For The Love of Bikes

Photo by Louie Traub
Pho­to by Louie Traub

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.

Photo by Louie Traub
Pho­to by Louie Traub

“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.

Photo by Louie Traub
Pho­to by Louie Traub

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.