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Sea Otter Classic

Aaron Allen

Monday 18 April 2016

2016 Sea Otter Classic report

The Sea Otter Classic remains a real-world testing ground for handbuilt manufacturers' products and prototypes.

2016 Sea Otter Classic report
Photo: Aaron Allen

Oh Sea Otter, festival of all things bicycle, wind and sunburn, we love you! We made a quick trip down to Sea Otter to ride, have some fun and connect with a few folks we don’t get to see all that often.

Sea Otter started out as a mountain bike festival, and by year 2000 it had grown so big it became the template for all wannabe cycling festivals everywhere in the world. Back in the day, there simply was nothing like it, and really there still isn't. It’s evolved into a gargantuan celebration of all kinds of cycling including the first ever (to our knowledge) Brompton folding bike world championship race (and yes, it was held on the Laguna Seca track!).  There are now road races daily, tons of family oriented activities and of course, true to its roots, it is mountain biking’s biggest weekend.

The expo itself is easily the largest in California, bigger than the Tour of California’s expos and a lot more fun. Quite a few companies are even choosing Sea Otter over Interbike to launch new products and if you’re a smaller company, Sea Otter is a far more reasonable option financially. And since it’s not an industry-specific event, you get to talk to the people who actually buy your products.

The highlight as usual, was the culture and community. Sea Otter, for some, is a pilgrimage. People travel great distances to spend the weekend riding, racing and enjoying the Monterey, Calif. area. If you plan to go, try to get out and explore the area in general. There’s Big Sur to the south, Santa Cruz to the north and more quality riding than you can imagine. It can be logistically intimidating given its size, but that’s easily remedied by good planning. For me, the secret is either camping on site or renting a house in the area with friends. Hotels, not so much, although there are some very nice options.

All photos: Aaron Allen

For us, with our limited time, we were on the hunt for stand-outs. One was Alchemy Cycles’ newest carbon creation, the “Hyas”, a stock geometry, USA made carbon gravel bike. Offering the bike only in stock geometry allows Alchemy to streamline the production process, as well as the actual carbon layup, resulting in a lighter frame. Streamlining the process means lower pricing too, so we all win! Should you require or desire full custom, Alchemy definitely has you covered there in any material you want.

Another standout was Industry Nine’s new centerlock road disc hubs. The shape of these things alone made us swoon. They’ve got their own carbon and alloy rims now and are offering beautiful complete wheelsets for every kind of riding. Industry Nine has insanely fast engagement in the freewheel mechanism and all the candy colors one could ask for. Industry Nine is based in Tennessee and manufacture all their hubs and spokes in-house.

Co-Motion brought the gearbox, belt drive gravel bike we saw at NAHBS and yes, we still kept staring at it! This particular concept for gravel and adventure riding is one to keep an eye on. Personally, I’m expecting gearbox drivetrains to continue to evolve into the market. Co-Motion’s execution of the project was spot-on, as we would expect from these folks, and we’re eager to see where they take us.

Speaking of people, we got to meet Bixby, a dog who’s been traveling the country on a Yuba cargo bike raising money for animal shelters. Clearly Bixby was having a tough day. Check out their story and travels here. Highlight of the weekend for me!

Brooks hosted us on a mixed terrain ride to show of the new C16 carbon-railed Cambium saddle. The Cambium saddles have struck what seems the perfect balance of retro aesthetics and modern performance and materials. There are several versions and they really do look amazing.

Omata launched a new computer that blends analog sensibility with ultra-modern tech. Often dubbed the steampunk computer, we’re impressed with their ability to recognise there was desire for something like this. The computer works extremely well, looks amazing, has incredible battery life and is a testament to this new paradigm of how we enjoy cycling in the modern age. Suddenly we’re remembering that cycling is for fun, pure and simple, and incorporating this new ethos in the design of products is very refreshing. The computer is GPS-enabled and has all the functions you need from a bike computer, but it uses dials instead of a lit screen, thus the amazing battery life.

There were countless others but alas, we had only the day, part of which was admittedly spent riding and socializing with amazing people and friends. If you haven’t gone to Sea Otter, book your flight, make your plans and get ready for a good time next year. See you there!