Gravel Grinder News: Sea Otter ’19- by Grannygear
The pic of the Sea Otter map of vendor locations tells part of the story here…it’s a big place. After two days of meetings and hoofing’ around the venue, I began to get that thousand yard stare. Carbon gravel/allroad bike with room for big tires, 1x gearing, dropped drive side chain stay, and ‘tuned for gravel fork’ number 25, check!
E-Bikes? Yes, from slick to sick…and not ‘sick’ in a good way. Yet I did manage to see some things that stood out and no doubt missed some things I should have spent time with. I have read that there were more vendors then ever and yet there were some that were not there after years of prior attendance. The bike biz is hardly a thriving environment these days and Sea Otter vendors ranged between the established big boys and the new entrepreneurs with crowd funded dreams, looking to find a foothold in the marketplace. There was even the Italian Court this year…don’t remember that before.
Thursday was a cold and windy…really windy…crazy windy…day that took a toll on pop-up canopies and anything with some lift to it that was not bolted down. I was sharing a hotel breakfast room with a guy who made those canopies for businesses. I was told he did well on Friday morning selling replacement canopy frames. Business is where you find it.
So then, on we go.
Custom frames always tug at my heart, and this lovely G Series Ti gravel bike from Mosaic is no exception. Just look at the paint detail in that logo! Ti makes a lot of sense for gravel comfort and long term use. I appreciate the clean lines, something that many new carbon bikes miss just a bit. Note the new Enve Gravel fork that was mounted on a lot of show bikes. Max tire clearance.
The Mosaic was sporting a set of Mavic’s carbon All Road Carbon Pro SL wheel/tire combo. Interesting times as the Industry tries to sort out tubeless tire/wheel standards, something that Mavic championed many years ago to little success. Further challenges to the established old world brands like Mavic and DT Swiss are coming from Asian sourced ‘Build-a-Wheel’ companies that are hitting lower price points with quite decent quality. Interesting times, indeed. These Mavic wheels are good looking though…understated and classy.
See the Silca pump standing here in all it’s polished glory? Well, this is the Viaggio travel pump and it is the same pump in the image below, all folded up and ready to go. Pretty slick. Bluetooth enabled, HIRO chuck equipped, and comes in it’s own tool roll soft caddy. $275.00. Yeah, I know, but this is a pretty slick package and the pumping action feels like it comes with a Mercedes 500 class tool kit…smooth and solid action.
Stinner is a semi local to Grannygear builder that works in Ti and steel. This is the new Refugio (no, you are not pronouncing it right) with clearance for 700×50 and 27.5×2.3. Wow. That would be a crusher on the crappy fire roads of So Cal. Another Enve fork wearer. It looks a little fat on a steel framed bike, but the 700×50 capability is pretty sweet.
Spied this new Reynolds based steel gravel bike from Ritte. Great looking in this British Racing Green with the panels look and with a fork that blends well with the slender steel tubing. Now the warty looking Rotor rear mech is another thing.
At the Ergon booth was a display from Tubolito. Want to reduce the size and weight of your spare tube(s) or reduce weight from your tubed gravel wheel or All Road set-up? Here you go.
This seems really slick, actually. I carry two road tubes in my road bike pack even though I run tubeless cuz’ you never know. This would allow for a tiny seat pack for road and gravel bike sized tubes are even a bit bigger than a skinny road tube, although even slim tubes will stretch quite a bit for temp use. The Tubolito does not have the level of stretch as a butyl rubber tube so you need to size it well, but still.
As a 100% tubed set-up they claim the tube is tougher and more flat resistant as well as weight loss. In fact, in many sizes there are multiple levels of Tubolito, some even lighter and with removable stems, so they can be a dedicated spare.
For gravel, they have a 700C version that handles 30mm-40mm. Would it work with my 42s? Not sure. There is also an S Tubo version that handles 27.5×1.8-2.4”.
Cost? Well, they are pricy so it’s a double dip here in weight, both in your spare tubes and in your wallet. Still, It’s on my radar and I can see these as keepers.
Moots is one of those aspirational brands. The bike shown here is pretty much a 9+ grand bike with an Ultegra Di2 build kit so it’s a big ask. Still, if I were to pick any brand in this genre, if would be Moots. Why? Part of it is nostalgia. The rest is of a more practical nature, but often in a custom bike you need to consider the ‘heart’ as well as the mind and pocketbook. Now the YBB tech has been around for decades and I often wondered why it was not seen on gravel bikes before now. I did spend a brief time on a YBB 29″er and I was not very impressed with the lateral stiffness under hard pedaling even if the ride quietly was very forgiving.
Despite that, if I were writing a big check, the Routt YBB would be what I would looking at first. Isn’t the anodizing sweet, though? Dentists everywhere are rejoicing.
Wilier is one of the brands that I have only seen once or twice on the roads. Recently a friend picked up a Cento (say…’chento’) 10 NDR with that small Actiflex ’suspension’ device built into the seat stays. He loves it. Wilier’s bikes are also smart looking to my eye. Italian, you know. Or did you? I have to admit the Jena gravel bike is not quite as pleasing visually…maybe the ‘kinked’ tube look…and I can’t imagine why they did not incorporate the Actiflex seat stays dealie…odd.
Every so often I get blindsided by a product or company I did not know existed. So when I began speaking with Taber from TRW Active, I was quite surprised by the line of drive train gear they offer. Smart guy to talk to and you can expect a dedicated follow up article on this stuff. “Su-prise, su-prise, su-prise!”, says Gomer.
Giant showed us their quite extensive line of cycling footwear. I think there are some worthy features here that just might be very good, so look for a review of both the flat pedal Shuttle shoe and also the Mid-High End Charge Elite. Do folks rode flat pedals in gravel? Guitar Ted says they do, so it must be true. I don’t even own flat pedals, but I did wear one of the Shuttle fatties out to dinner last night. Nice looking kicks, actually. Just the thing to wear into town riding your townie.
I love my Redshift Shock Stop stem. It’s a elegant way to save your upper body from getting pummeled on the crappy So Cal dirt roads. The long awaited seat post is looking like it is on the near horizon and I was shown a combo dropper post/suspension post that would be really good, even on a lightweight XC hard tail, but of course, droppers on gravel bikes are not silly at all.
But the new Kitchen Sink bar is pretty interesting. With more curves than a centerfold, this looks like an adventure bar extraordinaire. Too much, perhaps? Maybe for my needs, but adventure riders and endurance gravel riders….maybe not so much. If I recall correctly, the ‘grip’ system can be applied separately to an existing bar.
Ever used a Velo saddle? No? Bet you have and you did not even know it. Veto makes a cubic ton of saddles (over 15 million a year per their website) for other companies and the story of the female owner of the company is an interesting one. This one celebrates the Year of the Pig but it looks more like the year of the angry wild boar to me. Italians, take note. This is your Cinghiale saddle.
We have a less angry saddle from Velo coming our way to be part of our gravel bike saddle test-o-roonie that is already in the process. The Prevail Ride saddle is the one in the pics for review. Looks good. Opening post will be up soon.
The French are lagging a bit in accepting gravel, but this Hutchinson Overide tire looks fast rolling and pointed at smooth dirt and hero gravel. I hope to have a sample here soon, so we shall see. Vive La France!
IRC is making big push into gravel and will be large and in charge at Dirty Kanza, so I was told. Meanwhile The Boken line of gravel tires is looking pretty good. We should be seeing both the 700×40 and 27.5×47 in for review soon. But how about the Marbella, looking pretty burly for a 700×28? With the push towards more capable road bikes, this could be a bad-road rider’s dream tire if a 28c is all you can handle on your frame
USWE is a really odd name and rolls off the marketing person’s tongue like a glob of peanut butter, but the product is pretty cool. Small enough to sit above jersey pockets on a gravel ride, the Airborne 3 seems like a good fit for longer self supported days. I have a sample, so expect more on that.
Spank is taking their Vibracore line of products, those being bars filled with vibration absorbing foam, and expanding it into both drop bars and rims. I run the Spank Vibracore bar on my MTB and I cannot really say I notice the benefit of Vibracore with a 2.8 tire and lots of suspension, but they are a nice riding bar over all. Of more interest to me is this tech on the road and gravel, where the higher frequency buzz can be tiring over time. The Wing Bar and Flare Bar are on tap for review, so we shall see. NOTE: The 12 degree Wing Bar shown here is not the final product which has been slightly tweaked before production.
The rims…well, that green filling you can see in the spoke holes is the foam. I was told this allows them to make a rim designed to be more forgiving in impacts, yet durable and resistant to denting. Can a gravel wheel be too stiff? Yes, I think so, but others do not. Actually I think even an MTB wheel can be too stiff and road as well. It’s a fine line yet to be drawn.
Speedvagen. Man, I love that name. I want one just because the name is so excellent, but the fabrication is top notch as well. That hourglass back end…the tidy dropouts…sweet. Not sure about that integrated seat mast deal, but I have not tried it either. In any case, they are another brand to aspire to, but what use the stars, if not to reach for? Even the paint is muy bueno with that matched stem….
From their website: “WE’RE NOT HERE TO MAKE A GAGILLION BIKES.” Just one for me, please, would be fine.
Thesis is yet another brand to come along with a road plus, do all, 1x, carbon, big tire, disc bike. Expect more. At some point, and we might already be there, you will have to work really hard to stand out among the herd. This is going to be a very competitive slice of the market.
The said, I think the Thesis is one of the best sorted bikes I have seen so far. Yes, it is 1x in the current form, but the gravel version (takes 27.5×47) is running an 11-46 cassette paired with the 46T chain ring. Very nice. The 30c tired roadie version runs a 46×42 combo and that is pretty good for road as long as a 46×11 is tall enough for you. The geo looks correct for something meant for all road: not too long or too high or too slack. I actually like it. And the pricing is quite good, being direct to consumer.
Color me interested.
The Look 765 Gravel RS has a distinctive ‘look’ about it for sure. See the head tube shaping and that stem? It’s a nice shape actually as I happen to like a compact frame style, and should catch some eyes in the European realms. It’s up against some established brands here that are more in the US public’s eye, but it goes to show how things are getting heated up over there.
With a high modulus carbon frame and fork, 1.2kg and 350g respectively, speed is going to be a priority here, yet the shaping of the frame is a nod towards compliance on Dirty Kanza-like days. Braze-ons for a Bento Box, a dropped drive side chain stay and room for 700×40 and 650bx55 is de rigueur for a race focused, gravel eating machine.
As well, there is a E version and I have to say that the Fauza e-package is very slick, all being built into the removable battery/motor pack which completes the downtube. It’s not for me, but it is very subtle and unobtrusive.
I am looking (no pun intended) into getting a test bike to see what is what.
Topeak is jumping in waist deep with a line of bikepacking bags. So far I have not seen any ‘big brand’ factory bags that have been at the level of a good, hand made, custom bag, but I bet the cost is a bonus with the Topeak gear.
I end the photos with the Niner MCR 9 RDO, a bike that has to be the most controversial, polarizing, gravel bike in the world. (Maybe the most photographed gravel bike as well. Editor) Making it an e-bike would likely burn down the internet. I have to say that I am open to the concept and this bike is actually very well executed, or so it seems to my eye. Function is yet to be seen, and this seems to be a bike that will actually be on sale this year.
But, I have to wonder. There is a point where, once you begin to add pivots and linkages and rockers and sliders and stanchions, etc, that you might as well have more travel than 50/65mms. I look at this and I think, “Hmmmm, take a Specialized Epic and chop some length out of the top tube, add a drop bar and run a 700×40 tire or even a fast, light 29er tire”. I mean, that would weigh the same I bet or close to it, have 100mms of front fork travel (or make it 80mm)…I dunno.
We shall see if the MCR 9 RDO is a brilliant trendsetter, a super niche gravel bike, or internet fodder. Time will tell
Note- Riding Gravel would like to thank all the vendors, representatives, and marketing/PR people who took the time out to speak with us and set up opportunities to review product in the future. We could not have written this report without your cooperation.
About The Author: Grannygear hails from SoCal and spent most of his cycling days as a mountain biker from the formative years of mountain biking all the way up to the present day. His day job is in the tech sector, but he has spent time writing about off road 4X4’s, 29″ mountain bikes, and cycling in general. Grannygear and Guitar Ted have worked off and on together since 2009 after a chance meeting at Interbike. With gravel cycling on the rise, Grannygear has been exploring how this genre’ works in SoCal and now does guest pieces for RidingGravel.com in his spare time.