WHEN IT COMES TIME TO GATHER

The Sea Otter Classic is the world’s premier cycling festival for good reason

The Sea Otter Classic is an event that traditionally kicks off much of North America’s bike racing season. From road to mountain to gravel, it’s a huge festival, with over 350 brands participating with booths on the infield of the famous racetrack that offers the chance to see and learn about bikes and products, as well as offering demo rides and more. 

For over two decades the event has had an April calendar date, but due to the pandemic, the 2020 event was a virtual event in the fall. Last year it was a live event, still held in the fall. Attendance last fall was sparse at best, with many opting to hold off. This year’s event was back in full force with the aisles filled with upwards of 80,000 consumers and 10,000 athletes competing in a myriad of events over four days.

SO WHAT’S NEW?

The Sea Otter Classic is an event where hundreds of companies have the opportunity to exhibit their latest wares to the bike-enthused masses. It did seem like we saw less new stuff this year than in pre-COVID years, with everyone commiserating about supply-chain issues. Still, we were able to get a good demo on Bosch’s new Smart System (see sidebar) that offers new features and compatibility. 

Brian Lopes prepares for the steep climb during the e-MTB race.

6D had production models of their newest technology, something we’ll have soon to do a full review on. Fantic had an unusual and interesting frame for a new bike called the Issimo that looks like nothing we’ve seen before. Fantic is now distributed in the U.S. by Tucker Powersports. Bulls showed off a bunch of new and reworked bikes, including their 3.0 version of the Sentinel, a bike made specifically for police departments.

Vaast had their new E/1 bikes on display, with three variants on drivetrain and their use of the Naild R3act 2Play suspension system. It’s a virtually hidden system that turns the commuter bike into a plush Cadillac-style ride while housing the Bosch PowerTube battery in the seat tube. There were quite a few companies showing off bikes in prototype form, with their production models “somewhere on the water” on their way here—generally a slow boat from China.

Park Tool had bike stands located around the event with attached tools, so anyone and everyone can wrench on their bikes while there.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY

There’s a kids’ area, which features a small pump track and a BMX-style track that’s great for everything from balance bikes to mountain bikes. Parents are allowed to help their kids through the jumps. There is even a balance bike race for younger riders with prizes for all participants. The Little Bellas group, who mentors girls ages 7–13 on mountain bikes, had their local chapter out at Sea Otter to encourage more young girls to get involved with mountain biking.

Kenny Belaey had a crazy set of trials obstacles set up at the Pirelli booth, showing off his incredible trials skills and attracting big crowds, jumping up on perilous obstacles. His finale was to get a volunteer from the crowd to play the knife game, only using his tires, and the volunteer’s outstretched arms, legs and head instead of a knife and fingers.  

The hill-climb on the e-MTB course is brutal. A lot of passing happens here, with the stronger and more skilled riders having a big advantage.

AS FOR THE RACING

There is an e-bike race on the mountain bike course that’s a timed event to fit as many laps in as possible in an hour. The track is approximately two miles long with a fair amount of steep elevation gain, a rock garden and plenty of different terrain. As we’ve witnessed each year, this year’s races were bigger than before, and there were classes broken down between men and women with a variety of age groups. There was also an Open class that offered a pro purse for that class split between men and women, with the winner of each class getting a set of Bosch power tools as well.

COME JOIN US

You can join in the fun next April. A one-day pass is $25 online or on-site, or $70 for four days (online only). Kids under 12 are free. Athletes (both competitive racers and recreational riders) receive a complimentary four-day pass. You can get a reserved parking pass for $50 daily, or park for free in the outer lots if you don’t mind walking/riding some distance each way. There is a shuttle. Our advice would be to book hotels early, or you can book a campsite at the track.
Check out their website for more info: www.seaotterclassic.com.

The start of the e-MTB race is sent off by staggered age-group classes with the faster riders going first.
The famed Laguna Seca Raceway rests in a natural amphitheater that makes it an ideal location for the massive expo.
Mondraker had some cool new bikes at their booth, even a couple of e-bikes, like the new Level RR, replete with Öhlins beefy full suspension.
Haro surprised everyone with their own take on the minibike, the Skwad. This is still a prototype. It may change by the time production units hit the States, but we think it looks good!
Superstrata showed off their 3D-printed carbon composite bikes. Each bike is made to order, so customers can have bespoke geometry. Each one also takes about 24 hours to print each frameset, then it takes a while to ship to customers.
Bulls was showing off how their bikes can be used for outdoor adventures.
There’s plenty of fun for the kids, like this mini modular pump track. Parents can assist in the fun, or…
There was a balance bike race for the kids, and Skipper, the official Sea Otter mascot, gave out prizes to the kids as they finished.
…the kids can rip it up on their own!
There were podiums for every event, including the e-mountain bike race, and the winner not only received a gold medal but also a set of Bosch power tools.
Michelin showed off their various tires for bicycles, displayed as a fruit stand. Visitors were encouraged to take some fruit.
The Enviolo CVT is one option, which uses a Gates belt drive. There’s also a belt-driven version that uses a Rohloff 14-speed rear hub or a chain-driven version with a derailleur.
Kenny Belaey put on a truly thrilling show twice a day with his incredible trials skills.
Vaast showed off their new E1, using Bosch motors and three different options for drivetrain.

HOW SMART IS THE BOSCH SMART SYSTEM?

If there is one downside that comes with traipsing through a myriad of crisscrossing aisles at the Sea Otter Classic, it’s that among the multitude of smaller expo booths, it’s easy to get lost and miss out on seeing something new. Luckily, that’s never the case when it comes to the massive Bosch booth that consumes a small city block space on the main walkway. 

In addition to a wide variety of different e-bikes on display, at this year’s event Bosch was highlighting their new Smart System, which features next-level connectivity with Bosch’s Flow app. With the release of their Gen 4 motor and different displays, including the Kiox and Nyon, we’ve already been impressed with the exceptional technological leaps that the brand has made in the past two years. The Smart System is a continuation of those advancements.

If you don’t already have a Kiox or Nyon display, with the Smart System, you will have the option of a sturdy yet simple LED module to control what power mode you’re in and to see how much battery is left. You can make advanced adjustments with the app that didn’t exist previously—things like setting the overall torque for conserving battery over longer rides or the ability to change torque curves for smoother low-end acceleration. 

WHAT ARE THE CHANGES?

Aside from your own access to make adjustments, Bosch told us they had spent countless hours trying to work out the torque curves and make the updated motor feel more natural. In fact, they spent three weeks adjusting the power curve to control wheelies alone! Ironically, the wheelie was one of the first things we asked about, as we often use it as a benchmark for how intuitive and smooth a motor is. Apparently, it’s important to Bosch as well.  

The Flow app allows the consumer to better tailor the power characteristics to their personal needs. You’ll also be able to record your rides and incorporate them into other apps, such as Strava or Apple Health. This makes for endless training possibilities, especially if you have the more advanced Kiox or Nyon display. You’ll be able to know instantly how many watts your legs are putting out. 

Through the Flow app, you can do updates over the air via Bluetooth. Bosch is confident that with the data they get back from the app and the connective possibilities, the future of safety could be bright. E-bikes and cars could have early warning systems in place to avoid each other and accidents. 

We were only able to get a brief ride on the new system, but we could immediately recognize that, motor-wise, it was a step in the right direction. One of the features we thought stood out was in e-MTB mode, where you had an extra split second of assist after you stop pedaling. This meant if you were climbing and needed to shuffle your feet or back pedal for a moment, you wouldn’t lose momentum so quickly. This adds to the traditional bike feel without giving you unwanted power when you don’t need it. We will eventually have a complete review soon.

“The Sea Otter Classic is an event where companies show off their new stuff, whether it’s bikes or bike-related gear or supplements to keep riders going.”

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