Questions about Sea Otter DH

This is Evan’s first try. He wants to know which bike to run, how big the jumps are, etc.

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First, let me say I’m stoked that you’re offering so much good advice on your web site and I also loved the mastering mtb skills book. It’s hard to explain in textbook format an art such as mountain biking, but you’ve done the best job of it I’ve seen yet. Props and thanks.

The jumps at the top of the course will boost you — if that’s what you want.

So let me get right to it since I’m sure I’m not the only one emailing you for advice ;). I’ve been riding for two years and have progressed rather fast. I have a BMX background, natural skills, yada yada and have surpassed my friends who have been riding longer than me. Just trying to paint you a picture here. I entered myself in this year’s Sea Otter DH Beginner 25 – 29 (I’m 27) and this will be not only my first race as a racer but also as a spectator (other than my volunteer work at Crankworx this year). I have a general idea for what to expect, so I’m looking more for details such as the following:

– My main ride is a VP-Free with a Fox 40; too big for the course, right?Unless I’m Heman, which I’m not. How would my stepdad’s Blur LT fair? I’m guessing the Nomad would be better, huh?

– I can go ride the basic course route now, right?

– How do they modify the course? They add jumps and berms and stuff, right? So my practice runs in Feb and Mar will get me acquainted with the route, but the course will pretty much be completely reworked come race time?

– How big are the jumps on this thing? I’m looking at the course map and it just says “jump”, “fancy hip jump”, etc not too helpful. I can go sorta big, but I want to make sure I’m not getting in over my head.

– Is it usually 60 sec intervals the riders are released at?

Any other tips you have would be sweet. Thanks again. And I’ll look for you so I can thank you in person at SO this year!


Hey Evan,

Welcome to the club. Your BMX will serve you well, my son.

Me pumping the back of Jump No. 3 on the SX. Circa 2004.

Bike choice
As my friend Ross McMahon says, “If you have the power, the big bike is always faster.” A few years ago I did back-to-back, helmet-cammed runs on my SX (4″) and my Demo 9 (9″). I swore the SX was faster — until we reviewed the tapes. The SX felt faster because it was sketchy! Where I was bouncing on the SX, I was pedaling on the Demo 9. I decided to run the Demo, with WTB Weir Wolf 2.3 in front and an Epic Wolf 2.1 in back. The bike rolled superfast and got plenty of traction. And I won my expert class!

People do well on all kinds of bikes. Run whatever you’re comfortable on. If you usually ride your VP-Free, that’s the bike to race. Last year I raced an Enduro, and that worked well too. Mid-pack semipro.

The course
I’m not so sure you can ride the course. Don’t bother. You can memorize it at the race. Use your time to train near home.

The jumps aren’t very big (but that’s relative!). The tables up top are maybe 10-15 feet, and the “fancy hip jump” is about 15 feet. It looks scary, but if you carry good speed out of the corner, it’s almost automatic. There’s a go-around, but it would cost you.

Beginners race in 20-30 second intervals.

Me railing the first berm on the Demo 9. The big bike hooks up like crazy! BTW: My Demo 9 was 41 pounds with ti spokes and lots of other funny business.

Sea Otter DH is a mix of corners, jumps and pedaling. Ride XC. Do one-minute all-out intervals (to simulate the flat, pedaly finish). Practice jumping at the BMX track or dirt jumps. If you want to race fast, you must train fast.

You can win beginner by 1) carrying decent speed through the corners, 2) getting over the jumps cleanly and 2) pedaling like a maniac.


Yeti-FOX Racing Factory Team Weathers Sea Otter Storm – bike setup

Sea Otter Circus ’04 – detailed description of the course

10 replies
  1. Evan says:

    More sage advice from the kung fu masta!

    I was leaning towards just training like a madman and powering my VP-Free down the course, and your advice has definitely given me encouragement to do so (your Expert win on the Demo 9 is inspiring!). I am the most familiar with my VP anyway, and that’s a great point about a smaller bike usually only *feeling* faster.

    Re the course, 15 ft jumps sound good. Nothing out of my league there. And 20-30 sec intervals, wow, I bet there’s a decent amount of passing in the lower classes…

    BTW is that Sea Otter helmet cam footage online anywhere, or perhaps you’ve YouTube’d it? That would be helpful but I understand if you want to keep it.

    Thanks again Lee for the succinct words of wisdom – what kind of beer do you like so we can toast after I win my class?! 😉

  2. leelikesbikes says:

    Hey Evan,

    Footage: Long lost. Don’t worry about that course: Just get strong and learn it at the race.

    Passing: Yes, there is a lot of that. Talk to everyone around you in line. If ANYONE gets caught, he should move out of the way. Racers tend to get more gracious as they move up the classes. Hope you get lucky.

    *** Pick a few pasing spots ahead of time. ***

    Beer: If you buy it, I’ll drink it!

  3. Andrew says:

    Hey Evan, last year’s beginner DH was my first race ever. I raced on a Brodie Hellion hardtail and never wished for more except in the braking bumps. On the other hand, the course was so muddy that I never got moving as fast as I would have likes to.

    If it’s as muddy as ’06, you can win by lacing your shoes up tight so if you do have to push, they won’t come off!

    I was pretty much the ultimate beginner: I went around the “fancy hip jump” and the log gap. That probably added about 10 seconds to my time, however, my Canadian mud skills made up for it. I passed two riders, so yes, passing is very important!

    I had a couple regrets afterward. 1) not pedaling my legs off at the top, because it seemed shorter during the race than during practice; and 2) using my brakes through the corners… in hindsight, you can just rail those massive berms, pump track style!

  4. Evan says:

    Thanks Andrew… course condition is definitely going to be a huge factor – I didn’t see last year’s race but heard plenty about the mud! Tire choice another biggie there.

    The last two tips are great too; I want to balance the energy so I don’t puke *before* finishing, but feel like I’ve used all I had (as Lee put it in another thread I saw somewhere…). And berms, yes, gotte make sure to try and use everything they have to offer! My pump track is almost done, and I think it will help progress my terrain pumping/berm skills (and lungs!).

    If’n anybody else wants to share a Sea Otter DH experience that might be useful to a newbie (maybe when it wasn’t all mucked up like last year), that’d be cool too. Thanks all….

  5. matt says:

    sea otter is awesome even if u dont race. i will be racing the begginer 14-18 class. i have also started to train. i have been doing lotss on my yeti as-x with one hard climb, log just straight pedaling and one nice down hill
    good luck hope to meet u at sea otter lea, are u having an skills classes near the bay area before the race?

  6. Wayne says:

    Don’t overlook the value of watching others.

    When my son was a junior and raced amateur we would both walk down the course at Sea Otter and the NCS races during pro practice, observing what line each of the riders would take. Especially for jumps, drops and rock gardens.

    I miss those times.

  7. Van says:

    I’m stoked to race at Sea Otter too! This is my first year racing DH after years of XC. Lee, you mentioned some tire choices above. I’ve been using 2.5 Kenda Nevegals with the Stick-E rubber and DH casing. Would you continue to use these tires? Or would you go with something a little more narrow and with less rolling resistance?

  8. leelikesbikes says:

    Those are excellent DH tires. Sea Otter has no rocks, and most of the turns are bermed, so you can run XC tires. Maybe some 2.1 or 2.3 Nevegals.

    You’ll be thanking me on that flat finish!

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