Top 4 Highlights from the 2015 Sea Otter Classic

sea_otter_Panorama1

Every year in April, the bike-riding world decamps to the friendly confines of the fabled Laguna Seca racetrack near Monterey, California for the unofficial kickoff to the cycling season that is the Sea Otter Classic. Part new gear show, part festival of cycling, part bike race – if it happens on 2 wheels, there’s a good chance that it will be happening at Sea Otter. Over 4 days, the infield and environs of Laguna Seca host 10,000 athletes and 65,000 fans of bicycles, plus countless purveyors of bikes and gear. Pro and amateur road, cyclocross, cross-country mountain bike, downhill mountain bike, and even dual slalom racing was on the agenda if you wanted to ride or just watch:

But the big draw for most of the folks in attendance is the chance to get up close and personal with the latest and greatest new bikes and gear. We walked countless miles around the massive expo to track down the most interesting new products and trends for 2015 – let us know in the comments which ones you want the most!

1. Updated Shimano XT and Electronic XTR Di2 Components

Shimano is always working on new and better versions of their components, and this year is no different with the introduction of the 8000 series XT drivetrain. XT is the workhorse of the Shimano MTB lineup, and the big news is a move to an 11-speed cassette. But everything about the group has been redesigned, from the shifters to the pedals. We’ll have a more in-depth look later, but XT has 1X, 2X and 3X crank options, along with a wide range 11-40T (or 11-42T for 1X11) rear cassette that fits on a standard freehub body.

And while not exactly brand new, XTR Di2 is still pretty rare, so it was interesting to see it up close and personal (even if the price tag is out of reach for most of us):

2. SRAM 1X road

SRAM‘s big reveal was all about doing more with less. They’ve taken everything that they learned from their XX1/Xo1 1×11 speed mountain bike and CX1 1×11 speed cyclocross drivetrain and applied it to road cycling. In fact they simply re-badged CX1 components as Force 1 (with added options for front chainring gearing) and then added a slightly heavier Rival 1 option below it. The rear (and only) derailleur features a clutch to eliminate chain slap and a straight parallelogram design with offset upper pulley (to accommodate a wide gear range). The mid-length model works with the 11-36 tooth cassette option, while the long-cage design is needed for the massive 10-42 tooth cassette (which also requires wheels with an XD driver body, which may mean a new set of wheels).

Up front, the chainrings feature the patented SRAM “narrow-wide” tooth design that keeps the chain in place without any retaining devices, and are available in the existing 38T, 40T, 42T, 44T, and 46T options, along with new 48T, 50T, 52T and 54T options for a more road-like feel (the 48T & 50T fit compact five-arm 110mm BCD spiders; 52T & 54T fit standard five-arm 130mm BCD spiders).

Sure, it’s not going to be for everyone, but if you’re looking for a simpler setup for your road bike and don’t mind a few compromises (or at least less flexibility) in terms of gearing range, then Force 1 or Rival 1 could be a great option for you. Crit racers, gravel riders, triathletes or people who just hate shifting their front derailleur could also find this new option to be just what they are looking for.

3. 27.5+ and 29+

Another big trend at Sea Otter (pun very much intended) was the prevalence of 27.5+ and 29+ mountain bikes. These mini-fat bikes, or maxi-mountain bikes, were visible at almost every mountain bike-inspired booth. So what exactly are these new wheel standards, and who are they for? We’ll get to the second part in a moment, but think of these as fat bikes for the masses. Whereas fat bikes roll on super-wide 26″ rims with massive 4″+ tires, these bikes roll on anything from 2.8″ to 3.5″ rubber (generally speaking). The wheels on 27.5+ mountain bikes end up measuring out to about the same diameter as 29er tires, albeit with a much wider footprint, while 29+ bikes are more agile fat bikes.

So who are these bikes for? Well, they are simply just fun trail bikes – you’ll pay a slight weight penalty over 27.5″/29″ mountain bikes, but you’ll get tons of traction back in return, along with confidence-inspiring tires that will roll over anything. We’re excited to see more of these bikes in action – especially the new lineup of Charge Cooker mountain bikes, which will be exclusively 27.5+ for the coming model year!

sea_otter_classic_27.5+_charge

4. New Gear

The final thing that grabbed our attention at Sea Otter was quite simply all the other new gear on display. Slick X-Sync chainring mounting from SRAM, MIPS technology in helmets from Smith, new shocks from RockShox and Fox, new carbohydrate additive Plus for Nuun, colorful parts from RaceFace, mini-GPS computers from Lezyne, bikepacking gear from Blackburn, new wheels from Easton (in many widths), new enduro helmets form Bell, enormous fat rims from HED, tasty new Rip van Wafels, aero helmets from Kask, and much, much more. If you get a chance to attend Sea Otter in person, don’t pass it up! It’s a fantastic event if you want to ride or just see what’s new in the world of cycling.

Ridden and Reviewed: Charge Cooker Maxi Fat Bike

I’m not much of a mountain biker. Mostly, I get my kicks—such as they are—on the road. I dabble every now and again, but nothing serious. That is until the dreaded Polar Vortex (I, II, or III– I can’t remember which now) pummeled our North Carolina office with a couple of inches (gasp!) of snow, taking road cycling off the table. I was getting all ready to not ride a bike at all and go lift, when instead I was given a chance to test ride the Charge Cooker Maxi fat bike on a snowy trail ride. I scrounged around for some ill-fitting clothing, geared up and headed out. I admit I looked at the bike dubiously, but within minutes of getting on, I was sold.

Snow biking puts a new spin on old trails, and is a great way to spice up your riding routine.

Big fat bike, big fat fun.

About The Bike: The Charge Cooker Maxi is a fat bike with a steel frame and fork. The bike is designed to accommodate massive, 26X4” tires that mount on 26” x 80mm wide Wienmann rims. This gives you the feel of riding a full suspension bike without all the mechanical moving parts. The bike is a beast that can pretty much roll over anything, and is great for snow, sand, loose dirt, or just generally finding your inner-gnar on the trail. It’s equipped with a SRAM X5 2×10 drivetrain (with an FSA Comet crank).

Rear brake arch has plenty of clearance

Rear brake arch has plenty of clearance, and rack braze-ons make it ideal for bike camping or other off-road touring

Unboxing and Set Up: My Charge Cooker Maxi was already set up as a demo bike, but it should be generally straight forward, since it’s basically a conventional full-rigid mountain bike (with massive tires), so you don’t have to worry about setting suspension sag or fork rebound. The only thing to be aware of is pumping up the tires— they’re so big that even getting to the ultra-low volume of 8-10 PSI can take you several minutes.

I added a set of Forte Platform pedals, bringing the weight to about: 36.6 lbs.

The Ride:  Taking the bike out on the trails in the snow was just pure fun. At first I was a little nervous riding the bike over the snow and compacted ice, but all my worry turned out to be for naught. The bike handled the snow, ice, and buried trail hazards with ease. The feel of the bike is less like riding a mountain bike and more like driving an Abrams tank, sans cannon. It didn’t so much roll over the snow as churn through it, and I rarely felt like I lost traction (actually, the only time I did was when I tried to take an icy corner too tight). I truly felt like I could roll over just about anything—which proved to be the case. Because the tires are so huge, and have such a low volume, the bike can handle rough trail like a full suspension bike—making tackling rocks, logs and trail bumps feel easy and comfortable, but the full rigid frame and fork gave a feel of pedaling efficiency you sometimes don’t get from a full-squish bike.

The bike just kind of rolls over anything

The bike just kind of rolls over anything

The bike isn’t the lightest thing in the world, particularly if you’re used to a featherweight XC rig, but to lament it’s weight is to kind of miss the point. The fat bike isn’t about winning races, it’s about going anywhere you’ve ever wanted to go on a bike. Even with all that heft, it’s still maneuverable and light enough that I was able to chase down some of that ever-elusive Fat Bike Air at one point. Handling was pretty easy, and didn’t feel nearly as sluggish as I had expected. The bike easily got up to speed, and carried momentum nicely into turns. The mechanical disc brakes provide great all-weather stopping power that easily scrubbed speed and provided well-modulated stopping power when I needed it.

The gearing on the bike is also nice and low, so you can spin at a high cadence, but still generate plenty of torque and power to tackle almost anything in your path. One small niggle I did have was fit. Because of the geometry modifications that had to be made to the chainstays to accommodate the massive rear tire, I found the q-factor on the cranks to be a little too wide for me, however that was fixed by simply switching from clipless pedals to a pair of platforms. This actually turned out to be preferable anyway, since I was able to wear hiking boots instead which were A) warmer, and B) easier to get off the bike and go check out stuff off the trail.

Tackling the snow and ice was easy-- and a blast

Tackling the snow and ice was easy– and a blast

The bike also incorporates rack mounts, which make it almost ideal for bikepacking or really getting out and exploring the back country. With no suspension to worry about, the Cooker Maxi would be a nice and dependable rig for some serious trail trips. I love touring and s24o (sub-24 hour overnight) bike camping, so I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of taking the fat bike out and exploring the mountains of western North Carolina this summer.

The Verdict

If you’re looking for a fun, versatile, go-anywhere bike, the Charge Cooker Maxi is definitely for you. No matter what conditions or terrain, I have no doubts that this bike could handle them with ease. The Cooker Maxi takes the best aspects of a full-suspension and a hardtail and mixes them together—but with more utility. If you’re not worried about racing, but just want a pure adventure machine then this is the bike for you.

The adventures on this bike have just begun

The adventures on this bike have just begun

The Fat Bikes Are Coming! Meet The Charge Cooker Maxi.

Well…technically they’re already here. British-brand Charge just dropped their new 2014 Charge Cooker Maxi Fat Bike on us, and it’s pretty awesome. According to Charge: “The Cooker Maxi is designed to take you anywhere. It takes the ‘fat bike’ feel to the trails for a new off road experience. Matching our unique ‘trail tuned’ geometry and premium Tange tubing with huge 4” wide tyres and powerful hydraulic disc brakes.” Be ready for some attention when you take this monster bike out for a ride! Your fellow riders will laugh, smile, and then realize that they want one too!

charge_cooker_maxi_side

The 2014 Charge Cooker Maxi Fat Bike in all its glory!

Lucky for you, friends, it’s up on our website right now, waiting for you to join the fat bike revolution! So, why a fat bike? A fat bike is just that; it’s fat. With the added width and girth you’ll immediately feel more stable. That stability translates into trail confidence, even on singletrack. Add in some remarkably low tire pressures and you’ll be cornering and riding berms with unheard of traction.

This thing is pretty dialed in with excellent components, a great paint job, and — of course — some big ol’ fat 4-inch wide Vee Rubber tires. Drivetrain-wise, a forgiving 36/22-tooth FSA crankset is mated to a 10-speed SRAM cassette and SRAM X5 derailleurs to handle the shifting duties. Pro Max Decipher hydraulic disc brakes, with 160mm rotors front and rear, tame this monster bike’s speed.

The fat bike really made a name for itself where other bikes perform poorly: the snow and sand. That stability and wide footprint will make anything from sand dunes to billowy snow easy to navigate. Here’s a video of the Cooker Maxi having a day out at the beach…which is probably where you wish you were right now, but it’ll work just as well in the snow, or pretty much anywhere that you want to ride!

First Look at What’s New – Weeks1-4

Every week we’re taking a look at what’s new, exciting or coming soon to PerformanceBike.com – here’s a quick roundup of our first 4 weeks of videos, featuring bikes and gear for every cyclist.

Week 1

This week’s gear: Sidi Wire Carbon Road Shoes, GORE Oxygen SO Women’s Jacket, Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Drink Mix and the Charge Filter Apex Cyclocross Bike.

Week 2

This week’s gear: Louis Garneau Course SpeedZone vest, Giro Sonnet Women’s Helmet, Shimano Dura-Ace ST-9000 Shifters, Zipp 202 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Road Wheels and the Charge Cooker Single Speed Mountain Bike.

Week 3

This week’s gear: Charge Bikes Mortar Pub Bike, Feedback Sports Recreational Work Stand, Sidi Drako Mountain Bike Shoes, Light & Motion Seca 750 Headlight and Shimano Dura-Ace BR-9000 Brakes.

Week 4

This week’s gear: Dakine Juniper Women’s jersey, Dakine Tempest Women’s Short, Dakine Shield Jacket, Dakine Charger Crew Jersey, Time ATAC XC8, XC6 & XC4 Mountain Bike pedals, and the Van Dessel Gin & Trombones Disc Cyclocross Bike.

Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 202 other followers

%d bloggers like this: