Bikes, Products, and People from Sea Otter Classic 2023: Part One

Sea Otter Classic is one of the largest annual cycling festivals in the world. Each April since 1991, cyclists of all persuasions have descended on Laguna Seca Raceway outside of Monterey, CA to cheer on professional and amateur racers, as well as check out the latest and greatest in cycling technology at the massive vendor expo.

And this year, that tech happened to be especially late and great, and there was more to talk about than usual. Maybe it’s because there were more exhibitors in attendance than normal. Maybe it’s the easing of strains on the supply chain. Whatever it was, Josh Weinberg and Travis Engel were on the ground all weekend and, over the next few days, will be sharing their findings and observations from the massive event. So, let’s get into it below!

Wheels MFG Solo-XD Singlespeed Converter 

Louisvulle, CO-based Weels MFG is primarily known for its large selection of bottom brackets, derailleur hangers, and other machined parts for integral cycling applications. At this year’s Sea Otter expo, Wheels MFG blew our hair back with a product we’ve been waiting a long time for. The Solo-XD is a single-speed conversion for XD driver-equipped hubs. While the Problem Solvers Zinger has been around for a while, it’s nice to have different options. Available in seven anodized color options, replaceable cog sizes ranging from 16T to 20T, and 1mm increments of chain line adjustment with included spacers, we think this will open up a lot of possibilities for reliably converting existing wheelsets to singlespeed. The Solo-XD hasn’t officially launched yet so keep your eyes peeled for more info soon from Wheels MFG.

Push Industries Fork

We love surprises. Especially because they don’t really happen anymore. Whether through rumors, leaks, or increasingly descriptive teasers, it seems like product news always starts circulating well before those products finally step into the light. But the first ever fork from Push Industries was a shock (HA!) to everyone who turned the dusty corner across from the Abbey Tools booth. Here’s the full extent of what we can tell you about Push’s new inverted fork: It’s inverted. We were told much more behind the curtain, and rest assured there’s a lot to talk about. We’re looking forward to surprising you with that when we can.

Penhale Grytstone

You’ll never meet a less pretentious bike than the Penhale Grytstone.  And you’ll never meet a less pretentious industry nerd than its creator, Andy Holmes. After transplanting from northern England to southern California, Holmes has worked for suspension pioneers AMP Research, built Jeep suspension under his own 4WD business, and held the global mountain-bike product manager position at Felt. But since then, he’s moved on to smaller and better things. He helped kids-bike innovator, Cleary Bikes get off the ground, and founded touring-focused bike brand, Penhale. Named for his parents’ home town in Cornwall, England, Penhale bikes put comfort and capability over speed.

Penhale’s bikes are known for generous tire clearance, tall head tubes and low bottom brackets. The all-titanium Grytstone aims to notch up the tech but maintain a casual demeanor. There’s a nifty 3D-printed bottom bracket shell that manages the internal cable routing, and hides the access behind a discrete trap door. The frame will accept 142 or 148mm rear spacing, and will ship with Penhale’s titanium fork in either 100 or 110mm spacing versions, or a Wren Beefcake carbon. Penhale will be accepting pre-orders on frames for $2,750 starting this May (ignore the dates on the Penhale site). Tire clearance tops out at 29×2.6 or 27.5×3, bottom bracket drop is 75mm, head tube length on a large is 195mm. We’d post the geo chart here, but details are still being worked out on sizes XS and S. And anyway, geo charts are pretentious.

Chris’ Squid Bikes All Road

Chris is a co-owner of Squid Bikes who is always coming up with wild paint schemes and cycling art projects. The bike he had with him walking the expo grounds this year was originally painted for the 2018 NHABS show. He started with a white base coat and ended up getting very sick before the show, so spent his sick time doodling all over it while stuck at home in bed. Originally, the bike had a tracklocross build and, in the years since, Chris has transformed it into a singlespeed ‘cross machine and now it’s his geared all-road rig with a clean-looking SRAM Force AXS group. We love seeing well-used bikes like this take on new lives with different tech. Good stuff, Chris!

Wood ‘n Nickel

Aptly named the Wood ‘n Nickel, this one-off bike was seen being walked around Sea Otter by its creator, Jon Martin. Its ash frame “tubes” are connected by nickel-plated steel lugs. Martin built the Wood ‘n Nickel in 2014 as a slightly more practical supplement to his collection of wooden bikes. The bike’s gone through some changes over the years, but a standout spec choice that he’s had stayed with it is the Cran Brothers Cobalt wheels. Still technically in Crank Brothers’ wheel lineup, the paired-spoke wheels were a way to eliminate spoke holes back before we all gave up and just started using tape. There’s also the Nokon-style beaded aluminum cable housing, which transitions to solid aluminum external conduit along the top and down tubes. Good choice, given how difficult internal routing would be.

Schwinn Panther

The sleeper hit of the early aughts, the Schwinn Panther was the first bike since the Merlin Newsboy to open our eyes to what a sleek, performance-focused cruiser could be. The common thread throughout its build is its minimal weight. The aluminum frame had a slightly simplified version of the beach cruiser silhouette, with a double, not triple top-tube. And the cafe-racer-style bars were also aluminum. Even the fork, which Schwinn could have easily specced off the shelf from one of its steel cruisers, was all aluminum. But maybe the most coveted of its special bits are the tires. The Ritchey Moby Bite tires were a standard model in the Ritchey lineup, but Schwinn had a run of Kevlar-beaded versions made to suit the Panther’s mission. They’re still in decent shape on this one, which happens to belong to Todd Toth, VP of sales at Vital Media Network. Thanks for the assist, Todd!

TecGNAR Custom Paint Jobs

Perhaps the most cleverly named brand in cycling, TecGNAR is a custom painting service founded and operated by Dustin Carlson in Price, Utah. By what we assume is a mixture of witchcraft and talent, TecGnar is able to channel an over-the-top ‘80s aesthetic without it feeling corny. But in the end, the designs are up to you. Not all of TecGnar’s work is quite as loud as this. He’s well versed in clean solid paint, and even has some tasteful floral numbers in his portfolio. Those subtle jobs start at $799, but it goes up from there. And not just for frames. You can tie as many parts as you want into your chosen motif. For example, this Evil Wreckoning was on display at the 5DEV booth. Hard to imagine a bike can be painted in a way that its 5DEV cranks aren’t the first thing you notice.

Altangle Hangar Connect Bike Stand

The Hangar Connect bike stand from Altangle Cycling has been around for about a year now, but we hadn’t really gotten to see one up close until this year’s SOC expo. Designed to provide a bike stand wherever you need one, the small stand is surprisingly solid. The Altangle crew had a few attached to their Easy Up tent all weekend, regularly loading and unloading bikes of all shapes and sizes showing the functionality of the dual-position clamp heads. The 3lb device attaches to pretty much any clampable surface – from stairway railings to vehicle grill guards – and holds up to about 55lbs, seemingly useful for everyone from traveling racers to apartment dwellers. Have you used the Hangar Connect Stand? We’ll be getting one in for review, so look for a more detailed test of this clever device soon.

Wild Rye / Juliana Bicycles Collab

Game recognize game, as the old saying goes. That’s why Juliana Bicycles went to Wild Rye to release a limited lineup of women’s apparel that reflect each brands’ fresh approach to kitting up. The Freya pant features Wild Rye’s new design, with combo velcro and zippered cuffs to pass more easily over shoes. The Merritt Muscle Tank is Wild Rye’s casual / tech top, and is made from recycled materials. The lightweight Galena gloves are padded, but only at the heel of the hand so as not to crowd the whole palm. Speaking of palms, the Freel shorts are printed to mimic the ferns of Santa Cruz’s native flora. And they’ve got pockets!

Aleck’s “Punks” Wireless Helmet Audio and Crash Sensor

Aleck used this year’s SOC to release their new Punks helmet audio and communications system. Similar to their snowsports helmet device, the cycling version attaches to helmet straps and lets you hear surrounding sounds like traffic, wildlife, other riders, etc while simultaneously listening to personal audio. It also features a push-button Bluetooth communication system to keep in touch with other riders in your group. We tried it out and, after an initial 60-second listen, thought the audio sounded great and were still able to hear folks talking around us.

They also make a stick-on crash sensor that not only alerts an emergency contact upon impact but also contacts the Heros Nearby network, which differentiates it from other crash sensors on the market. The crash sensor is available now, while the Punks audio system will be for sale soon from Aleck.

Ornot and “Drawing from Your Bike” Ride

This was Ornot‘s first year at Sea Otter and they brought a bunch of fun stuff to show off. One of those items was a new handlebar bag that’s larger than their current Mini. This new bag features a wider zippered opening, making its main pocket more accessible, along with a nylon/mesh side phone pocket with a clever bungee closure. They also debuted a collaboration Trail Shirt with local San Fransisco artist Chris McNally.

Speaking of Ornot and Chris McNally, one of the most unexpectedly pleasant experiences of our weekend was spent with Chris, the Ornot team, and Cyclographic Cult Art Bike Club. In the heat of Saturday afternoon, during some of the event’s busiest hours leading up to the highly anticipated dual slalom MTB race, a group met up at the Ornot booth for a short organized ride to draw session. While we typically don’t have time to ride during these events, riding up to the hills above the venue to chill out, hang with friends, and draw a scene from the surrounding stunning lush landscape was a much-appreciated reprieve from the bustling event below.

We’ll be back tomorrow with more finds from Sea Otter Classic!