The Best Of Sea Otter Classic: 5 Cycling Journalists Give Their Picks

What makes the Sea Otter Classic so popular? The trails that are just minutes away from the festival are a large part of what helped make it a staple event for racers and industry alike. 

Each year I half expect to show up at the Sea Otter Classic and see a decline in the number of industry brands in the expo and an exodus in attendees that jam the rows upon rows of booths. With history as a guide, festivals, trade shows, and events have a shelf life and then they are replaced by something else. Yet, Sea Otter Classic is like a Twinkie, it never gets stale and is simply chalk full of delicious fun.

As more brands realize the importance of allowing the consumer to get a sneak peek of something in prototype form, or use the event to launch a product altogether, Sea Otter has gone from just a race festival to now being every bit as important as a trade show. Industry trends are often amplified and plainly on display during the four-day event. We’ve seen the gravel segment on the come up for a few years now, and this year it was evident how it’s become the darling of the industry. And love ‘em or not, e-bikes have continued to make headway and grow their footprint at the event…which is definitely aided by the e-bike race that pulls in some notable athletes.

To get a gauge of what’s new, or what truly stood out, I asked five cycling journalists to tell me their highlight of the week.

Josh Patterson, BikeRadar: Niner MCR 9 RDO Prototype

Niner’s full suspension gravel prototype, the MCR 9 RDO, was the most interesting bike I saw at this year’s Sea Otter Classic. It goes to show how much flux there is in the “gravel” category and how broad it could be in the near future — spanning everything from aero-race to full-suspension. Having raced gravel bikes since the early 2000s, I fully believe the future of gravel bikes involves some form of suspension or engineered flex. Smooth is fast, after all.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the MCR 9 RDO wasn’t the bike itself, but the wide range of strong opinions it elicited from our readers. Some readers left snarky comments that it was pointless. “Get a mountain bike!” seemed to be the knee-jerk reaction. Other readers, perhaps with a deeper background in riding gravel, really appreciated the concept.

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Joe Mackey, Mountain Bike Action: Ellsworth Truth

This year I was blown away by how many young families were in attendance and how many little kids I saw ripping around on full-suspensions. Product-wise I was excited to see Wolf Tooth Components expand its line of products with their new headsets that are made in their Minnesota facility. The new Ellsworth Truth caught my eye for a lot of reasons, most of which is that I’m a sucker for cross-country bikes.

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Travis Engel, Bike Mag: Bold Cycles Unplugged Prototype

My favorite thing at Sea Otter ended up taking 1600 words to talk about…So, someone hid a shock inside a frame. Big deal. I’m not ashamed of my shock. I think it looks fine. In fact, I want it out in the open. I want it to feel the wind in its hair. Suspension designers go to great lengths to keep heat from disrupting a shock’s damping characteristics.

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Spencer Powlison, VeloNews: E-Bike Racing

Say what you will about e-bikes, and whether they belong in the realm of competitive cycling, this bicycle race was a blast — just as fun as a race on a traditional human-powered rig. Sure, the bicycle I raced had a 250-watt motor. But I am here to tell you that this race was damn hard.

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Jon Hornbeck, Road Bike Action: Niner MCR 9 RDO Prototype

What stood out to me more as a whole was the growing popularity of the gravel segment. There looks to be no end in sight, but just the opposite as more momentum is picking up. There were brands on hand introducing their all new gravel bike and even this prototype full suspension machine from Niner.

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