Skip to content

Sea Otter Is Super Fun For Bike Geeks: A First-Timer's Experience

What's the Sea Otter Classic like for a first-timer? As a bike lover and tech geek, I've always wanted to go. This year, I finally got the chance! These are my thoughts and highlights from my first Sea Otter experience.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Features

I’ve worked in the bike industry for 10 years, but I never made the pilgrimage to the world’s biggest bike festival and expo: The Sea Otter Classic. This year, I finally got to experience it firsthand. 

I see amazing bikes and play with exciting new tech almost daily, so I’m pretty desensitized. Even to me, Sea Otter is stunning. An insane mix of riders and manufacturers all descend on Monterey to celebrate all that is fun and beautiful about cycling. I spent two full days there and feel like I only scratched the surface. For anyone who loves bikes, visiting Sea Otter might be the ultimate experience. 

This is my brief summary of what it was like to visit Sea Otter as a first-timer. Maybe it will inspire you to plan your own trip. If you do, hopefully, some of the insight I provide will help you prepare!

[button]Shop Bikes[/button]      

I traveled with a few TPC co-workers from our purchasing team. For retailers like us, the main reason to go to Sea Otter is to see new bikes and products we might be interested in carrying and to work with manufacturers to place orders and form partnerships.

Our four-man purchasing team had wall-to-wall meetings scheduled from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. each day. I sat in on some, just to see “how the sausage gets made,” but whenever I got bored (which was often) I went off on my own to explore.   


Be Prepared to Walk

Sea Otter Parking

I live in ski country, so I’m used to ski resort parking attendants who are dialed in when it comes to quickly directing a million cars into unmarked spaces. The parking attendants at Sea Otter, well… they try. It was a situation where everyone is a manager yet no one knows what’s actually going on.

We waited in a long line of cars while parking attendants panicked and yelled conflicting instructions at each other. It was pretty amusing. Based on stories from my co-workers, it's the same situation every year. 

Palace Rapha Crocs

My footwear for a full day of walking. Feel free to hate them, but I got plenty of compliments. 

Once parked, it’s a long walk from the lot to the track. If you can bring a bike with you, it will come in handy here because the walk is about 30 minutes. I suggest wearing comfortable shoes. I wore my trusty Rapha Palace Crocs (according to young people Crocs are in style now). 

The whole Sea Otter expo is on gravel and grass. There are endless rows of vendors and brands, and in a single day, I logged over 15,000 steps. My co-worker Andrew recorded our first day on Strava and he covered over 4 miles. By the end of each day, my feet were aching. 

Sea Otter Laguna

Walking down to the expo. There are too many booths to see in one day.

Bring sunscreen, a light jacket or sweatshirt, a water bottle, and a bag. Even reapplying sunscreen midday, I managed to burn my nose. Wear a hat if you can. Temps swing from chilly to blistering hot throughout the day so I found myself taking my jacket on and off all day.

There are a few places to fill a bottle, which you’ll need to stay hydrated without spending a fortune on drinks (more on that in a moment). I also brought a backpack for all the sweet swag and any other gear I decided to buy on the day. 

What’s Awesome About Sea Otter

The Vibe

Sea Otter early morning

The Dual Slalom course is visible form the expo and you can see people practicing or racing all day Friday. The only time the show wasn't packed with people was right before it opened at 10 AM.

I’ve literally never seen so many bike lovers in one place — roadies, gravel riders, mountain bikers, racers, tourers, dirtbags, fashionistas, newbies, and industry legends. The entire spectrum is represented here and there’s something for everyone. 

Plenty of people are riding around on bikes — some to race, some just for fun. There are kids pulling wheelies everywhere. There are games, demonstrations, and activities around every turn. This really is a great place to bring kids if they’re old enough to appreciate bikes. Every single booth has something interesting to look at. 

People love getting asked questions too. Every rep I spoke to was eager to tell me the story behind their brand or products. I got into so many engaging conversations with people who seem to love bikes, gear, and tech as much or more than me! For a bike geek and gear lover, this is paradise. 

Pro Bikes

I loved seeing all the pro bikes on display (or just sitting out in the open). In many cases, you can get up close and even touch them. Here were some of my favorites:

Wout van Aert bikeVittoria brought several pro bikes, include Wout van Aert's Tour de France Cervelo S5. Note the 1x drivetrain with a 54t chainring!
Alison Jackson Roubaix bikeFSA brought Alison Jackson's Paris-Roubaix-winning Cannondale SuperSix Evo.
Alison Jackson Roubaix bike barAn awesome detail on Alison's bike. "Don't Think. Just Do."
Charlie Hatton DH World Champ bikeFSA also brought the Atherton DH bike that Charlie Hatton used to win the Downhill World Championships. 
Lachlan Morton SuperSix Evo SELachlan Morton's Cannondale SuperSix Evo SE was just sitting out at the Prologo tent. This is a bike he's currently riding. Note the tire plugs taped to the seatstay and bars (yellow tape). 
Brandon Semenuk Emil Johansson bikesBrandon Semenuk's Rampage winning Trek Session (rear) and Emil Johansson's Crankworx winning Ticket S. They still had dirt on the tires!
Finn Iles bikeFinn Iles's prototype Specialized Demo DH bike has been getting a lot of buzz. When I was looking at it, some of the guys from the Propain team were examining the lower linkage VERY closely. Spies are everywhere!
Kristian Blummenfelt bikeCadex brought the crazy-looking Tri bike used by Olympic Gold Medalist and Ironman World Champ Kristian Blummenfelt.
Aaron Gwin CrestoneTRP brought the Crestline that Aaron Gwin will be racing at Downhill World Cups this year. 

Celebrity Sightings

Gee Atherton Rob Warner

Gee Atherton (left) and Rob Warner. We might have had a few...

The amount of “famous” people you’ll see just walking (or riding) around the expo is crazy. I try not to creep on people, so I left most of these people alone. The only exeptions were Gee Atherton and Rob Warner. I met them after dinner at an English pub. My co-worker Justin, who had more drinks than me, was brave enough to interrupt them and ask for a photo. They were super nice, and I was stoked! 

Here’s my list of celebrity sightings over Sea Otter Weekend, roughly in order of when I saw them:

  • Eliot Jackson (Presenter/Former Pro/Great Dude)
  • Cole Paton (Pro Racer)
  • Alex Howes (Pro Racer)
  • Lachlan Morten (Pro Racer)
  • Calvin Jones (Park Tool)
  • Ben Delaney (The Ride with Ben Delany)
  • Hannah Otto (Pro Racer)
  • Payson McElveen (Pro Racer)
  • Gee Atherton (Pro Racer)
  • Rob Warner (Presenter/MTB Legend)
  • Jeremy Powers (Former Pro)
  • Charlie Hatton (Pro Racer)
  • Sofia Gomez Villafane (Pro Racer)
  • Sarah Sturm (Pro Racer)
  • Alexis Skarda (Pro Racer)
  • Neil Donoghue (GMBN)
  • Dario DiGiulio (PinkBike)
  • Ben Cathro (PinkBike)
  • Brian Park (PinkBike)
  • Bernard Kerr (Pro Racer)
  • Peter Matthews (Trail Engaged)
  • James Huang (Escape Collective) 
  • Aaron Gwin (Pro Racer)
  • Ivan Dominguez (Former Pro) 

Free Swag and Discounted Gear

Pretty much every vendor at Sea Otter has a special Sea Otter discount, usually 20-40% off retail. A ton of vendors give out free swag too. There are also plenty of games and raffles you can enter to win more free stuff. 

I came back with so much swag that I was afraid I’d have to check my bag on the flight back. 

Here was my haul:

  • 3 free hats 
  • 2 free T-shirts
  • 2 water bottles
  • A MiiR steel camp mug
  • Ripton Court Jorts (so stretchy!)
  • 2 Vittoria Peyote MTB tires
  • POC Savant MTB gloves
  • POC Lure MTB Socks

Weird Stuff

I love weird bike stuff and Sea Otter has plenty of that! It’s fun to see things you won’t come across in any bike shop. 

Assos mannequinsThe Assos mannequins were brilliant and goofy at the same time. 
Fox Grip fork damper testFox built some custom dyno rigs that let you test out their latest forks and new GRIP dampers. They provided some serious entertainment. 
Giro Aerohead 2.0I was excited to see the insane Giro Aerohead 2.0 TT helmet in person. The Giro rep wouldn't let me actually wear it, but it was worth asking. 
Igus bikeIgus built a bike that is 92% plastic and it's crazy lightweight. It even uses plastic Igus bearings. The only non-plastic is in the hardware (bolts), brakes, and tires. 
SavaSava is a Chinese brand I'd never heard of. This unreleased aero bike got a lot of attention thanks to it's unique bar and fork setup. Bar height is fully adjustable. 
LTwoo 12 speed gravelA TON of Chinese brands come to Sea Otter. Many are E-bike brands. The biggest booth, however, belonged to the component maker LTwoo. I checked out its latest 12-speed electronic gravel group. It seems to work well, but I'm not sure about it yet. 
Silca titaniumSilca makes a lot of 3D-printed titnaium products and showed off its skills with this wild 3D-printed titanium rear-end. 
StriderYou'll see lots of riders on some real wacky builds. 

What Sucks About Sea Otter


Considering the size of the event and the outdoor venue, bathroom struggles aren't too surprising. There’s only one bathroom with real plumbing in the whole place and the lines there are long. It got shut down for cleaning several times. There are several Porta Potty stations around the perimeter, but again, the lines are long. 

The bathroom and the Porta Potty wash stations also ran out of soap and/or water several times while I was there, so bring hand sanitizer just in case. If you have a small child who is not quite going potty independently (like me), the bathroom situation will be very tough here. 

Food and Drink

Sea Otter food

A $15 veggie bowl and $7 iced latte. Good, but pricey. 

A lot of the food I ate at Sea Otter was decent. There are a lot of food booths scattered around. There were vegetarian options, and I even managed to find a couple of vegan options too. There was good coffee at the Canyon and Specialized booths. The big problem though is the cost. 

Expect to spend around $15-20 per meal. Depending on what you choose, there's a chance you won’t be full after too. My favorites were the Hawaiian bowls and Lumpia (Filipino egg rolls). Beers at the Sierra Nevada tent were $13 a cup. I spent way more than I was expecting on lunch and drinks. 

If you get lucky though, some booths start offering drinks at the end of the day. The Pinarello booth gave out Aperol Spritzes which gave me a nice buzz. I managed to grab some beers from the Fox Racing tent on the way out too. 

What Would I Do Differently Next Time?

Atherton S170

I loved seeing this Atherton S170 in person (the first in the US!). I only wish I'd ridden more bikes while I was there. 

I’m back home and I’m already excited to go back to Sea Otter next year. Now that I have some experience, next year I might want to focus a bit more on some of the things I missed. 

Watch More Racing

There was so much to do and see in the expo itself, that I didn’t really get a chance to watch much of the racing that happens in the hills surrounding the expo. I only caught bits of the dual slalom and downhill races.

I missed the Fuego XC finish too, which I was bummed about since I’m following the Life Time Grand Prix. I never got the timing quite right and missed a lot of the best race action of the weekend. Next time, I want to keep a closer eye on the race schedule and go join the party. 

Shay Sea Otter Enduro

My co-worker Shay raced the Enduro on Friday and I was a bit jealous. I don’t really want to fly with a bike, but I’d love to try entering one of the races one day too. 

Demo Some Bikes

I’m kicking myself for not accepting an offer from Pinarello to demo the new Dogma XC mountain bike. I really wanted to, but I didn’t have time with so many industry meetings to attend. 

Several brands were offering demos, I just needed more time to take advantage of them!

Spend the Whole Weekend There

My flight home was on Saturday, but if I could go back in time and redo it, I’d leave on Sunday instead. I spent two full days at the expo and still feel like I didn’t see everything. Having one more day would make the trip feel a bit more relaxed. I could have seen some more racing and tried some demo bikes! 

[button]Shop Bikes[/button]