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Sea Otter 2023

Jun 10, 2023

We've been scouting in the Californian sun for the best bits of MTB tech

This competition is now closed

By Tom Marvin

Published: April 21, 2023 at 9:22 am

The Sea Otter Classic is the first real opportunity of the year for the bike industry at large to stretch its legs, hit up the trails and talk shop in the sun-drenched encampment at Laguna Seca in California.

The show is packed full of brands showing their wares, with a particular focus on MTB and the seemingly unstoppable gravel riding scene.

Senior technical editor Tom Marvin has been pounding the show floor looking for MTB kit, while BikeRadar’s editor-in-chief George Scott is on the hunt for drop-barred bits from the road and gravel worlds.

To get us started, here are nine bits of kit that caught the eye on our first lap of the show.

Launched just a couple of weeks ago, the Aria from EXT is the brand’s first air shock and features an impressive range of adjustment.

The key feature is the dual positive air spring. The ‘+’ spring acts as per a standard air spring, and is used to set the sag of the shock. It impacts on early-stroke sensitivity and mid-stroke support. The ‘++’ spring is secondary and controls the ramp-up of the unit – replacing the need for volume spacers.

Volume spacers work well, of course, but impact on the shock’s spring curve throughout the shock’s compression. By separating them, EXT says you have even more control over the suspension’s characteristics.

EXT has also popped in adjustable hydraulic control, which adds further control to the last 10-15 per cent of the suspension stroke, and offers 30-70 per cent extra progression.

Add in a lockout that’s also adjustable (enabling you to run the bike ‘locked’ on flow trails for the ultimate in support) and you’ve got one of the most nerdy shocks on the market. It’s on sale soon…

CushCore is one of the more prominent tyre insert brands, and it has released a new insert that’s said to tread the line between the Pro and XC models.

As the name suggests, it’s for riders of trail bikes, who want more protection in potentially wider rubber than those on XC bikes. It’s designed to be a little less aggressive and a little more forgiving than the Pro.

The Trail has ‘fluting’ around its edge, giving the insert a bit more flex when the bike is leant over.

It should feel less ‘obvious’ than the Pro, interfering less with ride feel in everyday conditions.However, CushCore says the harder you push, the more progressively it supports the tyre.

Tyre inserts are designed to protect the rim from impacts, reduce punctures and give the tyre lateral support when you’re pushing through corners.

The new CushCore Trail will launch soon, for $150.

We’re seeing more and more products launched with a nod towards sustainability.

Kali has created 20 (for now) unique, special-edition Cascade helmets, constructed from waste products from the brand’s factories.

We’re as yet unsure how (or whether) regular customers will be able to get one of these incredibly limited-edition helmets, but it sounds as though plans are afoot.

The regular Cascade is likely one of the more sustainable lids out there, too.

The straps are made from recycled PET plastic, the padding uses bamboo strands, the EPS is reclaimed from a car manufacturer and the visor is made from plastic recovered from the ocean.

Independent consultations for Kali suggest a 58 per cent reduction in the Cascade’s carbon footprint with these materials.

Forge+Bond’s wheels look like a regular carbon hoop, but their rim material is different from your usual carbon layup.

Standard carbon fibre uses an epoxy resin to hold the carbon strands together. This material needs cold storage, can’t withstand multiple heat cycles well, and creates a very rigid and brittle bond within the layup.

Forge+Bond has swapped the epoxy for a nylon-based material.

This can withstand multiple heat cycles, and enables the brand to first bond the materials together with heat, and then forge them into the correct shapes.

Forge+Bond claims the material has more micro-flex within it, meaning it’s less brittle. This gives the wheels a touch more compliance, leading to improved ride characteristics.

The material is also much easier to recycle. If you break a rim, for the price of postage you’ll receive a replacement, with the old rim being broken down and the material re-used (thanks to the nylon being able to be melted down).

Sage’s titanium bikes at the show really wowed us with their paintjobs.

Sage offers everything from jump bikes through to road bikes, with the Nirvana-inspired dirt jump bike stealing the limelight.

The titanium frames are built in Beaverton, Oregon, with the brand offering off-the-peg and custom geometry (for a $300 up-charge).

On show were the Storm King gravel bike and the Storm King GP (suspension-fork ready), the Flow Motion and Powerline mountain bikes and a pair of jump bikes.

Sage can get the bikes bead-blasted in its own facility, or work with companies on wet-paint, anodising and Cerakote finishes.

This New Zealand brand had its MTB-ready dry bag rack at the show.

It’s a simpler solution to the bikepacking kit that’s often seen, because the Spider is simply a rack to hold dry bags, sleeping mats or bags, or tent packs.

The Spider rack bolts onto your chainstays, and gives up to three mounting points for the crescent-shaped plastic racks – on the side, or on top (or all three).

The shape shouldn’t interfere with the rear suspension, and should be out of the way enough to enable the full drop of your dropper post. It should also fit nicely on XS-sized bikes.

There’s a bar-mounting option, with hex-key tightened nylon straps to securely attach it to your bar (or fork, if you wish).

A number of accessories are in the works, for bottle cages and mounting options for regular panniers.

The Spanish power meter and modular crank brand has updated its InSpider power meter.

The new device drops 50g, a 32 per cent reduction, bringing the unit down to 102g, while prices have fallen by $150 or €150, to $499 or €450.

The InSpider MTB uses a 100BCD chainring mount, which the brand told us enables the use of 30t rings – handy if you like spinning up steep climbs, or running a more compact cassette. The rings are built from 7075 alloy, which is harder than most, and thus more wear-resistant.

The power meter mounts to Rotor’s cranks, such as the Kaptic, with a spline that enables its oval chainrings to be timed to your preferred orientation.

The ovalisation of their chainrings is said to help smooth power transfer through your pedal stroke.

Rotor has built the power meter with IP67 water and dust proofing, while the strain gauges are embedded in silicone to add impact protection.

The brand claims its unit has a 350-hour battery life and takes just under three hours to charge.

The Five Ten Kestrel has flown the trail nest and is now a more XC-orientated (or even gravel, if you’re so inclined) shoe – a first from the renowned brand.

The new Kestrel has a much more classic cross-country shoe shape, with a slimline construction and curve at the toe sole, featuring the Stealth Marathon rubber treads. These lugged shapes are a change from Five Ten’s usual flat, polkadot-style outer sole.

The upper is constructed from recycled materials, while the shank of the shoe is built from repurposed materials, reinforced with glass fibre.

Up top, there’s a vented and protected toe box, along with a Boa dial backed up by a pair of Velcro straps.

Classified’s Powershift hub has now been applied to the world of mountain bikes.

The hub holds a 2-speed gear mechanism, onto which a 12-speed cassette (built by Classified) is fitted.

It effectively gives the benefits of a 2x system to bikes without a front derailleur.

On the bar, their Ringshifter sits right next to the grip, and has a very light feel as you flick it up or down.

This sends a signal to the Classified rear bolt-thru axle, which then speaks to the mechanism held in the hub shell.

Classified’s system gives either a 1:1 direct drive or a lower 0.7 reduction ratio. Paired with its 11-40t cassette, you get a 530 per cent gear range – greater than that offered by traditional 1x systems.

The shift between the two gears is said to take 150 milliseconds, and can be done while your legs are kicking out 1,000W of power.

We’ve calculated the rear hub to weigh 650g, about double that of the new Hope Pro 5, for example, and it costs from €1,449.

Senior technical editor

Tom Marvin is a technical editor at and MBUK magazine. He has a particular focus on mountain bikes, but spends plenty of time on gravel bikes, too. Tom has written for BikeRadar, MBUK and Cycling Plus, and was previously technical editor of What Mountain Bike magazine. He is also a regular presenter on BikeRadar’s YouTube channel and the BikeRadar podcast. With more than twenty years of mountain biking experience, and nearly a decade of testing mountain and gravel bikes, Tom has ridden and tested thousands of bikes and products, from super-light XC race bikes through to the most powerful brakes on the market. Outside of testing bikes, Tom competes in a wide range of mountain bike races, from multi-day enduros through to 24-hour races in the depths of the Scottish winter – pushing bikes, components and his legs to their limits. He’s also worked out that shaving your legs saves 8 watts, while testing aerodynamics in a wind tunnel. When not riding he can be found at the climbing wall, in his garden or cooking up culinary delights.

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Tom Marvin / OurMedia