Sea Otter 2019

My Three Favourite Bikes from Sea Otter

Words Cam McRae
Photos Cam McRae
Date Apr 18, 2019

Sea Otter is filled with bikes obviously. Race bikes, regular bikes, quirky bikes... you'll find a bit of everything. I didn't see everything however and much of my time was spent in meetings, but of the bikes I saw and got photos of, these topped the charts.


I would have chosen this machine and this copilot, but it's technically a trike.

Ibis bow-ti

I remember a bow-ti hanging on the wall of my local shop sometime a little before Y2K. I was in awe of the design and workmanship but I don't think it was on my list for whatever reason. Maybe price? Looking at it today it would be easy to dismiss its pivotless URT design, but context is everything. MBA said "Otherwise, the Bow Ti is arguably the smoothest riding, most efficient, long-travel suspension bike you can buy."


Not exactly modern lines, and good luck lowering that post, but this was the age of rigidity.


Marzocchi was ahead of their time as well.

The first proto was made in 1996 and production started in 1998. By 2002, when Ibis went dark for a time, 269 frames had been produced. In their day these were outrageously expensive. I found a Canadian reviewer on MTBR who paid 8000 USD for his which at the time was 11000 CAD, and this was 20 years ago.


Rear shocks were understandably not very sophisticated at the time.


I wish I still had one of these.

The frames were said to 'stinkbug' under braking, meaning the wheels would pinch toward each other sending the saddle skyward, but there were upsides to the 5" travel design. There were no pivots to wear out and it was said to be quite stiff laterally. Travel was facilitated by the flattened tube that extended from the bottom bracket to the top tube just ahead of seat tube. It would flex when a force was applied. Looking at the bike it seems that 5" of travel may be hyperbole, or perhaps that was the travel on paper?


Somehow that stroke translates into 5" of travel.


Another component I wish I still had, although I never had a ti version.

It's pretty easy to call this the golden age of mountain bike in some ways, but designs that are completely out of step with the mainstream don't have much luck today. Back then, when there was no mainstream for duallies, the sky was the limit. The bow-ti wasn't exactly ahead of its time, because its time never returned, but it offered something that was in very scarce supply at the turn of the century; a functional dual suspension design.


That is a titanium bow tie on the left. On the right you'll see Ibis founder Scot Nicol wearing said Tibowtie while speaking with Phil Leggatt likely in the late 90s.

Yeti SB13(6) Lunch Ride

Specialized has a lunch ride that is pretty legendary; it's intense, well attended and no prisoners are taken. Unfortunately it happens on the road because that's what you get in Morgan Hill. Yeti's lunch ride in Golden CO is all about trails and dirt and this bike is a reflection of what some of the staff has done to their SB130s.


An SB130 on HGH? This bike will hit the sweet spot for many and I'm certain it would be a great bike for a lot of the riding in coastal B.C.

It's actually the bike I was dreaming of when the SB bikes came out. I figured the SB130 was a little small and the SB150 was a little big (I was wrong it turns out) and this bike was just right in my imagination. Removing a spacer bumps travel from 130 to 136, the fork goes from 150 to 160 and gets the GRIP2 Damper.


The spacer can apparently be removed on any SB130 equipped with the Fox DPX2 shock to boost travel to 136.


The Fox Factory Fork gets the Grip2 damper as part of the upgrade and grows by 10mm to 160.

Lots of details have been tweaked. Bars grow 20mm to 800, the XT brakes get swapped out for Code RSC and the front rotor boosts to 200mm. Even the seat post drop increases with size M going from 125 to 150mm while Lg and XL go from 150 to 175mm.


Geo moves slightly with the head angle tipping back .4º to 65.1º and the BB height goes from 337.7mm to 340.8mm.

Weight climbs slightly from 28.9 to 29.3 lbs and the price grows by 4 hundo to 7599 USD. You can choose between the weekend models or the LR SB130 on yeticycles.com


Can't forget about the brakes. Two piston Shimanos are replaced by 4 pot SRAM RSC.


Bigger rotor up front? Of course.

Guerrilla Gravity Smash

I've heard and read a little about GG bikes, but this was my first in person encounter. I'd heard about the made in CO quality and the frame only price of 2195 and a complete for 3795 USD or about the price you'd pay for a carbon frame from many companies. And yet GG claims to be using carbon tech that is ahead of the rest, their bikes are littered with unique features and adjustments and people like the way they ride. It's all sounding pretty rosy.


The Smash. Crush Mode and Plush Mode. Surface to Surface Missile. Subtlety is not the GG approach.

There's not another bike I know of with so much adjustability. You can swap out seat stays* to change the bike from one model to another (longer or shorter wheelbase) or to choose a different wheel size. and you can alter reach, front centre and wheelbase by 10mm by using the Geoadjust headset. You can alter the leverage ratio with a flip chip at the shock mount, going from Crush mode to Plush mode. These are truly modular frames.

*The seatstay kits are 445 USD and they include everything you need to make the swap.


Flip the chip to go from Plush to Crush.


Spin the Geoadjust headset around to shorten things up by 10mm.

Other details are equally impressive. To access the internal cable routing on the downtube there is a panel that extends the length of the side of the tube that is removable. This means you can remove or swap your rear brake without having to bleed or disconnect any cable.


This hatch gives you access to the inside of your downtube for cable and hose routing and so you can swap brakes without bleeding.


Water bottle placement is unconventional but it's actually closer at hand than most.


Made where? For how much?


Innovation and manufacturing expertise all from Colorado.

The top of the line Smash Race, which is a legitimately sweet build, will lighten your wallet by a surprising 5995 USD*. It makes you wonder what's going on with some of the other manufacturers whose unit costs are lowered by high production numbers and who have frames made in China, Vietnam or Taiwan. Are they gouging us?

*I realize that 6G US for a mountain bike is absurd and it's even more absurd that this is considered reasonable. How did we get here?

Trending on NSMB


+1 Cam McRae
kekoa  - April 18, 2019, 12:01 a.m.

I have a friend who sold another a friend his bow-ti. The newer owner of it crashed more on that bike than anything else he rode. I would ride behind him and watch the frame move in such odd directions as he attempted to ride technical stuff. I seem to recall he would launch his water bottle on occasion as well...I think the mount was on the outside of the downriver. 

Don't get me wrong, it's gorgeous and a work of genius but not something I wanted to ride.


+5 Jonas Dodd Cr4w Cam McRae Beau Miller Dan
kekoa  - April 18, 2019, 12:02 a.m.

And yes, that Syncros seatpost was fantastic. I think mine is living in my voodoo CX bike these days. Sooo miss old school Syncros.


+3 Cam McRae AJ Barlas Beau Miller
Cr4w  - April 18, 2019, 8:17 a.m.

Old Syncros was the stuff of dreams for me an my peers back then.


+4 Cam McRae Beau Miller Dan Sandy James Oates
Perry Schebel  - April 18, 2019, 9:09 a.m.

for sure; the old locally built built syncros was the shit. i was running the stem, bar, steerhorns, post, ti bb & fork at one point. never got my hands on the cranks, but sure lusted after them. pair a full syncros gruppo with a fillet brazed rocky, brodie, or offroad toad, and you've got a good chunk of an all made in vancouver bike. pretty cool times.


+1 Cam McRae
kekoa  - April 18, 2019, 10:09 a.m.

Oh yes. I so wanted a pair of those cranks. I have a spider (somehow) floating around in my parts bin. It's one of those parts you just like to fondle. 

That Vancouver Syncros was awesome. I also have several Syncros t-shirts that I'm hoping will help me put the monkeys through college too..


+1 Dan
cyclotoine  - April 18, 2019, 11:29 a.m.

When Rider's Cycle went out of business in Victoria I bought a box of stems and a box of posts, lots of NOS and lots of new take offs. The kid selling it laughed, "30 dollars. You're basically buying a box of useless scrap aluminum". I tried my best to contain my glee and went on to sell many posts and stems for enough money to fund lots of modern parts upgrades. I mean you wouldn't expect that 20 something shop kid to know that people would easily pay 150 USD plus shipping for a 29.4mm syncros post of which there were two in the lot. The vintage MTB hunger was quite high 4-5 years ago. I haven't kept up with it of late but I'm still running a couple of ti posts and have a couple of retro builds with stems and posts on them.


tw  - April 18, 2019, 7:56 p.m.

While my suspension was in the shop, took out my 96 Ibis Mojo Steel with the original Syncros post, 950 xtr... man we are spoiled today.


-2 Kurt Gray Andrew Major
SCR  - April 18, 2019, 3:47 a.m.

When you "heard about the made in CO quality " does that refer to how often their frames snap?


+1 Vik Banerjee
Kurt Gray  - April 18, 2019, 7:02 a.m.

GG frames snapping? Definitely not a thing.


0 RNAYEL Metacomet
SCR  - April 18, 2019, 10:03 a.m.

Interesting, multiple snapped chainstays, cracked front triangle, alignment problems, replacement frame parts that didn't fit, but somehow the ragtag crew out of Colorado that couldn't manufacture an aluminum bike figured out how to build a carbon bike instead of recalling their unsafe bikes. I just can't understand the GG circlejerk.


+2 Metacomet Andrew Major
Vik Banerjee  - April 18, 2019, 10:59 a.m.

GG had a handful of problems which they resolved with the affected customers. The other 99.9% of the people had no issues and the bikes are super fun to ride. That's why you see so many people buying their 2nd or 3rd or 4th GG bike.


SCR  - April 18, 2019, 11:30 a.m.

Everyone who bought a GG in the first 18 months or so has a chainstay that is known to break. Wouldn't the right way to resolve the problem be a full recall of the known defective part? I honestly don't understand why so many people are blindly defending GG. Also, who the hell is buying a 3rd or 4th GG? They're the same bike with different seat stays. Seems like you made that up to try and prove a point.


Vik Banerjee  - April 18, 2019, 11:44 a.m.

I am on the GG FB page and MTBR Sub-Forum. I did not make up anything. People are buying multiple GGs. I'm a bit blown away by how many bikes people buy, but it's not my money. 

I've considered getting one of their 275er bikes and I have a 29er at the moment. In theory I could swap all sorts of parts across to make the 29er a 275er, but personally I'd rather have a second bike that's ready to roll with a different build. I've also considered getting their hardtail Pedalhead. Unfortunately my budget is not unlimited or I would have placed that order already.

Every single bike company whose bikes I have had that I have loved and kept for years [I'm not a bike flipper] have had some instances of manufacturing issues in their history. As long as the company stands behind the product and solves the issue that's what matters to me.

In every instance that I am aware of that a customer had an issue GG took care of them. So I had no concern when I ordered my Smash or when we ordered a carbon Smash for my GF. A buddy just ordered a carbon Trail Pistol. I expect none of us will have a problem, but if we do we'll call up GG and it'll be sorted ASAP.

The GG customer service is great, but the real motivation for me to buy another GG is that my Smash is the most fun mountain bike I have owned so if I am going to spend more $$ on a future bike I'm definitely going to be thinking about another GG.

+2 Vik Banerjee Andrew Major
Nouseforaname  - April 18, 2019, 11:49 a.m.

You really seem like you have an axe to grind. In 2006 a similar issue affected Specialzed Enduros and SX trails - very popular bikes in NV - so many broken chainstays. There wasn't a recall then. If it can be an issue for one of the three biggest companies in the world i don't see how it is fair to call out GG for falling victim to the same situation?

+4 Mammal Metacomet Vik Banerjee IslandLife
Nouseforaname  - April 18, 2019, 7:04 a.m.

No, but you seem to have some information to share?


+10 Jonas Dodd Vik Banerjee Mammal Metacomet Cam McRae IslandLife Niels Andrew Major Beau Miller Sandy James Oates
legbacon  - April 18, 2019, 5:03 a.m.

I have an old alloy Syncros on my Explosif townie and one of those XTR derailleurs with the Rollamajig still in my parts box.

The way Gravity Guerrilla has done their cable routing needs to be the industry standard.  Whoever came up with internal routing for mountain bikes should be trapped in a Walmart for the rest of their miserable life.


+3 legbacon IslandLife Andrew Major
Vik Banerjee  - April 18, 2019, 6:01 a.m.

Yes. I have to laugh at all the crazy effort companies/riders take to hide 18" sections of housing/hose. At least GG's method on the carbon bikes is minimal hassle for the rider.


+6 legbacon Mammal Metacomet IslandLife Niels Andrew Major
Vik Banerjee  - April 18, 2019, 6 a.m.

My GF has a 2019 GG Smash on order. She's waiting for her smaller frame [Size 2] to start popping out of the molds. Hopefully May. I've got a 2018 GG Smash which I love. Great bikes regardless of where they are made and out of what material, but when you factor in the build kit options [anything you want], frame adjustment/modulartity and the fact they are made in the US it's really impressive.


+1 Cam McRae
Kos  - April 18, 2019, 7:06 a.m.

Ibis Bow Ti.  How I lusted over these back in "the day".  Drooled over one hanging from the wall in Fruita.  $8,000! The shop rat said, well, if you buy this, I'm pretty sure I get the afternoon off!

Sadly, he was forced to complete his shift.


Cr4w  - April 18, 2019, 8:32 a.m.

I never saw a Bow Ti in real life though I've always been fascinated with them. I did ride a Szazbo a few times back in the day and can confirm that it would stinkbug as badly as you'd expect. I still search Ebay for Szazbos and Bow Tis once in a while. 

John Castellano, who designed the Szazbo and Bow Ti recently (2009) created the Son of Szazbo. Weirdly I want one. http://www.castellanodesigns.com/Zorro.html


+1 cyclotoine
Agleck7  - April 18, 2019, 8:44 a.m.

That GG is sweet for all the adjust-ability, with one glaring omission: chainstay


Cam McRae  - April 18, 2019, 2:02 p.m.

I'm curious what you mean by this. Don't the seatstay options alter the effective chainstay lengths? Or do you mean something else?


+2 Cam McRae cyclotoine
Agleck7  - April 18, 2019, 6:14 p.m.

I think they do but only between the CS lengths of the different models which have the same CS length throughout the range (as far as I can tell). The longest being only 435. What I’m thinking is that it could be fully modular if there was either a 10mm extension like on the Megatower or another option for more mixing and matching of the chainstay lengths beyond the two they have (both relativley short). Kinda like they offer the 10mm On the headset. 

I ride XLs and am longer chainstay curious so it’d be cool to have a platform where you could experiment without having to buy whole new frames.


cyclotoine  - April 24, 2019, 8:48 a.m.

Agreed. Something else also occurred to me as I was commuting to work this morning on my 180mm cranks. BB height. 

If you're going to go through all the trouble or making a bike with different geometries like Forbidden is doing, why not make them with different base BB heights? Why? because of crank length.

In some ways, we are moving forward in bike geometry but in one we have stepped back. Many brands are now speccing 170mm cranks across the board. Wait. What? Yes, to prevent pedal strike people are running shorter cranks. 

To me, this is akin to pushing your seat forward to back to adjust top tube length. Yes GG has plush or crush but I don't want to be forced into the high mode because as a tall rider I still want to run 175mm cranks. Make the BB higher overall. I know it might have a tiny effect on the descending feel, but I'm not racing downhill, I pedal my bike too.


WasatchEnduro  - April 28, 2019, 5:15 p.m.

So crush/plush does not affect geo, just leverage ratio. Also the Smash bb is actually above average. They haven’t bought in to the low AF crowd like the Stumpy EVO I demoed over the weekend with 170 cranks. Yeah it helped to reduce pedal strikes but I’m with you in that I don’t see a need to switch from 175. Feels like I could make either work tho.


+2 Chad K Beau Miller
IslandLife  - April 18, 2019, 8:44 a.m.

Yeti SB 130 Lunch Ride = Knolly Fugitive LT with a the 160mm fork option (135/160). Very similar geo. I know I'm tooting the horn of the bike that I ride... it's just so damn good I can't stop talking about it!

But yes, very cool that they're offering this option!


+1 IslandLife
WasatchEnduro  - April 18, 2019, 1:32 p.m.

Hey Island - I'm still stewing over what the next bike will be and the Fugi LT and Smash both made the final cut (with the Sentinel and Stumpy EVO).

I have zero concerns on how it descends, but how's the anti squat and how does the thing climb? (I know these are separate things).  If I went Fugitive I'd build it frame up with a RS Super Deluxe air.


+1 WasatchEnduro
IslandLife  - April 23, 2019, 12:12 p.m.

I think in the past, Knolly's really were tuned for the older school north shore = fireroad/shuttle/push/climb-switch then slay the descents.  They had a bit of a reputation of not being the most efficient climbers but had very active suspension with tons of traction and Noel dialed the suspension to take on anything the descent could throw at them.  The Fugitive is a result of some new thinking and shows how adaptable the 4x4 design is.

Before the Fugitive I was on a Norco Sight (arguably one of the best and underrated all round bikes on the market).  The Sight was an efficient climber (single track and fire-road) but struggled a little when it came to really technical climbs (suspension didn't seem to be active enough). But then could hold it's own on the descents (raced a few enduros on it).

On the Fugitive, it's just as efficient as the Sight on the fire-road and single-track (feels like they've upped the anti-squat a fair bit from previous models), but does better that the Sight on difficult tech climbs... the suspension stays active and gives you lots of grip... 3 months in and I'm still testing its limits of adhesion.  I don't feel the need to use the climb switch at all.... I do when it comes to turning up a big road climb, but it's not like it feels necessary.

But then, on the downs... that 135 really is supple and feels like much more (again, enduro racing it and it slays rock gardens)

Honestly when people ask me about this bike, I can 't help but gush... it just feels so good everywhere.  I never been on a bike that felt like this before.  It's a 29r that is still fun, lively, corners and climbs like a 27.5.

I've played around with set-up a fair bit and think I'm settled... I'm 5'11" on a size Large with a 160mm fork, 50mm stem with no spacers, bars cut to 780 with 20mm rise.

The only thing I'd say is that the frame is burly and stiff (in the right ways), and can take repeated beatings... so it is a little heavier than your typical new super light carbon competitor.  Not that weight is usually an issue for those looking at Knolly, but it's just something to keep in mind when building your bike as it can get hefty if you don't watch your spec.  Part of the reason I stayed away from a coil out back and went with an MRP Ribbon up front (beyond the awesomeness of this fork, it's light)

To answer your question... it seems that through refinement and tweaking of the 4x4 links, the bike feels more like a DW link bike with good amount of anti squat at low levels of compression, and almost none in high levels, yet the suspension remains quite active to bump forces throughout. 

Hope that helps, let me know if you have any questions.


Brian Moreaux  - April 27, 2019, 8:43 a.m.

In the same category: Banshee Spitfire. Mine is set up with 160mm 36 up front and 140mm in the back. Very fun, very efficient climber.


+1 Cam McRae
Chad K  - April 18, 2019, 11:26 a.m.

It's funny to see the Yeti Lunch Ride released as my bike is already almost there. I made the switch when I got it to Code RSCs, longer stroke dropper, and a few other changes to make the bike how I want it when I first got it. Being off of SRAM Guides was a big upgrade.


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