After 10+ years of Interbike, National Bike Summits and other bicycle shows, conferences and gatherings… I finally made it to my first Sea Otter. The quick version: it’s AWESOME and we should all go in a giant crew together next year.
While the industry side of things continues to erode into a sad state (which is really only a bummer if you own a bike shop or report on the industry), consumer level and activist events, like Bike! Bike! or Sea Otter just keep getting more … FUN. (See earlier post on the decentralization and mix up of how activism and advocacy are evolving.) The bike industry is rapidly evolving away from the established ‘manufacturer > distributor > retailer >buyer’ chain as we’re all buying things online anyway. The only way to survive is to connect with consumers people directly. With the power of FUN! With that in mind, I went with no agenda or goals and attended zero networking anything. I entered races I had no experience in, checked out only what seemed cool and loved every minute.
We arrived late Thursday and my first event was the women’s 3/4 Circuit race. That’s where you get to race around the Mazda Laguna Seca course, intended for cars and motorcycles but doing that on a bike is… RAD.
Though there are plenty of road events, the real focus at Sea Otter is dirt. Mountain, CX, fat bikes were the events and bikes that everyone was into. It’s easy to see why: Sea Otter is competitive (no city bikes or cruisers here), but approachable. Anyone can do it. Mountain bike tech, design and trails in the USA just keep getting more and more awesome. This year the mountain bike ‘grand fondo’ had over 600 people registered, myself included. It was the same course as the Pro/Cat 1&2 cross country race (held the next day) and it was gorgeous. While I now understand the special hell of trying to navigate lots of single track with too many people, it was also a really chill way to jump into something new without the fear of being destroyed or simply embarrassed by super fast/strong riders.
And not to blow up a good spot – but the camping next to the Enduro course was… really fun. Kids jumping stuff at night with no lights on Friday became kids jumping cars with only the head lamps of everyone watching on Saturday. That’s some epic bike punk action you can’t fake. A tRex statue was stolen and exchanged between rival camps a few times. Wake up, repeat.
Recently, I’ve gotten ‘in the market’ for a mountain bike, but something that can climb. As rad as hardcore downhill is, I’ve already broken enough body parts and I enjoy climbing. At Sea Otter and other local SoCal demos Santa Cruz Bikes have been dominating in presence. The bikes are gorgeous and 100% live up to the hype. I am personally deeply in love with the 2015 Nomad. Unfortunately they are stupid expensive.
I’m not sure why no one seems to be talking about MONEY directly. The bike industry talks about overall sales lagging, citing some statistics. Independent shops are having a hard time. Advocates wonder why there isn’t any industry money, people wonder why things are so expensive or hard to get. In broad strokes, it’s several things: income disparity in the US, online vs retail buying trends, and (most interesting to me) a growing love for recreational biking, stagnation in transportation bicycling… while pro racing seems to be limping along somewhere in between.
That brings us back to Mountain Biking. It’s hot. And for someone who has done every other kind of biking (and those have all become “work”) it’s a lot of fun to discover how to ride all over again. So since the Nomad is too much money, it’s also a little …too much bike for a novice, even an overly zealous once. While walking around I ran into the Yeti ASR and was immediately into it.
Wait – I know what you’re going to say: they’re suspiciously… the same color. This year everyone seems to agree on a certain teal-blue. It’s not just these bikes… or even bikes. Matchy-matchy frames, components, apparel, accessories are no longer just for girls & weirdos. Lucky me, I’m super into it. ENVE is clearly leading the way with sexy rims/wheels that highlight any color scheme, which is also a bummer seeing as how they’re wildly expensive. It would be nice if Alex/Vuelta or entry level wheel companies would jump on board and let regular people in on the fun.
The “women” specific events, products and outreach seemed really.. chill this year. No big deal. But with Juliana sharing a tent (and development) with Santa Cruz (and therefore the prestige), women’s races blending in seamlessly with men’s plus the adorable Little Bellas Day Camp
made the normalization of women in cycling seem to be making real gains. Even the obnoxious ‘women specific’ niche products with pink flowers sprayed on everything disappeared into a sea of cool new bike gear. Most large vendors had some noticeable women specific product – but most importantly reps could easily talk to me about fitting any of the high-end (aka “mens”) product.
My favorite non-bike product was definitely the EVOC line up. The new travel bag is insanely good. And it was super cool to check out their new (to be released at Eurobike) line of protection/hydration packs. In terms of usability, manufacturing tech, body fit and sexy design – I’m into it. FYI the not yet released 6 liter will fit me perfectly…
For all the exciting mountain stuff the bike that made me drop the microphone was the SCOTT CX Addict bike. And yes, that was mostly an aesthetic thing. That paint job? Those tires? Le sigh. It’s the Ryan Gosling of bikes. And, sadly, just as unattainable.