For those who have been going to Interbike for many years (raise your hands), the routine can become, well… routine. You know the drill. Emerge from your hotel room early in the morning, walk through a smoke and perfume-filled casino, find ‘breakfast’ (a coffee and pastry) at a small and very crowded coffee shop, and start getting reacquainted with hundreds of your closest industry friends that you haven’t seen since last year in the same coffee shop. This year the scene changed slightly from the Venetian to Mandalay Bay, but otherwise it looked, smelled, and tasted just like Interbike. Some of your friends now work at a different company in the same industry, but the faces are largely the same.
What I like to do is leave aside enough time during the actual show to browse around and get a general lay of the land. I want to meet new people, talk to old friends, and generally absorb as much as possible – and what better time and place to do it? This article is a summary of my main observations of Interbike 2013 as it relates to triathlon and the industry in general. We’ll attempt to cover what has changed, what has stayed the same, and what the new trends are in our funny little sport.
What Stayed the Same
First let’s cover what really hasn’t changed. Yes, it’s still a huge convention center packed with a ton of vendors. Most of the key brands are there, and as always – a lot of oddball stuff shows up, too. Boxing gloves, anyone? At a bike show? Sure!
What sticks out most to me is the way that different manufacturers approach the show. There remain a large handful of companies that seem to display their products in the ‘old school’ manner – a product display with very little information. “Here’s our stuff! Right here! I can’t tell you much about it, but here it is!” Much of this depends on the staff at the booth and how much experience they have. I always seem to meet with several marketing agents who seemed to know almost nothing about the actual product, but are still eager to ask for a product review.
The best part of the show that hasn’t changed, in my opinion, is the fact that there are so many different cycling niches represented. Call it a niche-of-a-niche sport. You get the road cyclists, the triathletes, and the mountain bikers. Then there are the hipsters, the trackies, the 24-hour endurance crowd, and even the low-end ‘fitness’-oriented booths. There are nutrition products, tires, brake pads, clothing, car racks, power meters, and hey – why not a dog-walking leash that attaches to your bike?
I absolutely love this element of the show and walk around like a kid in Willy Wonka’s factory.
The other big piece of Interbike that hasn’t changed is the large number of Asian factory and private-label vendors. They generally occupy a few rows towards one side of the show, and display some products that many Slowtwitch forum readers would have a field day with.
Want to make your own brand of wheel, frame, or just about anything else? These folks will take your order right at the show…
This vendor apparently represents all of Taiwan – all in one booth!
I normally don’t stop by these vendors, but decided to step inside the Honfu Sports booth:
Two very nice ladies told me about their products and how they do business. According to them, they own their own factory (they are the factory – e.g. are not outsourcing their labor to someone else). They sell both consumer-direct and as a supplier to other brands. You can buy rims, wheels, frames, forks, and aerobars.
Companies like this generally do not have much hard data to share with the techy crowd. There were no wind tunnel charts, no brake heat numbers, and no detailed fit guides. That’s just the way it works. You generally get a very competitive price, but must know exactly what you’re looking for.
If you’re in to accessories, these vendors have you covered. I always find about a dozen display cases filled with unmarked goodies. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the same stuff showing up year after year. Who would know the difference?
What is Changing
The biggest change I’ve noticed over the past few years is that Interbike is becoming less of a place to debut product, and more of a place to meet. Manufacturers don’t want their message to get lost in a sea of new product introductions during the same week, so they now debut their goods whenever they please. For triathlon, I really didn’t see a single company or category that jumped out at me as having a lot of new stuff that I hadn’t heard of yet.
What you see in the place of product introductions are brand hype sessions. Want free beer served by hired female models? Come to any number of booths at 5:00 p.m. and drink up. The show is an important meeting time, but it’s more about the relationships and planning for next year than the products themselves.
I did notice that tire manufacturers appear to be slowly catching on to the things that triathletes and road cyclists want. Gone are the days of conversations focused on weight and thread count. Today it’s about rolling resistance, aerodynamics, and the always-subjective topic of puncture resistance. I have a feeling that this will be a slow ship to steer, but we’re getting there.
Want to know the most popular thing at Interbike this year? Two words: Fat. Bikes.
Hey industry friends – is it just me, or were these damn things everywhere? I even had one source tell me that there are estimates saying that more fat bikes will be sold in 2014 than high-end triathlon bikes. I don’t know if it’s true, but I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
I saw steel fat bikes, carbon fat bikes, and super-fatty fat bikes with the new 190mm hub standard (seen in the photo above). That’s right – a 190mm rear hub. They’re huge, obnoxious, and awesome.
The other big trend that continues to explode is the carbon clincher category:
Everyone has them. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I have my reservations. I think the issue of heat-related rim failure is steadily shrinking, but that does not say anything about stopping distance, modulation, and performance in various temperatures and conditions. While most of our readers tend to be more savvy than the average bear, I question whether the marketplace-at-large is really ready for this type of product to filter down in to mid and entry-level price ranges.
If you’ve ever worked in a retail bike shop, you know the type of abuse that some customers dish out to their machines. Riding with completely worn brake pads? Check. Riding with the wrong pad compound? Check. Riding with misadjusted pads that aren’t even in the braking area of the rim? Check. With alloy rims, you can get away with this sort of thing with a reasonable measure of safety. With carbon, the risks go up considerably. As prices drop and the used market gets flooded with this product, I have a feeling that there will be some less-than-favorable outcomes.
Overall, I’m glad to see Interbike continue to thrive. It just wouldn’t be September without a trip to the Strip. As consumers, is there anything that you want to see more of from Interbike coverage? Do you look forward to the ‘show season’? Perhaps most importantly – is it something that you understand and expect, or does the annual coverage come up as a mini surprise every year? Could we (both Slowtwitch and the general industry) do anything better to add value to you when it comes to Interbike? We would love to hear your comments.
All images © Greg Kopecky / slowtwitch.com