Sea Otter 2019

Sea Otter's Best Bits (and a trip to Santa Cruz Bikes)

Photos Cam McRae

Sea Otter has much going for it that that Interbike (RIP) lacked; it's outside, people race and ride bikes, consumers, racers and industry types all mix and you can get decent food and beer without leaving the venue. Interbike could be soul crushing but Sea Otter, if the weather holds, is pretty sweet and the industry seemed to be in good spirits this year.


The showroom at the Santa Cruz headquarters is a slick operation. You candemo any bike in any size (for 40 USD) and even get trail directions. There are some other things to see as well.

A tradition for us is to drop in at the annual Juliana party at Santa Cruz headquarters before the event and this year there was some intetesting stuff on display. One of my favourites was the Bronson cutaway.


Gone are the days of messy internal structures. Here you can also see the voids that allow the internal cable and hose to be installed easily.


You an see that the carbon fibre used at the tube junction is different than that used in the 'tubes' of the frame. I asked Santa Cruz Engineer Nick Anderson to explain what was going on with the layup here...

"The 3K weave is used in the head tube area because it drapes well (i.e. it can conform to a shape that has curvature in both directions). If you try this with unidirectional fiber it just splits. The 3K here gives you a nice clean inside surface in the head tube area which is important because it's a high stress region and resin ridges or pinched fiber can cause failures. The 3K is just used on the innermost surface and acts to push all of the other layers of fiber against the curing tool.

The reason that you use UD fiber in the main part of the top tube and down tube is because it has all of the fibers oriented in the same direction for maximum stiffness. UD allows you to make a more optimized lay-up."


The entire cutaway. You wouldn't have wanted to see the inside of most early carbon frames.


The slightly wide angle lens may distort things some, but believe me when I say Danny MacAskill's bike looks every bit as weird in person. The crazy steep head angle, small wheel, and slammed saddle make an odd impression. Apparently it's just right for Danny though.


Life goals: A Syndicate credit card. In this case a Luca Shaw card.

Pirelli made a big showing at Sea Otter with multiple tread designs. At this point I didn't see a pattern that would be suitable for the conditions I ride in, but I wouldn't count Pirelli out. They have impressive testing facilities and the company seems very serious about making a big play in bikes. This isn't simply a licensing agreement and representatives from Italy were on hand in Monterey. It seems to start off with Pirelli is only producing 29 inch tires, in two widths and two casings.


This is the Scorpion M for mixed terrain. It comes in 2.2 and 2.4 widths and two compounds but only in 29.


The Scorpion R is a rear specific tire. It will self destruct in 30 seconds if you put it on the front. It has 'smart grip' rubber for improved grip on wet surfaces. I'd like that compound on the front personally.


The Scorpion S for soft terrain. For more on Pirelli's Scorpion MTB tire seriesclick here...

WTB is known to make great tires but I haven't yet found one that is great for the sloppy and variable conditions we ride in. If it's good for Socal or Moab it's likely going to suck from Oregon to Alaska. At the beginning of Sea Otter WTB launched the Verdict tire series to address what some see as a gap in the line up, with the Vigilante being a notable exception. The idea is that these are front specific tires and while they look great for both ends to me, the new front focussed Judge looks pretty burly as well.


The WTB Verdict (right) and Verdict wet (left) look very promising. The wet version has centre knobs that are 1.5 mm taller. In person the difference looks larger than that. In photos... not so much.


Here's another look. We're keen to give these a try. The regular Verdict is said to be faster rolling while still providing ample grip. The Verdict Wet seems to provide grip that is beyond ample. Check WTB for more

Cushcore seems to be going great guns with the racer crowd. I'm a fan and if I was a stronger climber I'd happily use it all the time. Currently however the 250+ grams per wheel is more than I'm willing to sacrifice. To address this concern for riders of my ilk Cushcore is rolling out a version that strips away 100 g of weight, pushing a 29er version down to a reasonable 150 g. For some perspective that's lighter than most tubes.


The new lighter Cushcore has cutaways where the the liner lies in the bead seat.


Cushcore is calling these the XC version, but I see a much broader application.

If you aren't racing, and you aren't hard on rims and tires, these might be great for your trail, enduro(!) or even DH needs. Cushcore gives you a smaller air volume in your tires so it reacts more quickly to impacts, protects your rims, adds damping and a bit of suspension to your tires and allows you to run lower pressures. It also supports sidewalls and provides decent run-flat protection for your rims and tires. While those benefits are likely diminished some, the level of protection the originals provide is likely overkill for many riders. Inventor Adam Krefting was apparently very reluctant to compromise and make this lighter product, but I think this will be an excellent choice for many riders. This version fits rims up to 32mm internal and tires up to 2.4" wide. We'll be testing a set (which costs 150 USD for two liners and two valve cores) as soon as they arrive. More at


Crankbrothers makes some of the best looking and multi tools in the business and they are also very well considered. This is the F15 which has most of what you need to deal with minor repairs, including a chain tool. It doesn't include tire levers but when they come on a multi tool they are generally crap.


One thing that I felt was missing was a valve core tool. As it turns out though the pin channel for the chain tool is the right size for this purpose on most valves. The case holds everything together with magnets and can even open your beer bottle. The 164 gram F15 retails for 43 USD. More info here...


Magura was showing off a variety of brake levers. This is the Loic Bruni version. The top version is the 3d printed titanium version Loic used in 2018 while the bottom version is printed in aluminum. The shapes are too intricate for CNC machining.


This one isn't new but I haven't seen it in person. And it was designed by Danny MacAskill so it has to be cool. The HC3 lever is adjustable in two ways. The finger contact area can be moved in and out without changing the angle of the rest of the lever. The really interesting adjustment actually uses a worm gear to move the master cylinder piston in or out to change the leverage and feel.


Cake was displaying their light electric off road moto - the Kalk - at Sea Otter. It runs very quietly and is indeed relatively light at 70 kg but not so light on the wallet at 13,000 USD. You can get a mountain bike for that.


Cake's bikes are modular like Lego. If a drivetrain component fails that module gets replaced entirely rather than the individual part that failed.


The large sprocket is the result of the Kalk's direct drive system. Because an electric motor produces torque across the power band no gears are needed. This was also chosen to reduce moving parts. More at

OneUp launched a new bar and stem while we were down at Sea Otter but there was more stuff on display as well.


The updated chain guide has a tool free release system. Open it up for whatever reason with your hand...


And then close it just as easily.


There is also a new easy access one tool height adjustment.


Last year OneUp was showing a very light composite dropper lever. Unfortunately they found it wasn't as strong as they'd like so it's aluminum this year, and only 6 grams heavier.


All that and all the colours as well. We'll have a bar and stem arriving to test shortly, as well as grips. All in orange or with orange accents. Just because.

That's all we've got from Sea Otter 2019.

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+2 Cr4w Tremeer023

Other than rim protection, it would be interesting to know what, if anything, the CushCore XC inserts give up in ride quality compared to the heavier ones. Maybe some side-by-side testing would be good.



I think a Regular cushcore on the front and a XC in the rear would be the magical combo for EXO casing tires.

That way you get the damping for the steering and the rim protection for the rear.. 

This is coming from a guy happily running Huck Norris front and back on Carbon rims.



I'm running Huck Norris in the rear.  I was considering Cush Core but the weight was a turn-off, so really interested in this xc version.  The original has run-flat capability which is quite unique, I wonder if the xc version does too.  If it does, I'm a buyer.



with a Schwalbe supergravity upfront, you dont need any more damping... of course there are better front tires for some terrains though...

+2 DMVancouver Metacomet

We should have some XC Cushcore on the way shortly.  And I agree abou the front and rear idea. 

It doesn’t seem possible that the original version is a one size fits all solution, despite Adam’s reluctance to alter the design. If the original works for Richie Rude, certainly the lighter version will be effective for me, considering he outweighs me by over 40 lbs and is a slightly(!) more aggressive rider. 

I also rode some Tannus inserts last week and I’ll be writing about them shortly.


+1 Cam McRae

That cutaway was really cool. It would be interesting to learn more about this, how/why different brands use different fibers and techniques. 

That electric moto really does look like the worst of all worlds given that it costs as much or more as a proper e-moto.


+1 Cam McRae

I’ve had great success with the Vittoria Airliner. I’ve yet to try CushCore. 

In the past I’ve used Huck Norris and Pepi’s Tire noodle. I’m sure both the HUck Norris and Pepi’s saved my rims but neither last long. So far the Airliner has done well and provides the best feeling out of the three. 

The best feeling I had was with a Maxxis DD tire and airliner with low 20’s PSI (I’m 210 without anything on) and ride Bromont (lots of rocks). I’m still working on a magic PSI number with a DH casing tire. I’m only using the airliner in the rear and still have a Pepi’s in the front but I am thinking of using the Airliner. 

Any chance someone can compare the CC to the airliner?


+1 Cam McRae

I have the F15 tool - it's great.  It's nice that you can put the tool in the sleeve for a bit more torque when required.  Bits are strong and have had no stripping issues


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