Sea Otter was a much needed breather

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

I thought hard about whether I should make a trip to Sea Otter this year.

No doubt last year’s inaugural e-bike race at one of America’s premier bike festivals was fun, but I could really use a day off, especially after what turned out to be an intense Saturday in Berkeley.

So I somewhat reluctantly made the drive down to Laguna Seca and in the end, I am glad I did.

As I walked toward the entrance, a friend I haven’t seen since InterBike came out of nowhere and we spent 10 minutes catching up as we treaded closer to the blue overpass. The conversation ranged from kids, life, and a bit of bikes.

Pretty spontaneous but it felt like family.

Once over the blue overpass, my initial plan of attack was to fly under the radar around the expo as long as I could. However, just like my previous conversation, my hopes of staying down low was all but evaporated within five minutes into the expo when I walked by the Boyd booth.

Old pal Richard was there showing them hoops with a couple of Factor O2s, industry chatters…

Want. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Somewhere along the way, test rides were offered but since I only had a day there, that just couldn’t happen. With more than 400 exhibitors, even quick drive-by booth visits quickly added up to a significant chunk of time as I jumped between the seemingly sprawling booths and race venues that littered within and outside the famed corkscrew race course.

As cheery racers went to claim their podiums from the day’s criterium and enduro races one after another, I slowly came to realize that Sea Otter is more than racing and new products.

Up and personal. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

It’s a family gathering of all disciplines where little rippers can share pump track tips with their older brother-in-arms of whom they’ve only seen in YouTube videos; Where aspiring cross-country racers in USA Talent ID jerseys rub shoulders with GT’s Anneke Beerten as Brett Tippie goofs around while filming his latest Just The Tip segment; And eBikes getting along with just about everyone, including them electric surfboards.

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

In it, I find myself a brief reprieve from the constant barrage of what’s happening around the world.  The feeling where you’re so thirsty and suddenly the GU booth just magically appears like a desert oasis on the horizon, along with all the food samples and drinks you can have.

And I am not even mad about falling into one of the many gopher holes, or, as one of my teammates joked, bomb holes that lined the dual slalom course.

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

With that in mind, perhaps I should treat next year’s Sea Otter as if I was coming home for Thanksgiving.

Until next year. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

A quick Sea Otter pictorial

I could write more about Sea Otter but pictures are way better than words. Enjoy the partly random, partly happy snaps along the way!

If it weren’t for these guys, parking on Wolf Hill would have been a giant mess. Thanks! Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
It’s all calm here but I saw one raging off road later in the afternoon. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
One of the handful of Factor O2’s currently in the U.S. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Kogel Bearings and their impressive lineup of bearings, pulleys, and bottom brackets. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
3D-printed Spoke Fins from Null Winds Technology are said to reduce drag on your existing wheels by as much as 67%. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
This HPC Revolution e-downhill bike is hand-welded one by one in Los Angeles, fully customizable including a drivetrain capable of going as fast as 60mph and a high-capacity battery cell for up to 100miles in one charge. Ultimate beast mode? Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
This Easton Cinch spindle power meter system sure got everyone talking. With the power measurement unit fully contained within the spindle, the $600, 65-gram power meter spindle will be compatible with existing Cinch crank arms and all the chain ring combos such at these here. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Sure, the 875g (paint included) Specialized S-Works Epic Hardtail in the back of this photo is jaw-droppingly light, but I like this one better. Just think of all the history behind this bike. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
WTB dropped some new treads at Sea Otter too. Here’s their new Byway Road Plus TCS tire for the growing 650 gravel road crowd. Decent amount of side knobs for traction while the smooth rolling center keeps the ride on the trail way more tolerable. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Hydrate or die. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Emily Batty out doing her course recon. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Secretly stashed inside the bus booth was the only GameChanger aero helmet in the U.S. It’s only available in Europe for the time being but they may just bring it stateside before you know it. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Enduro practice session. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Just when you think there’s nothing else new with taillights, Cateye dropped this Rapid X2 Kinetic (left) with a built-in accelerometer that automatically changes from blinking to solid red whenever deceleration is detected. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Prominently displayed at the OneUp Components booth was their new EDC tool system that utilizes all that space within your oversized (alloy) steer tube. With a very well thought out minitool that comes with 8mm which is relatively rare for a tool that size, chain, tire tools and option of either a pump or a CO2, what’s not to like? Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
At first glance, these gloves from Showers Pass looked similar to your normal liner gloves. But no, they are waterproof and plush without being excessively bulky. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
There were a good number of eBikes at Sea Otter again this year but there was a lot to be liked on this e-Cargo bike from Riese & Müller: Full suspension for comfort and additional traction, integrated Abus lock, the ability to mount a second battery to double its range, and a variety of options to customize the cargo area from double child seats to a higher sidewall for hauling more groceries. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Normally it’s hard to sit and write about kids bikes but Islabikes caught my attention with their new Pro line of high-performance kids bikes. Here, the Cnoc 16 came stock with a carbon fork, TRP v-brakes, titanium-spindled pedals, 185tpi folding tires, smaller-diameter grips and brakes for the little one. And weighing in at a little over 10lbs, the Cnoc will probably save the lower backs of many parents, too. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
#quoteoftheday Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Fat Chance is back! Fresh at the show was Chris’ new model, the Chris Cross. It’s Chris’ utilitarian take on cross, gravel, and bike packing. The beautifully-painted steel frame uses a mix of Columbus and Reynolds tubings and it’s handmade one by one in the U.S. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
The all-new Ibis Ripley LS, now with longer travel along with the usual sharp paint job. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Dubbed as an inner-tire suspension system, the CushCore is a circular-shaped engineering foam that goes inside your tire and is said to improve traction and stability while providing a layer of protection against flats. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Love the paint job on this Santa Cruz Hightower. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
See ya next year! Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

EBike Racing: You Still Have to Pedal, Dude

Beer handup gone wrong. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Beer handup gone wrong. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Still need the skills to know how to ride an eBike, and you can get a solid workout riding one, just like hardcore commuting. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

In case you're wondering. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

In case you're wondering. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Moto-inspired handguards for #32. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Moto-inspired handguards for #32. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Carl Decker of the Giant Factory Off-Road Racing Team racing opted to do the eMTB race on a regular bike. No big deal. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

'merica. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

'merica. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Unfortunately the Yeti had a flat tire.

Unfortunately the Yeti had a flat tire. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Group discussion on the preliminary results. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Group discussion about the preliminary results. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Christoph Sauser getting high-fives at the finish after winning the inaugural Sea Otter Classic eMTB race. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Waiting for the award ceremony. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Waiting for the award ceremony. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Turns out the best photo spot at Sea Otter was the parking lot. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

“Hey the gas station is right over there!” screams one heckler at the inaugural  Sea Otter Classic eMTB bike race.

As polarizing as the opinions of eBikes are here in the States, I honestly thought the eMTB race was highly entertaining … What’s not to love when people are racing their brains out for an hour trying to put in as many laps as they could?

Plus, it dawned on me that eBike racing is very much like cyclocross of years past: Some thought Cross was silly, a European thing. Races weren’t sanctioned and super hip.

No one laughs at cyclocross now. Heck, there’s even a Cross race at Sea Otter, months after the regular cross season had ended. It’s that popular.

But let’s go back to the scene of the eMTB race. On the serious end of business, Christoph Sauser won the race. Yes, the former world cross country champ Sauser from Switzerland riding a brand new Specialized Turbo Levo FSR. Gorgeous looking bike.

A new Specialized Turbo Levo FSR on course. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A new Specialized Turbo Levo FSR on course. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

The best part of the race, though, were the characters involved: The guy riding an e-downhill bike in what is essentially a cross-country criterium; another rider with motocross-inspired hand guards; racers in full spandex/racers in jeans and t-shirts; Yuri Hauswald racing the industry challenge in a furry Yeti suit; and a shoutout to Carl Decker (Giant Factory Off-Road Racing Team) who was competing on a regular bike.

And it was a blast for the over 100 registered racers and the handful of spectators (some offering beer handups to the riders). Sure, there were a bunch of mechanicals ranging from a busted chain, flats, and someone complaining about not being able to turn on his bike’s turbo assist mode. But the vibe was just like cyclocross in the early days: minimal rules and a whole lot of fun.

That, my friend, is a whole new racing category in its infancy. Similar to enduro, whether or not you agree with the concept of eBikes (or eBike racing), it’s a matter of time that your local race will have a dedicated eBike category.

Which brings the question of why all the hate and pushback? If we can accept full suspension, new axle standards every other month and embrace enduro/gravel so quickly then why can’t we accept eBike into the family?

eBike is not going to take over the world. And just like commuter bikes, they’re not for everyone. Road/trail access will get sorted out and someone will always be unhappy, but such is life.

So don’t knock it until you tried one.