By Stefan Abram
We’ve been in Girona, Spain for the fourth edition of Sea Otter Europe and weekend packed with group rides, off-road racing and – of course – plenty of tech to get stuck into.
From new wheels and bikes to shoes made from recycled automotive windscreens, we also came across Tom Pidcock's BMC Fourstroke he took to the Tokyo Olympics – but let's not get ahead of ourselves, here are our nine highlights from Sea Otter Europe 2021.
1. Fulcrum Rapid Red Carbon wheels
Fulcrum's first dedicated carbon gravel wheels may only have launched four days ago, but they have already proved themselves after being ridden to victory by Mattia de Marchi at the multi-day Badlands gravel race earlier this month.
The headline features are the 25mm internal rim width, an undrilled rim bed that doesn't require rim tape for tubeless and the use of "mini-hook" technology which Fulcrum claims brings similar weight saving benefits to hookless, but without the same sacrifices to tyre compatibility.
These were shod with 40mm Pirelli Cinturato Gravel M tyres and fitted to a 'Founder's Edition' 3T Exploro Racemax, made entirely in Italy. That's a theme which continues throughout the build, with Campagnolo Ekar 1x13 spec'd as groupset (with a 40t chainring and the 10–44t cassette) and Miss Grape bikepacking bags.
2. 2022 BMC URS gravel bike w/ integrated suspension
Launched just this weekend, the BMC URS LT adds 20mm of front suspension to its 'unrestricted' gravel platform. In contrast to the elastomer rear suspension the front end is hydraulically damped and is available with three different spring stiffnesses for riders of varying weights.
With its positioning under the headtube, this suspension system differs from Specialized's Future Shock or Trek's front Isospeed decoupler in that it's actually the bike that's suspended, rather than just the rider. This should allow the front wheel to track the ground more closely, increasing grip and control, as well as improving comfort by absorbing impacts – or at least, as best a 20mm travel fork can.
BMC has kept the geometry identical to the previous model – which we're pleased to see as that struck a pretty excellent balance between long-distance efficiency and snappy handling.
But to do so while adding 20mm of suspension underneath the headtube isn't exactly straightforward.
The crown of the fork had to slimmed down so as not to raise the front end, while the previously completely internally routed brake hose has had to be popped back outside so that the damper and spring could be housed inside the headtube.
3. Sportful Supergiara cargo jacket
Sportful's latest Supergiara winter jacket has been "designed specifically for gravel riding" and maximises carrying capacity. In addition to the eye catching mesh chest and arm pockets, there are the standard three fabric pockets at the rear. But for a final party trick, those three rear pockets are also each doubled with an additional mesh pocket, bringing the total number up to a whopping nine different pockets.
In sporting the Supergiara moniker, there is naturally more to the jacket than just places to stow things. Polartec Alpha insulation is used on the front, back and sleeves to boost its cold weather resilience, while a water repellent treatment of the fabric is designed to provide some rain protection while still being more breathable than a traditional hard shell.
Sizes range from S to 3XL in the men's version and from XS to XXL in the women's, while pricing stands at $250 in the US and £235 in the UK.
4. CHPT3 x Vielo gravel bike
British bike brand Vielo launched the second generation of their V+1 gravel bike back in spring of this year, but now the father and son duo has teamed up with ex-pro David Millar of CHPT3 for a limited run of 50 bikes.
Each has been given a unique paintjob by Catalan painter, Eduard, using a technique which involves "multiple thin layers that are then lightly removed to create a disruptive identity to each frame."
Millar also decided on the spec, with Campagnolo elected upon for the groupset. Partly this is down to its mechanical simplicity (no batteries or motors) but nostalgia also plays a role – Millar's first professional bike was equipped with the brand's Record groupset.
5. Uyn Naked Carbon shoes
The idea of an exo-shoe-skeleton isn't a new concept – there's Mavic's Comete Ultimate and the Specialized Ares, for example – but Italian brand Uyn has added an eco twist to their design.
Using plant-based castor oil for the sock portion of the shoe obviates the need for petrochemical based yarns, such as Nylon. While the 'shell' part of the shoe is made by recycling the laminate which is used in car windows to give them their strength.
6. Suntour suspension
To stray briefly from the dropbar world, Tom Pidcock's BMC Fourstroke from the Tokyo Olympics was on display, courtesy of SunTour which supplied the fork and rear shock.
Full disclosure: this wasn't the actual bike Tom Pidcock won gold on.
But it was still Pidcock's spare. Should he have written off the other bike on one of the recce runs, this is the bike he would have ridden in the XCO race – and as such, the set up is identical.
Prototype Continental Prouta Tarp tyres wrap a set of the striking Syncros Silverton SL wheels which feature a one-piece full-carbon construction. The drivetrain is Shimano XTR with a 36t chainring paired to a 10–51t cassette. Wires, rather than mechanical cables connect the fork and the shock and look to control the compression dampening.
For a run through of all the details we spotted during the Olympics, you can find our full write up on Tom Pidcock's Olympic gold winning bike here.
7. Technomousse tyre insert
Technomousse has ported over their tyre insert tech from mountain and motorbikes and applied it to gravel. We've seen a similar product from Vittoria in the form of their Airliners for gravel and road, but Technomousse claims to have made some key improvements.
If you have been unlucky enough to get a tubeless puncture that won't seal, the Vittoria airliners are only rated to be run flat for up to an hour and after that the insert will need replacing. Technomousse on the other hand, claims that their Red Poison Evo inserts can be ridden completely flat for 50km and still look as good as new afterwards.
Which will come as something of a relief given the retail price of €84.99 – per insert. Compatibility-wise, they'll work with 700c tyres from 32mm up to 50mm (internal rim widths have to be between 18mm and 25mm). There isn't currently a 650b option and the 27.5in MTB insert is unlikely to work on a gravel bike with its minimum tyre width of 2.35in and minimum rim width of 27mm.
The inserts aren't yet available in the UK, but Technomousse is working to change that.
8. Classified Powershift Hub
Belgian brand Classified recently added a 12-speed cassette to its range boosting compatibility to span both SRAM and Campagnolo's higher tier groupsets. With the launch of 12-speed Shimano Dura-Ace and Ultegra at the end of last month, the hope was to confirm compatibility there too, but difficulties with supply have delayed this.
The Powershift system essentially removes the need for a front derailleur by taking care of the shifting internally within the two-speed rear hub. Aside from merely a cleaner looking build and a (typically) straighter chainline, we've found the shifting much faster and will still work under much greater loads than a traditional front derailleur and chainrings.
9. SP Connect Phone Mount
It's not new, it's on a mountain bike and yes, it is just a phone mount – but even so, it still caught our eye.
It features an inbuilt damper which is claimed to stop up to 60% of vibrations being transmitted to the phone. In the past few weeks there have been reports – such as those on our sister site, TechRadar – that mounting iPhones on handlebars can cause damage to the optical image stabilization components and ultimately degrade camera performance.
Now, those reports pertained to motorbikes rather than push bikes and we also don't know whether the mount's vibration damper would definitely protect the phone.
But with that said, it still certainly sounds like a good idea if you do bar mount your phone for gravel riding – or even road riding, given the state of much of the UK's tarmac.
The SP Connect Handlebar Mount Pro MTB with the vibration dampening costs $49.99 dollars, but you'll need to factor in either a phone case to go with it for $29.99 or the universal inference adaptor for $19.99.
Stay tuned for more Sea Otter Europe content.
Starting off riding mountain bikes on the South Downs way, he soon made the switch the road cycling. Now, he’s come full circle and is back out on the trails, although the flat bars have been swapped for the curly ones of a gravel bike.
Always looking for the next challenge, he’s Everested in under 12 hours and ridden the South Downs Double in sub 20. Although dabbling in racing off-road, on-road and virtually, to date his only significant achievement has been winning the National Single-Speed Cross-Country Mountain Bike Championships in 2019.