What We Saw at Sea Otter 2016
Love it or hate it, the Sea Otter Classic is an institution. Every year racers, industry types, and fans of the sport flock to the heart of Laguna Seca raceway for a long weekend of spectating, racing, and laying eyes on the year’s new product. While some things don’t change, like the fire road-heavy XC race, or arguably the year’s best dual slalom course, each edition brings with it new gear and showpieces vying for a slice of the attendees’ limited attention spans. It’s impossible to capture everything, but here’s a selection of hardware that stood out among the madness of Sea Otter.
This one is kind of a big deal. After much anticipation, Shimano has brought its electronic Di2 shifting to the workhorse XT groupset. While the shifters share everything but branding with the XTR unit, the rear derailleur maintains the current XT form language, with a few extra grams worth of weight penalty. Pricing is set to be in line with the current XTR mechanical group, with the upshot being shift precision that is well and truly a step above the best mechanical drivetrains.
There wasn’t a ton of new road product to be found, but Industry Nine’s centerlock Torch hubs were one of the highlights. Laced up with a Reynolds carbon rim, they promise to be one of the nicer options for those who venture off of the pristine tarmac in pursuit of something a little more rugged. And it would have been a shame to pass up a photo op with their Big Rig fatbike wheelset, done up with a custom rainbow lace job.
There were a few contenders, but in the end, Santa Cruz easily took the title for best bike hauler in show.
It drew enough attention to nearly eclipse the other standout at the booth, the Chris King 40th anniversary edition 5010. One of the Santa Cruz employees said it best, “it’s one of the only bikes that’s going to look better when it’s muddy.” On the other end of the spectrum, it was hard to miss Dave Cullinan’s Troy Lee Designs painted 5010 at the TLD booth. It’s bright, flashy, and dressed to the nines – perfect for one of the most stylish racers ever to do it.
Abbey Bike Tools
While bikes and components tended to steal the spotlight, this new bearing press from Abbey Bike Tools jumped out and caught my attention. Between the tapered cone that eliminates the need for spacers, the magnetic split nut that saves a few seconds on setup, and captured bearings beneath the handle, it should make for nearly effortless headset and bottom bracket installations. And of course, it’s built by Abbey, so it’s finished beautifully. And for those who prefer a less polished aesthetic for their tool bench, the raw Crombie tool and chain whip would make a nice addition.
The Race Face Next SL crankset has been a staple of gram-counters for a few years now, and the latest version sheds even more weight and, allegedly, retains 100% of the strength and stiffness of the original. Slimmed down arms and a carbon chain ring carrier get the entire package down to 440g with a 32t chain ring.
The new road line from Kitsbow is clean and well thought out, just as you’d expect. The jerseys are pretty simple with a refined cut and some subtle contrast, but the bib shorts were easily the highlight. Polartec compression fabric, coldblack® treatment, UPF50 rating, a stow pocket at the small of the back and flush trash pockets at the hem, all in Kitsbow’s signature fit. But the best part? They’re priced very reasonably at $179.
Pivot rolled into the show with a new version of the LES in tow, and first ride reports indicate that it’s more capable, without sacrificing its race-ready demeanor. Boost spacing, 27 Plus compatibility, and relaxed geometry make for a hardtail that will do double duty as a race bike and trail bike without flinching.
Fox Racing Shox
FOX had its new Step-Cast 32 cross country race fork on display, and in addition to being obnoxiously orange, it’s also startlingly lightweight. But the star of the booth had to be the sweet café racer. In a word, clean.
Best In Show
There was a ton of cool stuff to be seen, but for me, the three highlights of the show were all two wheeled passion projects. In no particular order:
Zanconato Custom Plus Hardtail
Massachusetts frame builder Mike Zanconato whipped up this sweet Plus-compatible hardtail for Ken Avery of Vittoria Tires as a test bed for some new rubber. With the retro splatter paintjob from Hot Tubes, this was easily one of the standouts at Sea Otter.
Intense Cycles Custom Tracer T275
The Tracer T275 remains thankfully unchanged this year, so Intense opted for another strategy to get some attention – this wild hand painted frame. If there was a cohesive theme among the doodling, I’ve yet to grasp it, but the attention to detail earned it a gaggle of admirers all weekend long.
’90s Yeti Refurb
With all the new gear on display, it was a surprise to see this pristine vintage Yeti among the crowds. The owner was kind enough to let me snap a photo of this stunner, dressed in a period correct build kit that included a 1st generation XTR drivetrain, Cook Brothers cranks, TNT hubs, and Answer ATAC stem. However, I neglected to grab the model name, and my knowledge of vintage Yetis isn’t as complete as it could be. It’s steel, so it’s not an ARC, and the sleeved seat tube means it’s not an F.R.O. If anyone knows what it is, please let us know in the comments.