Every culture has its gatherings: hippies go to Burning Man, beer drinkers have Oktoberfest, dog mushers race the Iditarod.
For those of us infatuated with bikes we have a few, but the first of the season is always the Sea Otter Classic. Held at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, CA, the inside of the racetrack is filled to the max with branded awnings, each trying to raise their flag higher than their neighbor’s. A steady crowd flows between the booths, filling the rest of the space with a river of humanity.
Much like mountain biking itself, Sea Otter is as much about the gathering of the tribe as it is about the two-wheel love. The majority of North America’s industry folk are in one place, mixed in with all the focused racers and cheering crowds. Friends new and old are passed with every trek through the venue and beer flows like water—maybe even more frequently.
Sea Otter is a unique event in that it’s half tradeshow, half race venue, and as such provides continual entertainment for any type of visitor in the vicinity. The dual slalom looks over the entire scene, the DH course drops a mellow 500-plus feet back to the highway, and the road race takes place on a track occupied by Formula One cars most other weeks of the year. And for 2016, the madness now includes an e-bike race, which fuels the sport’s most hyped and controversial new thing.
The long weekend is a festival in its own right, a celebration of our sport and its people in all forms. To the outside world bikers can be a little nerdy or eccentric (I mean, who else spends thousands of dollars to save a couple hundred grams?), but here at Sea Otter it’s welcomed—in fact, the whole thing runs on tech geekiness and over-the-top enthusiasm. Like a nerd’s form of NASCAR, waving absurdly large flags along the downhill course, and sporting giant foam fingers on one hand and a beer in the other is a completely legitimate style of spectating. All bikers are fanatic in their own way, and Sea Otter is a mixing pot of the different styles that make up our heritage.
Walking between the bulging tents and through the screaming crowds, there is a feel in the entire scene that takes a minute to figure out, but quickly becomes overly apparent. From casual riders to diehard zealots, everyone at Sea Otter is equally stoked to have another season under way. Some at the event haven’t been able to ride all winter and are fiending to get on the bike again; those who have been riding are excited to continue charging into the warm, sunny days of summer. From Vermont to Washington to So Cal, it’s game on for biking and Sea Otter is the unofficial kickoff party.
In a sense, Sea Otter is the ultimate gathering, as it’s a place where hippies, beer drinkers and racers (maybe just not mushers) are united by their common love for bikes. The event’s four days are a testament to the fact that mountain biking is alive, well, and psyched for another season.