The Angry Singlespeeder: Has Sea Otter gotten too big?

California event stronger than ever, but growing pains may threaten future

Opinion Sea Otter Classic

2015 Sea Otter Classic

The Sea Otter Classic hosts more than 65,000 attendees over the course of four days. Photo courtesy of Sea Otter Classic

The Sea Otter Classic hosts more than 65,000 attendees over the course of four days (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy of Sea Otter Classic

Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at [email protected]. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Sea Otter Classic. What started in 1991 as a local mountain bike race has grown into a festival of all things bicycle, including road, cyclocross, BMX, freestyle, cross-country, downhill, dual slalom, gran fondo (road and dirt), the increasingly popular enduro, and more. If it has two wheels and is pedal powered, chances are there’s a competition going on at Sea Otter that features it.

In addition to the multi-faceted parade of competition, Sea Otter is growing into a “must-attend” event for cycling industry brands. Thanks to its mid-April date, Sea Otter has become the de facto festival that kicks off the cycling season, welcoming more than 60,000 attendees over the course of four days.

For gearheads interested in seeing the latest and greatest ways to empty a bank account, Sea Otter has it all on display. Even my buddy Steve, who isn’t into cycling at all, loves hanging out at Sea Otter purely for the spectacle. When I asked him what he thought about his first Sea Otter experience, he just shook his head and said, “You white people sure are crazy about your bicycles.” More than a couple white people have mistaken Steve for Barry Bonds, who’s regularly seen strolling around Sea Otter.

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is a beautiful venue. Photo courtesy of Sea Otter Classic

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is a beautiful venue (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy of Sea Otter Classic

In recent years, bigger brands have reduced their presence at Interbike (North America’s No. 1 cycling industry trade show, held annually in Las Vegas). But most of those companies still show up in force for Sea Otter. Thanks to an agreeable climate, a legendary outdoor venue at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and thousands of acres of BLM land abutting the venue, Sea Otter is everything that Interbike is not. It’s an industry event and bike festival wrapped into one where people can park their car, camp with friends, and never have to leave the venue all weekend. Plus, did I mention it’s not in Las Vegas.

Even The Dude loves hanging at Sea Otter even if he is holding the wrong beverage.

Even The Dude loves hanging at Sea Otter even if he is holding the wrong beverage (click to enlarge).

Although the organizers behind Sea Otter have done an outstanding job of gathering consumers, athletes, celebrities and the industry in one picturesque venue only a few miles east of Monterey, I believe that there are some glaring issues that may threaten its future success.

Like any growing event, too much growth can be a bad thing. The main limitation with Sea Otter is Laguna Seca is only so big, and it can only accommodate so many people before it becomes a complete cluster. Simply looking at the week’s schedule of events shows how crammed matters are getting. It seems Sea Otter has acquired a bit of event ADD, with so much going on all at the same time, it’s impossible to focus on any one thing.

Continue to page 2 for more rantings from The Angry Singlespeeder »

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.

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  • AC says:

    “If it has two wheels and is pedal powered” or electric power… Seriously, that’s what I’d rant about, the intrusion of the epowered mopeds taking up space at the Sea Otter.

    I didn’t even consider racing the XC. First, it was a FUSAC event, plus, it was sure to be expensive and crowded, with a substandard course. Not surprising. Good to see you call them out on it. Looking at XC results doesn’t support the 4K of racers though.

  • d. ferko says:

    kurt i think that small town is getting to you 🙂

  • Angry Singlespeeder says:

    AC – I think that 4,000 included all MTB racers and Gran Fondo riders.


  • AC says:

    ASS, that would still have required a shf!t ton of gran fondo riders. Though, I was only there Thurs and Fri, and there were lots of people preriding and taking demos out (including us). 4k total rider laps I could possibly see. Looking at results, I was surprised how small the XC fields were, what with FUSAC growing the sport and all.

  • FBS says:

    Couldn’t they just get rid of the road and cyclocross events? Those were the most recent additions… or split them off to a separate event at least.

    • Gears 4 Good says:

      Not entirely true. As for the road events, I competed in the circuit race as a junior in 1994. The CX stuff is pretty new though.

  • LRA says:

    Having hundreds of XC Cat 2 and 3 riders converge onto a narrow singletrack at the end of the race was a huge mistake.

  • DEK says:

    I have to agree even though I did have fun riding the MTB fondo the whole event has gotten out of hand. I think it was 1990 when I went to my first sea otter classic wow what a difference like night and day the venue was nice and small one could actually step up and talk to the venders now they seem to huddle all together in their tents like some sort of click-ish circle jerk. No thanks since I’m not into purchasing $10,000+ bikes, or looking at a ugly as* Magura car, and what’s with that 5 ten rock climbing shoe tent how does that fit in with MTB? I say get rid of the road, and cycle cross events, and limit the venue to MTB products only that might help take some of the stress off the event.

  • Kevin Woodward says:

    I’m in the “experience” category myself. Since I live in Santa Cruz and ride Ft. Ord trails on a semi-regular basis there’s not much incentive for me to pay $100 to ride courses I can ride for free the other 51 weeks of the year. Agree that the course designs are often less than optimal, but understand the challenge organizers are up against. As for prizes I could care less, especially with the way more talented and experienced riders drop down in category just so they can say they made the podium at Sea Otter. I typically take a day off from work and attend Friday to make the rounds, check out the latest and greatest gear, and schmooze with friends from all over the Western U.S. No complaints … it’s a fun and convenient event. Plus the local singletrack around Santa Cruz is a lot less crowded on Saturday and Sunday.

  • AC says:

    If there’s something at Sea Otter to be gotten rid of, it’s the electric bike BS. The road and cross stuff is ok, and doesn’t impact the singletrack.

  • Scotch Hennesy says:

    Seems just about everything in this Country has taken the same path. Excess and more excess. Until they kill it!

  • 2TurnersNotEnough says:

    I gave up on racing SOC a few years ago, due to a whole bunch of sandbagging and the single track getting clogged with the slow riders that started 3 waves ahead of you. I love riding the trails at Laguna Seca/Fort Ord, and have been really with the MTB Gran Fondo. More amenities, fewer riders on the course at the same time, and the option of going as hard or as easy as you want.

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