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

We’re back with our second eclectic mix of findings from the 2023 Sea Otter Classic. Yesterday’s post just wasn’t enough to tell you about all the new bikes, old bikes, products, and people Josh and Travis encountered this year. In fact, we reckon even two posts won’t be enough. There’s a lot to cover, so settle in with your morning coffee and enjoy.

Classified Two-Speed MTB Hub First Impressions

Classified recently announced a mountain-focused version of their two-speed hub system, and Sea Otter was our first chance to pedal one around. Hunt Wheels is currently the only complete wheel company slated to use Classified hubs, so they had a bike ready to go. Briefly, the system consists of a discrete electronic shifter that communicates with the axle which tells the hub to engage or disengage planetary gears that give you two distinct gear settings. But the idea behind the concept isn’t necessarily about increasing gear range. The hub, combined with Classified’s 11-40 12-speed mountain cassette, nets a 530% range, compared to current SRAM’s 520% or Shimano’s 510%. But it does offer tighter steps between gears for better cadence-tuning and, presumably, cleaner shifting. And most interestingly to the mountain-bike and gravel crowd, it offers the ability to dump (or jump) a significant bit of the range in an instant. That “significant bit” is 46% and that “instant” is 150 milliseconds. For reference, shifting between individual SRAM Eagle cogs may change the ratio by between 12% and 17%. So, that’s about three gears at once. And if you’ve never ridden a Rolhoff or Pinion-style gearbox, 150 milliseconds is not quite as immediate, but the clever thumb shifter is far better than the forceful grip shift that still represents the best the gearbox world can offer.

Like a gearbox, a Classified hub can be shifted under extreme load. We took that literally, making a few intentionally poorly timed shifts and, although it involved a pretty loud “clang,” it would always obey, and never felt like it was complaining. More surprising was that there was no discernable drag. If you’ve ever put torque into a gearbox bike in its high gears, the noise and vibration is pretty noticeable. And we expected the same on the Classified hub because it’s in the climbing setting that pedaling force is directed through the planetary gears. But we couldn’t feel any grinding. Again, making some intentionally poor decisions around terrain slope and gear choice, it felt like a normal chain. We’re keen to get our hands on a setup for a longer-term test, but initial results are positive.

Hudski Bikes

In our SOC coverage from last year, we shared Hudski’s updated version of their flagship Doggler all-arounder which can be a gravel bike, mountain bike, commuter bike, or somewhere in between. Since then, the Doggler has become increasingly popular due to its capable ride quality, versatility, and, at only $2,200 for a complete build, affordability. This year, Hudski showed off their upcoming “Longhorn” handlebar collection in addition to a new 27mm tubeless-ready rim called “Pano.” And, to keep things interesting during the expo they were back with the crowd-favorite wabi-sabi art station powered by an over-torqued vintage stationary bike. Hudski is all about having fun and we’re stoked to see them grow!

Chris and Jessica’s Hudski Dogglers

There were a handful of Dogglers cruising around the expo grounds over the weekend and, following the “Drawing from Your Bike” ride mentioned in yesterday’s piece, Jess and Chris stopped in amidst the afternoon event commotion to show us their builds. Equipped with dropper posts, MTB gearing, and fork-mounted baskets, these exemplify the Doggler’s versatility. Additionally, the basket bags they were both using are from Tunitas Carryall, which is Jess’ San Francisco-based handmade bag and accessory brand. Thanks for hanging, you two!

Steve from Hardtail Party and his Binary Maniak

As hardtail aficionados ourselves, we’re fans of Steve from Hardtail Party and his informative youtube review videos that focus on – you guessed it – hardtail mountain bikes. He’s a super nice guy and talented rider. It was great to bump into him at the 5DEV booth displaying his personal titanium Maniak, which he designed in partnership last year with Binary Bicycles. Steve rides pretty much every hardtail that hits the market, and quite a few custom bikes too, so he has a strong sense of what he wants and what is available. Still, he couldn’t find a production bike with clearance for 29×3.0 tires, short chainstays, and aggressive trail geometry. So he designed one. He says the Maniak has become his dream hardtail for riding the challenging trails around his hometown of Sedona, AZ, and his personal build is quite the sight.

This build features ZIPP’s 3zeroMOTO wheels laced to Onyx Vesper hubs, 5DEV’s latest titanium prototype cranks, Paul Comp Klamper brakes, 9point8 dropper, Roost titanium bars, a 40mm 5DEV titanium stem, 200mm 9point8 dropper, and limited edition pink Cane Creek Helm fork set at 130mm travel. Be sure to scroll through the gallery above for more photos of this hawt build.

Restrap Hike-a-Bike Harness

This idea makes sense on paper, but we frankly thought it may be a little weird to actually use. But that’s what’s cool about events like Sea Otter. You get to see the weirdness up close and there’s no shortage of it. Turns out, the $79.99 Hike-a-Bike Harness is surprisingly comfortable and easy to use. It’s a small top-tube pouch that hides a set of shoulder straps that, when you’re facing a long hike-a-bike, can be unfurled and attached to the down tube and non-drive-side chainstay. It’s not symmetrical like a backpack, but with some adjusting, you barely notice that. The weight feels even across the shoulders, just like normal hike-a-biking. But the rest of the bike is balanced against your lower back and, of course, your hands are free. Perhaps so you can bury your head in them as you wonder why you decided to do such a long hike-a-bike in the first place.

Ripton & Co. Performance Denim

We’ve been big fans of Ripton since they started making “performance denim” a few years ago. They continue to expand their offerings from the original jorts, adding overalls, jackets, and riding pants. Everything we’ve tried from Ripton looks good and performs well with a balanced blend of stretch and durability. This spring they unveiled a new Snap Shirt, which they sold at the show along with some added iron-on flare and garnered this year’s unofficial SOC slogan: “I went to Sea Otter and all I got was this awesome Jirt.” Thanks, Nikki, for modeling and ironing!

Camelbak 10-Liter Group Reservoir

The idea of a crew-sized hydration bladder isn’t new, but Camelbak’s approach to it is. The wide, rectangular bladder comes in 6L ($75) and 10L ($90) sizes, and felt encouragingly stable against the back. The sturdy, interior baffling meant it held its shape pretty well, though you’ll need a big overnight-ready pack in order for it to reach its capacity. It’s got a hook for convenient hanging and a tap-style hose tip for easy pouring. It also features Camelbak’s new Tru Zip closure system. The zipper-style device is less bulky than their Crux system. It’s available on traditional 2L and 3L bladders, but we think it’d be a great fit to save space on a hydration hip pack. It takes a fair bit of force to open and close, but if it starts to get out of hand, you can slicken it up with a water-based lubricant. Like the kind that may be in your bedside drawer.

RevGrips Shock Absorbing Grip System

We know. Grips are probably pretty far down most folks’ lists of fun and exciting products to check out at a massive event like Sea Otter. In fact, they are probably the one piece of cycling gear most of us take for granted and/or are fine with “setting and forgetting” once we find some we like. Well, the RevGrips interactive display caught our attention and, after giving them a whirl on the stand, we bought a pair to test on one of our bikes. Made domestically in San Diego, CA, RevGrips claim to provide suspension at your most important contact point – your hands. Constructed with dual layers, the larger outer surface is “suspended” from the inner grip sleeve via elastomers and moves with your hands as you ride (check out this handy cutaway drawing). The grips come in a number of sizes, diameters, and colors. This all sounded pretty enticing to us, particularly for riding rigid and hardtail bikes. We’ll report back soon once we have a chance to ride with them!

BN3TH North Shore Bibshort

BN3TH is a boutique men’s underwear brand that has perfected an approach to junk storage that you might call the “curtained compartment,” and they call MyPackage. It doesn’t seem like it would work for a padded short liner, but we can confirm it does, even if it means you absolutely must hide your shame with a set of baggies. The otherwise traditionally shaped pad stops just short of the supple, loose, MyPackage compartment. The original North Shore Bike Liner has been out for a while, and it cuts down on the friction and pressure that once was just a fact of life.

And at Sea Otter, BN3TH debuted a bib version. It’s essentially the same as the original from the waist down, with the MyPackage technology and some subtle silicone traction panels at the bottom. But above, it’s got a traditional bib shape. It’s got high-end, sheer-style straps at the front, but they transition over the shoulder to a more common shape with reinforced edges. We’d have liked to see the sheer style continue over the shoulder, and it’d have been nice to have some storage options, but maybe those additions will make it into an elite” version. These come in at a pretty reasonable $130.

Surly’s “Donger” 2nd-Gen Instigator Pit Bike

It’s a reliable assumption that Surly will have some weird and wild stuff with them, wherever they show up. This year at Sea Otter was no different, as they rolled around the expo grounds on a pit bike nicknamed (for reasons we’d rather remain ignorant to) “the Donger.” This is a second-generation Instigator frame clad in the most random assortment of parts they had laying around HQ back in Bloomington, MN. And, yes, those are the original Large Marge fat bike rims.

Vitus Pop-Art-Painted Escarpe FS

Vitus is a value-focused consumer-direct bike brand that offers something in just about every category and in a wide but low price range. They’re kinda like the Fezzari of Northern Ireland. Just last year, they became available in the US, and have been making moves to catch our attention. They signed Kyle Strait to the team and presented him with a Natural Light-themed version of the Escarpe trail bike at this year’s Sea Otter, complete with a shorter rear end to suit Strait’s style. But the custom Vitus we were more interested in was the pop-art-plastered Rapide FS cross-country bike. It’s not a production color, but we’d ride it. In fact, it belongs to Hap Seliga, CEO of Signa Sports United, the parent company of Chain Reaction Cycles. The work was done by artist Curtis Bullock (whose work we just saw on the Santa Cruz Stigmata at the Chris King Guest House) as an homage to the bicycle’s potential as a vehicle for self-expression.

Pop art was chosen because it emerged at a time when industry norms were collapsing in the art world. You can only go so dada in bike spec, but choosing Chris King hubs, Magura brakes, 5DEV cranks and a Rotor ring chip away a bit at the status quo. A lot like the four artists Bullock specifically channeled in the frame. We were able to guess three by name without even googling them. The first to call out all four in the comments gets a free like from John.

Ministry Cycles Psalm Prototype

Aside from giving it an artful paint job, it’s hard to make a full-suspension mountain bike itself artful. We’re, of course, partial to steel as one way to do it. Carbon can literally be too cookie-cutter, and aluminum too pedestrian. Unless that aluminum is CNC machined. Several brands have had machined seatstays or chainstays over the years, and Finnish manufacturer, Pole, pushed the limits further with its fully CNC’d “Machine” models. But this bike, the Ministry Psalm 150, is something else entirely. It foregoes Pole’s round organic shape for a brutal industrial look. Industrial like Ministry Cycles’ namesake band. Ministry Cycles is the brainchild of engineer and industry veteran, Chris Currie. The Psalm features the 3VO linkage he designed for Jamis, which from the leverage curve and anti-squat values on the website, seems like it’ll ride pretty neat. But of course, we’re here for the machining. The front triangle is machined in two pieces and bonded together. It’s a time-consuming process, but offers a lot of freedom in design. At the moment, Ministry Cycles is still in the testing phase, but Currie gave us every indication that he plans to make them commercially available someday.

Wolf Tooth Transmission-Compatible Chainrings

One of the many controversial aspects of SRAM Transmission is its introduction of a tooth profile and chainring interface that’s entirely new to the mountain-bike scene. It’s only been out for a few weeks, but there were already compatibility workarounds scattered throughout the Sea Otter expo lot. This, of course, included one at the Wolf Tooth tent. Wolf Tooth already developed a tooth profile they call Drop Stop B for use with SRAM’s road groups, which use effectively the same tooth profile as Transmission chainring. Wolf Tooth just had to shrink it down to a more trail-friendly size. And they were already one step closer to Transmission compatibility, because their Drop Stop B rings use Transmission’s 8-bolt direct-mount interface. That opens the door to more sizes, more ovals, and more competition in this increasingly SRAM-dominated world.

Like your average rubber barons, we’ll be back tomorrow with more serious business as we wrap up our Sea Otter coverage for ’23. Stay tuned!