Wow, I see it’s been almost three months since my last post here at BEM. I guess time just flies when you’ve two little kids running around, not to mention 15 employees, a few dozen suppliers, several thousand customers and a fleet of your own bikes begging for regular exercise. Somehow my blogging hobby just gets pushed to the back burner. I can’t even blame good weather and fun outdoor activities for my lack of writing activity, since the sun has mostly hidden behind a cold shield of clouds and rain since May. Heck, we had to go to the south of France for three weeks to find some decent weather!
But yes, we did make the annual pilgrimage to Eurobike in the famous Zeppelin City of Friedrichshafen, Germany again. And being approximately my gazillionth trade show visit I wasn’t surprised by much. Finding some cool stuff in the first few trade shows one visits is no great trick. That is, of course, assuming you’re actually at an expo for a topic you care about rather than, say, me going to the Office Furniture Expo. But that would be silly because I’m a bike nerd and not an office furniture geek, and though I have ideas for other businesses none of them have anything to do with office furniture aside from needing a place to sit and put my stuff.
But I digress. We went to Eurobike and despite searching quite thoroughly we didn’t find much that seemed “newsworthy”. In all fairness making headlines isn’t the primary goal of our visit. We go there because suppliers, dealers and other industry insiders from all over the world are also there. You get a better understanding of the people you do business with when you talk face to face. We explained to the owner of the Italian centerstand company that all of their new stands broke and he showed us improvements and asked to get some examples back. We exchanged business cards and then he ignored my emails. Over at Sun Race / Sturmey Archer we politely told them how a certain new shifter they’re selling is absolutely horrible, which we’ve since been in regular contact about and exchanging samples and vintage parts for inspiration. And sometimes your friend at A-Bikes connects you to somebody he knows at B-Bikes who knows a guy at C-Bikes who might be good to make the left-hand threaded, eleven speed spokes you need.
Actually we still haven’t found those special spokes but we did find these new Michelin Protek Max inner tubes:
They even won one of the prestigious but apparently affordable Eurobike Awards. As evident from the name this is one of those ingenious multifunction products you wish you’d thought up yourself. On the one hand it’s a perfectly good, if somewhat heavy, inner tube to keep compressed air inside your bike’s tires. But cut it open and tie off one end and it’s also a condom long enough for the best endowed men on earth. Ribbed for his and her pleasure! So if you’re riding along and just happen to meet Miss or Mr. Right Now you’ll be prepared.
I’m sure our astute readers can think up some other handy, dual purpose bike parts: Seat post pumps, rear dropout beer bottle openers, tire lever quick release levers, handlebar U locks…?
We did of course see a few things we weren’t really expecting, though their contribution to society might be questionable. Below a few examples spearheaded by the carbon fiber Italian city bike. The combination of crabon fiber and cast iron fork crown and componentry might well have been the most novel idea in the 17 halls of bike goodness. By the way you can click each photo to see it in higher resolution and often to see more examples not shown here. Just a hint.
Actually the Italians had their fancy, quasi-traditional city bikes out in force. This one only had carbon fiber in the many leather accessories but at least it was also gold plated. I guess there’s no crime in Italy since such a bling-bling “City” bike would get ripped off within milliseconds in Amsterdam, Paris, New York or any other city I’ve spent bike time in. Or maybe these bikes are intended for those Italian men whom mere thieves steer a wide berth around, lest they find themselves part of the Meadowlands stadium foundation.
Usually we see a clear theme or two at each expo. Just two or three years ago you couldn’t throw a free water bottle without hitting an outrageous chopper at Eurobike. The longer, lower, fatter and more contorted the better. Scantily clad and heavily made up females paraded them all through the halls. Choppers might still be popular on the street (though not here in Amsterdam) but have disappeared from the bike industry’s consciousness. Only the undisputed king of the fat bikes stuck around for another showing:
And I suppose if I went to the trouble and expense of building something like that I’d do my own best to get as much mileage out of it as possible… and that isn’t going to happen by racking up the kilometers at a wobbly, walking pace.
So without further ado, here are some “themes” (or is it “memes” now?) we detect, in the form of a picture show and tell.
For whatever reason the bike industry has been obsessed with light weight for decades but in the last years it’s been reaching a frenzy. Friends in the US tell me how no self respecting, middle-aged, spare tire equipped weekend warrior would even bother showing up for the evening group ride without a 7kg Cervelo. My friend Gary, a long-time cyclist and regular on Palo Alto’s twice weekly morning ride told me a funny story recently. While cooling off after the rolling 30km loop on his trusty 80’s era Merckx (with modern parts) another rider congratulated him for being able to “keep up” on such a dinosaur of a bike. Now don’t get me wrong; I like equipment as much as the next guy and have spent many an hour designing and building my own fast bikes. But I also understand that it doesn’t actually make that much of a difference until the margin of winning or losing races is measured in seconds or even fractions of a second. Toward the end of my competition career I missed getting a bronze medal in the US national pursuit championships by 0.09 seconds. In fact the silver medal was only about 2 seconds faster. It’s a fair bet that some time in a wind tunnel to improve my position and choice of gear would have netted me at least the bronze. Probably even the “blind” purchase of whatever was reported to be the latest, greatest pursuit frame could have done the same.
But to ride with the group around “the loop”? I’d even go so far as to venture that for this type of recreational cycling the advantages of modern road racing bikes (stiffness, lighter weight, more gears) are to a great extent offset by several disadvantages (giant frames and parts with the aerodynamics of a cinder block, higher bearing friction and cranks as wide as a horse). In any case it’s hard to comprehend that another cyclist could be so deluded by the marketing hype that he’d actually believe that Gary would be meaningfully handicapped by riding a bike similar to those ridden to victory in most professional races as late as the early 90’s.
Getting back to Eurobike the only really obvious trend was for Lightweight. I don’t mean just “light weight” but actually the company called Lightweight and the very light weight wheels they make. I’ve been told they’re “good” wheels and they damn well ought to be for about €3000 and up. It is a little bit of a bummer though that a broken spoke thanks to the airline or somebody’s pedal poking means the death of the wheel. Ping. Oops there goes €1500.
Whatever. Though I object to the concept I don’t really care much about disposable €3000 wheels. That is, I wouldn’t care if they were just an exotic piece of sports equipment used by serious athletes to win events. What’s strange though is that Lightweight wheels were absolutely everywhere at Eurobike. They had a big, fancy stand stocked with earnest men explaining the wheels’ benefits and their spoke insurance program. We saw an entire group ride shod with Lightweights. Dozens of stands featured them in most of their bikes. Even “city bikes” wore Lightweight wheels:
Meanwhile one had to search far and wide to find a quality, comfortable, stylish bike for a regular guy to ride his kid to school on. I suppose this observation says all we really need to know about the bike industry or at least where Eurobike is going: Cycling is a sport and the more extreme the better. End of story.
Well I’m running out of writing steam and time here so you’ll just have to wait a few days (or more) for the next Eurobike meme: Inventors’ Stupid Drivetrains. Other bike industry themes also coming soon: Co-branding, Protection and Utilitarian Bikes? Lalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalal I can’t hear you!.
Sneak preview of the next post, just to get your nerdy minds salivating with anticipation: