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Sea Otter 2006: SRAMnation v. Generation X-TR

An abundance of wind and rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of either competitors or spectators of the 2006 Sea Otter Classic, though it made for extremely challenging conditions no matter the discipline. For much the same reason we’re drawn to suffer-fests in the form of the Mega-Avalanche or Paris-Roubaix, the conditions made for some of the most exciting bike racing we’ve seen in some time, as the athletes not only competed against each other, but the elements and their own mental strength.

SRAMnationBut the suffering is only one allure of the Classic, the other is the celebration of all things bicycles -- not just mountain, but road as well, drawing the likes of Gerolsteiner’s Levi Leipheimer. What better place for the marketing machine of ‘SRAMnation’ to launch their new Force and Rival road gruppos? As mountain bikers we can surely appreciate what SRAM will likely bring to the table in both performance and customer service. SRAM, SRAM, everywhere a SRAM girl, oh how we love thee -- our favorite ladies with the fire-engine-red, page-boy locks teased us into their lair only to tease us some more exhibiting the new two-piston Avid Juicy Ultimate brakes and a revamped X-9 group. Avid Juicy UltimateThe Ultimate will be Avid’s top XC disc brake offering for 2007 featuring a magnesium master cylinder and carbon fiber lever. Pair that with the one piece forged aluminum caliper with titanium hardware, and you’ve got a Marta-esque 343g brakeset.

As one might expect, the new X-9 trigger shifters take much from their impressive and hugely successful brethren, the X.0. While the zero-loss technology of the X.0 is front-and-center, the X-9 saves the wallet with the lack of carbon and CNC machining. Front and rear X-9 derailleurs were also introduced bearing a strong resemblance to the current X.0 (less the carbon) and X-Gen (less some material) offerings.

With SRAM banners around every corner, and larger-than-life red S-R-A-M letters planted on the dual slalom slope, it was seemingly a SRAM world we were living in. Leave it to Shimano to try to spoil the giant SRAM party.

XTR FreehubFor those of you that hadn’t noticed, Shimano does things at their own pace, with their own swagger. Tucked in a corner of the vendor area, Shimano saw Sea Otter as their opportunity to unveil a revamped XTR group, and the masses responded. XTR has long been the crème-de-la-crème of MTB race gear, and it’s been a few years since its last facelift. Shimano has done so with the flair of an episode of Extreme Makeover. X is the central theme of Shimano’s new XTR campaign. From the white on black ‘X’ wristbands of Walker Ferguson (Scott) and Adam Craig (Giant) to the holographic ‘X’ decals being distributed from the Shimano camp, Shimano was getting the word out. The X represents both XTR, and the calling card of one of the most impressive pieces, the rear derailleur, which features an ‘X’ cut into the parallelogram link. Top-normal and Low-normal (rapid rise) versions will be available to mate with the revamped XTR shifting options.

XTR Dual ReleaseThe SL-M970 shift levers are know as dual-release, or two-way release. These remind us very much of the SRAM X.O, only they offer the option of using all thumbs, or a thumb/index finger combo to operate them -- no adjustment necessary. Options, that’s what Shimano is all about these days. Despite early rumors that Dual Control was dead, it was back in full force -- offering an extremely light, but definite shifting action. Because of this, we’re expecting a much better reception this time around, and we’ll be very curious to give them another shot ourselves. Either shifter option allows you to dump almost half your cassette in one fell swoop if needed.

XTR RimThe XTR wheelset was certainly the prize catch of the group. Flashing a stealth scandium alloy rim with red anodized nipples, the pair is both sexy and an ultralight 1525g (yes, it’s still UST.) They’re every bit sturdy, strong, and fast, thanks to a redesigned titanium freehub that engages 125% faster than the previous incarnation. A 7075 aluminum axle provides a lightweight rigid mount for the wheels. Reviews from a few non-Shimano industry folk who’ve had the opportunity to ride them, were nothing short of glowing.

Friday night, we enjoyed an entertaining evening with Dave Turner at Monterey Joe’s. Conversation covered everything from children to the worst kept secret in the industry, the Turner 29er. To this point, the data has been assimilated, and ideas are in the early stages. Likely it’s going to resemble a 29er form of the Flux, one of the best all-around models in the line. Dave expects to unveil the design at Interbike.

Blue Ventana El FuegoVentana brought nearly the entire staff to Sea Otter -- Sherwood, Teresa, and Jared manned the booth for the official launch of the El Fuego, the XC race flyer, and the Ventana Women’s Mountain Bike Team. The team’s Fuego frames were finished in a gorgeous team powdercoat baby blue. We were doing our best to pitch a convincing argument to add the color as an option for El Fuego. We’ll let you know when we hear the final decision. And, as if we all didn’t know Sherwood ‘McGuyver’ Gibson couldn’t engineer most anything, the official Ventana rain gutter prototype was unveiled in an effort to keep the staff and bikes dry in the persistent rains. We’re unsure of production costs or dates at this time.

Salsa MariachiHappy Anniversary Salsa! Celebrating their 25th Anniversary this year, Salsa introduced a new model, El Mariachi, a 29er Reynolds OX steel single speed hardtail in a limited edition run of 100. The frame is finished in a stunning Fiesta powdercoat -- a Metallic Root Beer/ Pearl White combo if you will. It will be available as a frameset complete with matching rigid steel fork, and stem retailing around $1,200. We’ll surely get our hands on a few, but it’s not difficult to do the math -- they’ll go quick! Rumor has it will be a non-LE El Mariachi available soon.

Speaking of going quick, let’s talk about Formula Formula rotorOro Puro brakes. Amazing. You think what does going ‘quick’ have to do with brakes? Simple, it’s all about modulation. Oro Puro brakes have the greatest modulation of any brakes we’ve ridden. Having the ability to control the modulation to this degree allows us to maintain higher speeds through the corners -- no bull. And they’re light too, 345g/wheel. Not only are they already Cedric’s choice (check out the CG one-off set they presented him at the Otter), but the guys at Formula continue to innovate. CedricThey’ve got a 220mm rotor in the works (no that’s not a typo), that will weigh in no more than their current 200mm by virtue of the aluminum spider. And, they’ve got a clever little retro-fittable clamp for the brake lever that will allow one to mount their X.0 trigger shifters. Sure it’ll save a couple grams, but it’ll allow you to dial in the perfect position for your levers and shifters. It should be available in a month.

Intense TandemThere’s probably no brand that is more synonymous with mountain bikes than Intense -- that’s about to change as Intense previewed its line of road bikes set for 2007. Why? Road bikes are the secret to many of the world’s elite mountain bikers’ strength, including the Intense Factory Team and Chris Kovarik. Nothing gets you stronger faster. The Carbine (aluminum/carbon stays) and Fenix (full carbon) frames looked pretty sweet, though we didn’t get the opportunity to saddle up.

The big news with Intense, however, was the demo Spider 29ers. Being a bit on the small side even for the Medium, I didn’t get to truly appreciate the benefits, but for those that could, the buzz was strong. Needless to say, we’re pretty pumped for our first shipment expected in late June.

Intense JackalA couple of Team Intense riders were seen on a light-DH special creation with more aliases than Carlos the Jackal. Reports from Sea Otter have dubbed it everything from 6.66, S.O.S. (Sea Otter Special – referring to the pedal intensive course), and the 6.Uzzi -- we’re calling it the Jackal. This rig appears to be a blend of a reinforced 6.6 front triangle with a blended rear of the Uzzi seat stays, and 6.6 chainstays and dropouts. The front triangle has an additional gusset at the union of the seat tube and down tube at the bottom bracket, limiting the use of a clamp-style front derailleur. But that’s not important here -- this bike is a tough, yet lightweight race rig, which sure looks to be a bunch of fun. We’ll see if anything develops here.

Titus has a few tricks up their sleeve, but we’ve been sworn to secrecy. Keep an eye on your favorite magazines in the coming months for the full scoop. Trust us -- it’s pretty sharp, so start sockin’ away your pennies now.

BMC was also on hand, offering up demos of their Superstroke model. These were production models, so stock is expected soon. Stay tuned ….