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By Matt Pacocha
The 17th edition of the Sea Otter Classic opened Thursday under sunny skies and blustery winds. The wind brought cooler temperatures, but no one was complaining too much after a soggy setup on Wednesday.
For the VeloNews tech crew, our day opened offsite at the re-launch of Tomac Bicycles, during an event hosted by Joel Smith, a former employee of Answer Products, and brand namesake John Tomac. The company is taking it small this time, testing the waters with only eight employees and a product line built around three core frames.
Tomac’s name first graced the down tube of a bicycle in 1999 with the Magnum 204 downhill. It was designed by Doug Bradbury, the founder of Manitou suspension. The 204 was successful out of the blocks and remained a contender on the gravity circuit through 2005.
The design has the ability to keep up with many of its competitors on the market today; it simply hasn’t been manufactured as of late. In 2001, American Bicycle Group – the owners of Litespeed, among others – bought the brand, and after that Tomac bikes somehow lost its way. Last year, Tomac regained rights to the brand, and at Sea Otter he began to put out feelers, looking for a way to jump back into the bike biz’.
“I got the trademark back and I just had to wait for the right opportunity,” said Tomac. “[At the same time] Joel Smith decided to leave Answer Products — I’m good friends with him, I worked with him at Manitou for a long time — and he was interested in doing it. I’m super stoked to be able to work with him. I feel that he’s very knowledgeable about the market and product. I probably couldn’t pick another guy in the industry that I’d say ‘this is the guy I’d like to do this with.’”
The company is now focused on getting back to – and staying true to – its roots as a high-end brand that earned the respect of consumers. Tomac’s 30-year racing career serves as inspiration for the company, which is something worth looking to, since he racked up six world titles, including a spectacular showing at the 1990 world championships, where he won the cross-country and finished second in the downhill.
This time around, the company is starting small, limiting its catalog to just three frame designs. All are high-end examples of their categories — cross-country race, trail and downhill racing.
At the short end of the travel range is the Carbide cross-country bike. It pairs a 90mm travel rear end with a carbon front triangle. The bike, like each bike in the line, relies on a linkage-activated single pivot, designed to maximize stiffness, simplicity and durability.
Marketing director Smith explained that low leverage ratios were paramount in the bikes’ design criteria. The Carbide, for example, has a leverage ratio of 2.45:1 and employs an interesting use of a carbon flex stay, instead of a rear axle pivot. The design extracts a three-degree bend out of the carbon fiber seatstays.
“We focused on the design and style of the bikes,” said Smith. “The [three] bikes kind of fit together from a design standpoint.”
The Snyper is the next step up the travel ladder. It’s a 140mm trail bike built from 6061 aluminum with a target weight that’s less than 7 pounds, including a shock, for the entire four-size range. It relies on a design similar to that of the cross-country bike, including the carbon flex stays (the only carbon on this model).
Tomac, Smith and their engineers made an extra effort to pay attention to the details on these bikes. The Snyper relies on full-cable housing, and all of the bikes get a stiff 7075 derailleur hanger to maximize shift response. The bikes also use large 9.5mm hardware for the pivots.
Details on the 220mm travel Primer downhill bike are not yet available. But Tomac said that the design is a refined version of the Magnum 204 downhill bike.
Each of the bikes will rely on custom-tuned Fox Racing Shox.
The Carbide and Spyder will be available as frames or built with two spec’ choices each.
Smith explained that the parts will be chosen as parts “we want to ride,” and that Tomac will not try to make the spec’ more economical by cutting corners on out-of-sight parts like bottom brackets, headsets or cassettes. However, the company expects savings to result from the fact that frames will be manufactured overseas.
Tomac and Smith both say they want the brand to be attractive to “people in the know” and work up a solid reputation as a niche brand.
Strolling through the pits
After kicking the day off with Tomac, we headed off to Laguna Seca to scan the exposition area and the race pits.
Stacey Sells, bicycle marketing coordinator for Fox Racing (clothing), explained that he treats Sea Otter as any large trade show, except instead of putting together preseason orders he spends his time listening to what consumers think of Fox’s latest clothing. The company has recently made its first foray into helmets, and the reception has been very positive, he says.
Additional Integration from Scott USA
This year, Scott USA put together its “Addicted to Carbon” tour, a traveling demo program for its new carbon road bike, the Addict. Adrian Montgomery, Scott’s marketing manager, was especially proud of the new integrated bottom bracket on the Addict SL frame, which mirrors the specifications of the standard Dura-Ace-equipped Addict R2. The main difference is that the bike features a threadless all-carbon bottom bracket shell, into which a set of specially manufactured Shimano Dura-Ace derelin bottom bracket cups are pressed.
Shimano makes the cups using standard Dura-Ace bearings, but the design is specifically designed for the Scott bike and consumers will only be able to buy it from Scott or its dealers.
The bottom bracket measures out to the same width as a standard thread-in Dura-Ace bottom bracket, so the standard FC-7800 crank fits, as does the FC-700 compact crank. The omission of the aluminum insert and threaded Dura-Ace bottom bracket cups trims 35 grams from the standard system. The Addict SL integrated system is only available as a frameset that will retail for roughly $3800.
French revelation: Hutchinson, Mavic join the 29-inch movement
French manufacturers Mavic and Hutchinson were showing new big-wheel product, validating the 29er movement internationally. Hutchinson’s domestic competition, Michelin, introduced its own 29er tire last year at Interbike, but just recently got the product to market. Hutchinson, too, showed its 29er intentions at Interbike, but then partnered with Mavic to create a new UST standard for 29-inch tubeless rims and tires.
While the 29er movement is relatively strong in the U.S., it has yet to take hold in Europe. The two French companies hope to change that. The new wheels, billed as the Crossmax 29, fall into Mavic’s cross-mountain category. Mavic’s goal was to keep the new wheel’s stiffness and durability on par with the 26-inch version while reducing rim weight. Indeed, Mavic claims that it has achieved the lowest rotating weight of any 29-inch wheel on the market. The set weighs 1745 grams and costs $775.
Mavic’s MP3 protection plan can be purchased for an additional $62. There will be two separate versions with a 9mm quick-release and 20mm through-axle. They will not be adaptable back and forth. Mavic did this to push the flanges out an extra 2.5mm on the 20mm axle version. The bit of extra width adds a 7 percent increase in the wheel’s overall stiffness, says Mavic.
Created in conjunction with the new Crossmax 29, Hutchinson’s Python 29 Tubeless-Ready tire is constructed a bit differently than those from other manufacturers. Instead of adding a tubeless bead to a standard casing, Hutchinson opted to skip the step of lining the tire with an airtight skin. This leaves more overlay between plies, for a robust tire at a lighter weight. Hutchinson claims the Python 29’s weight is 645 grams. It has an MSRP of $50.
World Cup honch’ Christoph Sauser always brings in interesting bike to Sea Otter. Last year it was pink. This year it doesn’t have any paint at all in an effort to shed excess grams, and reportedly weighs just 20.5 pounds.
The rig sported a new Specialized Roval Contrôle cross-country wheelset. It’s said to weigh about 1400 grams. It will be tubeless-compatible by way of a sealing tape and will be available in 2008 for $800.
Like last year’s steed, Sauser’s bike is equipped with a two-piece Specialized carbon crank. The crank accepts chainring ranging from 27 to 44 teeth. (Sauser’s was fitted with a 29-42 for Sea Otter.) His other component picks would make the most devoted weight weenie proud: AX lightness seat-post, a Carbon Ti front disc rotor and an aluminum Notubes.com 140mm rear rotor.
Sauser even went as far as to use a Dura-Ace front derailleur and a 10-speed KMC chain, which is 60 grams lighter than the standard Shimano Dura-Ace/XTR 9-speed chain. While he’s waiting for new DT-manufactured suspension forks, Sauser is relying on the Pace fork he spent the last year on. He says he rebuilds it about once a week to keep in top shape.