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Sea Otter 2009: Racing Gets Top Billing

The big news at Sea Otter this year is that there wasn’t much big news. In recent years, many companies have used the event as an opportunity to unveil their projects to the cycling community — almost another Interbike (only far cooler). While we know industry giants SRAM and Shimano have huge new mountain bike product developments in the hopper, they chose not to launch them at this year’s Sea Otter. Is this a by-product of the economy? We’re not really sure, but it was sure interesting to experience in and of itself.

We found few surprises in the manufacturer expo area, but we were able to get hands-on and up close with a few hot new products. After making multiple laps through the expo, we realized the bulk of action was not happening there. It’s amazing how many industry folks make the trip to Sea Otter to check out new products, show their wares and conduct meetings, but how few of them watch any of the racing going on all around. World Class athletes like Levi Leipheimer, Sam Hill, and Christoph Sauser all were on the race courses throwing down. How often do we get to see great champions of such varied disciplines in the same weekend? We feel a little ashamed that often we are too pre-occupied with the nuts and bolts of bikes at this event rather than the lifeblood of our sport. We’ll start by giving them props:

Todd Wells crushed the Pro Men’s Short Track XC field on his new carbon 29’er from the start.

Sam Hill ran wide open on the dual slalom hill taking the top podium spot over a stacked pro field.

Intense was in full force supporting the race teams as well as showing off their recently introduced Intense 951 FRO downhill race rig. Jeff Steber, Intense brain trust, was kind enough to talk us through the finer points of one of his latest creations.

The Turner DHR is no longer vapor ware — as the Turner booth displayed several 2010 DHR prototypes. Dave Turner was letting key riders and customers flog them on the DH course in order to gain some general feedback before putting the frame into final production. We will have more news on this when we can pry a true ETA and specs for the DHR from Dave.

We were pleased to see several of the new Santa Cruz Blur LT Carbon frames built up and demo-ed by the media folk. The frames are expected to arrive at Santa Cruz in June. All of the bikes were set up with an all new Rock Shox Revelation Team featuring 150mm of travel and tapered head tube to match the Blur LTC. According to our contacts, the 2010 Revelation Team with Maxle Lite 20mm thru axle is actually lighter than the Fox Talas RLC with QR15 axle. Of course we will be putting these on the scale ourselves once they are both available in mid-May. We were able to tear Mike Ferrentino away from his busy press schedule to give us the lowdown, despite being heckled by Swobo’s Tim Parr, standing behind the camera, during his delivery. Hear it for yourself straight from Mike — the Blur LT Carbon is the strongest and most rigid frame they have ever produced! Is it June yet?

One of the few companies we can always count on to show off new wares is Fox Racing Shox. They had their full 2010 line up on display. The notable new offerings are the QR15 F29 RLC (finally!) and the 32 Talas 150 QR15 with tapered steerer, which will be a perfect mate for the new Blur LT Carbon. According to Fox, the tapered steerer tube has only nominal weight gain over the 1 1/8′ forks. With stiffness of a 1.5′ steerer, relatively no added weight and carte blanche when it comes to stem choices, the tapered steerer forks will be the got to option for 1.5′ steerer tube frames this year. All RLC models will have new fit damping cartridge for 2010. One of the Fox gurus gave us the inside scoop on the lighter (70 to 120g depending on model), smoother damper cartridge.

Tinkerer and artisan Sherwood Gibson of Ventana Mountain Bikes USA has been working on a belt drive system. The dropout system is a proprietary design, and it drips with the handmade details, craftsmanship and quality we’ve come to expect of Ventana. The chain ring and cogs are compliments of Carbon-Sports. The system will shed serious grams over the standard Ventana single speed frame (El Toro or El Commandante) with eccentric bottom brackets. Quiet, indestructible, and unique, what else could a single speeder want?

With the weather forecast calling for abundant sunshine all weekend there was no wonder this year seemed like the Sea Otter was crawling with families pushing along toddlers on bikes and shaggy hair, tight-pant-wearing teen-agers out making use of the multitude of courses, jumps and obstacles, and waiting in line for autographs of their favorite pros. This combined with a lack of huge marketing pushes by many of the major manufactures gave this year’s event a unique feel.