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!
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.