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Sea Otter Classic - NE

USA, April 6-9, 2006

In the pits at Sea Otter: Day One

As well as an extended weekend of road and mountain bike racing, the Sea Otter Classic has become the standard venue for bike and component manufacturers to conduct early launches of new equipment that will appear in the shops later in the year. James Huang has been lurking in the pits and expo area to find out what's new and coming soon.

Orbea's Alma carbon 29er
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The Alma dropouts
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Plenty of carbon
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Orbea shaped
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Orbea introduces carbon 29er

Orbea was one of many companies with new gear at Sea Otter, finally introducing the carbon fiber Alma 29er hardtail frame to the public.

The new Alma 29er is almost certainly the lightest big wheeled frame currently available with a weight of approximately 1300g for a medium size. As with the 26” version, the bonded carbon fiber 29er frame uses in-molded rear dropouts and a unique four-point rear triangle that is said to offer a noticeable level of vertical compliance while retaining maximum drivetrain efficiency. The massive down tube combats lateral and torsional flex and also acts as a pseudo-fender.

Mud clearance with a 2.2” wide Bontrager tire seemed quite adequate, and Orbea claims the chainstays are also quite short for a 29er frame (unfortunately, I was not able to verify the measurement). Early versions showed up with removable studs for rim brakes, but later versions are said to be arriving disc-only for a cleaner look.

First ride on Shimano’s new XTR shifters and derailleurs

The new XTR trigger
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The new Dual Control shifter
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As promised, the new rear derailleurs
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The new radial master cylinder
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We told you about it, we showed you pictures of it, and now we’ve finally tried it ourselves. This year’s Sea Otter Classic offered up the first opportunity to not only lay our hands on the new XTR trigger shifters and Dual Control shifters, but also to ride them. Ok, I will admit that both test rides consisted of short little spin around the expo area, but it was enough to get an impression on how the actual production bits will feel.

The new Two Way Release, Multi Release, and Instant Release features of the new trigger shifter combine to deliver amazingly fast shifts, particularly when using the thumb to actuate the forward release trigger. Shifts can still be performed with the index finger as before, but the new ‘thumb-thumb’ Rapidfire Plus style of shifting is both faster and easier to use.

The new Dual Control shifters represent the biggest change from the current M960 generation to the new M970. Shimano obviously took note of criticisms of the current Dual Control levers and seem to have addressed all of them. The new radial master cylinder and hose routing produced a substantial improvement in brake feel and also results in a much more compact assembly. Shift action is enhanced as well: moving the lever up requires much less effort than before, and lever throws have a shorter and more precise feel overall.

Without a doubt, both styles of shifters are a definite improvement over their predecessors with much more tactile feedback, a more precise feel overall, and greatly enhanced ergonomics. More significantly, Shimano seems to have backed away slightly from its hard-line Light Action philosophy having incorporated a noticeably stronger return spring in the new rear derailleurs along with much more tactile feedback in both shifters. According to Shimano, the new kit will drop roughly three-quarters of a pound over the current XTR kit and will be available around October.

Trek's intriguing 69er.
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The new Top Fuel 8
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Sliding dropouts
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The Top Fuel 8
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Heavily shaped aluminum tubing
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Trek’s “Wide Stance” main pivot
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The new double-slot cut
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Asymmetric chainstays
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New rigs from Trek

Travis Brown had been seen as early as last year’s race at Mt. Snow on a prototype Trek singlespeed MTB that sported a conventional 26in rear wheel but a 29in front wheel. The 29in front wheel allegedly gives riders the “roll over anything" feeling up front, but the smaller 26in rear wheel apparently offers snappier acceleration. Trek debuted a production version of that bike here at Sea Otter and officially dubbed it the “69er". The shaped aluminum frame sports nicely formed sliding dropouts (with integrated disc mount) as well as a Maverick DUC32 dual-crown fork.

In addition, the “Top Fuel” moniker adorns an aluminum frame for the first time. The new Top Fuel 8 receives a heavily shaped aluminum front triangle along with a brand-new welded aluminum rear triangle with asymmetric chainstays that is said to drop 280g over the old bonded rear end. Rear travel is increased to 90mm and all suspension pivots are now equipped with sealed cartridge bearings, including the new “wide stance” main pivot. Target weight for a large frame is 5.2lbs complete with shock.