The Sea Otter Classic has always leaned more heavily toward the off-road side of the spectrum, but traditional road bikes nevertheless still commanded a reasonable presence in the expo area in years past. Based on this year’s show, however, those days are over.
More clearly than ever, gravel bikes have taken over the drop-bar scene, at least in the United States. While there was a notable dearth of skinny-tired machines, gravel bikes were everywhere with heaps of new bikes, components, and accessories scattered throughout the infield at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. This is no fad; gravel bikes are clearly here to stay, and there’s a growing tidal wave of interest behind them.
Mountain bikes arguably still dominate the show here, though, and seeing as how we’re now starting to cover the fat-tire scene at CyclingTips, we’d be remiss if we skipped over some of the most interesting bits of the event. It’d be impossible for us to show you everything that caught our eye in one gallery, so we’ve opted to split it up over the next few days. After all, you didn’t really want to get any work done this week, did you?
Syncros uncorked one of the showstoppers of this year’s Sea Otter Classic with the new Silverton SL carbon wheelset. Aimed at XC racing, the new 29ers feature carbon fiber spokes that are co-molded together with the carbon rims. Claimed weight is a staggeringly light 1,250g for the set, but yet Syncros says they’re also twice as torsionally rigid as standard wheels, 30% more rigid laterally, stronger than everything else out there, and yet still soft enough radially to not feel brutally unyielding.
Syncros builds each Silverton SL wheel with an eight-piece mold, whereas carbon fiber rims are normally only built with two-piece ones. The spokes are not only made with three different materials, but each layer of carbon fiber is interlaced at the crossings for even greater strength and rigidity.
Each spoke crosses over the wheel’s center line, eventually joining to the inside of the rim at the intersection point.
The way the spokes are connected to the rim is not entirely unlike what Mad Fiber used to do with its road wheels, although quite different in terms of execution. Either way, it’s a smart way to minimize tight bends in the spoke.
The Syncros Silverton SL rim is dubbed “Tubeless EverReady,” due to how the rim has no holes on the external wall for easy setup.
Syncros says its original mold prototypes for the new Silverton SL wheelset comprised 34 separate parts; standard carbon rims only have two. The tool design was eventually refined, but is still comparatively complicated with eight different parts.
The rim, all the spokes, and the hub “flange” are all molded together in one step. The two halves are then spread apart, and the center carbon hub shell is inserted in between to put the spokes under tension. Syncros claims the tri-material spokes are 35% more impact-resistant than steel.
The aluminum hub insert is used for the rotor and bearing interfaces.
For XC riders that want carbon wheels, but don’t quite have the budget for the top-end Silverton SL, Syncros also offers the more conventional Silverton 1.0. This wheelset is built with a more “normal” carbon rim, aluminum-bodied hubs with DT Swiss hub internals, and stainless steel spokes. Retail price is US$1,700.
Syncros is only using that incredible all-carbon construction method on the XC-focused Silverton SL wheelset for now, but has already hinted that it’ll carry over to other wheel segments as well. In the meantime, the new trail/enduro-minded Revelstoke 1.0 sports a more conventional 31mm-wide (internal width) carbon fiber rim, butted stainless steel spokes, and oversized aluminum hubs with DT Swiss internals. Retail price is US$1,700.
The Syncros Revelstoke 1.0 and Silverton 1.0 wheelsets both use more conventional aluminum-bodied hubs, but still with DT Swiss internals.
Syncros last year introduced the novel Hixon IC SL integrated cockpit for trail and enduro bikes. Now, it’s following up with the Fraser SL IC, which is aimed at cross-country riders with an even-lighter weight of just 230g. Retail price is US$330.
The shape looks unusual, but it’s more amenable to composite construction as it forces the fibers to take fewer sharp bends. Virtual extensions from 60-90mm are on offer.
Likewise, the clamp design is amenable to building in carbon fiber, as the fibers can take relatively gentle bends all the way around the replaceable aluminum clamp hardware.
Scott-sponsored rider Nino Schurter runs an unsually low position, and Syncros has built a special-edition Fraser IC SL for him, too. Regular riders will be able to buy one, but the limited production will command an extra US$100.
Rotor’s new Vegast road crank is a forged-and-machined version of the top-end Aldhu, using the exact same chainrings, spindles, and spiders, but with lower-priced arms that add a bit of weight.
Rotor has updated its INpower single-sided, spindle-based powermeter with the same splined direct-mount chainring interface as the Aldhu. According to Rotor, this change reduces some weight while also adding rigidity. Claimed weight is 510g without chainrings, and retail price is US$800.
New to Rotor’s Aldhu and Vegast road cranks are direct-mount 1x chainring options.
The machining work on the one-piece double chainring is quite impressive.
The splined direct-mount chainring attaches to the new Rotor Kapic mountain bike crank and features the same clever sandwich-type assembly process as the new Aldhu road model. It’s an elegant way to put everything together, although it’s reliant on ultra-tight tolerances and careful assembly in order to keep everything creak-free.
The Kapic is Rotor’s new flagship mountain bike crank, featuring machined aluminum crankarms that are drilled-out lengthwise to reduce weight, a pared-down 30mm-diameter aluminum axle, and a direct-mount chainring interface similar to what the company introduced on the innovative Aldhu road crankset last year. Add-on bumpers protect both the end and sides of the crankarm, and are available in seven different colors to suit your setup. Claimed weight is 536g with a direct-mount chainring, and retail price is US$390 (including chainring and bumpers).
Prologo introduced its short-and-wide Dimension saddle last year, and is now growing the family with two new variants.
The new Prologo Dimension Space (right) is 10mm wider than the original one (left), and is also more thickly padded for extra comfort.
The new Prologo Dimension NDR is aimed at gravel and trail riders, featuring the same basic shape as the original Dimension model, but with a slightly more rounded profile.
Impressively, the ultralight top-end carbon version of Prologo’s Dimension saddles are relatively inexpensive at “just” US$195.
If you noticed Peter Sagan wearing some unfamiliar sunglasses when he won at Paris-Roubaix, wonder no longer what they were. 100% launched the new S2 model at Sea Otter.
Abbey Bike Tools will soon release a smaller version of its awesome bearing press. The new Micro Press features a smaller-diameter threaded shaft designed to work with smaller cartridge bearings. New bearing drifts for the original bearing press (background) are in development as well.
Abbey Bike Tools owner Jason Quade loves to make tools, but he also has a thing for LEGO bricks, too. These bricks aren’t made of injection molded plastic, though; they’re CNC-machined and anodized aluminum, and yes, they supposedly fit. Sadly, they’re not for sale.
Boyd Cycling’s new 36mm Road Disc carbon clincher wheels feature healthy 22mm-wide internal widths (meant for 25-30mm tires), tubeless compatibiity, and a moderately aero profile. Retail price is US$1,650, and claimed weight is 1,580g per pair.
The asymmetrical cross-sections on Boyd Cycling’s new 36mm Road Disc wheelset help even out spoke tension from one side to the other.
If you look closely, you can see that the inner edge of the tire bed “shelf” has a larger diameter than the outer edge, which helps lock the tire beads in place for greater security.
Boyd Cycling introduced its 650b Jocassee carbon fiber gravel wheels last year. Now, it’s following up on those with a 700c version called Pinnacle. Given that the typical tire widths vary between those two diameters, though, the new Pinnacle has a very slightly narrower 23.4mm inner rim width, versus the 24mm width on the Jocassee. Claimed weight for the set is 1,560g, and retail price is US$1,650.
Boyd Cycling actually uses the same outer rim shape on the new Pinnacle 700c carbon fiber gravel wheels as the 36mm Road Disc model, but with different mold “sliders.” The majority of the tire bed looks identical between the two models, but the Pinnacle uses a hookless profile, along with a slightly wider 23.4mm internal width. The central channel’s flat bottom and angled sides supposedly help the tire snap more quickly into place than rounded channels.
Carbon tubular wheels are still popular amongst cyclocross racers looking for the utmost in performance, but most of those wheels are still designed primarily with smaller road tires in mind. Boyd Cycling’s new Pinnacle CX, however, features a tire bed profiled specifically for 33mm-wide tubulars for a more secure glue interface. Claimed weight is 1,475g for the set, and retai price is US$1,450. Mounted on them here are Challenge’s new 40mm-wide gravel-specific tubulars, which look to be stupendous in terms of ride quality and grip.
Irwin Cycling was yet another company debuting a set of gravel-specific carbon wheels at this year’s Sea Otter Classic. The new Aon GX 35 features a 24mm internal width, 1,548g claimed weight, and tubeless compatibility. Retail price is $1,550, which includes six-bolt rotor adapters for the Center Lock splined hub shells, a multitude of end caps, and tubeless valve stems.
Joining the carbon fiber Aon GX 35 carbon gravel wheels from Irwin Cycling is the Arlo GX 27 aluminum version, which features a 21mm internal rim width, tubeless compatibility, and the same hubs as the more premium model. Retail price is a more wallet-friendly US$600.
Whereas Irwin Cycling’s new Arlo GX 27 aluminum gravel wheels use a symmetrical rim design, the carbon fiber Aon GX 35 goes with an offset spoke bed to help even out spoke tensions from one side to the other.
This hub is pictured with a Shimano/SRAM-compatible freehub body and quick-release end caps, but everything is included for thru-axle running, too.
The six-pawl driver mechanism on Irwin Cycling’s rear hub staggers the pawls in two sets of three, effectively turning the 48-tooth ratchet into a 96-tooth one for a 3.75° engagement speed.
Jamis debuted a new rear suspension design from Chris Currie called 3VO. The movement of the rear wheel is dictated by two short links – not unlike dw-link, VPP, and Maestro – but a third link has been added to further tune the shock leverage ratio throughout the range of travel.
Designer Chris Currie says the 3VO suspension system lets the rear wheel move slightly backward initially for a supple feel on smaller impacts. Past that initial stage, however, the effective chainstay length remains more constant – even shortening slightly, in fact – to minimize pedal kickback on bigger hits.
It’s not until you take a look back here that you get a sense of the hidden complexity of Jamis’s new 3VO suspension design. It’s the third link that James and 3VO designer Chris Currie say is ultimately the key to 3VO’s performance on the trail.
Project 321’s mountain bike rear hubs feature an incredibly quick 1.67° engagement speed for its magnetic driver system. More conventional designs typically hover around 6-10°, meaning riders on Project 321 hubs will be able to get power to the ground much faster after coasting, which can be especially useful in technical terrain.
Most hubs that use magnets to actuate the pawls use repelling magnets that push the pawls against the ratchet ring. Project 321, however, flips the magnets around so they’re instead pulled outward. It may seem like the exact same thing, but unlike the linear rate of conventional steel springs, magnets have a sharply digressive spring curve, meaning the effects are very strong when the parts are close together, but fall off quickly with increasing distance. As a result, the pawls supposedly hold tight when they’re up against the ratchet ring, but there’s little force pushing them outward when coasting, so they run very quietly and with minimal drag. As a bonus, the pawls don’t go flying when you remove the freehub body during regular maintenance, either.
Project 321 rear hubs use six pawls, which operate in three staggered pairs. In this way, the driver ring can be built with 72 teeth for good durability, but behave as if it has 216.