2017 Sea Otter Classic live tech coverage

by James Huang


The annual Sea Otter Classic is a premier event for new-product introductions, including the usual road, mountain, and cyclocross offerings as well as gear aimed at commuting and more casual riding. Its early place on the calendar relative to Eurobike and Interbike — and critically, right before the start of the prime selling season — makes it especially appealing for companies that are launching products that are immediately available for purchase, too.

Perhaps most critically, the festival atmosphere and wealth of associated competitive events brings masses of everyday attendees — a marked contrast to the usual trade show stops that are usually only open to the industry.

Sea Otter’s outdoor setting on the grounds of the Laguna Seca raceway in Monterey, California lends further to the more casual vibe, but also creates plenty of uncertainty when it comes to weather, covering the gamut between warmth and sun, to torrential downpours and violent winds.

As before, we’ll be presenting tech coverage from the show in an easily-digestible, gallery-style format that will be updated periodically throughout the day. Check back often for regular updates on the latest and greatest items you’ll find on store shelves later this year — but forgive us if some of the products are a little dustier and muddier than you’re used to seeing.


Yakima’s new Dr. Tray hitch rack looks to be a winner with its lightweight aluminum construction, tool-free tray adjustments, fat bike-to-road bike compatibility, and integrated cable locks.

The tilt release for the main pivot is conveniently located right at the end of the rack, well within easy reach.

Even adjustable tray-style racks usually require tools to shift the trays around to accommodate bikes of different shapes and sizes, but the new Yakima Dr. Tray requires only that you flip up a couple of levers.

The “stinger” — the Z-shaped extension that goes in between the receiver hitch and the base of the bike trays — looks impressive burly. The red dial at the end of the stinger tightens an expanding wedge that keeps the rack from wobbling inside the receiver.

The Jamis Supernova carbon ‘cross bike isn’t new, but the striking colors still make it awfully hard to miss.

Focus offers many of its bike models in “factory builds”, using component specs and color schemes that are selected by employees outside of the usual product development team. This Paralane endurance bike, for example, features a Zipp Course 30 aluminum clincher wheelset and an Apex 1 groupset, all wrapped in matte dark grey paint with high-visibility accents.

RockyMounts’ new Backstage tray-style hitch rack features ratcheting wheel hooks, fat bike-to-road bike compatibility, and pivoting rear wheel cradles that automatically account for differences in wheelbase.

The RockyMounts Backstage’s real ace in the hole, however, is a slick swing-away base that allows easy access to the cargo area on SUVs, hatchbacks, and pickup trucks.

The front wheel cradles fold down, allowing the rack to fold up tightly against the back of the vehicle when not in use.

RockyMounts recently expanded beyond car racks into bicycle locks. The burly Compton (right) is the company’s highest-security option with a massive steel shackle and crossbar, while the sneaky Carlito (left) mimics the look of ultra-secure locks, but uses a lightweight 13mm-diameter aluminum core that makes it remarkably lightweight.

Easton’s ultralight EC90SL crankset now comes in a power meter option called Cinch Power. Actual weight is just 652g with 170mm arms and 50/34T chainrings, but without the requisite bottom bracket. Retail price for a complete setup (with bottom bracket and chainrings) is US$1,150.

Easton houses its new Cinch Power hardware entirely within a hollow 30mm-diameter aluminum spindle, meaning the carbon fiber arms remain as feathery light and rigid as on the standard version. The spindle-based format means you only get single-sided measurements, though, which are then doubled to provide an extrapolated total, similar to what is done by Stages Cycling, 4iiii, and others.

Underneath the waterproof cap is a micro-USB port to recharge the onboard Li-ion battery. Claimed run time is a healthy 400 hours, and Easton says the power meter adds just 65g over the standard EC90 SL crankset. The modular design means that Cinch Power can be retrofitted to current EC90 SL cranksets, or even transferred between bikes (albeit with a fair bit of work required).

Visually, the only disappointment on the new Easton Cinch Power power meter is how the cap protrudes out from the end of the spindle, which was necessary so as to provide a clean and unobstructed path for the wireless antenna signal. Given the straight crankarms, heel rub could be an issue for some riders.

As on the standard Easton EC90 SL crankset, the new Easton Cinch Power version uses the version Cinch 30mm-diameter spindle format, with bottom bracket options to fit nearly every frame on the market. The only notable exception is Trek’s BB90/95.

Some special tools are required for the new Easton Cinch Power power meter, but only the dustcap remover on the right would be used on a regular basis. The tool on the right is needed to remove the spindle from the non-driveside crankarm, and both are included with each power meter.

Fox took its current 100mm-travel 32 Float 27.5 cross-country mountain bike suspension fork, fitted some shorter internal parts, and reduced the travel to just 40mm to produce the 32 Float 27.5 Step-Cast AX. The idea of suspension on an adventure or gravel bike obviously won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s a viable option for riders who want some more cushioning and control up front, and are willing to put up with the considerable weight penalty as compared to a rigid carbon fiber fork.

Even with just 40mm of travel on tap, the new Fox 32 FLOAT 27.5 Step-Cast AX fork isn’t just heavier than a typical rigid carbon fiber fork. The extra length also raises the front end and bottom bracket, and also slackens the frame angles. It’s a trade-off that anyone considering the US$820 fork will have to keep in mind.

The dual-chamber air spring design is designed to be extra supple in the initial stages of fork travel, but still get progressively stiffer as you approach the bottom-out point.

The oil damper is the same as what Fox uses on its higher-end cross-country mountain bike forks, including a three-position switch to quickly vary the firmness on-the-fly, and an additional dial to fine-tune the initial breakaway threshold to make the fork more or less sensitive, depending on rider preferences.

The fork will come stock with a lightweight tooled thru-axle. The fork will only work with 100x15mm thru-axle front hubs.

Is this what gravel and adventure bikes will look like in the near future? Perhaps, but it seems unlikely that most riders in this genre will feel the need for proper suspension.

Easton is making a more concerted push into the growing gravel and adventure market with its new AX, or Adventure Cross, line of wheels and components. The new EA70AX wheelset places a greater emphasis on durability and width, rather than aerodynamics and weight. Claimed weight is 1,670g for the 650b version, and 1,760g for the 700c diameter. Retail price is US$600 per set.

Both diameters of the new Easton EA70AX wheelset use aluminum tubeless-compatible clincher rims with 24mm internal widths that are designed to pair with 35-40mm tires. The double butted stainless steel spokes are held in place with brass nipples, which are slightly heavier, but notably tougher than aluminum ones.

Easton builds the EA70AX wheelset around its existing X5 hub platforn, but with a Centerlock interface that better fits with the road market. The only main shortcoming is the rear hub’s rather lazy 17-degree engagement speed.

The new Easton AX handlebars boast a generous 16-degree flare to provide better stability on rough terrain when your hands are in the drops. Claimed weight on the US$90 aluminum EA70AX version is 290g, while the US$215 carbon fiber EC70AX is just 220g.

The 80mm reach and 120mm drop on the Easton AX handlebars are designed for easy access, while still keeping the brake levers close to your fingertips.

Bolle’s One helmet is unique in its level of interchangeability. Snap-on panels can turn it into an aero setup for road, or remove them altogether and attach the visor for trail duty.

Niner is experimenting with how well its RKT 9 RDO short-travel cross-country frame can work for gravel duty. The concept is certainly… interesting.

Since there’s no front derailleur fitted, the Shimano Ultegra shift lever was repurposed to operate the lockout on the rear shock.

The flared drop bar is paired with an especially short stem to preserve the intended handling characteristics.

Fitting a larger chainring makes the 1x mountain bike drivetrain a little better suited for dirt and gravel roads.

Tubeless tires are growing increasingly popular for road and gravel duty, but not everyone wants to add an air compressor to their garage for when a tire is occasionally stubborn to seat. Schwalbe’s Tire Booster is one of several portable options that deliver a quicker burst of air than what you can normally get out of a conventional pump. Simply charge it up with a floor pump, hook it up to the valve stem, and then turn the release valve to pop the tire in place. Schwalbe says a single “charge” will work for two road or ‘cross tires.

Schwalbe’s Pro One tubeless road tire is already among the fastest options on the market, but the company says regular improvements in tire compounds are continually reducing rolling resistance.

Trek had Sven Nys’s custom painted Crockett from the singlespeed world championships proudly on display at this year’s Sea Otter Classic.

The new Trek Crocket uses convertible dropouts that can easily be set up for geared or singlespeed use. The sliding nature means that users can adjust the handling to some extent, too.

Tire clearance is impressively generous all around, plus there’s no shelf behind the bottom bracket where mud can accumulate.

Up front is Trek’s usual E2 tapered head tube.

With no need for rim brake bosses, the seatstays can be left bridgeless for extra clearance.

Not surprisingly, Trek dressed up Nys’s custom Crockett to the nines.

Even the colors on the singlespeed cog and spacers on the Industry Nine rear hub were chosen to match.

A port on the down tube makes for easy servicing on the internally routed lines, as well as compatibility with mechanical and electronic drivetrains as needed.

The Shimano Ultegra Di2 levers were gutted of their electronic bits.

As they say, some things are fun while you’re doing it; others are only fun well afterward.

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