Thursday, April 14, 2011
More than wheels spin at the annual epic that is the Sea Otter Classic at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Heads do too.
After all, this is a lot: Four days, 8,000 athletes and 50,000 fans worth of pedal-powered action – bike demos and beer gardens, stunt shows and special events just for children, road races and dirt showdowns and endurance epics – enough eventfullness all told to give the Sea Otter a strong grip on the awfully lofty title of World’s Best Bike Festival.
The Weekly takes a look at some of the brand-new elements being introduced in this 21st annual edition, as well as some of the adjustments made to classic ingredients:
This debut opportunity lets bikers learn how to make killer jumps without getting themselves killed. The Big Air Bag (9am-5pm Thu-Sun) from Camp of Champions Mountain Bike Camp in Whistler, Canada – where founder Ken Achenbach has been utilizing it as the best way to help people learn aerial acts at the camp’s ski, snowboard and mountain bike camps – cushions the business end of flying aerobatics with a 45-by-35-foot impenetrable, two-chambered airbag. An all-pro team of coaches – Mike Montgomery, Andrew Taylor, Jack Fogelquist, Greg Watts and Justin Wype – supervise and school amateurs on various tricks. It’s all of the amateur tailwhips and backflips, the 360s and monster air with none of the blood and splatter.
SRAM Speed and Style (11am Fri; 6pm Sat) parlays a furious downhill head-to-head race – that blows through dirt rollers, two greater-than-180-degree turns and speeds that run up to 30mph – with a freestyle jump contest. Designed by legendary freeriding course designer Jeff Lenosky to draw freestyle specialists (like the McCaul brothers from Santa Cruz) and fleet racers (Mitch Ropelato or Brandon Fairclough) to one showdown, the debut format awards points to the first racer across the finish line, but offers a time credit for whoever earns the most style points from three judges on two 7.5-foot-tall jumps – meaning here come the mid-race Supermans, 720-degree spins and backflips. A slalom-style elimination bracket whittles the 32 competitors down to the final champ.
Stunts for Lunch
For the Kenda Mike Steidley Professional Mountain Bike Stunt Show (12pm, 2pm Thu; 11:30am, 2pm Fri; 11:30am, 2pm, 4pm Sat; 11:30am, 2pm Sun), the nine-time national and 16-time regional champion mountain biker brings his new set of custom ramps, beams and platforms to creatively tailor his performance for the crowd during each of the weekend’s nine stunt shows. One moment he’s jumping his bike off the roof of his trailer, the next crushing a soda can or completing any of a range of other gymnastic drops, spins and gap jumps. While his techniques encourage astonishment, he encourages fans to find him on Facebook and at the event for autographs, T-shirts and other swag.
Ready to Ride
Dirt mounds spaced to generate speed lead riders into a variety of burms and obstacles designed to let them test out bikes and accessories in various ways. Elsewhere dirt and wood combine for wall rides and a 20-foot-long, 5-foot-tall box deploys a ramp on one side and stairs on the other. There’s a cross-country loop, where switchbacks demand nimble gear-changing and precise turning, and the invitational jump jam. In other words, there’s no absence of indicators why freerider and premier trailbuilder Randy Spangler is calling this year’s SRAM MTB Ride Zone (9am-5pm Thu-Sun) a “pump park.”
Lorri Lee Lown, cycling coach and founder of San Francisco Bay Area cycling club Velo Girls, has planned several women-specific events for the first ever Sunday dedicated (largely) to the ladies. Ladies Activities Day includes a Road Ride, Mountain Bike Skills Clinic, Women’s Bike Fit Seminar, Bike Maintenance and Cleaning Seminar, Nutrition Seminar, Women by Design Panel Discussion and an opportunity to mingle with other women at a Wine and Chocolate Reception hosted by Trek Women. Girls are also welcome to join their moms, though there’s a Little Bellas (ages 8 – 14) day camp ready to get girls in gear. All women-specific activities are free, though registration is requested and capacity is limited, so an RSVP is the best way to ensure a spot. Registration will be available on www.seaotterclassic.com from 6am to noon on Sunday, April 17; those who register online will receive a “super-cool gift.”
Trials and Airers
Trials riding master Ryan Leech (noon, 2pm, 4pm Sat; 12pm, 2pm Sun) has performed thousands of shows all over the world. While chatting to the audience on his wireless mic, he jumps and balances his bike on a custom-built course – a 100-square-foot area filled with planks of various heights, platforms on poles, and a trailer – hopping on his bike from plank to pole to trailer while balancing on one or both wheels.
The Real Deal
Dealer Days (9am-5pm Thu-Sun) allows shop owners to mingle with thousands of avid cyclists; attend just-for-dealers clinics and seminars where manufacturers debut new products; have a chance to try out demo bikes and products on dealers-only rides; have exclusive access to race venues; and observe the response of the general public to the demo bikes and products. The sweeping Sea Otter Expo (9am-5pm Thu-Sun), meanwhile, remains a must-see kaelidescope of quick-wicking socks, spandex, über-light frames, slick shades, energy goops, rehydration inventions and scores of folks absolutely psyched for bikes.
THE SEA OTTER CLASSIC happens 8am Thu-5pm Sun at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Highway 68, Monterey. $12/day; $30/pass; free/children 12 and under (parking is also free). (800) 218-8411, www.seaotterclassic.com.