New Gear at Sea Otter 2005
Part One
Words and photos Cam McRae

The last time the weather was nice at Sea Otter was in 2001 - which also happens to be the last time I was there.  It was actually a little too nice this time around and I returned to Canada with sun burnt ears.

It used to be that a tonne of new gear was debuted at Sea Otter.  Now that many manufacturers hold their own media camps or wait for Interbike there aren't as many treats to keep the journalists gobsmacked.  Some manufacturers had some cool stuff up their sleeves though and this will be my first of two instalments on the stuff that has me longing for new gear.

The GT IT1 (as in internal transmission) is ready to roll.  They are expected at dealers by late summer.

The GT internal transmission bike has been around for some time.  In fact it first showed up at Interbike in 1997.  The word is that the bike is now in production trim and they will be seen in showrooms before long.  The bike relies on a Shimano Nexus 8-spd hub that is housed above the crank.  Nicolai does something similar with the heavier and much more expensive Rohloff 13-spd hub.  The Nexus is cheap and reliable. The bike is said to have 7 to 9 inches of travel and zero pedal feedback. Because of the jackshaft design the rear cog ends up on the left side of the bike and the rotor on the right.  The 150mm hub and the absence of a cogset allows a zero-dish wheel to be used as well as wider flanges for more lateral strength.  To my eyes the bike shown at Interbike was not easy on the eyes.  This incarnation with the charcoal paint scheme is substantially more attractive but it still looks like a bit of a jalopy with the tall front triangle and long rear end.  Is this the future of DH bikes?  Time will tell.

A polished Santa Cruz Nomad.

Santa Cruz Nomad.
The sexiest bike at Sea Otter had to be this polished Santa Cruz Nomad.  The swoopy hydroformed toptube along with this chrome-like finish made the bike seem to slither even when it was bolted to the stand.  This bike splits the difference between the Blur (and now the Blur LT with 5.5" travel) and the VPFree.  You might call it a VPP version of the Bullit considering it has 6.5" of travel. Could the venerable Bullit's days be numbered?  Dipping into your retirement fund could allow you to build this bike down to about 30 lbs but 32-34 is more likely for those of us not inclined towards Ti bbs and tubeless wheelsets.  The head angle is in the 69 range which points this bike squarely at the Specialized Enduro.  The bike shown is suspended with a Fox DHX Air shock - more on that below. Santa Cruz riders like Kirt Voreis have been extremely pleased with this bike.

Yeti 303 DH.
Yeti's new DH bike design was on display at the outdoor demo at Interbike.  The bike had a curved rail upon which the swingarm moved.  The curve helped emphasize a rearward wheelpath but it didn't seem very practical.  The bike was at Sea Otter but the design was refined significantly.  The rails were still there but no longer curved.  This wasn't a display bike though; the bike was being raced by the likes of Rich Houseman (who had a very strong weekend) and Jared Graves who won the Gravity omnium which goes to the best overall Gravity rider in the Dual, DH and Mountain Cross.

I appreciate the fact that the 303 looks like a relatively conventional DH bike.  It has a nice silhouette and the lines are sleek and fast.  A closer look soon makes you realize that this bike is anything but ordinary.  The top pivot slides along rails that are parallel to the sloping top tube.  The lower shock mount glides along a rail that is parallel to the lower portion of the seat tube which is angled slightly towards the front of the bike.

Rich Houseman (left) discussing strategy with Chris Conroy.

The heart of the Yeti 303DH.

Chris Conroy, Yeti's GM, told me that the 303 was made in response to rider demand.  Yeti's racers felt that bikes weren't dealing with square-edged bumps effectively enough and this was critical because these obstacles slowed them down the most.  Most bikes that rotate on pivots have a forward wheelpath which leads the bike to pull back when a square bump is encountered.  The vertical rail in the 303 allows for a rearward wheelpath which eliminates this pull. 

The rails used in the design were adapted from industrial applications like CNC machines.  Friction is minimized with ball bearings which are protected with several layers of dust wipers and seals.

I pedalled the bike along the pavement and it felt great.  There wasn't an abundance of square-edged bumps in the parking lot but I could tell immediately this was a bike I wanted to get more time on. 

Just sitting on the bike is a noteworthy experience.  The rails with their ball bearings make for travel that is unbelievably silky.  It's the closest thing to frictionless travel I have yet had the pleasure to experience.

The design is about 90% complete according to Conroy and the finished product will likely incorporate an additional linkage to make the rear end more laterally stiff. 

These rails were developed for heavy duty industrial applications.

This is clearly Fox Country.  Even the trucks are sprung by the folks from Watsonville (which is just up the road from Monterey).

Fox Racing Shox.
Fox wasn't making any noise about it but there was some 2006 Product behind their pit.  I haven't had much time on the Fox 36 but I've ridden it enough to know it's the real deal.  The fork is slightly over five lbs with six inches of travel and it's stiffer than a cadaver on Everest.  What's new for 2006 is two coil sprung versions called the 36 Van RC2 and the Van R.  The RC2 has high and low speed compression adjustment as well as rebound adjustment.  The R has only rebound damping.  Both are said to test to the same stiffness standards as the Fox 40 so they should be up to the rigours of freeride.  Travel for the coil version has increased to 160mm or 6.5" making it a nice match for bikes like the Specialized SX Trail or Enduro or the new Santa Cruz Nomad. 


The Fox 36 Van RC2 for 2006 is coil sprung.

Fox has also come out with a new rear shock; the DHX AIR.  This air-sprung, piggy-back unit was developed with the urging of the folks at Specialized.  The basic features mirror the coil DHX; position sensitive damper and Boost Valve technology, adjustable ProPedal, externally adjustable bottom out resistance, an adjustable tuning range using a schrader valve as well as rebound damping adjustment. The bottom out and ProPedal can be adjusted independently of each other because of the Boost Valve Technology.  This leads to a shock that shaves a full pound off versus a coil sprung shock. This shock is available in sizes up to 9.5" eye to eye with a 3.0" stroke.

The Fox DHX AIR 5.0 might be seen on a DH bike near you.

SRAM was showing off the new XO Triggers as well as some sexy new brakes which Stuart's going to tell you about in an upcoming article.  Think carbon and Ti and very difficult to get your hands on.

Chris Glew was down at Sea Otter talking to sponsors about his new venture.  He's started a team called simply "The Bike Team."  His newest acquisition is Jordie Lunn who will be riding Ironhorse bikes this year along with Chris, Tyson McCrae and James Doerfling. 

Besides running the team and touching girls in wigs, Chris also gives good tour.  His company, Freeride Tours does 5 to 14 day tours to B.C.'s hottest riding destinations.  It's highly recommended.

Chris Glew as the filling in a SRAM girl sandwich.

"No one makes me bleed my own blood."  Gareth Dyer didn't compete in the dirt jump comp after going down hard. What do dirt jumpers have against pads? 

I bumped into Brad Meinzer who was unloading one of his DH Chairs from his truck.  These things are serious downhill beasts with 12" of travel front and rear.  Brad's own ride has a custom hand crank for those times when a little more horsepower us needed.

I asked Brad if he's ever been to Whistler and his reply was "No but I want to.  There's someone up there I want to put the hurt to." He told me he was referring to Stacy Kohut.  "I've beat his times everywhere I've raced - I just haven' been to Whistler yet" he continued.

The Parapros Spyder Brad races comes with Hope brakes, 26" wheels front and back, Fox Shox at every wheel and prices start at USD$5500 including the paint colour of your choice - and they can be delivered a couple of months after an order is placed.  I wish we had known about these when we did the auction for Blair Jones. Check them out at

About the coolest DH chair I've seen.

Versus Cycles was displaying this sexy custom painted Blitz which has 4-6" of adjustable travel. 

Wayne Goss, winner of last year's RaceFace UFC picked up his new Giant Faith down at Sea Otter. 

There was a a lot more than this happening at Sea Otter so I'll be back tomorrow with more dirt, results and gear news. Stay tuned for Part II and find out what's new from Manitou, Marzocchi as well as some scoop and photos from the bike mag awards and UFC presentation. 


Cam McRae