Things that made a grim year better for me

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3

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Being directly descended from a long line of Italian-American Grinches, it is difficult for me at the best of times to get into the celebratory holiday spirit. Which is why you won’t be seeing any “fun things to give happy people” gift ideas oozing from my laptop onto your screen. I’m Christmas averse, and, well, these are sure not the best of times. Lumps of coal for everyone! Off with their heads! Or something like that. But what about a listicle of “things that were kinda cool in 2021? Think you can get your head around that, you shrivel-hearted old turd?” That’s what Pete and Cam were probably muttering under their breath.

I can try. But man, what a dumpster fire we’re living in these days.

For everyone who thought 2020 was the end of times worst year ever, 2021 gave them ample opportunity to regret wondering just how much worse it could get. From a social and political perspective, wow. About all I can do is shrug, stare in awe and terror, and carry on as best I can. From an ecological and climatic point of view, double wow. At least we’ve got a good view of the coming apocalypse. Right? Right.

But this is a mountain biking website, and we are talking about mountain biking, not (insert any crisis of your current nightmare-based choosing here). And damned if I didn’t find a whole lot to be happy about this past year as far as putting wheels in the dirt. So, here’s a fistful of the things, people and places that made this past year feel more better.


Poet, warrior, badass, World Champion: Christopher Blevins

  1. Christoher Blevins.

Quick pop quiz: When was the last time a male from the United States won anything at the XC World Championship level? If you know the answer, you are probably old like me. If you know who that rider was, you can begin to understand not just the length of the drought, but its severity. It was THIRTY YEARS AGO when John Tomac won the XC World Championships In Italy.

Christopher Blevins is a renaissance man. He has insane riding skills, with a BMX-honed style that can get rad and flashy just about anywhere, and the motor to back those skills up. And he’s smart, articulate, and, well, just rad. Dude’s a poet and a warrior. AND, he’s the 2021 Short Track World Champion. Did it in Italy, too. Respect!


Shovelfit, it's a thing. So is Pica.

2. Dirt

I’ve been playing around in dirt since I could crawl. Apparently I (and so many other kids with discerning palates) used to literally eat the stuff. As I graduated out of diapers and into solid foods, the eating went from physical to metaphorical, but I’ve been eating dirt my whole life. It’s amazing! After an entire lifetime of riding in, through, over and across every kind of dirt I can get my tires on, I still grin every time I feel one or both wheels break loose. I still laugh when I throw totally mundane levels of roost. I still feel a special kind of alive when I squelch my bare toes into mud. The whole planet may be going to hell in a handbasket, but dirt is still my friend. And I love it.


1990 called, and said to tell you that neon purple and green color schemes will never fade away. Literally. Oh, and thumbshifters are totally back.

3. My Thumbshifter

This was an accident. Putting together a new bike while the global supply chain completely shit the bed was an interesting exercise, and there were moments where compromises had to be made. When it came time to find a shifter to match up with the used Shimano XT derailleur I had laying around, I just could not stomach some flimsy plastic sub-Deore level thing, and couldn’t wait for whenever the next container of backordered XT stuff arrived, so I decided to throw it all the way back to 1990. All hail the mighty MicroShift SL-M12-R! It’s a 12-speed thumbshifter. It rules. It clicks cleanly across all 12 cogs. It has a friction mode if you smack things out of alignment. It weighs just a tiny bit more than nothing. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, or even a finger. And I am half tempted to get these for my other bikes. I love it. Not as much as dirt, but as much as anyone can love a small thing made out of metal, I love this shifter.


This is a rough approximation of my headshape, like a sideways pumpkin. This helmet fits my sideways pumpkin head better than just about any other. If you have a sideways pumpkin shaped head as well, you know who to call. Oh, and yes, it is STILL decorative gourd season. In case you were wondering...

4. POC Tectal Helmet

I have a head shaped sort of like that toothy creature from Ridley Scott’s Alien. As such, getting helmets to fit has always been a bit of a challenge. Usually, it means running a size large and grappling with a lot of extra room on the sides and the feeling that I have a giant Styrofoam mushroom on my head indicating to all the world that I suffer some sort of encephalitis. In addition to my head shape issues, I have a deep and abiding loathing of MIPS, and any other of the things that people put into helmets to allegedly combat the concussive effects of rotational inertia.

This here POC Tectal is available WITHOUT MIPS (which is ironic in that POC were one of the first MIPS proponents, and doubly ironic in that this may be one of the last helmets still on the market that isn’t equipped with some form of MIPS or MIPS analog), and my weirdly shaped head can be wedged into a medium without causing blinding headaches. And it looks pretty good. I feel like maybe I need to buy three or four more so that I have a lifetime supply, because I doubt they’ll be around much longer. Do I love it? Of course I do.


These are not dog treats.

5. GU Roctane bcaa capsules

I dunno if these are for real or not, but I was ramping up mileage at the beginning of 2021 and feeling like I couldn’t get myself out of a physical fatigue hole. Yuri Hauswald, endurance mega-star and GU pimp, set me up with some magnesium capsules and these bcaa capsules, told me to stay hydrated, and sent me on my merry way. I swear to dog these got me over the hump. Placebo effect or the real deal? I have no idea, but I’ve gone through a few off-the-couch and into-the-miles cycles this year, and each time, these have been a key component in busting me out of that feeling like a slab of dead meat three weeks in. Nowadays I consider them cheap insurance. Love might be stretching it a bit when it comes to describing the affection I feel for these little beauties. I reserve that sentiment for good LSD or a regimen of microdosing psilocybin. But these are still pretty damn good.

I titled this piece in honor of a song by Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Whenever I see some sort of “best of” list, I think of this song. I don’t know why. Maybe because it is a wonderfully twisted list of life once you get around his Essex-speak. But then, when I began listening to this as I got ready to embed it, I realized that the song I was actually thinking of in my head was a different Ian Dury song - Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. But that song doesn’t make me think of “best of” lists. Ah well, beside the point. Three fat martians, click-click-click, as Ian might have said. Anyway, happy end to ’21, nsmb-folk. Thanks for welcoming me in.

Tags: 2021, Mike Ferrentino
Posted in: Features

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+5 Pete Roggeman slimchances57 Andrew Major Beau Miller Mike Ferrentino

Yeah thumbies! When I built up a gravel bike a long while back, I wanted to use a 2x10 XT drivetrain (big cog for gravel/paved, small cog for singletrack) along with some mechanical brakes, The only shifting option I found was Gevenalle shifters that use a Microshift thumbies and mount them on the hoods. Works like a dream. I like them better than any brifters I've used in the past.


+3 Andrew Major Beau Miller Mike Ferrentino

Welcome to the party! Been using thumbies since 89. Never stopped, I could never get used to trigger shifters or Gripshift. I've been grateful to Microshift for those first nine speed versions and every additional iteration since. And friction mode has saved my ass a number of times.


+3 Beau Miller cheapondirt Mike Ferrentino

I’ll go out on a limb and suggest NSMB has more thumbie-loving writing staff than every other MTB publication today put together (which is hilarious to me).

I’m all in on the friction mode though. Something about feeling your way through a many-geared cassette on the fly that’s pretty sweet.

#MoreDirtRagThanDirtRag (RIP)


+5 Dogl0rd Vik Banerjee taprider Karl Fitzpatrick Metacomet Mike Ferrentino Beau Miller

Thank dog someone else is a MIPS-hater. I buy the science in a tight-fitting, full-face motorsport race helmet. I don't buy the science in a plastic-wrapped beer cooler with a cute little ratchet in the back to help you 'dial in the fit.' (I am not anti-helmet. I am a fan of plastic-wrapped beer coolers. Concussions suck.).


+4 taprider Pete Roggeman Beau Miller Mike Ferrentino

Mike, I love your point of view like I love our mutual wonderment at the idea of people buying into the idea of Rogaine.


+4 JVP andyf Andrew Major Mike Ferrentino

Re the supplements thing, B-vitamins help give you an energy bump due to their importance in energy metabolism and cognition. BCAA's are similar in helping with muscle repair and potentially help regulate serotonin production which may reduce feelings of fatigue. So in higher intensity endurance activities the thinking is that both of these will help stave off fatigue as fuel replenishment may be limited. There is of course also the placebo effect to consider as well. They can be considered as fairly cheap insurance and are easy to take. They might not help you a ton, but they won't hurt either.


+2 Beau Miller Mike Ferrentino

Props for linking to an NIH study instead of some voodo BS. I'm going to give this a read. I also think placebo is under-rated, especially in "effort sports", so if it works for you, it works.


+4 kcy4130 Beau Miller Pete Roggeman Mike Ferrentino

Maybe it's luck, but my one-size-fits-all 90$cdn MIPS-equipped Bell Nomad fits just like the other Bell/POC/Giro helmets I've had in Medium size, does not make a sound, has good coverage and a sturdy visor. 

I love it enough that I bought a second one as a spare before they stop making them. Cheap, fits great, good quality, not too hot, I can't ask for more.


+3 taprider Beau Miller Mike Ferrentino

I won't chime in on the MiPS or not debate, but for those of us with long narrow noggins I suggest trying on a Kali lid.

The Maya is the closest shell fit to my dome I've recently tried.


+2 Beau Miller Mike Ferrentino

those chrome bars look sick. I've heard slip on grips stick to bars with smooth surfaces like that better too


+2 Beau Miller Mike Ferrentino

Regarding BCAAs, I don’t know if they help either but I do know I feel much better riding with First Endurance EFS in my water compared to plain water plus snacks. The first time I tried it, my usual Nisene Marks loop ride time dropped by almost 30 minutes and I felt way better post ride. It’s a carbohydrate/electrolyte mix with BCAAs and glutamine. I never attributed anything to the BCAAs in particular but who knows?


+2 mynsmbself Mike Ferrentino

How about that Hunter handlebar, is it as magical as it looks or is it just another handlebar (but shiny)? Looks very comfortable by the specs.


+2 mynsmbself Mike Ferrentino

It is magical.


+1 cheapondirt

I was gonna say "it's just a handlebar" but earle.b beat me to the punch and spilled the beans on the magic. It's magical. Sort of. Really nice sweep and feel. Not crazy stiff. Me gusta.


+1 mynsmbself Beau Miller Dogl0rd

I’ll bite:  Why the MIPS hatred?


+2 Vik Banerjee Mike Ferrentino

I am also of the opinion that MIPS is not for me.

I don't like the rattleiniss, extra weight, and poor fit (especially when lights or other things are mounted to the helmet).

About 40 years ago I face-planted with an open-face moto helmet with a really stiff visor (likely constructed that way to keep branches from ripping it off) and the visor was so strong that it kept my nose from contacting the ground as I watched the gravel skid by under my goggled eyes.

For a modern bike helmet I would rather have lots of foam backing up the visor, or just extra visor-like foam over my forehead like with some kids helmets.

I saw a crash study that shows that the majority of crashes serious enough to crush or crack the foam are to the forehead, or sides of the forehead area (your results might be different if you crash mainly in skate parks, and not on the road or trails)

Also for people that instinctively tuck and roll, MIPS is likely less important. Even adults can be taught to tuck and roll (I missed out on not spending a coaching session telling my adult riders to armour up, leave their bikes behind, and practice falling/throwing themselves down a grassy slope. I actually got the idea from ice axe training with the Alpine Club of Canada, where we stood at the top of an icy slope and practiced falling in all orientations then trying to self arrest as quick as possible. I still put the ice axe training to use and use my handlebars at times to absorb bike crashes)


+2 Beau Miller Mike Ferrentino

Human heads can handle much larger g forces on the back of the hear or forehead. The impact gs that a head can take without concussion depends on axis of of the impact. Concussions often come from lower g force crashes that have an element of rotational acceleration, I don't understand why exactly, that's just what I read in a book. Mips is intended to reduce the rotational accelerations transmitted to the head. Good in theory and lab tests. Some mips helmets might be better than other as far as rattlieness, idk, just a thought.


+4 mynsmbself Andrew Major Beau Miller Mike Ferrentino

I have a Bell Super Air with MIPS spherical. Fits and feels like a normal helmet to me. Maybe I’ve grown accustomed to something that might annoy others?

+3 andyf mynsmbself Mike Ferrentino

There's no question that some people hardly notice it and others can't stand it. For me it varies between helmet designs: some work well on my head and others don't, although my head fits most helmet forms well whereas Mike has described how most helmets don't work for his head. There are also now several different versions of MiPS - the  one that some people find bulky and uncomfortable (and can tug at long hair if you have it) is the original version. A newer, less bulky and more comfortable version is MiPS integrated, found in helmets like the excellent Specialized Ambush; it's really quite different and barely noticeable compares to gen1.  Lastly, MiPS Spherical which is exclusive to Bell/Giro, which I wrote about here:

In theory, MiPS Spherical sounds like it has the most added protection to me due to the dual density foam but, again, it's really hard to prove.

I'll let Mike chime in about why he's not a MiPS fan. My personal feeling is that despite all the conflicting information and studies out there, an added degree of (probable) protection is preferable to me as long as it's still comfortable. But the world of head safety and concussion prevention is full of half truths and lack of consensus among researchers so it's really difficult to pronounce one helmet as safer than another, despite what the manufacturers like to tell you.


+2 Beau Miller Mike Ferrentino

"half truths"... that's true certainly of the marketing claims. The lab tests are reliable science. But how accurately various lab tests replicate real world conditions is where the lack of consensus is. Real world data is what is needed, but it requires lots of accidents and lots of time and will probably not be irrefutable anyways. Sorta reminiscent of the neck brace debate. Still, mips isn't going to reduce a helmet's effectiveness, so go for it if one can stand it. I wonder if helmet tests on cadavers could be used to validate lab test procedures? It's not very pleasant to think about using cadavers to test such things but it has it's place and is done in automotive safety and similar. Less distasteful and more accurate than brain trauma studies done on primates imo.

I'll second this.  This helmet is no different to anything I've ever worn and having had concussions i would not cheap out cuz you will regret this for a lifetime.


+3 taprider kcy4130 cheapondirt

Sorry for taking a while to reply, I was blissfully unplugged for the better part of the past week. Okay, MIPS, the sacred cow...

My main beef is that I feel that MIPS has, up until very recently, come at the expense of comfort and fit and mass without providing what I personally consider to be tangible benefits with regard to concussive trauma impact mitigation. At the same time, it has been sold as a "must have" feature for anyone serious about crashing, and has carried a price increase with it when compared across the board to the same helmet in a non-MIPS configuration.

The fit issues have been pretty well outlined by others in this thread - more bulk, wobble-rattle, sometimes hair-pully, sometimes bald-head-scratchy. And yes, newer versions have improved hugely in all these regards. That is reassuring, but there is still some amount of wobble or yaw to contend with on even the best MIPS lids, and there is still the fact that the extra parts and manufacturing required tend to make a given helmet cost more.

As for the tangible benefits, those have also been well articulated by others here. Rotational impact concussive trauma is absolutely a thing, and absolutely can be tested for. However, the massive variety of head shapes, hair thickness (isn't hair itself a kind of slip plane, of we are going to split hairs, so to speak, about what actually constitutes a functional shear layer?), skull thickness, brain soup viscocity, area between skull and brain differentials, all this makes it really difficult to consistently deliver something that will measurably and definitively reduce the likelihood of rotational concussion for YOU specifically by X percent.

When I was a wee lad growing up in my dad's motorcycle helmet test lab, testing was primitive. We dropped weights onto helmets with headforms inside them that had strain gauges to measure the impact forces. Top of lid, forehead, sides, and in the case of full-face helmets a frontal chin-bar crush test. There was a weight with a spike that measured shell penetration, and another set of weights that were basically convex. The impacts that these helmets were required to survive (with regard to both AS/NZ testing or DOT/USA testing) were catastrophic. Sort of like running into a guard rail with your head at 100mph. This was the 1980s, and concussive trauma just did not exist in medical knowledge at that time. The impacts that people tested for back then were the kind of things that even if you did survive without head injury, it was highly likely that the rest of your body would be turned to paste anyway. But hey, at least you wouldn't have died from head trauma.


+2 kcy4130 cheapondirt

AND FURTHERMORE... (had to cut and paste for being too wordy, continued below):

Fast forward to the past decade, and there has been a huge amount of discovery about the nature and diversity of cranial trauma, especially as far as rotational impacts are concerned. It's a thing. I have friends who have fought long and hard with the health care industries in different countries around the world all of whom had the misfortune of getting their brains scrambled from concussive or rotational trauma at the beginning of the 2000s, and who have been stigmatized as fakers or healthcare mooches because nobody within the trauma field, nor many of their peer group, believed that they had been so profoundly fucked up. In most instances, they are still dealing with lingering effects of these single crash traumas decades later. Nobody gets the brush off like that anymore, at least. Or hopefully not.

But it is still proving very difficult to deliver measurable, predictable results when it comes to claiming how much protection slip-plane technology adds. Would my friends have been less fucked up if they had been wearing MIPS helmets had they been available then? Maybe. Maybe not. MIPS would like you to believe their product would have made the difference. However, if you read the wording of any top tier helmet manufacturer, they are very careful in their verbiage. They say things like "In the event of a crash, MIPS may reduce rotational forces that can contribute to concussions." There are a whole lot of grey areas there. And we're not just talking about brain tissue.

So, for my part, I have chosen to wear helmets that are the most comfortable, period. I am willing to weigh the slight possibility of hitting the ground just the wrong way in a comfortable helmet against having to wear an uncomfortable helmet all the time and maybe never hitting the ground at all. I choose comfort over difficult to prove benefits. And I concede freely that the argument against wearing MIPS or one of its analogs gets weaker with each successive new generation. In the meantime, I prefer not to hit my head at all.


+1 Mike Ferrentino

I was fortunate to help design the Tectal and while its no spring chicken, it'll be around for a few more years, its just too good , better than the Kortal in many peoples books ;-)

So worry not Mike (also great to have you here, sublime style indeed)

Regarding MIPS, POC had exclusivity on the MIPS brand for 2 years in the snow helmets and one year in MTB to launch MIPS, but all great things come to an end (except covid that is, but wait its not great, but i'm riding tons, so is it? anyways...)

MIPS sued POC for launching their own version of a "sliding mechanism to reduce the severity of rotational impacts from oblique helmet crashes"

Thats why things didn't go well (when someone left POC with a non compete and went to MIPS the next day) ..... but then they did go well.... the lawyers made tons of money and now POC will use some MIPS on some of their products.

All of this is public information and all over the main interweb sites.

Back to watching Matrix 4 on piratebay folx



I recall the back and forth, but thanks for reclarifying. I wasn't trying to stir controversy by noting the absence of MIPS, and should have mentioned in the piece that MIPS is back in the POC line. But it was christmas, and I was getting lazy with my word counts.



Made me laugh aloud, Mike! Thanks for another entertaining and thoughtful read.



Got my first MIPS helmet recently after a digger put a big dent in my old one which was a few seasons old. I got the same model, same size, last gen Specialized Tactic 3, except the new one is MIPS'd. Pleasantly affordable and chosen because it fit me better than any of the other brands and models I tried. 

I noticed no difference in fit or feel. Until I clocked my head pretty hard on a low hanging tree branch on a techy section of trail. Hard enough to snap my head back, send me to ground, and give me a stiff neck for the rest of the day. In this case I think I noticed that MIPS helping. It was the kind of glacing blow off the top of the helmet that seems like it might be decreased with a little rotational give and it sure felt like the lid moved a little more that usual while still absorbing the shock. Thankfully I'm fine. I'm also now a MIPS believer. If I couldn't find a good fitting helmet that had MIPS, however, I'd buy whatever fit well and forget about it. 

Yea, I went back and removed that branch with a folding saw. 

I love riding bikes. Even in the cold ass CO winter.


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