Photos: Garson Fields
The Sea Otter Classic is a madhouse. Every year, the Laguna Seca Raceway is bombarded by hoards of industry types, representing the gamut from established players to startup brands. Not surprisingly, they’re all vying for the attention of the legions of bike fanatics that are also in attendance.
Over the past week, I witnessed the RockShox Bluto and Borealis Echo both leading the charge of fat bikes departing the realm of snow, while E-bikes set upon solidifying their presence in the market. And while the latter’s sheer presence in the pits made the case, the proof came mid-climb from an old man with a rat tail and cargo shorts blazing past our group of pro license holders without even breaking a sweat. This scene repeated itself throughout the weekend, pointing to a growing interest in E-bikes on the part of average riders. Like it or not, those things are going to be big.
Nevertheless, there were a handful of obvious standouts worthy of getting excited about. In no particular order, here’s a list of my top five products at Sea Otter this year.
With a standout paintjob, which I’m reserved to calling Barbie’s Revenge, the new Nomad was arguably the most talked about bike of the show. But even if you opt for the stealth black version, choosing performance over blatant aesthetics, the Nomad is among the most capable long-travel trail bikes on the market.
The handing is incredibly close to Santa Cruz’s V10 downhill race bike, but with a comfortable cockpit position and efficient suspension, even our XC-oriented testers were impressed with its all-day-ride worthiness. And when you factor in the spectacular finishing and well-executed details, I’m inclined to consider this the new leader in the ultra-aggressive trail bike category.
With some serious competition in the trail fork segment, it’s safe to say that FOX Racing Shox has been feeling the heat as of late. However, the new FOX 36 aims to reset the balance in FOX’s favor. Like the previous 36, you’ll find an RC2 adjustment scheme that provides independent high- and low-speed compression adjustment, rather than the simplified CTD adjusters that are found on the rest of FOX’s single crown forks.
A lower friction damper and redesigned air spring promise greater small-bump sensitivity, while the dropout spacers give you the option to run either a 15mm or 20mm bolt-on axle. But the biggest news is that it’s available for all three of today’s wheel sizes. And when you factor in that it’s actually lighter than the current FLOAT 34, it becomes obvious that FOX is back to top form.
It’s hard to overstate the appeal of Kitsbow’s clothing. Between the industry-leading materials and refined cuts, the California brand has pretty much cornered the market for classy, top-tier mountain apparel. So, knowing this, it really wasn’t surprising that I was so taken with its new Wind Jacket and Vest.
The DWR-treated poly shell fabric shared on both pieces is crazy soft, windproof, and amply packable. Meanwhile, the Wind Vest employs a mesh panel at the small of the back, making it perfect for in-between weather days. The Jacket, on the other hand, opts for more protection, sealed cuffs, and two zippered rear storage pockets. Whichever one you choose, the subtle colors and beautiful construction will have you reaching for it whenever weather threatens your ride.
Disc brakes for road bikes are here to stay. What’s still uncertain, though, is what axle standard will prevail, especially given that all signs point to standard quick-releases making a hasty exit. Industry Nine’s Torch Road Disc Hubs address this issue by being easily convertible from QR to every contending thru-axle standard that I know of.
This isn’t even mentioning how beautiful they are, let alone that they’re built in North Carolina. Laced with straight-pull bladed steel spokes to a specially designed carbon fiber clincher rim, they’re plenty durable for a season of cyclocross thrashing, while remaining competitively lightweight for road racing. Although I don’t have official weights just yet, these things felt rather feathery. Definitely looking forward to their release.
This one is kind of a big deal. Shimano fans have been wondering for the past year when the Japanese masterminds would bring 11-speed drivetrains to the dirt. And, well, it’s finally here. The 11-40t cassette spread doesn’t have quite the range of its primary competitor, XX1, with the upshot being smaller jumps between gears. The cassette runs on a standard 10-speed Shimano freehub, which is awesome, because it means that you won’t have to replace your current wheelset in order to upgrade.
And unlike XX1, the crankset comes in single, double, and triple chainring configurations. Shimano’s logic is that those needing a wider range than a one-by provides are better suited to a double chainring drivetrain. Naturally, it’s complimented by a redesigned front derailleur, which is optimized for use on suspension bikes with tight clearance. This is the latest salvo fired in what has become an all-out drivetrain war, and thankfully, riders are finally the ones who are going to benefit.
– Santa Cruz Nomad – * Same Model At the Show
– Shimano XTR – * Current Version