Tech Gallery: The best tech from the 2023 Sea Otter Classic, part three
So many new car racks (and other shiny things).
While it’s always ideal if you’re always able to ride right from your house, the unfortunate fact is you sometimes need to transport your bike somewhere else before you can start pedaling. Hitch-mounted racks were once the oddball in the car rack market, but they’re now the dominant option, well and truly pushing rooftop racks by the wayside.
Most of the bigger players showed off new models at this year’s Sea Otter Classic, including Thule, Küat, and RockyMounts, with the new Thule Epos being one of the most interesting (at least for the US market) given its distinctly Euro-centric features. They’re also all very expensive, although these premium racks are also getting notably better as you move up the ladder.
There are heaps of other fun things in this gallery, too, including colorful bits from Wheels Manufacturing, updated chainrings from Praxis, a trio of collaborative new wheel options from Hunt and Classified, an impressively downsized power meter from Rotor, and more.
Keep checking back for yet more tech coverage from the
2023 Sea Otter Classic in the coming days. I may have been the only person on the ground for Escape Collective this year, but thankfully I walk fast and am pretty good at being reasonably anti-social. Thule’s new Epos is a distinctly Euro-style hitch rack aimed at the US market. It’s expensive, but highly impressive for its thoroughness and stability. It’s available starting June 15. Each bike is held primarily by a single pivoting arm, with a rubber-coated steel ratcheting band that can be positioned to grab part of the frame, a wheel, or just about anything you can find. Each pivoting arm has a very broad base of support, so bikes are particularly immune to rocking side to side. The unusual pivot location allows for better access to the rear of the vehicle than is typical. Down below, the “stinger” locks into the receiver with an expanding wedge for wobble-free mounting. The wedge is tightened with a built-in handle so no tools are required. Wheels are also mounted to the underside of the rack for easier transport when it’s off the vehicle. In addition to the main mounting arm, each bike is held in place with two ratcheting wheel straps. Also note how each strap has its own little keeper to make loading and unloading bikes a more straightforward process. Thule will sell a two-bike version pre-fitted with brake lights and a license plate holder for US$1,250, but it’s otherwise available as a US$250 add-on for the base two-bike Epos (US$1,000) and the three-bike (US$1,100) version. The lights require a four- or seven-pin trailer-wiring harness. There’s also a built-in lock port for the Epos, made for Thule by Abus and designed to accept any chains or cables from the company’s ACH range. The braided cable shown here isn’t exactly high-security (as is the case with any braided cable these days), so I’d recommend going with one of the heavier-duty chains instead. When the Epos is off the vehicle, the arms fold up like a book, and a pair of wheels on the underside make it very easy to move the thing around. It also helps that it’s surprisingly light, weighing as little as 17.25 kg (38 lb) for the base two-bike version. There’s one big miss with the Thule Epos, though: it doesn’t fold up against the vehicle when it’s not in use. The ironic thing is that it’s clearly capable of pivoting to that position, as demonstrated in this picture. However, that pivot is only included as a way to fold the “stinger” up and out of the way when the rack is off the vehicle. There’s unfortunately no way to lock the rack in this position – a potential dealbreaker as it substantially extends the length of the vehicle, particularly if you’re using the three-bike version of the Epos. Looking to run your favorite six-bolt rotors on a Center Lock hub? Well, if you’re running Project 321 hubs, you can use this slick new adapter. Project 321’s Center Lock-to-six-bolt adapter uses a stainless steel insert that snaps into the groove at the base of the hub splines, and nestles inside of a larger machined aluminum base. The split in the stainless steel ring is the key feature, as that’s what allows it to snap into the groove machined at the base of the splines. Rotor adapters can be mixed and matched for color, and since the bolts aren’t load-bearing, there’s less risk if go with ones that aren’t steel. Unfortunately, these are currently only offered for use with Project 321 hubs. Project 321 prides itself on the durabilty of its hubs, and the two giant bearings in the middle of the rear axle is a big part of that. Project 321’s new third-generation hubs feature a mind-blowing 1.25° engagement speed via four offset pairs of pawls. Project 321’s calling card has long been its magnetic pawl design, which does away with conventional coil or leaf springs. Are you tough on freehubs? Project 321 also offers freehubs made of titanium and with a slightly lower engagement speed that offers more surface contact area between the pawls and ratchet ring for enhanced durability. Küat has followed up on its ultra-premium Piston Pro X hitch rack from last year with the new Piston Pro, which uses the same basic design, but with a more conventional piston design. Retail price is US$1,100. Whereas the Piston Pro X uses fancy Kashima-coated struts, the new Piston Pro uses a ratcheting setup that might not look as fancy, but offers the same super-convenient one-handed operation. Just push the lever, and the arms open up all on their own. For anyone accustomed to a 1up rack, this is akin to growing a third arm. Another point of convenience on the Küat Piston Pro is the tool-free wheel size adjustment. A cable lock port is built into the base of the Küat Piston Pro. The base allows the Küat Piston Pro to pivot up against the back of your vehicle, as well as down past horizontal to provide easier access to cargo. Hunt Wheels is going big on the Classified front, with the latest two-speed mountain bike rear hub laced to its own Proven Carbon Race XC rim. Classified says its new two-speed mountain bike hub shifts ultra-fast, and allows for a wider total range with smaller gaps in between individual gears. Think of it as akin to reverting back to a two-chainring drivetrain in some ways, only with far faster and more reliable “front shift” performance. I’m growing increasingly intrigued with this one. Like the road version, the Classified mountain bike two-speed rear hub communicates with the shifter wirelessly via a custom thru-axle. Classified has developed its own low-profile shifter for its new two-speed mountain bike rear hub. It’s magnetically actuated with a light-action feel, and can supposedly rattle off 650 shifts before the on-board rechargeable battery needs to be plugged in. The 11-40T cassette is proprietary for the Classified hub. The layout of the Classified hub design is rather unique given its highly modular nature. All of the shifting bits are inside the self-contained unit at left. If you’re interested in a Classified setup on the road, the latest shifter design is impressively sleek. Word on the street, however, is that Classified is about to release instructions on how to modify a Shimano road shifter to directly actuate the hub. Also spotted in the corner of the Hunt booth was this new mountain bike driver body design, with two offset trios of pawls and individual leaf springs for a faster engagement than what’s currently offered. Quite interestingly for a wheel brand, Hunt is now going to offer its Sprint and Sprint SL hubs aftermarket. The Sprint hubs (left) are said to weigh 138 g for the front and 242 g for the rear, with options for EZO, CeramicSpeed standard, and CeramicSpeed coated cartridge bearings. Prices range from US$250 to US$750 for the set. The Sprint SL hubs at right are slightly lighter at 105 g/242 g front/rear, but without the coated CeramicSpeed bearing option. Prices range from US$350 to US$750. Hunt makes pretty nice complete wheelsets, but will there be a decent market for its standalone hubs? Time will tell. RockyMounts’ new AfterParty tray-style hitch rack features the same basic design as the existing GuideRail, but now with an integrated swing-away base for easier access to the rear of the vehicle. The swing-away base allows for completely unencumbered access to the back of your vehicle, which can be particularly handy for things like full-sized vans with swing-out doors, or pickup trucks. The AfterParty’s quartet of arms sandwich the bike’s tires so there’s no frame contact. RockyMounts’ nifty ratcheting mechanism allows for push-button actuation or you can also release the ratchet altogether by pulling the lever outward. It’s very easy to use. RockyMounts is continuing its move further upscale with all of these blue-anodized aluminum bits. There’s very little plastic to be found. Rotor has revamped its INspider power meter, making it smaller in diameter for improved chainring compatibility. Whereas the original one could only go down to a 34T chainring, the new one will accept a 30T one. In addition to being smaller in diameter, the new Rotor INspider is also a heck of a lot thinner so there’s less chance of frame interference. Claimed run time is still the same at 350 hours, and it’s also lighter at 102 g instead of 150 g for the old one.
The price has dropped, too, now retailing for US$500/€450 instead of US$650/€600. The redesigned Rotor INspider power meter does use a new proprietary chainring mounting pattern, but at least the charge port is the same as before. Wheels Manufacturing is having a lot of fun with color anodizing these days. If colored thru-axles aren’t your thing, Wheels Manufacturing has plug-in caps instead. Wheels Manufacturing headset spacer and top cap kits are offered in a range of colors, as well as two graphics styles. The aluminum headset spacers are machined in-house, and feature a keyed design to prevent creaking. Converting multi-speed rear hubs for singlespeed used to be easy, but not so much with the advent of SRAM XD freehub bodies. However, Wheels Manufacturing has come to the rescue for those folks who really, really just don’t like having multiple gears. The Wheels Manufacturing kit essentially turns the XD freehub body into an oversized Shimano-style one, complete with a machined aluminum sprocket, plus spacers and a matching lockring. Wheels Manufacturing is continuing to dive deeper into the tool game. Wheels Manufacturing’s variety of bearing presses are some of the handiest around thanks to their quick-release design. The pretty red anodizing doesn’t exactly hurt, either. Wheels Manufacturing plans to plan with a collection of artists for special-edition tool kits, limited to just 20 copies each. We can probably all blame (or credit?) Dave Rome for this one. Sitting in the Wheels Manufacturing booth was this stunning titanium fat bike from upstart brand Rise Bikes. Whoa. Rise makes liberal use of 3D-printed titanium, here in the form of a printed chainstay stub to help increase drivetrain and tire clearance. Tidy. The printed rear dropout features a SRAM Universal Derailleur Hanger. Praxis will offer its new narrow-wide chainrings in at least 25 different fitments for use on a variety of 10-, 11-, and 12-speed drivetrains. Praxis has moved on from its old wave-style 1x-specific chainring design in favor of a conventional narrow-wide setup licensed from SRAM. Chain retention is said to be noticeably better now, particularly at more extreme chainlines. Looking to spice up your kid’s bike? The new Praxis Zane crankset offers cold-forged aluminum arms, a 30 mm-diameter aluminum spindle, and direct-mount chainring compatibilty. Praxis will offer the Zane in 120, 130, 140, and 150 mm arm lengths for US$160 without a chainring. Praxis announced a couple of new bottom brackets at this year’s Sea Otter Classic, including a BSA-threaded setup for SRAM DUB cranks, and a T47 Asym for brands like Cervelo and Factor. Both are built with Enduro stainless-steel bearings for US$50. Looking to upgrade the stock cranks on your Fazua-powered e-road or mountain bike? Praxis has new options available in both forged aluminum and carbon fiber, with prices ranging from US$90 to US$280. Boyd Cycling has always said that all of its wheels are “handbuilt in Greenville, South Carolina.” However, now the company has gone one step further with a new rim manufacturing factory just 15 minutes away from the main office. Boyd also brought back its popular Altamont road rim-brake model, weighing in at 1,510 g (claimed, pair) with a 27/31 mm staggered rim depth, 21 mm internal width, machined sidewalls, and bladed spokes with brass nipples. Retail price is US$725 per set. The Bracken is a new aluminum enduro wheelset from Boyd Cycling, featuring one of the first rims to be rolled at the company’s new in-house rim facility in South Carolina. The Bracken’s 30 mm internal width is paired with a shallow 19 mm depth in an effort to soften the ride quality. The Bracken is built around Boyd’s Tripel hubs, with 3.5-degree engagement and sealed cartridge bearings. Claimed weight for the set is 1,850 g. Cane Creek’s new stem-based computer mount offers a wide range of adjustment. The base can be mounted to most stem faceplates in four different height positions, you can set the angle, and the puck can even slide to different distances away from the bar. Underneath, the standard plate can be swapped for an accessory mount should you prefer to run a camera or light down there. Although neat, the mount is also at the premium end of the pricing scale with a retail price of US$80 plus another $20 for the accessory mount. Cane Creek’s range of Inline rear shocks have offered a solid option for riders seeking an unusually broad range of damping adjustments, but in a compact and relatively lightweight package. The redesigned Air IL still features the company’s trademark twin-tube internal damper layout, but now with a dramatically slimmer profile for better frame compatibility. Still just a finger flick away is the handy Climb Switch, which not only greatly increases the compression damping, but also slows down the rebound for a more settled and efficient ride when heading uphill. Concerned about crankarm durability on your e-bike? Cane Creek’s Electric Wings are made of 3D-printed 6/4 titanium – not so much to save weight, but rather to boost their impact toughness, especially as compared to carbon fiber. Note how little material is sticking out past the pedal threads, too, which also aids in ground clearance.
Claimed weight is 383 g per pair, and retail price is a whopping US$1,300. Cane Creek’s Helm II trail suspension fork has gone on a diet for the XC and trail crowd. This one offers 100-130 mm of travel, a newly hollowed-out fork crown, a crown-mounted Climb Switch, and independently adjustable positive and negative air springs.
It won’t be the lightest around at just under 2 kg, but based on my experience with the standard Helm II, it might very well be one of the best-riding options in this travel category. Retail price is US$1,100. Cane Creek periodically offers its Helm II suspension fork in a limited edition color, with this eye-catching sunset finish being the latest. Yes, please! Bivo showed off a couple of new stainless steel water bottles at this year’s Sea Otter Classic. At left is a new grey color for the original One single-walled model (US$39), the first to feature a tougher silicone coating that supposedly will hold up better over time than the first-gen stuff. At right is the new Trio Mini (US$44), featuring double-wall vacuum insulation to keep liquids warm or cold, and a smaller 500 mL (17 oz) capacity than the existing Trio.
2023 Sea Otter Classic Cane Creek Hunt Praxis Project 321 RockyMounts Thule Wheels Manufacturing