I only spent two days at Interbike this year (my shortest time there in the 12+ years I’ve been attending), so my account of Interbike 2009 will not include the same litany of shiny anodized pictures, technical highlights of how light a carbon frame can be, or any of the other “what happens in vegas” stories that you can get elsewhere on the interwebs. That stuff is all great, but interbike ended more than a few days ago, and there isn’t much there to add.
There are a few things I do think bear mention:
- There were a few companies notably absent, but a few new (European) faces to fill in the gaps.
- The efforts at guaranteeing the future of cycling as an enthusiast sport seems to be more and more a specifically North American interest.
- Many retailers still don’t know much about social media, but nearly as many industry leaders are ready to show them the way (and need to realize that this responsibility rests with each of us).
Roll call: Bueller? Bueller?….Bueller?….
Trek & Giant didn’t make it to class. Cannondale was there, but was doing an impression of business autism, showing a few new models that were displayed in a poetic and perhaps savantish style, but together didn’t form a complete sentence. My employer was there, but with a booth not commensurate with the size of the business (unlike eurobike, where we go big). And my fellow countrymen at Cervelo didn’t show up at all, though they did throw a party in the same hotel, and in 8th grade birthday party style, they made a point of not inviting some people. But there were new kids in the class: Gore bike wear, nearly as well known as Nike in the European cycling world, has finally brought their wares to North America, along with a resurgence in their awesome Gore Ride-On cables. Focus bikes, a big Euro brand you maybe haven’t heard of yet, is now here. Watch out in coming years for the likes of Canyon, Cube, Stevens, and others. If it weren’t for the sinking US dollar making these bikes more expensive to import, we’d probably see more of these brands sooner. And if you think there’s no space for them in North American shops, take a look at Rick’s recent post about the opportunity brands like these might be seeing. If he’s right, there could be more room than they need (at least in the short term while they’re still cute and nichey)
In a marked difference between Eurobike and Interbike, I saw a lot of activity surrounding cycling-related advocacy efforts in Vegas that weren’t as present in Friedrichshafen. From packed rooms of people wanting to learn more about the great work at World Bicycle Relief, to IMBA and Bikes Belong, there was plenty of noise about the state of cycling as a sport and as a cause. At Eurobike, it all seemed far less…obvious. And I think there’s a reason for that: our Euro friends don’t live in constant fear of their sport being seen as “in trouble”. Their mountain bike rides are often fire road adventures through real, honest-to-goodness mountains. Their roads and bike paths are beyond cycling friendly, and aren’t in need of repair, much less development. And you can shut down entire cities for the same race, year after year, streets filled with throngs of adoring fans. North America is in far greater need of defending cycling as a sport because it never really became a way of life like it did in Europe. As such, we battle for singletrack, for park access, for bike lanes and roadway rights. To Europe, our battle for bikes must seem at times rather peculiar, leaving them to wonder if we also need to lobby government for the right to maintain left turn lanes, or to cook in cast iron. For sure, truly global advocacy is relevant everywhere, and I’ve never met anyone against helping people or charities that rely on cycling as a catalyst for change. But the defensive (and perhaps aggressive) posture of North America’s approach (“Save our trails!” “Share the road!”) is remarkably different from a proactive, expansionary, and visionary approach that might have more natural global appeal.
I spent some time at Interbike attending a social media how-to talk led by Lynn Switanowski-Barrett of the CBC Group*, discussing Twitter, Facebook, and Blogs to a packed (and large) room full of dealers. The encouraging bits included a large number of shop-owner attendees that raised their hands to confirm they were using facebook, or twitter, or blogs, or flickr. Better still, there were lots of questions, and even the occasional audience-led validation that this stuff was actually useful. The savvy reassured the leery that negative reviews weren’t really the problem they imagined they might be. But it did highlight a big gap that I suspected already: many brands, pro athletes, and industry-insider types are leading the charge, but in general, our retail channel has largely fallen behind, and are only trying to catch back up. If they get much further behind, they might (wrongly) conclude that this is national marketing tactic best left to big companies with big budgets, and thus go back to placing yellow pages ads. We must not let this happen. If you know a bike shop, call them today. Tell them to set up a facebook fan page. Social media, at least within the bike industry (but probably elsewhere too), offers the most value to everyone as a mass-local tool, not a mass-market tool; that is, working in many, many smaller communities to connect people in that region – kinda like yellow pages, but better!
*I actually met Lynn at the interbike tweetup on tuesday night, where a great flock of industry people who knew each other only as tiny icons and code names got together to drink $8 coronas and raffle off a heap of schwag. It was a last minute decision to sell raffle tickets for the schwag, and we ended up raising about $1600 for charity! Pics here.