The last week of September I had the pleasure to attend the yearly industry show for bike people. It’s held, in all places, in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m not sure why an industry that sells products that can be used for sustainable living has its trade show in the most unsustainable city in the US. But then again, a lot of the bike industry is not actually about sustainability. Las Vegas is one of those cities that exemplifies America’s extremes in so many ways. Founded at the site of a spring, on the dry dusty road from all parts East to California, it became a true Oasis in the desert and outpost for weary travelers looking for liquor, women, and an overall good time. It grew from there into a sprawling city, dependent on ever diminishing water supplies from the Colorado river and the underground water stores of the southern half of Nevada, in a location with so little rainfall that cactus hardly grow there. Of course, tourists can spend a pleasant vacation on the lavish Strip, enjoying shows, nightlife, shopping, etc., all without hardly even leaving the overly air conditioned confines of the massive and convoluted casinos and hotels. It is actually difficult to find your way outside at times (and for me it was refreshing to finally break out into the heat and light of the street). They never have any idea of how precarious the city is, perched on the edge of the environment like that.
The first couple days of the show are the “outdoor demo”. They bus you out to Bootleg Canyon, which is a mountain biking destination, where the bike vendors bring bikes for you to try out. I tried some mountain bikes from one of our suppliers, Marin Bikes. We carry primarily their city line, but they’re well known for mountain bikes.
I checked out a bike and rode it around the trail with about a hundred other bikers. The trail had some challenging whoop-de-whoops that I’ve gotten too wimpy to ride. (I find that as I get older and have more responsibilities, my level of comfort with physical risk has gone down somewhat. ) But the ride was fun and it was good to try out a few different bikes that I probably would never own (full carbon mountain bike anyone?), and try samples of energy bites, bars, and drinks. The energy bites are good, but I wonder about classifying them as food? One particular free drink sample was neon orange colored and had a list of ingredients about 40 long, including amino acids, vitamins, various protein supplements, energy boosters, and not sure what else. Talk about highly engineered! It tasted ok, but I couldn’t bring myself to drink too much of it – call me old fashioned, but I like to be able to identify what I put in my body.
In addition to the mountain bikes, I also rode some new Xtracycle Radishes (completely loaded down with watermelons for the true cargo biking experience), a smattering of electric-assist bikes from iZip and some newer companies, touring bikes by Masi (one of our new lines), some commuting bikes by Civia, an electric-assisted Day 6 bicycle, and (my favorite) a prototype Auto-shift from Nuvinci. Nuvinci makes an internal rear shifting hub that uses roller balls and spline plates instead of gears, giving you a continuous range of shifting. This is the hub Morgan used on the Firefly big dummy. Their new auto-shift prototype uses a pedal sensor that detects how much torque you are applying and changes the “gears” for you (using an electronic interface) to try to keep your pedal cadence the same – just like automatic transmission in a car! It worked better than I expected and you never had to think about shifting, which was great. I’m not an early adopter of new things, tending to be somewhat skeptical, but I was pleasantly surprised by this bike and liked it much more than I thought I would. Currently, the product is available on a limited basis, as it’s still a beta product, but I think there is some potential there for the future.
I also was quite impressed with the Civia Hyland commuter bike. This bike is designed with commuters in mind, with full coverage fenders, comfortable riding, internal gearing, hidden cable routing, rack, etc. The bike rode really well and I was quite impressed with it’s nimbleness and how easy it was to climb up the hills. It’s price tag is quite high, but for serious commuters, I think worth it. The line is also coming out with some scaled back versions this spring, which we may decide to pick up.
After the dusty outdoor demo, the show moves inside to the conference center. My hotel was about a mile from the conference center, but I brought a Downtube folding bike to get around. Most of the streets in Las Vegas are wide boulevards and many of them have a reasonably wide outside lane and even a bike lane, which makes getting around by bike quite reasonable if you are comfortable with traffic. The first day of the outdoor demo, the show-related bike lock up was not open, so I wandered around the outside of the building until I found employee entrance, with about 15 bike racks set up to the side of the parking garage. The racks were jam packed with assorted bikes, but mostly BMX bikes and Huffys. Apparently, biking is quite a popular mode of transportation among the working class of Las Vegas. I saw a number of people riding around wearing the white and black uniforms of food service workers.
The indoor show is just aisles and aisles of vendor booths, large and small, some fancy and some simple. There are a lot of booths that I could bypass, catering to high end road and mountain bikes, components, etc – recreation and racing oriented bikes. But there is a growing number of vendors looking for the commuter, utilitarian, electric, and city bikes. All of the major bike vendors have their city bike lines, and this year we are seeing a lot more classic and european styling in these designs.
Our own Marin bikes have introduced a very nicely styled and inexpensive city bike in their Bridgeway line. Starting at under $500, these bikes are your basic commuters, now with good looks!
There is also growing interest in actual European designed bikes, and I saw some interesting offerings in that area. We are considering picking up some dutch bikes by Batavus. This is one of the oldest bike companies in the world and has been offering solid, low maintenance, stylish bikes that c
an be ridden in dresses and suits or jeans and t-shirts all without worry. No fancy biking clothes or equipment needed. Just get on and ride, and do it in style. They are introducing some very inexpensive BUB bikes that can be stylized to your own taste, but still have the solid and stylish design of a dutch made bike. These looked pretty interesting, with 2 frame types.
I also saw some very classic bikes offered by Pashley of England. The Sonnet Bliss was on display at the booth and simply looked fabulous with clean lines, white with red accents. These bikes are still hand made in England and sell for just over $1,000 – hard to believe.
Outside of the european world, the fixed gear bikes continue to gain ground. Our new line of bikes by Masi, has a number of fixed gear options and styling from low key to flashy. Look for these in the store soon.
One of the fun things I did while at the show was attend the Urban Bike Fashion Show, sponsored by Momentum Magazine and Giant bikes. Momentum Magazine is a pretty cool new publication out of Vancouver, BC, that is dedicated to people who use their bikes – definately worth checking out. The fashion show had a circular runway laid out, and the riders would ride around, stopping the bikes 3 times to get off and showcase their outfits and the bikes. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was pretty fun and there were lots of interesting bikes (and they served free beer, so how can you go wrong!). I’m sure there were interesting clothes as well, but I didn’t look at those as closely! The Nutcase helmets we carry were prominently showcased in the show, given their unique and interesting designs. The bikes ranged from classic to modern and even included a Madsen bike and an electric-assist bike. It was nice to see biking at a level beyond just the performance/recreation market and also beyond just the utilitarian market. Biking as a real lifestyle choice.
The fashion show was about the last thing I did before heading back to North Carolina. It was a fun time and I saw some interesting bikes and things. Look for some of these things to be showing up in the shop soon.