With hundreds of exhibitors and dozens of races across mountain, road, gravel and even e-bike, Sea Otter Classic is many things to many people. For me, it’s a great opportunity to meet and reconnect with scores of people in cycling, see new product, watch live bike racing, and practice what we in the bike media space are preaching. By that I mean, ride bikes!
This year, I rode from San Jose to Monterey, near where the four-day event is held, and then commuted in and out of the show, taking various scenic routes on the way in. I got to test a Ventum NS1 aero bike with unreleased Enve wheels and CeramicSpeed Oversized Pulley wheels and bottom bracket, and Fizik’s Argo saddle.
The Sea Otter super-commute from San Jose was made possible by Enve, who handled logistics, provided the wheels, and arranged the all-star cast that included, among others, Sir Willie the Wiener, the wee dog of large internet fame who rides on the back of Alexey Vermeulen for portions of long training rides.
Here are some impressions on each of the pieces I tested.
I had never ridden a bike from Ventum, the consumer-direct brand based in Utah I had associated with triathlon. The NS1 is one of the new school of aero bikes that have some drag-reducing shaping built in without losing sight of ride feel or low weight. The NS1 can be built up into a 14.9lb bike, with three SRAM and two Shimano build options that start at $4,499. Wheel options include mid-range and high-end offerings from another Utah brand, Enve.
I rode the SRAM Red AXS build and it felt plush, quiet, and fast. I have to say, Ventum and Enve somehow stacked the deck, as our San Jose to Monterey ride had a screaming tailwind for almost the entire day. So take that with a big grain of salt. But the bike felt stiff where it should, in pedaling efficiency and steering, without feeling jarring in the saddle.
On the comfort front, Enve’s 29mm tires and the padded Argo saddle certainly playing starring roles, but I do believe Ventum’s d-shaped seatpost aided and abetted in the effort.
The integrated cockpit comes in a variety of lengths and widths, and I was happy to get my preferred setup of a 120 stem with a 42 bar. The shallow-drop bar felt comfortable through the long commute and subsequent rides.
The 73-degree head tube on the M/L bike felt right to me for road-race handling, as did the rest of the geometry. The only thing that seemed a bit extreme was the relatively short head tube; the 15.1cm head tube adds up to a 55.2cm stack, which is a good 1.5cm shorter than other road race bikes like a Pinarello Dogma, a BMC Teammachine, or a Specialized Tarmac. This only affected the aesthetics, though, with ‘extra’ spacers, and could be a positive for someone who wants a particularly low front end.
For reference, I have a 76cm saddle height and usually have about 9.5cm of handlebar drop. On this bike it’s closer to 8.5cm as I didn’t mess with the front end at all.
Bottom line: If given the Pepsi Challenge of riding the NS1 frameset ‘blind’ against other high-end race options with identical builds, I honestly don’t know if I could tell the difference.
CeramicSpeed drivetrain upgrades
Another first for me was the CeramicSpeed Oversized Pulley system, the monster-sized rear derailleur cage. I’ve ridden a few bikes with CeramicSpeed bearings in the bottom bracket or wheels. The net result was quite tangible.
Pedaling with that aforementioned tailwind felt so easy, but perhaps the more realistic way to get a sense for the improved drivetrain efficiency was backpedaling, or, when taking photos of the still bike, moving the pedals back by hand — the cranks spun effortlessly like ice on marble. Color me impressed.
Ventum sells the CeramicSpeed pieces as an optional upgrade to its bikes.
Enve unreleased wheels and 29mm tires
Want to hear about Enve’s new wheels? Sorry, you gotta wait until next month. Yes, they’re light and fast. And yes, they’re expensive. Like so many products these days, there’s an embargo on the wheels, which means the media gets given information about them ahead of time on the condition that we hold publishing until a specified date.
Enve recently started selling branded tires made by Tufo in the Czech Republic. I’m not 1,00 percent sold on them; both my colleague Betsy and I had pinhole sidewall leaks on the new tires, and I’ve pinchflatted other Enve tires on narrower rims before. Yes, that’s all anecdotal and not a helpful review, but my gut feeling is still skeptical. That said, a 29mm tire at a moderate pressure on Enve’s wide rims feels so plush.
Fizik Argo saddle
I’ve really enjoyed the Argo shape and padding on a few bikes, both road and gravel. The Specialized Power is my go-to, and the Argo has a similar, short-nose shape with a cutout.
The padding is a bit thicker than I might normally pick, but on the bike, it doesn’t feel overly squishy, and the shape means no numbness, in any riding position.
Obviously saddles are a personal preference. My colleague Fred Dreier loves the Fizik Arione; I can’t stand that thing. But if you like the short-nose concept, this one is definitely worth a look. It comes in a slew of models, from this $109 Vento Argo R5 to the $299 3D-printed Argo Adaptive.
If you’ve never been to Sea Otter, I highly recommend it. It’s the only place in the U.S. where you can race (or watch) road, gravel, and mountain bike events in the same place, check out hundreds of brands, and even camp on site. See you there next year?
And check out more photos of the Ventum NS1 below.
We had a great crew for the Sea Otter super commute, including Betsy Welch, Dan Chabanov, and Whitney Allison.
Ventum certainly does not have a monopoly on the dropped seatstay/d-shaped seat tube and post design, but its cushioning effect is welcome nonetheless.
Not much flex to speak of here, when standing out of the saddle and rocking the bike.
Ceramic bearings? Yes, please.
Ventum made its name with distinctive triathlon bikes, but the road and gravel machines are worth a look.
Riding up to the Laguna Seca Recreation Area, where some of the hills kick to 16 percent, I absolutely appreciated the 37/33 low gear.
The down tube is a large version of the seat tube. Call it a truncated airfoil or call it a d shape; just don’t call it late for dinner.
Kits with logos are out, evidently. I still fly the VeloNews flag for work rides, though, and am happy to do so!