An insider’s guide to the Sea Otter Classic.

Multi-Course Feast: Lift Off: Freewheeling BMXers make their Sea Otter Classic debut this year while relentless pro racers remain a crowd favorite. Good Clean Fun: High-tech engineering meets low-tech mud in a number of popular off-road races. –Paul McKenzie

The bicycle has been called one of humankind’s top 10 inventions. And just as the bicycle has improved over its lifespan, the four-day Sea Otter Classic keeps getting better.  

The 17th installment of this Monterey mega-event returns with a bounty of activities—professional road and mountain bike races, amateur races, recreation tours, kids’ events, trick-riding demonstrations, expert talks, gear-vendors, food-vendors, camping, and the all-around spirit of outdoor camaraderie.

There are 200 classes of road and mountain bike racing for all ages and skill levels, which muddies the boundary between spectator and participant. And this year, there are three brand-new events emerging from this weekend wellspring of biking enthusiasm: BMX, Adventure Racing and Super D. More on them later.

The action, which will draw upwards of 8,100 competitors and 40,000 spectators this year, is spread out around the Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway and the Fort Ord-BLM land that surrounds it. Some highlights

KIDS’ ATTRACTIONS

There are so many things for kids to do at the Sea Otter Classic, the words “bored,” “Playstation,” or “let’s go home,” are not likely to be heard. Sea Otter Village will play host to most of them.

The BikeSkills Mountain Bike Ride Zone (8am-5pm Thu-Sun) is like a bunny slope for biking, where experts teach youngsters tricks like ladders, rails and berms. To show what years of said tricks can lead to, the GT Mongoose Stunt Team will show off its brand of aerial acrobats regularly throughout the weekend. The Kids’ Bike Rodeo (11am Fri-Sun), meanwhile is a mini-obstacle course that teaches bike safety under the guise of fun (but don’t tell the kids that). For kids 8 and younger, the Sea Otter Egg Hunt (10am Fri-Sun) will reprise a holiday favorite.

Bicycle manufacturers will bring tricycles and kids’ bikes to test drive. The Schoolyard area is an adult-free zone where kids can hang out and work on their bikes with tools on loan. For good measure, the Kids Carnival (8am-5pm Thu-Sun), nestled on grass among exhibitors’ booths, will offer parents a breather while the kids bounce inside inflatable structures, scale climbing walls, play interactive games and forget that there’s an adult world outside of this playground of fun.

Kids 12 and under get into the Sea Otter Classic for free.

ROAD BIKE RACES

S-5 Air Force jets and Red Bull’s six-person skydiving team will kick off the Pro NRC women’s (10am Sat) and men’s (1pm Sat) races. For the spectator, the SRAM Pro NRC Circuit Race offers the exhilaration of watching top US cyclists take the turns, climbs and corkscrews of the Laguna Seca Raceway from any number of perches. Catch a preview of men’s teams from Healthnet, Organic Athlete and Rubicon, and women’s teams from Lipton, WEBCOR, and Aaron’s Pro Cycling.

Amateur bicyclists can be like Lance by registering before 9pm the day prior for the SRAM Amateur Circuit (all day Fri-Sat) and Road Races (all day Thu-Sat).

RECREATIONAL EVENTS

The Sea Otter Marketplace will be home to 250 vendors offering clothes, gear, tools, DVDs, books, gift items, coffee, pasta…and bikes, presumably. Just as an army fights on its stomach, this invasion of bike enthusiasts will be satiated by the International Food Court.

And to burn off that smorgasbord of food, there are Recreational Rides. The Mountain Bike Magazine Off-Road Tour (9am Sat) winds through the rugged Fort Ord-BLM complex on either a 10-mile fire road course or a 20-mile single-track endurance test. These are previews of Sunday’s mountain bike races, and are tempered with two rest stops and trail assistance, but kids under 10 are not permitted. There’s also the scenic route through rolling hills with one of two Bicycling Magazine Road Bike Tours (7am Sun), a 15-mile Fort Ord outing and a 100-mile see-it-all voyage.

MOUNTAIN BIKE RACES

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The SRAM Dual Slalom (all day Thu) ain’t no joke—it’s been called “the best Dual Slalom race in the world.” (OK, it was the Sea Otter Classic people who said that, but then again, they would probably know.) It’s open to pros, semi-pros and amateurs, for whom registration closes at 10am.

The SRAM Downhill (start times posted, Sat-Sun) takes daring, coordination and precision. YouTube is littered with footage of mountain bike spills and crashes; they mostly come from Downhill bikers. For an amateur event less…impactful…but no less challenging, the same course that the world’s best pro/elite mountain bikers have tackled is now available in the SRAM Time Trial (all day Fri). There are two modes of this endurance event—Short Track (Fri-Sat) and Cross Country (Sat-Sun).

NEW EVENTS

This year, the Sea Otter Classic debuts three eagerly-anticipated events. Adventure races have exploded in recent years, pushing athletes over the course of hours or even days to swim, bike, paddle, run, climb, tumble over a variety of terrain. The Sea Otter’s Thule Adventure Race (all day Fri) has a Sprint and Traditional category, each starting with kayaking in the Bay, switching to mountain bikes to get to Laguna Seca, and concluding with navigation and trail-running. The team-building Corporate Cup category features coed teams of two or three-team male and female categories.

BMX (Fri-Sun), a soon-to-be Olympic sport, has been a hot item among young people for a long time, and its entry as a new event at the Sea Otter Classic will add a shot of cool and flashy daring. Super D (all day, Thu) athletes begin with a Le Mans-style running start, en masse, to get to their bikes. They then jockey for position over the length of a grueling gravity race to the finish. It combines elements of downhill and cross-country in a demanding hybrid race that starts with a climb at Laguna Seca, and ends with a climb at Toro Park.

CHARITY AND ENVIRONMENT

The Sea Otter Classic renews its commitment to charitable organizations this year, especially those focused on children and the environment. Since 1991, more than $500,000 has been distributed to youth, sports, education and environmental charities through the philanthropic Cypress Youth Fund. Of special concern are programs that fight childhood obesity through sports and recreation.

Moreover, in cooperation with Clif Bar, the Sea Otter Classic will offset the carbon emissions created by the event by purchasing wind energy credits and offering incentives for arriving by bike or carpooling. That makes the Sea Otter Classic greener and cooler. Information on how to help will be available throughout the event.

For a complete event schedule grid, visit seaotterclassic.com. For specific questions, call (800) 218-8411 or 373-2331.

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