Blog

Back To Blog

The best bikes of the year: 2020

By Bruce Lin

Published

The life of a bike nut is simple. You follow every drool-worthy bike release, check your bank account, and then scheme about how to add each new bike to your quiver. But 2020 has been a tough year.

Not only have group rides, races, and events been canceled, but bike inventories have been wiped out by the pandemic-fueled bike boom. 

Cervelo Caledonia 5 endurance road bikeLook at that happy face and that new Cervelo Caledonia 5. Our social media manger, Reese Ruland, was one of the lucky ones. I'm not jealous... okay I am.

Even though we can't get our hands on most of the hot new bikes of 2020, we can still drool over them, can't we?

This year, I haven't had the chance to ride as many new bikes as I usually do. But I've spent plenty of time reading reviews, staring at spec sheets, re-watching release videos, and fantasizing. So, I decided to make a list of my top dream bikes of 2020. This is essentially my fantasy quiver. I chose bikes that are exciting, innovative, shocking, or strange. These are bikes that inspire and delight and have generated chatter and interest both online and around the office.

Maybe someday, when bike populations have recovered, we all might have the chance to actually ride one (or more) of these awesome bikes. Until then, in no particular order, here are seven bikes that belong in my imaginary bike quiver — my best bikes of 2020.

(And remember, if you need a bike right away, we have plenty of Certified Pre-Owned options in stock and ready to ship.)

Specialized Aethos

Specialized is the brand behind #aeroiseverything. Aero road bikes like the Venge and the new Tarmac SL7 were marketed as the ultimate tools for serious road cyclists. Well, the Aethos is a bike that proudly proclaims that aero isn’t everything. Instead, the Aethos uses round carbon tubes to focus on light weight and ride quality.

When Specialized launched the Aethos, I had just built up a new Allez Sprint with an aero handlebar and stem. I started wearing an Evade II aero helmet and dimpled aero kits. I had bought into aero hype. But my instant attraction to the Aethos caused me to question my purpose in life.

2021 Specialized Aethos road bikeThe first Certified Pre-owned Aethos to enter our inventory!

For a recovering weight-weenie like myself, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Aethos is the lightest disc brake road frame (only 588g) Specialized has ever produced. The round tubes and non-dropped seat stays just hit all the right notes. It has a classic diamond shape like the bikes I loved 10 years ago. In a sea of sculpted, spaceship-like frames, it is low-key but eye-catching at the same time.

If I were racing or chasing Strava KOMs, I’d use my Allez Sprint or the new Venge-killing Tarmac SL7. For any competitive cyclist, the aero advantages are real. The Aethos, on the other hand, is geared toward the pure pleasure of riding. Reviewers lucky enough to ride the bike have all commented on its sublime stiffness and handling. It is the type of bike that belongs to a time before Strava and marginal gains, more a work of art than a cold, hard race machine.

It may be far outside my budget (framesets retail for $5,200), but I want one for reasons I can’t fully articulate. Maybe someday ...

Cervelo Caledonia

Our resident endurance phenom, Reese Ruland, got a shiny new Cervelo Caledonia 5 this year. I saw it in person and knew immediately that this bike was something special. The sleek Caledonia, appeals to my race-inspired preferences more than other endurance bikes like the Specialized Roubaix or Trek Domane.

In the past, Cervelo raced the cobbled classics with the legendary R3 Mud, an R3 with the longer chain stays and wider forks for more tire clearance. Cervelo only produced enough R3 Muds to meet the UCI’s minimum requirements and supply star riders like Thor Hushovd and Johan Vansummeren with bikes. As a result, the R3 Mud has always been exceedingly rare.

Cervelo Caledonia 5 endurance road bikePhoto courtesy of Cervelo.

Enter the Caledonia. It has the same fit (stack and reach) as the old R3, a road race bike, but offers substantially more compliance and tire clearance. It doesn’t employ gimmicks like micro-suspension, elastomer inserts, or decouplers. Instead, it uses a light, well-tuned carbon frame with aerodynamic shaping, cushy 30mm tires (with room for 34mm), and the stability of a longer front-center, slacker head tube, and greater fork offset.

Cervelo calls the Caledonia a “modern” road bike. The Caledonia is more versatile than any road race bike and more sporty than most endurance bikes. It can do everything from high-speed road races to backcountry gravel adventures, and it caters to weight weenies, aero nerds, and comfort-seekers all the same.

If I could have only one drop-bar bike in my garage to replace everything from my aero road bike to my gravel bike, the Caledonia would be it.

Cannondale Topstone Lefty

I’ve already written about the brilliance of the Lefty-equipped Cannondale Slate. It was a bike far ahead of its time. It changed the landscape of gravel cycling by popularizing high-volume 650b gravel tires and gravel suspension. Then it got retired. Cannondale replaced it with the Topstone, an excellent gravel bike, but one that looks conventional compared to the quirky Slate I loved so much.

Now, with Cannondale’s new Topstone Lefty, the spirit of the Slate is back. The Topstone Lefty has the two key features that made the Slate so much fun: a 30mm travel Lefty Oliver suspension fork and fat 650b wheels tires. But it improved a few things over the Slate as well.

The new Lefty Oliver is based on the single-crown Lefty Ocho mountain bike fork. It’s lighter, sleeker, easier to service, and compatible with standard headsets. The frame is carbon fiber — the Slate was strictly aluminum. And at the rear is the Topstone’s clever, lightweight Kingpin suspension. Instead of a shock and linkage, it uses a thru-axle pivot on the seat tube that allows the entire back of the frame to flex up to 30mm, like a series of connected leaf springs.

The Topstone Lefty is a sequel that has accomplished the rare task of surpassing the original. If the Slate was “A New Hope,” the Topstone Lefty is “The Empire Strikes Back.” They are “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” “The Terminator” and “T2: Judgment Day,” “Paddington” and “Paddington 2”… you get the idea.

The Topstone Lefty is my current dream bike for tackling all the rough, rock-strewn gravel roads and flowy singletrack in my area. I’d even consider doing short-track mountain bike races on it. There aren’t many gravel bikes like it, and it is sure to be both ridiculously capable and ridiculously fun.

Evil Chamois Hagar

The Evil Chamois Hagar is a gravel bike so progressive that it might make even the Topstone Lefty seem a bit tame. No bike has lit up our company Slack channels as much as the Chamois Hagar. It seems to have the capability to make riders either excited or disgusted, the type of bike that people see and ask, “WTF is that?”

First, I want to address the name. Pure genius. I’m not a Red Rocker fan, but any bike company willing to give a bike such a silly name gets an A-plus in my book. Second, the geometry. It’s beyond modern. With a 66.67-degree head tube angle, 50mm stem, and ultra-long reach, some say it’s as absurd as the name. The head angle is actually slacker than Evil’s trail bike, The Following. Finally, the looks. With stealth-fighter angles and a low-slung mountain bike-inspired top tube, is it ugly? Beautiful? Menacing? I have no clue. Put all this together and you have the recipe for the most interesting and controversial gravel bike of the year.

The Chamois Hagar lacks the suspension of bikes like the Topstone Lefty, Niner MCR, and Lauf Grit, but it has clearance for big 50mm tires that should take the edge off rough roads and complement the aggressive geometry. The inclusion of a dropper post will help get the saddle out of the way when it’s time to blast down fast and gnarly descents.

Evil Chamois Hagar gravel bikeThis Certified Pre-owned Chamois Hagar turned a lot of heads at the TPC warehouse.

It is surprisingly versatile too. There are seven water bottle mounts, stealth rack and fender mounts, and 1x or 2x drivetrain compatibility.

I can’t comment on whether the Chamois Hagar succeeds as a gravel bike. I wonder if it will feel adequately fast for gravel races. I don’t know how far I could push the limit on mountain bike trails before I exceeded the bike’s capabilities. All I know is that I’m painfully curious, and I want one so I can find out.

Transition Spur

In recent years, XC bikes have been changing for the better. Taking cues from modern enduro and trail bikes, XC geometry has been getting more relaxed to handle the demands of more technical trails and race courses. This year saw the release of the most downhill-friendly XC bike to date — the Transition Spur.

It boasts an incredibly slack (for XC) 66-degree head tube angle, steep 75.9-degree seat tube angle, and roomy reach (455mm MD / 480mm LG). The Spur has 120mm of travel front and rear and a complete SRAM X01 build comes in at an impressively light 24.74 pounds.

Modern XC bikes like the Spur are getting closer to the sweet spot I’m looking for. They retain the lightweight and efficient climbing you expect from an XC bike, but give you enough suspension travel and proper geometry to forgive mistakes and tackle gnarly terrain with confidence.

The Spur isn’t a full-on race bike. You’re unlikely to see a World Cup rider race it, and that’s exactly why it’s perfect for us normal people. It’ll get you uphill fast, and be way more fun than most XC bikes on the way back down.

Why did I choose the Spur over the new Specialized Epic Evo? First, I didn’t want two Specialized bikes on this list. Second, the suspension travel and geometry of the Spur is more progressive. It’s half a degree slacker, the seat tube is a degree-and-a-half steeper, it has 20mm more reach, and 10mm more rear travel. Their weight and climbing performance may be comparable but put them head-to-head on a downhill and I would bet on the Spur out-performing the Epic Evo.

Finally, The Spur just looks beautiful. Creating a straight, uninterrupted line with the top tube from head tube to rear axle is, in my opinion, the ideal way to construct a mountain bike frame. Between that, the compact carbon rocker link and angular tube shapes ... It just fills me with desire.

REEB Sqweeb V3 long travel

This is my selfish choice. Why? Well, I actually own this bike, and I’m friends with the people who made it. REEB is a local builder that produces frames in a barn in Lyons, Colorado. With a long history of building capable hardtails, the Sqweeb was the brand’s first foray into full-suspension bikes. The Sqweeb V3, released early this year, is the latest iteration, and it’s better than ever.

The Sqweeb is part of a growing trend in the mountain bike industry. Concerns about overall bike weight are taking a backseat to durability and capability on rough downhills. That’s perfect for riders like me who live for the gnarliest trails.

Then, consider the cool factor. This isn’t a conservative, cookie-cutter bike from a big brand. It’s part of the vanguard of new alloy trail, enduro, and freeride bikes being produced by smaller, progressive builders. The Sqweeb joins options like the Banshee Titan, Commencal Meta AM, RAAW Madonna V2, Pole Stamina, and Privateer 161 — big and beefy aluminum brawlers, ready to take on any trail.

2020 Reeb sqweeb V3 long travel enduro mountain bikeA Sqweeb V3 with the "City Lights" rainbow metallic powder coat.

Better still, the REEB Sqweeb V3 is handmade in America. You can get custom geometry and choose from a catalog of powder coat color options. Stock, it has all the right numbers: 150mm of travel, 64.6-degree head tube (w/ 170mm fork), 76-degree seat tube, and long reach.

The suspension kinematics, stiffness, and traction help hide the weight, and I find climbing on it to be shockingly pleasant. If you’re looking for something sprier, the rear suspension is also modular and can be converted to 130mm of travel.

My new V3 is actually my second Sqweeb, and I’m one of three riders at The Pro’s Closet who owns one. We’re all fans here. It’s a no-nonsense bike that just works. I love that mine was handmade specifically for me. It’s the type of bike I plan to keep for many years, something I don’t do often.

Santa Cruz Heckler

The original Heckler was a classic. It a Santa Cruz staple for 20 years, and the single-pivot suspension design offered simple and affordable trail performance. When Santa Cruz stopped production of its single-pivot bikes in 2016, I hoped that the Heckler might get another chance at life (in name at least) as a VPP equipped bike.

Well, Santa Cruz did bring the Heckler back with VPP, and something else — an electric motor. I know what you’re thinking, and I have my flame suit on for this one. Yes, it’s an e-bike. I was once a skeptic myself. Then I rode an e-bike this summer and became a convert.

The Heckler is a big deal because it’s the first e-bike to come from one of mountain biking’s mid-sized core brands. Santa Cruz specializes in mountain bikes and makes some of the most desirable bikes for everyone from World Cup downhill racers to dirtbag trail jibbers. They have heritage and street cred. Our content marketing manager Spencer Powlison has already gushed about the new Tallboy and Megatower.

Santa Cruz Heckler mountain bike e-bikeThe new Heckler was in demand this year.

Now, they’ve put their reputation behind e-bikes. I've seen plenty of edits featuring riders absolutely ripping on the Heckler. One of my favorite Santa Cruz riders, Ben Cathro, seems to really enjoy using it for trail building and training. It looks like loads of fun, and with Santa Cruz engineering behind it, I have no doubt about its performance and capabilities.

Of course, you expect bigger brands like Giant, Trek, and Specialized to release a few e-bikes. To some, the new electric Heckler probably felt like validation. To others, like a betrayal. To me, it simply felt like a sign of the times. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Santa Cruz Heckler pushes other core mountain bike brands like Yeti, Ibis, and Evil to release e-bikes of their own. Maybe they’re already working on them. Electric mountain bikes are here to stay. We can’t stop it. We can only accept it, and hopefully, we can all get along.

 

Do you agree with this list? Am I right or wrong? What bikes did I miss? Let us know in the comments!


5 comments


  • There is an ebike option?!?

    Ryan on

  • What about the 2020 pivot switchblade ?

    William Rodriguez on

  • I know the Transition Spur is a great “downcountry” bike, but so is the Specialized Epic Evo. The Spur appears to be better going downhill, the Evo a little better climbing. Depends on your priorities, doesn’t it?

    Roger Sears on

  • You put the Aethos on and left the Tarmac SL7 off? Really? Even the author of the article can’t explain why this bike would be on the list. It serves no purpose other than to part wealthy dentists with their money. The aethos is a sucker’s bike; there are far better ultralight bikes on the market for far less money. It was a marketing scam to see if they could use 10 year old technology and frame geometry and upsell it as something special. All marketing, no substance.

    Chris Hendricks on

  • Can you update with prices and an e-bike option? ;)

    John Robb on


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

Newsletter Sign Up