Before I left for Interbike my wife said something to me she says before I depart for any industry function.
“Have fun,” she called to me as I walked out the door.
I’m kinda past the point of trying to explain to her that at events like Interbike my days are long and rather intense. That I enjoy myself there is without doubt, but I define fun as something that is carefree in a way that these events just aren’t.
So I haven’t told her much about the ride I did with some folks from Blackburn as well as a few other journalists. The agenda was simple. We climbed on a bunch of bikes suitable to dirt roads and headed out from the Outdoor Demo on bike paths, both paved and unpaved. Our destination was Hoover Dam.
I’ve been going to Las Vegas for Interbike for 15 years. To the degree that I’ve ever enjoyed myself, it was because I’ve spent time with people I know and admire. And while I’ve done some enjoyable rides, none of them ever had as pleasant a feel. It felt—it felt like I wasn’t working.
The point of the ride was to introduce us to Blackburn’s revamped line. What they’ll tell you is that Blackburn has gone back to its roots. They are focusing on racks, bags and lights, stuff you’d use in touring. And while that’s an easy elevator pitch, the reality is that the product line is far superior to the touring products I was using in the early 1990s, which is the last time I bought a bag or rack from Blackburn.
So we rode a bunch of gravel on an old railroad bed that took us to the Hoover Dam. The lights of Las Vegas disappeared. The rush of traffic on the highway disappeared. The noise, rush and force of the city disappeared. Views of Lake Mead spread to our left and the novelty of the old railroad tunnels promised new views at each exit.
Honestly, it was the first time I’d encountered this part of Nevada in a way that gave me a chance to appreciate its natural beauty. It’s the first time I’d had an experience I’d actually recommend to others.
And then we arrived at Hoover Dam.
This was my first visit ever to one of the great engineering marvels of the 20th Century. Built under that socialist debacle known as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) that puts many thousands of Americans to work building the country’s infrastructure when no other jobs were available, the Hoover Dam isn’t just a fine piece of engineering—the actual value of dams and the environmental impact can be debated in another forum—it’s a testament to the vision of the Roosevelt administration.
Beyond the dizzying presentation of the dam itself, the other structures are a reminder that our infrastructure projects once rose as more than just feats of engineering but as testaments to the power of our democracy. The experience recalled the impression that visiting the National Mall in Washington, D.C. made on me when I was in high school.
Robin Sansom, above, is the product manager for Blackburn and the person responsible for the responsible for seeing through the overhaul of Blackburn’s line. While Robin was riding a Volagi Liscio, several riders and I rode the Volagi Viaje, the company’s steel bike. I have to admit that at first I wondered how well the bike would handle because the bar was nearly as high as the saddle. I was concerned that I didn’t have enough weight on the front wheel. As it turns out, it helped prevent the front wheel from shoveling in the looser gravel. It was easily the most comfortable steel bike I’d ridden on conditions this rough.
The bike was also equipped with SRAM’s new hydraulic road disc brakes, and this was the first occasion when I began to gain an appreciation that disc brakes may offer a notable improvement in braking modulation.
Of course, it could be that we were having fun just because most of us had Tecates in our bikes’ bottle cages.
Blackburn sponsored a group of riders, called the Blackburn Rangers, to take their products on some long-distance tours. While I don’t think you need proof that the stuff works, the videos they produced make for compelling watching. I can’t help but want to pack up and hit the road when I see them.
Shoes have a new fastening system taking over. Dials, be they from Boa or imitators, are now gracing the pro-level shoe offerings from just about everybody. Specialized and Lake and Scott have been on this for years, but now they’ve been joined by Diadora, DMT, Gaerne, Louis Garneau, Northwave, Sidi, Vittoria and Pearl Izumi. Izumi was, amazingly, one of the first to bring the Boa dial system to market, dropped it, and is now back.
Shimano, owner of Pearl Izumi, is sticking to the two straps and buckle system. The ranks of holdouts include Fizik, Giro, and Mavic. Strikingly, all claim high technology to be their calling card. Giro, for one, is still standing firm with their retro-cool lace-up Empire shoes.
Orange is the New Black
Last year, fluo green was the hot color. This year, it’s orange. Mostly fluo orange, but not entirely. Poc totally rocked the orange; the color is tied to their brand identity. But there was plenty of orange to go around, particularly for shoes and helmets. Shoes, preferably in shiny, perforated microfiber, are going orange at Giro, Northwave, Lake, and others. In helmets, Giro is joining the orange crew that Lazer and Rudy Project already started.
Wide Rims are the New Black
At first, it was a trickle. Now it’s a flood. Starting with Hed’s C2 and moving to Zipp and far beyond. Wide rims are just about everywhere. Easton has the Fantom rim, on their EC90 Aero 55 clincher and tubular. The new EC90 is really wide, 28mm, and, a more blunt nose, and the clincher is tubeless compatible. Easton has also redesigned their EA90 SLX into a wider, tubeless-compatible aluminum rim. And the new Easton wheels sport new hubs, the Echo, which relies on standard straight-pull spokes. Ritchey is debuting a wide, shallow-section aluminum clincher, the Zeta II and is tubeless-compatible. The roll on Phantom hubs, which look flangeless but have internal flanges so that the wheels are built with J-bend spokes.
For the people who long for wide rims to build into their favorite hubs, American Classic is now selling a wide, shallow, tubeless compatible rim. The AC RD 2218. Being American Classic, the rim is light, 375g, and currently available in 24 and 28 drilling.
Classic Bars are the New Black
Classic-bend drop handlebars are coming back. The long loopy drops of old are being updated with short reach and shallow bends. Zipp and Ritchey have newly-designed classic bends, taking a similar route to Shimano’s classic bend bars. On the other hand, FSA’s, and 3T’s, and Deda’s longstanding classic drops are plying the older, longer and lower bends. Also of note is that cable grooves seem to be disappearing from aluminum bars. A Ritchey rep told us it was what the pro’s requested because it adds more to grip on the tops. A Zipp rep told us it allowed them to make the bars lighter and stiffer.
Massive Data Integration is the New Black
SRM came to the show with their new PowerControl 8 head unit, set to be released in 2014. A slick touch screen that has sensors rather than relying on warm fingertips is just the beginning. The unit is also working with GPS where you can tune the accuracy by selecting the number of satellites, or turn it off to increase battery life. And they’re adding the metrics popularized by Allen/Coggan—normalized power, IF and TSS. And more. It will work with all ANT+ power meters and connect to both Bluetooth and WiFi. It will be waterproof, and even have a small speaker.
Wahoo Fitness is also expanding its offerings. Their smartphone-based software company is going in a zillion directions—using your smartphone to record and push data to social media, to training programs, and integrating it with a trainer. At the Wahoo booth, they had a Wahoo-based trainer, the Kickr, hooked up to a software partner, Kinomap, where you can watch a geolocated video (quick, get a Virb) that has the elevation data interpreted to resistance and sent to a trainer so you can ride what you’re watching—and even try to keep up or exceed the pace that the person filming it did. You can also use the trainer to ride or race Strava segments.
Topeak is also working the Bluetooth/smartphone angle with their PanoBike App and system, which also includes handlebar- and stem-mounted cases, Bluetooth transmitters, and an app that not only serves as the computer, but a diary and can work with a bike computer.
Bluetooth-transmitting heart rate, speed, cadence sensors, is also a path PowerTap is starting to follow. They’ll have the same, including a PowerTap hub that transmits a Bluetooth signal. This way your smartphone and other Bluetooth-enabled devices, like laptops and tablets, can pick up the signals. CycleOps (part of the same company as PowerTap, but spun into its own division) is also debuting Virtual Training software. Theirs combines both indoors and outdoors, with a heavy social media component and even video. For the indoor, you need one of their PowerBeam or Indoor Cycle units or Wahoo’s Kickr hooked up to a smartphone, tablet, or computer, and logged into their Virtual Training site.
CycleOps’ system combines a training dairy with your trainer and social media. Ride routes you’ve done, ride routes others have done and shared, race people on created routes, compete with others on time, mileage, whatever metric you want. And if the one site isn’t enough, your data can easily be shared with social media sites and other training software.
Taking integration in another diretion is BikeSpike. It’s a GPS transmitter that currently is housed in a water bottle cage. The transmitter turns on and sends out signals telling its location. Mate it with your smartphone and it’s a bike computer, it sends the ride BikeSpike’s social media platform, an anti-theft device, and a crash-alert system. If you like keeping tabs on loved one’s riding, you can set a perimeter, and get alerts when the device goes beyond. The device can also tell how the bike is oriented to the ground, and that can work into their platform to a visual that shows how the bike is leaning.
Road Tubeless Tires are not the New Black
Despite the rapidly-increasing number of road tubeless rims on offer, the same cannot be written of road tubeless tires. The choices for tires are not expanding, nor did it seem that the companies selling road tubeless tires are dramatically expanding their offerings.
Road Rotor Disc Brakes are not the New Black
Here, too, there is lots of talk, but little action. Shimano was touting theirs, but it was hard to find a road racing bike equipped with them, other than a Colnago that Shimano was carting around. SRAM seemed a bit more measured, coming with a fleet of Specializeds, but focusing on their Hydro-R, hydraulic rim brakes, rather than their Hydro-D, hydraulic disc brakes. Most of the road bikes that were equipped with discs were of the “gravel grinder” variety, save the BMC GF01, which is kind of a racing version of a gravel grinder, carbon-fiber but with a beefy fork and massive chain stays.
There’s a certain amount of activity at Interbike, a portion of the wares displayed at Interbike that are necessary to the general feel of the show but aren’t really critical to the actual commerce of the show, stuff that helps to make Interbike a cool place to visit even if you don’t particularly need the item at hand. After all, cycling trades on nothing so much as passion, that promise of a good time.
I swear to something or other that these orange sparkle Stingray-esque grips by Electra were absolutely one of my favorite things I saw at the show. When I was a kid, one of the first ways I inspected a bike was to check out the grips, and few grips were as cool as the ones on Schwinn Stingrays. I kinda want a bike expressly for the purpose of installing these grips. Say what you want about the cart and horse—a man has to have priorities.
This A. Homer Hilsen frame was used as a prop for SKS products, such as their fenders. It would be easy to be bummed that such a magnificent piece of artisanal frame building was slumming it with plastic fenders, but I’m really glad for it. Had the guys at SKS not had the good sense to do this, one of the prettiest bikes at the show would simply not have been at the show. I could have spent an hour staring at this bike, rather than the two minutes that I devoted to it.
I’m so glad that the head tube badge has not just made a comeback, it is in what can be rightfully termed as its golden age.
Dario Pegoretti always shows off a bunch of really gorgeous bikes, but this one takes the art of what he does and elevates it into a truly unique plane. This bike is a tribute to John Coltrane. That’s right, a bike pimping ‘Trane!
It’s one helluva a way to honor the man who has sometimes been called the defining voice of jazz.
So what do you put on the down tube of a bike celebrating Colrane? How about some fake book changes?
He finished off the treatment with a quote on the down tube that speaks to the real nature of craft. I’d forgotten this one.
I love the bike industry and the people therein. It’s always fascinating for me to take note of who is talking to whom. On the left Greg Bagni, a guy who has done more to define and occasionally turn around brands than any six agencies working in the bike biz. On the right, Joe Parkin, the man leading the vision at Paved magazine. Two guys who really get it. I felt a pang of envy not to be a part of that conversation.
Bike people are not without a sense of humor. I caught this in the Surly booth.
I wouldn’t have caught the “Rapha Free” sticker in the Surly booth had it not been for the stuffed raccoon with the cap, corn-cob pipe and mini of Wild Turkey, also in the Surly booth.
I’m not sure what led the folks at Canari to turn their booth into a family affair complete with kids in Bumbos, but it served as a nice reminder of the world outside and made me slow down for a moment to say hi to the little people. And on a day that was pretty delightful, I had a bit more of a smile as I walked away from their booth. I love the gear, but it’s the people who keep me coming back.
It’s in looking back through my hundreds of photos that I begin to gain perspective on what Interbike was such a whirlwind of brief encounters. I rarely took notes because often my visits were so brief that I had to choose either notes or photos. There simply wasn’t time for both. It helps me comprehend how I can be 10 days out from my return home and still be writing about the event. Even though I’m ready to move past it and back to reviewing some products that I didn’t get to before I left for the show, I saw so much that I liked and don’t want to leave out.
I went for a ride on the Stromer, BMC’s electric bike. For those not familiar with it, the Stromer hails from the same category of throttle-less bikes as the Specialized Turbo.
The battery, rather than being contained in a rack in back is ensconced in the down tube. It makes sense, as it’s huge and heavy. It’s hard to get that much weight down low to help the bike’s handling.
The bike computer gives standard rider data and acts as the selector for which assistance mode the Stromer is in. The bike weighs more than a cargo ship, but it handles extraordinarily well. I wish my parents were younger; I’d introduce them to electric bikes.
Shimano introduced a new fitting system. Fit purists knocked it for not being as advanced as the Serotta or Specialized systems. Parts of the system are based on somewhat antiquated views of fit.
The fit system includes the ability to analyze a rider’s pedal stroke to detect leg strength discrepancies.
Even if the Shimano system isn’t the ideal fit system, it strikes me that it could improve fit for many riders. Many riders out there would benefit from an improved fit. Forget perfect; many riders just need a better fit and given their incredible market penetration, Shimano could help many riders achieve a better position on the bike, which would improve their bike handling, their efficiency and their comfort.
Feedback Sports, the folks known for repair stands and scales, introduced a new wall hook system that allows you to hang a bike and then swing it toward the wall to reduce the amount of space needed. Why has it taken so long for someone to dream this up?
Abus was showing a series of locks that feature six pivots to allow them to accommodate unusual rack or bike configurations. I’ve been doing more errand-running by bike and have been amazed at the number of times I’ve needed to punt and just put the lock on the bike without securing it to a rack, sometimes because there was no rack, sometimes because the lock simply wouldn’t accommodate both bike and rack at the same time.
Ritchey remains the leader in bar shapes. No one else offers more bends in both carbon and aluminum than Ritchey; why they don’t get more love from fitters baffles me.
After getting out of the tire biz for a bit, Ritchey is back with a number of new tires at terrific price points. At $20, this is the least expensive folding tire I can recall seeing from a reputable brand.
Guru showed off their new bike fitting system. Components can be switched quickly and CompuTrainer integration means that a rider can be asked to pedal under load or pedal stroke analysis. The saddle and bar assemblies are motorized so that adjustments to fit and fast and don’t require the rider to dismount.
The system performs an anatomic capture without requiring reflective dots being placed on the rider’s legs, shoulders and arms.
The system also provides the rider with the opportunity to pedal on a grade, so you can analyze how well they perform once the road tips up.
Giro showed off some new pieces in their New Road line including new shorts and tops.
Existing pieces got some new colors.
One of my faves was this new polo shirt.
This button down looks smart and won’t become a clammy cotton rag.
I can say with some certainty that my favorite product introduced at this year’s Interbike show that I actually got to ride, as opposed to just staring at, was the new Shimano road hydraulic disc brakes. It’s become popular for people attending the show to say, “You know, I didn’t see anything that wowed me.” That’s been the cool kid thing to say ever since Americans decided that Eurobike was the cool show. I think it’s damned cynical.
This brake system wowed me. I don’t see any point in lying. Two years ago I was arguing against disc brakes on road bikes as causing more problems than they solve. The thing is, I’m not an engineer, especially not a motivated one, but I understand the thrill of problem solving, and that’s mostly what engineering is.
For those of you who have been pulling on jerseys since they were wool, you’ll recall that Colnago was once the place to look for all the most forward-thinking ideas, even if some of them were crazier than Hunter Thompson at Burning Man. It was nice to see the storied Italian brand embrace disc brake tabs and internal routing for the hydraulic brake lines, though I could hear people crying foul to see Shimano parts on the Italian legend. That didn’t bother me, but what did make me chuckle was seeing such forward-looking technology on a bike that was glued together.
The brake set is non-series, which is to say that they are neither Dura-Ace nor Ultegra. That gives product managers the opportunity to use this brake with either group without it looking wholly out of place.
The brakes can be used with either a 140mm or 160mm rotor. The Colnago I rode was equipped with 140mm rotors. There’s been a concern within the industry about using 140mm rotors and heat buildup. You’ll notice that the rotors above feature two different colors. The outer ring of material, the portion of the rotor the pads actually grab is, of course, steel, but that inner ring is aluminum which, by virtue of the fact that aluminum isn’t very dense, allows for speedy heat dissipation.
The brakes themselves also feature fins to help them function as heat sinks. Shimano went to a number of far-flung locations for product testing, including the Stelvio Pass (at this point it seems like you can’t claim to have tested a brake system until you’ve been to the Stelvio), so when they say that heat buildup won’t be a problem with a 140mm rotor, we’ve got some reason to take them at their word.
This detail of the rotor shows the pairing of steel and aluminum to increase heat dissipation.
The lever has a couple of advantages over SRAM’s lever. First, of course, are the improved ergonomics. Shimano went with the Di2 electronic shifting so they could gain valuable space in the lever for the hydraulic master cylinder, which is why the lever looks big but not tumescent. The lever also allows for reach adjustment as well as throw or free-stroke, which is how far the lever travels before the pads engage. These are two important adjustments that help keep the system feeling as much like a traditional rim brake system as possible. Because Shimano has made hydraulic systems for a variety of applications, from cross country to downhill, they were able to select components to increase modulation without compromising power.
My experience in limited riding on the system was impressive. With a 140mm rotor, power was on a par with rim brake systems. Modulation was terrific and felt more easily controlled than with some brakes I’ve used.
I’ve been vocal in my opposition to disc brakes. I haven’t seen the need. The maintenance is more complicated, the system is heavier, the aerodynamics compromised and the increased demand in frame strength changes the flex in the frame. I still think all those issues are, well, still issues. However, one criticism that can’t be leveled at the brakes is that they don’t work. They absolutely do and it may be that with some experience riders using them will find greater control thanks to them.
Cyclops showed a new trainer interface that allows you to ride over videoed courses. You’ll have to put together the big-ass monitor set-up yourself. but it dials up wattage on the hills and changes the speed of the video relative to your speed. Tacx has a similar unit, but this one appears easier to operate. Maybe we’ll get a chance to find out.
Saris was showing off a new hitch-mount rack that comes in two and four-bike configurations.
It, like the Thule, comes with locks integrated into the rack. I wouldn’t leave bikes on the rack overnight in Fresno, but it should do an adequate job of keeping honest people honest.
Shimano showed off the new 11-speed Ultegra group. My sense from my limited chance to play with the group is that this is the closes that Ultegra has ever been in performance to Dura-Ace. The difference in the two levers is fairly negligible.
The crank uses the same asymmetric bolt pattern found in Dura-Ace. It’s a look I still haven’t fallen in love with.
The longer parallelogram of the front derailleur and the lines of the rear derailleur only reinforce the the impression that this is a heavier version of Dura-Ace.
For anyone who had a difficult time justifying the extra expense of Dura-Ace previously will find it much harder to do now.
Shimano also introduced a new apparel line. It’s not meant to go after the upper end of the market and compete with Assos and Rapha. Rather, it’s meant to be another affordable alternative for shops.
In addition to a line of clothes for the road, they also showed apparel for mountain biking as well.
Shimano showed some new hydration packs. This one intrigued me because of its relatively small size. It’s ideal for rides in the two to three-hour range.
Most hard-shell helmets, such as the ones worn in skateboarding, are known for being long on durability, but short on protection. Bell has undertaken a novel approach to using EPS foam in a hard-ish shell helmet.
The shell is flexible and populated with multiple sections of EPS , making it able to take a variety of abuses.
I imagine the helmets made with this new approach will give parents at least two or three different kinds of peace of mind.
The Belkin team wore this aero road helmet at the Tour de France (the hot new term for them is “sprint helmet”). Bell was showing it but indicated that this helmet won’t be put into production. They were showing it off as an indication of things to come.
Blackburn undertook a pretty radical reexamination of the brand’s identity and priorities this past year. The upshot is a reinvigorated focus on bags and racks. Among the new products was a locking rack so that when you lock up your bike, you can rest assured that the bags will stay put.
This new rack is stronger than a skunk’s odor and more adaptable than a character actor. I confess that I failed to take any pictures of the bags. My excuse if Friday afternoon lameness. The Blackburn line impressed me enough to make me fantasize about everything from grocery shopping to loaded touring.
In addition to showing off the new 810 computer, Garmin was showing off this new GPS-enabled video camera. It would be an ideal way to record video for the Cyclops trainer interface above.
Trade shows are an odd phenomenon. They are like little artificial malls where you go shopping but no actual commerce is conducted. The best you can really hope for is the promise of future business. I’ve been to trade shows for the musical instrument business, electronic security, computers and, best of all, bicycles. Only the trade show for the music biz could hold a candle to Interbike. But oh my God, it was louder than the Chinook helicopters that plucked friends of mine from the flood waters in Boulder, Colorado.
It used to be that Interbike was the place where dealers came to see the new line of bikes and then sit down with their rep to place their preseason order. It made perfect sense. Go to the virtual showroom, see the bikes in person, go over colors and pricing, and then sit down with the order sheet and start writing numbers in blanks. As recently as 2004, I can recall seeing a dealer sitting at a table with his rep and an order sheet. But lead times have grown over the years. Today, forecasting times have grown to the point that a bike shop’s preseason order needs to be placed before they ever arrive at Interbike. Trek, Specialized, Giant and Cannondale all have dealer events more than four weeks before Interbike. The single biggest driver on the product management end in this is ordering product with Shimano; lead times with SRAM and Campagnolo are somewhat shorter, I’m told.
The other big driver that no one likes to talk about is the one on the sales end of things. No one wants unsold units in October. Those bikes get discounted and all the profits made through the year get nixed when you take a loss by dumping bikes. To the accountants, it’s not as simple as that, but the career of a product manager can end with a single bad forecast. Those discounted bikes used to be welcomed by retailers looking for Christmas deals. What has changed is that retailers are now being asked to guess how much product they will need for the year more than six months prior to singing “Auld Lang Syne.” The burden of forecasting has been shifted from the manufacturer’s shoulders to the back of the guy who is far less sophisticated. As a retailer, if you order too many bikes, it’s up to you to figure out how to get them all out your door. And if you order too few? Well, then it’s up to you to figure out what to sell because the manufacturer will be sold out of their most popular model by June, July at the latest.
So bike shops order the bikes they hope to be selling in July in … July.
The dealer events that the bike companies hold are pretty genius because the events serve their forecasting needs and give them a multi-day audience without the distraction of other companies. If a shop employee wants to go for a ride, and he’s at Trek World, it’s on a Trek, or a Trek.
The trouble for dealers is that these preseason events are smack dab in the middle of the selling season. Attending one is tantamount to leaving a dinner party you’re throwing at home to drive to work for a conference call.
All this begs the question of the point of Interbike.
Those who are desperate to see the latest, greatest, suggest that Eurobike in Friedrichshafen, Germany, could serve the whole of the market, but that misses the fact that there are models and colors peculiar to that continent and this. Further, if a dealer actually flew to Germany, he’d have the shock of finding out his rep wasn’t there. Who’s going to take that order?
Timing aside, Las Vegas continues to be anathema to all that the bicycle stands for. Cycling is a triumph of clean living and Vegas celebrates nothing so much as excess. All you need to do is wander through one casino at 8:45 am on a weekday morning and witness someone at a slot machine with cigarette dangling and Jim Beam on the rocks to know that Vegas aims to be the home to coloring outside the lines. This also begs a question, but a different one: Why Las Vegas?
That part is easier to answer. Because Las Vegas markets itself more effectively as a travel destination than any other locale in the contiguous U.S. Don’t believe me? Try to find a three-star hotel in any bona fide vacation destination that goes for less than $50 per night and you’ll be looking until the cows have come home and left again. Airfares are similarly discounted. You can fly for less than $200 round trip from any major city in the U.S. so long as you don’t book the day before departure. There’s not another city that wants you as badly as Vegas does.
That part creeps me out. Every other city on the planet is happy to see me leave. ‘Cept maybe Santa Rosa. Damn. I digress.
Interbike’s former marketing director, Rich Kelly, put forward the idea that the show should give into all the cries to move the show to Denver or Anaheim or Timbuktu and then let the disaster unfold for a year, maybe two before moving the grateful hordes back to the surface of the sun, er, Nevada. To demonstrate the particular genius of this idea, I note that a political pundit put forward the idea that if conservatives really thought Obamacare wouldn’t work they should let it be enacted and then allow—you guessed it—the disaster to unfold.
As a journalist, Interbike is very useful to me. It’s useful to all of us in the media. Oddly, we may be the one user group for whom Interbike remains an unqualified success. It’s true that no one walks out of Interbike with a signed ad contract anymore, much the way dealers aren’t filling out order sheets, but the edit side of things often prides itself on being as clueless about actual commerce as possible, especially when it’s the commerce of one’s employer. I can’t be quite so cavalier as I’m the one cutting commission checks to my ad sales team, but I do my best to separate church and state. Sometimes it’s a bit like being at Four Corners with one hand in Colorado, another in Utah, one foot in Arizona and another in New Mexico, but you do your best.
Our ad sales director, Wayne, bumped into some guys from one of the local shops on his flight. In tow was a kid from the shop for whom this trip was a verified travel trifecta: It was his first trip out of Wisconsin. It was his first plane flight. And, of course, it was his first trip to Las Vegas. Last I heard that kid still wasn’t sober. That kid, [name redacted], is the perfect example of why some folks are perfectly happy with Las Vegas. The thing is, you could leave home everyone who is there to party and the show wouldn’t suffer a bit. Weirder still, by clearing out the halls a bit, people rushing from one appointment to the next, usually five minutes late (no names mentioned), would probably save 30 seconds of dodging the hangovered. Trust me, every little bit helps.
That last point is meant to help bring into focus the many conflicting elements that make up the single most important trade event for the bike industry in North America. By keeping the show in Vegas it continues to attract people for whom business isn’t their first priority.
This year, Interbike made two significant changes to its format, one small, one big. First, it allowed consumers to visit on Friday; second, it changed locations. Consumers have long visited the show as part of shop staff. This was just the first time that it was actually okay for that to happen, but only on Friday. Given the number of people we all see who don’t actually work in the industry who make their way to Las Vegas to attend, there was some concern that the show would be mobbed on Friday. I know people who made sure to leave Thursday night so they could avoid the influx. Only the multiplcation didn’t happen. If anything, the fear of the masses was so great that more people left than showed up just for Friday. The overall population seemed down.
The second change, that of venue, took it from the Sands Convention Center where it had been held for 14 years to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. I heard exhibitors complain about increased cost, poor placement, a lower ceiling (making it harder to raise big banners sufficiently high above above their booths to attract attention), gigantic support columns that were as easy to see around as a school bus stood on its end and tighter aisles. All of those may have been true.
For me, and all the other journalists with whom I spoke, the selection of Mandalay Bay was a certified miss. The biggest single issue was one of geometry. The Sands Convention Center is more or less laid out in a rectangle. Mandalay Bay? Not so much. The show floor was laid out in a kind of squared-off “J.” The upshot is that there were parts of the main show floor obscured from view. Navigation was an ongoing nightmare. I can’t recall ever being in a room with such a confusing layout that even after two days of walking around it I could still become—there’s no other word for it—lost. I pride myself on my sense of direction and I was 90 degrees from the direction I needed to head more often than not.
For the vendors who stood in their booth all day, this wasn’t a problem. Retailers, who have a fraction of the appointments that journalists do, had plenty of time to find their way around, but because my colleagues and I needed to move quickly from appointment to appointment, the confusion of the layout, the tight aisles and the lack of multiple aisles that stretched the length of the show made it easily the worst trade show layout I’ve ever encountered. I can put it in perspective this way: I’ve never actually criticized a trade show layout before. How badly do you have to screw it up to be criticized?
Wait, it’s gets better (or worse, depending on your view). There was a “paddock” outside on the hot asphalt. Nevermind that I was too busy to head out there, I didn’t even know how to find it.
As a business, Interbike benefitted from the return of a number of companies, such as Felt, to the show floor, but I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for Interbike. Exhibiting at Interbike can present the same expense as adding another full-time staff member. I think it’s just a matter of time before someone figures out better timing and a better venue and in that creates a better business model.
Co-Motion introduced a new model, the Klatch, aimed at the emerging gravel-grinder category. This bike paired a Shimano drivetrain with TRP’s cable-actuated, double-cylinder hydraulic disc brakes. The frame easily has clearance enough for 32mm tires.
Co-Motion has had a reputation for excellent finishes dating back to the 1990s. This Macchiato pays homage to the Gulf racing team. It was arguably one of the most beautiful bikes I saw at the show.
It’s vaguely amazing to me that tandem companies have waited so long to do really powerful graphic treatments on their bikes.
Stan’s introduced a new 29z-inch carbon fiber mountain bike wheel that showed impressive strength and stiffness numbers while maintaing weight low enough to make it raceable.
Nalini, the Italian apparel manufacturer that is that seems to make more clothing for companies that it does under its own name, was displaying some impressive wool pieces. The construction techniques weren’t strictly old-school, though. The jersey had a reasonably long zipper—the longest possible given the chest pockets—and a gripper on the hem to keep it in place.
They also showed a matching set of wool bibs that had a Lycra bib sewn into them.
Even the pad looked like an old-school chamois. However, this is a current pad that is simply covered in a microfiber to make it look and feel like chamois.
A few companies have begun to show rain jerseys that offer a bit of insulation and some sort of wind and rain-stopping fabric while sticking with short sleeves.
The Nalini jersey featured grommets to allow water to drain from the pockets in the event of a Southern-style deluge.
This Bianchi celebrates the 80th anniversary of Campagnolo. This is the bike that Bianchi will be presenting to Valentino Campagnolo.
Not only does it sport an 80th-anniversary Super Record group, special decals call out the milestone as well.
The combination of the matte finish on both the frame and the components gave it a very choice look.
Honestly, this thing was so gorgeous, it was hard not to drool on the bike.
The new Infinito CV takes Bianchi toward a much cleaner look with fewer swoopy tubes.
The big news on this bike is the Countervail technology Bianchi is using. They are the only bike company using this vibration canceling technology. Based on a video demonstration they had, the materials are fairly effective at subduing vibration. I’m definitely interested to ride this bike.
Speedplay has been making a special pedal for the cobbled races for some time. It forgoes the plastic body normally found on the company’s road pedals. The idea is that it will shed mud more easily should a rider have to get off and walk through some mud, but it is not meant to be a cyclocross pedal as it still uses the traditional Speedplay cleat.
Scott introduced its first bike in the grand touring category, the Solace. It contains a number of visual cues that its designers aimed to make rider comfort a priority. The down tube is flattened near the bottom bracket and the seatstays join the top tube rather than the seat tube in an effort to make them as compliant as possible by increasing their length.
The fork on the Solace uses a slightly unusual design, sweeping the blades slightly forward of the dropouts. The intent is to provide a bit more flex vertically to increase rider comfort.
Mavic is back in the pedal game. Yes, I know it looks like a Time pedal. They make it under contract for Mavic. Unlike previous Mavic pedals, this one weighs less than a bunch of grapes and has more cornering clearance than a little boy’s hips.
Guru has introduced a new frame, the Photon HL. While a great many manufacturers lead with frame weight, Guru has something a bit different. The Photon HL comes in custom geometry. Only custom geometry.
The layup work belongs to an emerging cohort of carbon builders—it’s an exceedingly short list; the only other ones I’ve seen so far are Alchemy and Argonaut. The frame is bejeweled with tiny pieces of carbon that speak to layup work that isn’t just deliberate, it’s artful.
For me, this frame was the single biggest revelation of the show.
Enve introduced some new budget-oriented builds for the 25s, 45s and 65s. They sourced different spokes and hubs without changing the rims in order to bring the cost down.
Enve also introduced a new set of disc brake hubs that are now an option for the SES series wheels.
Currently, there aren’t that many options for aerodynamic carbon wheels with disc brakes, but then maybe that’s because the demand for them isn’t quite what it is for carbon fiber frames.
Moots introduced a new model, the rather aptly named Vamoots Disc Road. It’s a gravel grinder that was gifted great tire clearance and disc brakes.
It’s spec’d with an Enve fork with a steerer that tapers from 1 1/8″ to 1 1/2″ for great strength and precise steering.
The folks at Moots made a battery holder for the Di2 battery to place it inside the seatpost. The build used a Dura-Ace Di2 group combined with Shimano’s new road disc brakes. One of my favorite bikes of the show.
If all you ever do is write about road bikes, you miss out on stuff like this cruiser from Electra. It’s as much a fashion statement as it is transportation, but it’s a fun chance to point out that we, as dedicated cyclists, can incorporate a city bike into our lives for running errands and it can make a fun and entertaining statement at the same time.
When I was a kid I wanted to replace the grips on my Raleigh Chopper with some cool ones that sparkled. These orange ones from Electra would have been ideal. They speak to the many accessories that Electra produces that not only look good but often trade on a bit of nostalgia, and while I’m not a big fan of nostalgia, this is one time when it’s not just harmless, it’s fun.
The Electra electric Townie goes for less than many road bikes. At $2200, it’s not cheap, but this bike, and others of its ilk, is probably our best shot at recruiting more people into cycling. As the roads become ever more clogged with cars, we need all the sympathy and allies we can find. Electric bikes may be our best shot at making more friends.
The Townie comes with a dynamo front hub that powers a headlight. Nifty feature.
Focus unleashed a new road bike, the Izalco Max. This new bike is less a revision of the Izalco than a whole new bike. They’ve trimmed the tube shapes to just the structural essentials. It’s interesting that as bike engineers become more knowledgeable about bike design certain elements become more and more consistent, such as tiny seatstays, round top and down tubes and tapered forks.
This bike may look a bit familiar. Gone are any unusual tube shapes and the seatstays have been shrunken to not much more than the thickness of a pinky for good reason; those tiny stays do make the ride more comfortable.
What did surprise me about the new Izalco Max was just how tiny the fork blades were. My first guess would be that this fork would be comfortable but not handle well, but I’m told it has the precise steering we’ve come to expect from bikes ridden at the WorldTour level.
Socks are the candy bars of the cycling world. They are sugary, diverse and offer an ever-changing array of flavors. Each year someone at Interbike shows a pair of socks that captures some essential zeitgeist. This year, as it is most years, Sock Guy gets my nod for the best socks I have seen at the show. You can consider these an open letter to Valdimir Putin for his stance on gay athletes. They ought to sell by the million. I need to mention that while I’ve always liked Sock Guy socks, I mostly wore them with sneakers because they were so thick. These, however, are thin enough to fit along with your foot inside a tight pair of cycling shoes.
Xpedo has been doing great work in the pedal market and yesterday they were quietly showing a functional prototype of a wattage pedal. While they were willing to talk target pricing for it (which didn’t make me gasp), they aren’t ready to allow that to be published just yet. The system is promising if only for the fact that once you install or remove the pedal, no additional work is required; there are no additional parts to worry about.
BMC showed off a new edition of the Team Machine that I’m told has been lightened significantly without sacrificing comfort or stiffness. Road feel is said to be improved, which fits with my general experience with what happens when you remove material from a frame.
BMC also had disc-brake editions of the Gran Fondo. This is the GF02—the aluminum bike, which I’m told is every bit as compliant as the carbon version.
I’d call B.S. were it not for the fact that these seatstays are just as tiny as the carbon ones.
This is the new EC90 carbon wheel from Easton. This wheel is the first to put together aerodynamics, a wide rim profile, carbon clincher and tubeless. It’s a total no-brainer at least as far as appeal. The last time I was this excited to ride a wheel was following the introduction of the Zipp Firecrest line.
The carbon layup work on this wheel was remarkable. This is definitely the first carbon fiber rim bead that seemed capable of holding on to a road tubeless tire. And as I mentioned on Monday, the new hubs seem to have a design that will put previous bearing issues to rest. More than any other product I saw, these left me with the desire to commit a felony.
Pearl Izumi showed off lots of new apparel as you’d expect, but this new chamois caught my eye. The surface of the chamois itself was remarkably smooth, rather than, well, bumpy from lots of different foam profiles. The idea was to create something that would contact your skin more naturally and lay flat against your skin more easily, rather than just relying on the compression of the bibs.
These are the new P.R.O. In-R-Cool bibs in which the new pad will be used.
Among a great many other items I saw that I liked, this mountain bike kit was pretty interesting. I’m not huge on baggy shorts; it just doesn’t make much sense to me, but if you can have shorts that conceal the Lycra and still offer a fairly tailored fit, I can see the point. The zippers for ventilation at the front of the legs made immediate sense. The jacket was really well-cut and looked to be breathable enough so the inside didn’t turn into a hothouse.
Cervelo has revamped both the R3 and the S3.
Previously, when Cervelo has offered a revision of a lower model following big gains in a flagship model, the result has been a lighter, livelier ride. I should be able to get on both these bikes this winter. I’ve liked the R3 and thought it did a better job of replicating the ride of the top bike than most companies manage. The question now is just how much the ride of the S3 has been improved.
Primal Wear does a lot, nay, a metric ton of charity ride jerseys. I figured they just gave good pricing to the folks running these events. I was wrong about that. It turns out they donate a stunning amount of money to charity events each year, paying the charities a small royalty each time a jersey is sold. Based on what I was told, I estimate it’s somewhere in the mid-six-figure range.
They were showing two new base layers that will combine Primal’s penchant for affordability with their ability to source soft, breathable fabrics.
One of the things I most love about Primal Wear’s apparel is their ability to produce simple pieces that are both comfortable and affordable. So often, when I see stuff that seems a bargain, like this $60 jersey, they will be hamstrung by stiff threads or material that doesn’t breath well. This was a refreshing display of careful design and sourcing.
While brevity isn’t what most folks come to RKP for, these posts are necessarily brief and incomplete for two reasons: 1) the limited amount of time I have between walking out of the show and walking back in. There will be plenty more posts to come.