By Josh Patterson
Sea Otter’s downhill course is tame by World Cup standards; it’s short on elevation, devoid of large drops, and lacks technical terrain. One racer described the course as “a single-slalom course on steroids.” This is not a dig at Sea Otter’s DH course, far from it. It’s oddball courses such as this one that challenge racers and team mechanics to re-evaluate their set-ups. For many gravity racers, both professional and amateur, the biggest challenge at Sea Otter is choosing the right bike.
Dirt Rag interviewed three racers before Sunday’s DH finals to find out what they planed to ride. Each had a different approach to the race, but the common theme was that a full-on downhill bike would be overkill for this course. They felt a long, slack bike with eight or more inches of suspension would be excessive and would result in wasted milliseconds, wallowing through berms and turns. A shorter-travel bike would be more of a handful to control, but would also give them the abiliy to carry more speed.
Trek World Racing’s Aaron Gwin chose to ditch his carbon Session 9.9 in favor of the 160mm-travel Slash 9. The five-time World Cup champion cited the Slash’s agility and pedal-friendly nature as the reason he thought it would be the right bike for the race. The Slash was designed with aggressive trail riding and enduro racing in mind, which is not too far removed from the terrain found on the hills overlooking the Laguna Seca Raceway. Gwin piloted his Slash to a third-place finish at this year’s race.
Look for our review of the Slash 9 in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag.
“We built this bike specifically for this race,” said company founder and fabricator Brent Foes, “though it could also be a fun play bike for skilled riders at places like Whistler, or in bike parks.”
Foes Racing athlete Troy D’Elia rode this heavily-modified Foes Shaver to a 65th-place finish in a stacked Pro Men’s field.
Compared to the production version, D’Elia’s race bike has lower standover, for better maneuverability, and a slack, 64-degree head tube angle (the production bike sports a 67-degree head tube), and 140mm of travel.
Jared Graves knows a thing or two about choosing the right bike for Sea Otter. Going into Sunday’s race the Yeti/Fox racer had two consecutive Sea Otter DH wins under his belt.
When the dust settled, the Aussie had bested the field for the third year in a row. And he did it on a rig with less travel than most trail bikes.
Graves’ one-of-a-kind prototype blends elements of Yeti’s 4X bike with rail technology borrowed from the company’s 303 downhill race bike. The rear suspension has 100mm of travel via a Fox RP23. Upfront, there’s a 120mm Fox 831—a variant of the 32 Float specifically designed for dirt jumping, dual slalom, and 4-cross racing. The 831 has firmer high and low-speed compression damping and a more progressive spring rate than the standard Float series.