Oct
07
2009

My admittedly late thoughts on Interbike 2009

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.

But.

There are a few things I do think bear mention:

  1. There were a few companies notably absent, but a few new (European) faces to fill in the gaps.
  2. The efforts at guaranteeing the future of cycling as an enthusiast sport seems to be more and more a specifically North American interest.
  3. 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)

Do good.

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.

@help
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.

Written by chris in: General Musings |

9 Comments »

  • Hey Chris, thanks for the Mention. But I should also point out that for all the opportunity inherent in Bike 2.0, there’s a chilling downside too.

    I’ll develop those ideas in my next post (I think), but between the incredible amount of inventory & bad debt in the industry, and the fact that there’s simply more products out there than the market can sustain, make no mistake: There Will Be Blood.

    Comment | October 8, 2009
  • Great write-up Chris and many thanks for supporting our Tweetup fundraiser at Lavo. It was really rewarding to put faces and handshakes to many former virtual connections.

    I have to nit pick just a bit. Trek, Giant and Cannondale had a very large presence at the Demo Days event and all were as gracious to our production team as was Specialized. While I would love to see an equal showing in the exhibition hall, I think it is unfair to label them as absent. In fact, they were among the dominant vendors throughout the demo and had some of the longest lines for attendees to test products.

    Cervelo on the other-hand was disgraceful. I was fortunate (or so I thought) to get an invitation to their party. When I found out that they were not an exhibitor in any fashion with Interbike, I passed. Do they think that show happens spontaneously and for free? I guess they saved enough money to buy three more spots on Versus…on your company’s dime and all other exhibitors, no less.

    Social media…don’t get me started!

    Comment | October 8, 2009
  • Wise thoughts and words are never ‘late’… they’re just waiting for the nonsense to finish shouting.

    Comment | October 8, 2009
  • Worth the wait, Chris.

    An awful lot of US and UK bike advocacy is based on the propagation of fear (cars are dangerous beasties; to ride a bike you need to wear a helmet etc) while in much of the EU cycling is a normal, everyday activity and such an antagonistic approach is neither necessary nor effective.

    I’d also argue that any advocacy based on fear will never be able to reach out to the mainstream. Share the road, cars need to give us more room type campaigns appeal to fit, vehicular cyclists, not newbie or would-be cyclists.

    Now, as we all know, cars ARE dangerous and need to be tamed if we’re to progress but the positives about cycling often have to be teased out of some advocates.

    As to your comparisons between Eurobike and Interbike there was an amazing difference betweeen the shows, and not just in sheer size. Your employer’s booth at Eurobike was massive and shows that Eurobike and Interbike are very different animals, not just bike trade shows on different continents.

    There were also huge differences in a topic close to your heart: social media. Interbike – and the US as a whole – is far, far ahead of Eurobike and most of the EU in embracing Twitter, Facebook, blogs, UGC and the rest.

    Many European bicycle businesses think social media is a fad, a distraction, a waste of time. They could be right. But if they’re wrong, they will be a long way behind US companies.

    Real bike trade social media success stories are thin on the ground. And by success I mean dollars generated. Unusually for the spiritual home of capitalism, the US seems happy to experiment with cash-poor social media while, paradoxically, the EU wants to see the colour of the money before committing to something so potentially frivolous.

    —-

    On Cervelo: your analogy was spot-on. I got an invite but didn’t go. Not once I knew the back-story. Cervelo got a lot of social media grief for acting in the way they did. Will this social media backlash affect their bottomline? No.

    Comment | October 8, 2009
  • MB

    Did you check out Bikes Belong’s new film? http://vimeo.com/6666520

    Comment | October 8, 2009
  • I’m keeping an eye out for Focus. Even though they were way in the back corner of the hall, they had maybe the most consistent crowd of any booth at the show.

    Also worth noting that Trek, Giant, Cannondale, and Specialized were well represented at the Outdoor Demo.

    Does this mean I get to have the last word on Interbike? Sweet…

    Comment | October 8, 2009
  • Chris, what was Lynn’s impression of how some people in the bike industry have embraced social media? Did she say how it compares with other industries she might have experience with?

    I intended to attend her preso, but I ended up in Taiwan instead…

    Comment | October 8, 2009
  • Thanks to all for the comments! Agreed on points made about the demo day presence being solid from Trek, Cannondale, and Specialized, among others. For sure, that’s almost a different show on it’s own.

    The Bikes Belong film mentioned by MB above in the comments is great, worth watching (but they need a shorter edit to hook interest of a wider audience, methinks!)

    And Richard, as for Lynn’s impression of our industry, she really didn’t have one – she wasn’t a cyclist per se, so she didn’t have deep-dive understanding of many of the subtle nuances we face. That said, it does sound like as an industry overall, we’re on the right track, as she was surprised at how many attendees were there, and how many were already using social media in one form or another. Still lots of work to do, though.

    Comment | October 9, 2009
  • Great write-up Chris and many thanks for supporting our Tweetup fundraiser at Lavo. It was really rewarding to put faces and handshakes to many former virtual connections.

    I have to nit pick just a bit. Trek, Giant and Cannondale had a very large presence at the Demo Days event and all were as gracious to our production team as was Specialized. While I would love to see an equal showing in the exhibition hall, I think it is unfair to label them as absent. In fact, they were among the dominant vendors throughout the demo and had some of the longest lines for attendees to test products.

    Cervelo on the other-hand was disgraceful. I was fortunate (or so I thought) to get an invitation to their party. When I found out that they were not an exhibitor in any fashion with Interbike, I passed. Do they think that show happens spontaneously and for free? I guess they saved enough money to buy three more spots on Versus…on your company’s dime and all other exhibitors, no less.

    Social media…don’t get me started!

    Comment | May 19, 2010

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