The hangover of a Portland, Oregon winter melted under the California sun as we cruised toward the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, home to the Subaru Sea Otter Classic, the unofficial but indisputable kickoff to the cycling season. Since its inception in 1991, the Classic has morphed from a small local bike race to an international attraction, hosting over 10,000 athletes and 65,000 fans to become the world’s ultimate multi-day cycling festival.
Dreamed up by retired Marine Frank Yohannan, the Classic’s first races were held in early April 1991 under the moniker Leguna Seca Challenge. A total of 350 competitors showed up to compete in two main events—both mountain biking—convincing Yohannan that his efforts weren’t in vain. The event blossomed and two years later earned its current namesake thanks to the adorable little creatures that pepper the area’s coastline. Now, 20 years down the line, Yohannan still acts as president and CEO of his event and is more excited than ever about its reach.
“There’s still a lot of opportunity for us to expand and try new disciplines,” he told BikeRumor. And he doesn’t seem to be slowing down, with dates being locked-in for future events all the way out to 2019.
Miles of rolling hills and bucolic scenery passed by until we found ourselves parked at the Raceway’s entrance. The grounds were filling up quickly. Shaved-leg roadies, scruffy mountain bikers, and hordes of grizzled hipsters with drivetrain tattoos streamed in and headed toward the track. The excitement was palpable. Some of the greatest names in cycling history, from John Tomac to Ned Overand to Susan DeMattei have made the pilgrimage to Sea Otter and we all knew there was good chance we’d get to glimpse one of our cycling heroes.
This year, 27 races over the course of four days were scheduled to occur, including a handful of pro-level events for the viewing pleasure of the crowds. The races revolved like minute hands around hundreds of vendors who made up the guts of the event. They displayed sneak peaks of upcoming products, chatted with passersby, and sold difficult-to-obtain goods—often discounted—much to the delight of dedicated gearheads. It was a bike-lover’s paradise.
As we wound our way into the Expo area, the air was abuzz with the hum of bicycle hubs. It was a takeover of epic proportions and the theme was human-powered. If folks weren’t pedaling a bike there was a good chance they were pushing one alongside, ready to hop on and ride to the next big act at a moment’s notice. There were pump tracks for the young, and young-at-heart, kickers for the vertically inclined, asphalt for the speed freaks, and a cyclocross course winding through the middle of it all for the confused.
A day slipped by and still I hadn’t made a connection with a star, but what really mattered was the grin on my face. I realized that Sea Otter had become the carnival-like festival it is today solely for the love of bikes. Like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, Yohannan had only to provide the framework for the concept while a collective conscious solved the rest. So, next Spring, when you point the cockpit of your trusty steed in a southerly direction and begin to pedal, or you book a trip to California’s coast for what seems like no apparent reason, don’t be surprised if you end up winding your way toward the mother lode of two-wheel awesomeness, because The Sea Otter Classic is here to stay.