Racing – Bike Intelligencer All bike, all the time Wed, 11 Nov 2015 18:11:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sea Otter Classic 2015: Orange is the new black Wed, 13 May 2015 21:49:55 +0000 Yowch, it hurt our eyes...

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At Sea Otter this year, we couldn’t help but notice the predominance of one color.

It was everywhere. Shoes, helmets, wheels, clothing. Even Brian Lopes was riding it on a bike.







Orange. We used to snicker at orange stuff. The first orange bike we remember seeing was from a British company. Named Orange Bikes.

Yowch, it hurt our eyes. The only good thing we could think was, at least the hunters won’t have an excuse for confusing us with deer.

At Sea Otter, we began to wonder if there was anything new that wasn’t orange. Helmets, grips, shorts, shoes, saddles, stems.

You wouldn’t find this much orange at a prison roll call.

Then, recently our best riding buddy got an orange Rocky Mountain Instinct. And we have to admit, it grew on us.

Kind of like green mold. Only orange.

We’ve evolved to the point where we actually like orange on bikes. In moderation.

We’re not ready to call orange the new black. But maybe it’s the new gold. Suitable for highlights, judicious bi-coloring, whatever. Spacers, pedal caps, hubs.

At least it isn’t as bad as last year’s dominant color: aqua. Now that we just couldn’t take.

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The Art of the Mountain Bike Demo Sun, 12 Apr 2015 04:01:56 +0000 A few things to keep in mind...

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Living in Santa Cruz, you almost don’t have to own a mountain bike. Just about any day of the week, you can demo the best bikes on the planet: Santa Cruz, Ibis, Intense, Yeti, Trek, Specialized.

Which is a good thing. With bikes like these going for $6,000 to $10,000 or more, you kinda wanna get a feel for how they ride before you buy.

But there is an art to the demo. And a respect as well.

The first thing to remember is keep it as short as possible. Others are waiting in line. This obviously doesn’t apply to demos where you’re paying for the privilege, but in most cases you’ll be much appreciated for consideration of the next rider.

Don’t be surprised, though, if demo bikes aren’t all new and shiny. A lot of the time they’re kinda beat up. Face it, there’s not much down time for fixing, refurbing, replacing. When they’re not being ridden, they’re being transported in a truck somewhere.

As a result, over time the bike’s parts and performance really suffer. Shocks lose the butter and become hard to tune. Tires go bald. Pivots start creaking.

Demo'ing a new Instinct 29er

With Tyler at Rocky Mountain demo booth

It’s a shame, because ideally, demo bikes should all be top-of-the-line, brand new, totally pimped out rides.

Think about it: You ride a $10,000 demo bike, you’re going to be blown away no matter what its idiosyncrasies. You’re going to want one. And if that means going for the $3,500 “special blend” instead of the one you rode, then that’s OK. Because it’ll always be in your mind that you can upgrade or tweak the bike to ride like the demo.

Instead, demo bikes often get the cheap builds. I guess I can see why: They’re cheaper if they get trashed or broken. But it’s counterproductive in the long run.

If you demo a TOL carbon frame with cheap components, and it’s been pounded on for a few weeks, my experience is that bike is not going to impress.

I had a sobering reminder of all this when demo’ing Ibis’ new HD3 three times over the space of a few weeks. Yeah, I know: I’m lucky. I live less than two miles from Ibis headquarters.

My first ride just blew me away. Everything was new, of course, and worked the way new stuff does. Wow, I could climb and rail my favorite haunts like never before. The tires were grippy. The shocks were plush. The drivetrain shifted like a Ferrari.

Four or five weeks later, the same bike wasn’t so rockin’. Everything was pretty worn in, or worn out. You can’t make an HD3 ride bad, but compared to a brand new HD3, this bike was a hurtin’ puppy. Put it next to a newly outfitted competitor like the Mach 6, say, or Intense T275c, and it would suffer by comparison.

All I’m saying is that when demo’ing, try to get a well-maintained bike. And if you can’t, take into account the wear factor. Cut the bike some slack if it’s a bit trashed. It’d be a better ride if it was yours.

You’re also going to want a demo to-do list. Because you can’t, or at least I can’t, keep all the pointers in mind when I prep the demo.

I put together the checklist after discovering there’s a big difference between just riding a bike, and riding a bike as if it were your own. In the former instance, you hop on and take off. You might make adjustments during the ride, but probably not. You basically just want to ride! So you ignore things that on your own bike would drive you nuts.

If you’re serious about buying the bike, though, you’ll want to take care of the tweaks before leaving the demo pit. Here’s some things to look at:

1. Sizing. Make sure you get the right size. Figuring that out is not as easy as it used to be because the new enduro-influenced breed, with its stretched top tubes, steep seat and slack head angles, and short chain stays all mean a former M may be an L and an L may be XL. You’ll be assigned a certain bike size based on your height, but that’s no longer the best rule of thumb. Instead, you need to sit on the bike and figure out what feels comfortable.

2. Shock sag. They’ll set it by your weight, but again, your preferences may vary. Give it the lean-and-push test to dial the sag where you want it. (This admittedly might take a bit of riding to figure out, though.) Good demo staff will get the sag set up right before you take off.

3. Tire pressure. Again, check to match your preference. Most demo bikes are pumped up way too hard.

4. Saddle fiddling. Height adjustment isn’t a biggie any more because of droppable seat posts. But position and tilt of the saddle is. This again can make a huge difference in the enduro platform. I’ve gotten bikes (especially Pivots, due to laid-back seat angle) where the saddle is slammed all the way forward. Or tilted slightly upward. Other times the saddle is pushed back and the nose tilted down. I myself like a level saddle centered on the post, where possible, because it makes apples-to-apples comparison easier for other bike geometries. This adjustment is especially key because if you get out on the ride without the right wrenches, you won’t be able to make any tweaks and your demo quality will suffer.

The other thing to check is nose alignment with the stem. I’m always amazed at how far out of line the saddle can be on a demo bike. And a few degrees can really throw off the bike’s ride feel.

5. Brakes. Check to make sure they’re adjusted properly, and there’s no rotor drag.

6. A way to record your experience. For referencing, you’ll want to make a record of component brands and stats, like width and style of handlebars, length and rise of stem, brand and model of suspension, etc. etc. I enter them into a list on my iPhone, but speaking them into the phone mic also works, or just use pencil and paper.

7. One additional way of keeping a record is to take along your GoPro or helmet cam and speak into it as you ride, a running real-time record of your impressions. Kinda geeky I know, but I’ve found it useful not only for documenting but also for on-the-bike reviews at my blog.

For all the above reasons, it’s handy to take the following equipment along on a demo:

Allen wrenches
Shock pump
Tire pump
Smart phone
Camera/action cam

Along with your other usual gear of course.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, the most important facet of the demo is the ride itself. Be sure to stretch the bike, take it challenging places, do interesting things. Most of all, have fun! If the demo bike isn’t more fun than riding your own bike, after all, you’ve wasted your and the bike maker’s time.

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10 New Exciting Things We Hope for Sea Otter Classic 2015 Tue, 24 Feb 2015 18:05:13 +0000 Schlepping the aisles for the good stuff.

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See ya there!




Each year, Sea Otter marks the de facto coming out party for bike debutantes, from lightweight accessories to trendy builds. That’s why we like to go early. You can see all the new stuff, talk to the vendors, and get a feel for where the industry is headed.

We don’t have any crystal balls around here. But that doesn’t stop us from using our imaginations to conjure up what we’d like to see at Sea Otter 2015, running from April 16 through 19 at the spacious Laguna Seca grounds near Monterey. Here’s our Top 10 wish list:

1. Wide-rim tires. Wide and super wide carbon rims are all the rage, with good reason. They’re stiffer. They offer lower psi for better cornering, climbing and overall traction. They’re more stable and predictable . They look cool. The only problem comes with the tires. Their knob patterns weren’t designed for low pressure and squashed profiles. We’re sure hoping to see a new category of wide-specific tires from leading manufacturers like Schwalbe, Maxxis, Continental and Specialized. Who knows, maybe one of the lesser known brands or even a startup might debut something cool.

2. Customizable Fox rear shock. Fox is being left in the innovative dust by RockShox and Cane Creek, and X-Fusion is coming on strong as a like-for-like competitor. We expect a resounding Fox answer to the DB Inline’s and Monarch DebonAir’s fine-tune capabilities.

3. Longer, lower, slacker 29ers. A huge boost from BIKE magazine’s annual Bible of Tests put Evil’s new Following 29er at the top of the forum buzz list. Early adopters are raving about The Following’s go-big performance characteristics, bringing enduro and even bike park handling to the big hoops. Seattle-based Evil isn’t listed among exhibitors (as of this writing) but we’re hoping it will still have some presence at Otter. Given the ungodly demand, it may be asking too much for bikes in a demo pit, but failing that, at least a Following or two to ogle and drool over.

4. A Santa Cruz Bicycles reboot. It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since Santa Cruz rocked Otter with the amazingly lightweight, fast, and cool-looking carbon Bronson. It was the bike that lit the fire on 27.5, which today is fast becoming the dominant mountain bike platform. But two whole years in the bike biz, coupled with advances in geometry and shock tech since then, has the Bronson looking a bit long in tooth. Santa Cruz needs an answer to Ibis’ hot new HD3, and a Bronson update seems like the logical path — as would, on the 29er side, a Tallboy refresh. For that matter, the 5010 may get a goose. Or equivalents — Santa Cruz sometimes just comes out with a whole new bike rather than a 2.0 or 3.0.

5. Something big from SRAM. There are a number of possibilities here, and as a Presenting Sponsor SRAM will have huge presence at Otter. Here’s what we’re thinking: Entries into the super-wide carbon wheel category, where SRAM is noticeably absent; a direct-mount chainring setup similar to Race Face’s Cinch technology; a lighter, hollow carbon crankset update of its XX and XO cranks, again in response to Race Face’s Next SL. And SRAM could have something completely new up its sleeve, too. One to watch for sure.

6. Ripley 2. There’s no fanboys like Ibis fanboys, and we’ve been agitating for a longer, lower, slacker Ripley for some time. Like, say, The Following. With Ibis scrambling to fill HD3 backlogs, a Ripley upgrade might not be in the cards. But we’re blue-skying here and would love to see such a thing.

7. Boost 148 axle/hubs. The rapid adoption of 27.5, coupled with continued popularity of 29ers, has the hub folks all in a lather to widen and stiffen axles. Trek already is offering this wider standard, and Industry 9 has a set as well. This one’s a bit controversial, as it poses numerous thorny implications for bike design overall. I mean, I already rub the chain stays too much. But we’re eager to see and maybe even demo the stuff up close.

8. Hemp clothing. Hemp is wool without the pain. You can re-wear it without washing (till it stands upright on its own!), it’s more durable than wool, it’s cheaper and it offers the same insulating qualities (warm in cold weather, cool in hot weather) without getting clammy from sweat. Most of all, it’s a natural fiber. We went over to wool a few seasons back and have dumped all our synthetics. Most cycling garb still is predominantly polyester and we’d love to see hemp get into the bike clothing game.

9. POV camera mounts/selfie help. While we still enjoy mtb videos, minute after minute of a bouncing noodle of dirt has gotten old. We’ll be looking for innovations in camera mounts like the rear axle mount we’ve seen on some recent vids. But what’s really coming on strong is multiple-camera selfies. Multiple cameras allow side shots, trail-level action and other points of view to augment the on-bike footage. (Sure you can use the same camera for different POV but that’s more time and trouble, and we’ve got 3 cams sitting around anyway.) GoPro’s booth is always buzzing at Sea Otter and we’ll be looking for the latest gizmos there. Keep an eye out for drones. We love those overhead shots of mtb crickets bouncing along the landscape!

10. The Unexpected. We can’t imagine what else might turn up in the aisles. But we love surprises and figure the Sea Otter Classic is the place you can most expect the unexpected. See ya there!

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Sea Otter Classic 2015: Wide tire watch Tue, 23 Dec 2014 05:01:44 +0000 Will there be an explosion in wide-carbon-rim tires?

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It’s early yet I know, but I’m wondering if the Sea Otter Classic 2015 festival won’t feature a wide rollout of new fattie-specific tires for the super-wide carbon rims being offered by Ibis, Derby, Specialized and others.

Here’s why:

The “fattie” rims are catching on. I ride around Santa Cruz, and they’re on virtually all the new bikes folks are riding, from not only Ibis but Santa Cruz, Intense, Yeti and others.

The issue being this: Existing tires are made for narrower rims.

Fattie rims allow lower air pressure for greater traction. But they spread the tires out. This increases traction simply from greater tire footprint. But the tread pattern on traditional tires doesn’t typically match up to the fatter, flatter profile of the tire.

The workaround so far has been, choose a tire with a round rather than square, or aggressively side-knobbed, tread pattern. The typical choice for winter (wet, muddy, soft-surface) riding has been the Maxxis High Roller IIs or Minion DHFs.

They’re stout tires with burly side casings that work well for navigating the slop. But they won’t be the first choice for spring and summer riding once things dry out.

The small-block tires, Maxxis Ikons, Schwalbe Racing Ralphs, Kenda Small Block 8s, have a round profile. And their shallower tread is great for ripping the berms in summertime.

But they have flimsier sidewalls that tend to flop under low pressure. You have to air them up to keep them stable at speed on berms and corners.

That’s why we’re guessing
the tire industry will come up with new lines for the super-wide carbon rims. And Sea Otter 2015 seems the perfect place to roll them out.

We’ll be there, and watching…

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6 Things We Did NOT See at Sea Otter 2014 Thu, 17 Apr 2014 20:23:32 +0000 Honoring the passing of some great MTB traditions...

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We got to see lots of cool stuff at this year’s Sea Otter Classic. And ride it, too. And talk about it with cool people like Jeff Steber and Richard Cunningham.

DVDisDEADMost of the things we suspected we’d see were there: Smith Optics’ new Forefront helmet, Specialized’s new 27.5 Stumpjumper, Intense’s new Tracer T275, Ibis’ ultra new ultra-wide carbon wheels, RockShox’s new RS-1 inverted fork, and on and on.

But there were a few things we didn’t see at Sea Otter. And it was more the things we DIDN’T see that told tales about where the mountain biking industry is right now.

Here’s a quick rundown:

1. Big hit bikes. The triple-crown, coil-shock boingers we used to prowling the concourse are gone. Granted, Sea Otter’s courses aren’t the right venue for long travel DH. But it used to be the pros and wannabes would be out there flashing the full-on kit at Otter.

Instead we saw a lot of 27.5s in the medium-travel range — so-called enduro bikes. They’re all the rage now, but even if 27.5 had never happened, the trend toward lighter, more agile gear has been cannibalizing the barcaloungers for some time. DH bikes these days are aiming for the low 30s — the former domain of freeride and all-mountain. We don’t even hear the term “freeride” any more either. It’s all enduro and all-mountain — with weights in the mid- to upper 20s, my friend.

2. Affordability. With $3,500 wheelsets (ENVE), $2,000 forks (RockShox) and framesets blowing past the $3,000 threshold (everyone), the bike industry seems to be testing the psychological limits of sticker shock. When will riders say No Mas?! Apparently we haven’t reached that point yet.

It’s not that the stuff isn’t quality gear. It just boggles our minds that for the hottest bike builds, $6,000 is entry level and $10,000 is becoming the new normal for the latest greatest.

One exception: Carbon wheels. In contrast to ENVE’s spendy new rollouts, Ibis announced their ultra-wides will retail in the $1,300 range. And while $1,300 for a wheelset hardly seems like the steal of the century, the downward trend from $2,000-plus may signal a reality check.

3. Stuff for sale. It used to be you could find all kinds of gear, from knickknacks to high-end components, for sale in Sea Otter booths. You could not only score great deals, there was no sales tax, etc. etc.

No more. We asked at several booths and were told “festival policy” discouraged on-site sales. Look, touch, drool — but don’t buy. It’s now harder to buy bike gear at a bike show than guns at a gun show.

4. MTB movie premiere. Sea Otter has been the scene of several memorable bike movie premieres, including “Freedom Riders,” “Pedal Driven” and “Singletrack High.” No so this year. This may say more about video than MTB trends — the DVD format is passé, and you can find loads of great mountain biking on YouTube. Plus the GoPro action-cam POV revolution has usurped the standard third-person storyteller format. But movie night in Monterey was always one of our fave features of Sea Otter, and we missed it this year.

5. Metal. Aluminum and steel aren’t dead. But almost all of the new stuff at Sea Otter involved carbon. Fork crowns, wheels, frames, dropper posts, handlebars, stems, brakesets, cranks… Even the newest DH bike, the Pivot Phoenix, introduced at Otter was carbon. We get the sense there isn’t much else that can be carbonized — chains? clusters? stanchions? skewers? spokes? But the industry seems bent on pushing the laws of physics, and we’ve been surprised before.

6. 26-inch bikes. Can we please have a moment of silence? Oh there were a few here and there, but wow, they’ve pretty much disappeared from the booth stables. It appears that the one diehard segment to stick with 26 — DH — is succumbing as well (to 27.5, e.g. the aforementioned Phoenix). And to think we still actually ride and have fun on one of these relics…

One thing is for sure. Whatever old standbys give way to new trends, the place to see it all happen will remain the same. Sea Otter Classic 2015, here we come!

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Weather Outlook for Sea Otter Trending Dicey Thu, 27 Mar 2014 21:58:17 +0000 We need rain, just not during the festival!

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Update! A week before Sea Otter’s opening day, the forecast is trending nicely toward mostly sun, a few clouds, but little to no chance of rain. Given the exposed nature of the Fort Ord fairgrounds, race and demo tracks should be dry if not hero!

The past week of weather disturbances, and forecasts calling for more rain over the weekend, have given some of us Sea Otter veterans pause for the 2014 edition coming up April 10 through 13.

We remember all too well the days of “Sea Mudder” — when you could count on at least one, and possibly more, days of absolute downpour.

Photos from that era are hilarious — racers and spectators both covered in mud, the only uncaked part of them their teeth —— shining through a “might as well make the best of it” grin.

Ah the good old days...

Ah the good old days…

But that was back when the event was held in March. And March traditionally is a much wetter month in the San Francisco Bay Area than April.

The last few Otters have been spectacularly gorgeous. Sunshine, dry, warm (sometimes a bit too warm).

But this has been a weird weather year in the Bay Area. All winter long we had summery sunshine and temps. It took the official advent of spring for winter to finally arrive.

Given the turbulence of the past week, we couldn’t help but take a look at intermediate-range forecasts for the Monterey area.

Looking 15 days out is always a bit of a crap shoot of course, but at this point the prospects are mixed.

Accuweather calls for sunshine Wednesday and Thursday, Sea Otter’s opening days, but clouds and showers through the weekend and temps in the high 50s.

“Showers” in the Bay Area can mean a lot of things, from spritzes to gullywashers lasting only a minute or two. This could all be a case of cool and cloudy but otherwise perfectly serviceable conditions.

We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed. Plagued with drought, NorCal can use all the rain it can get.

But we’d prefer it bracketed around, not during, Sea Otter!

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7 Really Cool Things We Want to Check Out At Sea Otter Classic 2014 Sun, 23 Mar 2014 17:58:56 +0000 The Candyland of the cycling world.

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We like to call Sea Otter bicycling’s Candyland because of all the cool gear on display and available for demo. There’s a reason Sea Otter calls itself the world’s premier bike festival. Where else can you find so much of the latest and greatest under one figurative roof, in addition to top racing competitions and stunt pits?

It’s impossible to anticipate all the new stuff that will be at Sea Otter. But here’s some we’ll be on the lookout for:

1. Smith Forefront helmet. Bike helmet technology hasn’t changed much since Giro technologists showed how a “soft shell” styro lid offered head protection comparable to a hardshell under ANSI standards. That was nearly 30 years ago. The Forefront offers a claimed 30 percent greater protection by using a green honeycomb Koroyd material layered with EPS under a polycarb shell.

Cool looker, cooler feeling

Courtesy Pinkbike

It all comes at a cost — $220 msrp — and Pinkbike found the weight savings weren’t as dramatic as claimed. But we’re intrigued to take a look ourselves. Smith hasn’t always had a booth at Sea Otter, but it will this year.

2. Phat carbon wheels. The trend in carbon is for wider rims — partly to address “burping” (tire separation on hard landing or cornering), and partly to add stability and control to carbon’s inherent stiffness. Especially for larger 27.5 and 29-inch rims, width becomes a crucial factor for handling. You can run lower pressure, increasing traction. And you have a larger footprint for cornering and off-camber landing. Riders we’ve talked to who have extra-wides say they really add confidence to air time and technical sections.

The best part is: By tweaking spoke mounts and other factors, manufacturers say extra-wides do not add weight. For standard aluminum rims, weight was always the drawback to expanding width.

Some wheel sets we hope to see include Derby (a whopping 35mm and 40mm for 27.5 and 29-inch rims, respectively), Nox Composites (27.5 for AM wheels) and Stan’s carbon Valor (we haven’t been able to get specs on width, but Stan’s website mentions rim width as a feature). Of the three, only Stan’s is listed as having an actual booth at Sea Otter — where we’re hoping to see actual Valors since Stan’s announced them way back in August (Stan’s website still says only “Coming in 2014”). As for the other two, we’re hoping for a booth-share or that they’ll turn up on vendor or even demo bikes.

3. Long travel 29ers. There’s a curious phenomenon going on in the bigger-wheel segment featuring one bike and one bike only. It’s the Specialized S-works Enduro carbon 29er. The bike (and similar less expensive offshoots from Spesh) keeps getting rave reviews, even taking top honors from’s exhaustive “Enduro Compare-O” ratings recently. And here we all thought “enduro” was the exclusive domain of 27.5 models.

What separates the Specialized offerings is long travel in a 29er package — 160mm front, 155mm rear, 27.3 lbs in a large. The package makes sense to us, particularly with the aforementioned trend toward wider carbon wheels. That said, where are other vendors in LT 29?

Geometric challenges in chain stay length may be stymying other manufacturers. But for how long, given the spectacular reception of Specialized models? Hopefully some other top-flight, innovative bike makers (for example, Pivot Cycles) will enter this market segment, if only to provide a suspension alternative to Spesh.

4. E-stuff. Bosch, the German car parts maker, will be showing a fleet of e-mountain bikes. We’ve never been drawn to e-bikes but as electronics get sleeker, they’re getting closer to making sense. And the Bosch bikes have a feature we like: The electric part doesn’t kick in unless you’re pedaling. Not that we’re purist, but the must-pedal seems closer to “real” cycling.

Fellow countrymen from Magura will show its eLECT rear shock setup, and e-shocks from Rockshox and Fox undoubtedly will be kicking around too.

The e-components stuff has been slow to catch on (to put it mildly), and we were amused recently to see BIKE magazine experts stumble all over themselves trying to say Rockshox’s system doesn’t suck. But it’s all a work in progress, and one we will continue to watch with interest.

5. Rockshox RS-1 inverted fork. We’re not sure what to make of the hoo-hah over the first-rumored, then-confirmed RS-1, with its upside-down stanchions, carbon steerer and uppers, and remote lockout. 1395509998774-wnzcm9jj9gv0-280-80Rockshox has not confirmed the amount of travel, although it looks very short in the teaser photos. Nor the weight, although it’s bound to be crazy light. The RS-1 is undoubtedly aimed at the XC crowd, and probably the racer set beyond that, since stanchions don’t take kindly to rocky terrain that is going to chip and score them. Hopefully there will be models on hand at Sea Otter with stat and usage confirmations.

6. Intense T275. Intense’s new carbon Tracer was previewed by bike journos back in January and announced publicly last week to a blitzkrieg of reviews. Tipping (barely) the scales at 5.7 pounds, the 27.5 carbon frame looks spectacular — from the photos at least. We’re hoping to drool over and demo the real thing at Sea Otter.

7. POV cameras. Shimano has said it won’t be releasing its new action cam till May, but we still hope to see some units floating around at Sea Otter. We’ll also be checking out the GoPro booth for the latest from the market leader. GoPro has filed for an IPO and is in the “quiet period,” meaning it can’t talk about that or things related. But it may offer some clues in other ways about why it’s pursuing an IPO (typically to raise money for expansion or some big new product).

Even if nothing is revealed, the GoPro booth is typically the most energetic at Sea Otter. Hope to see y’all there!

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Sea Otter Classic 2014: The 27.5 Breakout Thu, 20 Feb 2014 07:35:23 +0000 MTB equivalent of a houseboat?

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The Sea Otter Classic coming up in April will host the broadest display of 650b/27.5 “enduro” bikes yet. And they’ll all be there for demo’ing by you and me.

It’s been a couple of years since the 27.5 platform emerged for mountain biking. But this year, the 2014 season, will be the first where every major mountain bike maker is offering dedicated, full-on, designed-for 27.5 bikes.

The buzz factor is in screech mode. Everywhere you look, you see 27.5 looking back at you. The cover of Mountain Bike Action. Showcased by IMB, an international digital app. And in the Web’s most exhaustive test report ever,’s “Enduro Compare-O” mega blowout.

You see 27.5s in store windows and showcase displays. They headline Demo Days. They’re top-tiered on bike maker Web sites.

They're everywhere!

Hot Hot HOT!!!

They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere! Except one place…

The trails.

We ride all over the heartland of 27.5 country, the San Francisco Bay Area. We ride high and low and in between. And we keep our eyes peeled for hot new bikes.

And what we see are still mostly 26-ers. A small share of 29ers. And, once in awhile, a 27.5.

They’re rare. We saw a Pivot Mach 6 on Braille Trail in Soquel Demo a couple of months back. We ran across a Santa Cruz Bronson in front of Kelly’s Bakery in Santa Cruz a few weeks ago. An Intense Carbine 275 at Nisene Marks.

But that’s pretty much it. If these bikes are selling, if they’re having an impact, we’re missing it. (Caveat: 27.5s are hard to distinguish from 26ers at speed and at distance; we certainly may have missed some.)

Writing in BIKE magazine, Vernon Felton observed that the 27.5 platform hasn’t really earned its verts. It’s gotten blind adoption without proving itself on the trails.

Everybody says 27.5 will be their next bike, Felton noted. And he’s right. We’ve heard the same thing.

But when we encounter shiny new bikes on the trail, they’re typically 26. And sometimes 29.

When we ask the riders about 27.5, we still get the line Felton gets. But we also get, I’m happy with the bike I have.

What’s going on?

First, getting traction takes time for any new platform. It’s really early to judge, especially when you pay a premium for moving to 27.5. You can’t just buy a frame. You have to think about a fork and wheels and tires, too. And often a new drive train.

The resulting upcharge pushes you psychologically toward buying a whole new bike. And that’s a big commitment.

Then there’s the issue of marketing.

The bike industry, admittedly desperate to find a new sales pitch, has cast 27.5 in terms of “enduro.” We wonder if that’s wise.

A lot of riders don’t really know what enduro is (we’re not sure ourselves). We think of it as a race format. But that cuts out potential buyers who don’t race — 99 percent of the riding public, in other words.

What’s the difference between enduro and all-mountain? Freeriding? Cross-country? We think of enduro as a kind of beefed-up XC. A race-oriented all-mountain. A faster, sleeker freeriding.

But we’re not sure any of those really sell the concept. A better version of something already pretty good may not be enough to change rider allegiances — or loosen their pocketbooks.

The truth is, 27.5 doesn’t possess a seal-the-deal selling point. Not yet, anyway.

At 6-1, we like our Pivot Mach 429 carbon for XC and our Trek Remedy 9.8 carbon (26-inch) for all-mountain. We’ve ridden a bunch of 650bs, including the Mach 6 and Bronson, and always come away feeling like they’re half a loaf.

They roll over a tad better than 26 but aren’t as versatile. They do features better than a 29er but don’t roll over as well or cover as much ground. They climb OK, not great. They’re marginally faster than a 26, not nearly as fast as a 29.

They’re the mtb equivalent of a house boat. Not a great house, not a great boat.

Granted, 27.5s seem perfectly tailored for the enduro courses we’ve ridden. They eat up the berms and soak up the hits better than a 29er while blasting the straights better than a 26er.

But we don’t ride enduro courses most of the time, and wouldn’t want to for that matter.

If you have a 6er and 9er like us, it’s hard to make a case for a tweener. If you want to go with only one bike, we concede a 27.5 might be the Goldilocks ride for some.

There is one category of rider 27.5 seems to appeal to: Riders 5-8 to 5-10 who’ve tried 29 and come away wanting. For them, 27.5 is a just-right step up from 26.

For now we’re keeping an open mind. At Sea Otter, we expect to demo till we drop.

Maybe we’ll find something to change our mind.

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Sea Otter Classic Best Part About April Fri, 31 Jan 2014 22:17:06 +0000 The closest mountain biking comes to Disneyland.

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The official kickoff to any mountain bike season comes with the Sea Otter Classic each spring in Monterey. This year’s event, running from April 10-13, is already shaping up for “best-ever” status.

One noteworthy change this year: Subaru is now the title sponsor. While we always smile at the irony of a car company sponsoring a bike event, we understand who has the really deep pockets here. And for mtbers at least, what gets us where we need to be.
April 10-13
Volkswagen held the title sponsorship the last couple of years, but to our mind, Subaru is a better fit for Sea Otter. You can’t show up at a mountain biking gathering, whether a weekend ride at your local trailhead or a big festival like Sea Otter or Crankworx, without seeing a fleet of Soobies.

Our favorite model, the Outback, swallows bikes for breakfast. In Sun Valley last summer we hooked up with a couple from Marin in an Outback. All of a sudden the four of us had shuttle options galore.

Subaru has held various sponsorship levels over the years and brought a number of great events to Sea Otter. We hope they’ll be showing off their latest lines at this year’s fest.

Another new and sure to be a crowd-pleasing addition is the Pump Park Invitational, officially sanctioning the informal pump-track pickup races of recent Otters. It’s a pretty simple format: Two riders face off and the first to the finish line wins.

There’s lots more to talk about,
but one thing’s for sure: April can’t come too fast.

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SRAM XX1 Drivetrain — an On The Bike Review Thu, 02 May 2013 02:29:44 +0000 1x11 shifting looks like a keeper, but GripShift questions remain.

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At the Sea Otter Classic 2013 we had the opportunity to try out a SRAM XX1-equipped bike featuring the new 1×11 drivetrain.

Our impressions were recorded in real time in the attached video review, another in our On The Bike Reviews. We rode a SRAM-labeled Kona 29er equipped with the 1×11. The bike had a 32-tooth chainring and 10×42 rear cassette.

The first thing that threw us was the shifter. We instinctively reached for the trigger and found… nothing. Instead the bike was equipped with SRAM’s patented GripShift — the old motorcycle-style twist shifter.

We hadn’t ridden GripShifts since they first came out in the early 1990s. We tried ‘em on a couple of bikes and gave up. The response was slow, cable action was delayed, mis-shifting was common and in general — although we loved the idea — they didn’t deliver.

We stayed with SRAM drivetrains, in part because SRAM worked better than Shimano, and in part because we were a little tired of the Shimano monopoly. Whatever.

Over the years, we hadn’t paid much attention to GripShift.

On our tests of the 1×11, though, we soon came to like the gripper. SRAM has done much to improve the action and response. But there was another factor.

When you’re dependent on only the rear cassette, you find yourself flipping through multiple gears much more often. Without the front derailleur to rely on for step-up or down gearing spreads, you often want to jump two or three cogs at a time.

We came to think we should seriously consider this matchup for using 1×11 gearing, which our next bike will have.

One caveat: Troubling negative feedback
on GripShift in forums. Some riders are reporting failure. Some have asked SRAM for a response. So far, nothing from SRAM.

That’s too bad, because 1×11’s success may ultimately rely in part on GripShift adoption. We will be monitoring this as the season proceeds.

Back to the 1×11 test.

We found the rear derailleur to be smooth and responsive. Not much more to say there. It shifted as it should. We haven’t found any huge leaps in derailleur technology since index shifting, really. Refinements, yes. But let’s face it, if the gear changes precisely and quickly — which it does for nearly every brand of derailleur — that’s plenty good enough. Performance often is far more dependent on cable adjustment, tension and action.

The ride with a 1×11 is almost spooky quiet. Despite taking stutters at speed and tossing the bike around under us, we never experienced a single whisper of chain slap. When we checked the chain stay, we found it unprotected, unmarked and un-nicked. This setup lacked any chain tensioner or guide. The chain just doesn’t move around.

Our experience was confirmed by several months-long 1×11 users. Most started with a chain guide of some sort, but soon abandoned it as not needed.

What we really liked about the 1×11 had to do with … NO shifting!

With 1×11 of course, you lose the front derailleur and front shifter. And cable. And housing. (You even lose the chainstay protector, whether it’s a Velcro fabric or stretch tape.)

It’s like a whole chunk of stuff goes away, and you don’t have to worry about it any more.

The drivetrain as a result is going to be lighter. Because SRAM has made XX1 its new gold standard, the machining, weight and finish of the 1×11 is nonpareil. The stuff is really well made. (Again, they absolutely need to address the GripShift question.)

That leads us to the second part of our 1×11 experience. At Sea Otter we asked everyone from Pivot founder Chris Cocalis to the dude on the carbon Scott 27.5 (650b) from Los Angeles about how they liked 1×11. To a person, they all raved. They unreservedly gave it one thumb’s up — one, because that’s all you need with just a single shifter.

We had heard early rumors of chain fatigue and breakage with XX1, which made some sense given the amount of spread in an 11-cog cassette. Most feedback was that there’s less stress on the chain because it isn’t always having to hop back and forth among front chainrings.

We’re persuaded enough by experience and feedback to be eager to equip our next bike with 1×11. In the meantime, we’ll monitor the rumor mill and try to get a response from SRAM on GripShift issues.

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