code RSCs (very good too but not a fan of the lever feel) and Magura MT7s (jolly nice as well but not a fan of "special proprietary royal blood" and a plastic bleed screw in the lever).
Hopes feel and act as I wanted but I was ready to go back to Hayes if they didn't perform and bleed well. Now I'm looking at the Tech4s.....


+1 4Runner1

Thanks Chad. Those SLX 4 lots are so good. And I was riding the model below recently - Deores (and on my Honzo ESD) and they were great as well. Certainly less power than the Hopes but nice and consistent with decent bite.  

I just saw a set on Amazon.ca for 240 front and rear from Shimano.


+2 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman

CounterPunch is almost like how droppers were in the beginning, in that you don't know you need it until you get it, and then you'll want it on everything.

I grew up riding in tight trees so I'm pretty good at (and kinda enjoy) dodging them, but I also have been wrecked hard by those damn jumping-and-grabbing trees that seem to live everywhere.

However, I actually got the CPs as grip protection, rather than specifically as hand protection, because I managed to break the endcaps off four or so Ergon GE1 Evo grips within a couple years, well before they wore out. With the CP protecting both the grip and me, I've managed to wear down a set of LoamLabs grips before breaking them, and definitely saved my pinkies from some bark imprints, as well as avoided some tank-slappers thanks to the slippery-ness of the CounterPunch.

I was >< this close to just replacing the GE1s with some nice push-ons secured like a golf club grip, and I still might go that route to experiment with comfort, though I'm betting I'll also end up with a CounterPunch bar-end finagled into place with whatever grips I try.

*(Strong double-sided tape underneath with a fast evaporating solvent used to allow the grip to slide on over the tape. I never liked wiring, my hands always manage to notice the wire and get annoyed at it, plus it still leaves the un-wired sections of the grip free to move, especially with a very soft compound that was likely the reason for going with push-ons in the first place.)

*(The LoamLabs grips are pretty nice, but I wouldn't mind a little more rubber and a little less plastic under my hand, as well as more freedom in positioning the grip separately from the bar-end)


+1 Justin White

+1 for the Counter Punches.  They're so discrete and seem to do the job.  I also wish for a slightly longer version as i'm on 12 degree bars.

Justin - have you tried Chromag Wax push on grips.  They're reasonably chunky and don't overly need wiring (just spray paint them and they should stay put).


+1 Cam McRae

Hey Cam! Great article with some top notch products. Curious to hear if you have found any pad clearance issues with your E4 brakes? I’ve just been setting up a pair of V4’s and could not get adequate pad clearance to set them up without rubbing until I bent the pad springs a bit which instantly solved the issue



Thanks B! Id say the tolerances are a little tight but I’ve been able to keep the pads off the rotors. Great tip on the spacers. I wonder if they were a little squished for some reason?



I start by lining up the calipers (no pads and pistons fully retracted) onto the disc by using the small split that's machined in to the top of the caliper body - I usually put a piece of white paper behind the disc/rotor so I can get eyeballed accuracy -  then slowly torque down the bolts to avoid twisting. This gets me 99% of the way there as long as pistons etc are also true but I also found that they generally settle in after use.

If you're going to push the pistons in fully, make sure that you keep the top of the master cylinder open /gasket off to allow the excess to dribble up and out before sealing the system.


+1 Cam McRae

Cool list and I wish you great health for the new year!!!

Btw: The Bikeyoke Revive is and has been widely available in 31,6mm and 210mm drop. Been riding one for two seasons…



Thanks for the info Znarf. I have updated my article with that info. 

The Revive Max is different however in that, unlike competing 34.9 posts, it has a 28 mm inner tube rather than 25 which is found in 30.9 and 31.6 posts, making them much stronger and hopefully more durable over the long term without much weight penalty.


+1 Velocipedestrian

Appleman claim to make cranks for fat bikes but choose a spider BCD system that doesn't allow 28T chain rings (common on fat bikes and bike packing rigs). And no direct mount chain rings.



"and then I got it again 6 weeks after that"

You probably didn't get it "again". More likely you got something else, because positives don't really mean much for up to 3 months after an infection, and that's why "test to return" is not a thing.

Not trying to minimize your illnesses (I just got over a super nasty "thought it was covid but the whole house tested negative" cold, so I feel you), just adding information.


+1 Cam McRae

Just to add to that, "rebound covid", may be a thing as well where you'll test positive after the first bout, feel and exhibit symptoms, but don't "actually" have covid again. I don't fully understand it's mechanics even with a rudimentary medical background, but these days it's more about managing symptoms than officially labelling what things are/aren't IMO.



Entirely possible. The weird thing was that not only were my symptoms identical, I had a distinctive taste in my mouth that matched as well as other subtle indicators. Who knows but I’m happy to be testing negative this time around and to have avoided the fever. Cheers!



I've really wanted to like the Counterpunch but I just can't get on with them. I also don't think they are as useful as claimed.

If you use the end of the bar when riding you'll probably hate them (it felt so nice riding with them off again). 

Also they actually extend the width of your bar so for the purpose of avoiding trees and hurting fingers , in effect you are actually widening your bar. This seems a bit silly. And in a world where you see bike reviews regularly commenting on a 5mm difference between bars making a difference to fit through trees! 

The 'hook'for me also caused more problems than it helped with. The bar isn't just extended outward but forward and I caught the hook on quite a few trail obstacles , once when riding and twice when carrying the bike. This seems more than a shade ironic. 

If I'm riding through a section where there is potential finger damage , through tight trees for example, its just as effective and without any negatives for the rest of your ride , to move your hands in board by 5mm for that little bit.

Like I say Ive tried these for months and dont want to hate - I actually really wanted to like them,but just giving a balance of view.



My malleolus are crying hard just by looking at those cranks!



Yes, the Countepunches, like my old Zoom Brahma bars, keep your precious fingys safe from the trees, I would totally use them. Let's see, what else.. oh ya, cable routing-who cares!


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