Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Interbike 2008 - Recalling The Chaos

Having recovered from my first Interbike experience, I am now emotionally ready to provide a personal account of the event. There are always a lot of tech reviews associated with Interbike but I have found very few descriptions of what it's actually like at the expo and events in Las Vegas. Well...now I know for myself. And it was way better than Vegas Vacation - which should have never happened.

First of all, it should be noted that Interbike attendees are rather conspicuous in Sin City. Generally speaking, it is rather easy to determine who is affiliated with the show from the regular Vegas folk. For example, I found myself getting a little lost after departing the shuttle at The Venetian and ended up finding a guy with expensive sunglasses and bright colored running shoes who kindly directed me through the secret Harrah's route. I was thinking about asking the elderly couple with matching velour sweat suits or the group of dangerously inebriated (at 10:30 in the morning) guys in tank tops and Tap Out shirts where Interbike was located...but I guess I made the right choice with the guy who dressed like me. Go figure.

So...after navigating the bowels of The Sands Expo Center and gathering my "media" pass from CZ at MissingSaddle.com, it was up the staircase to Ground Zero of the Biker Sensory Overload Zone. The lobby of the event had a number of pro bikes on display which only served as a brief teaser of the overwhelming two-wheeled coolness which would be experienced on the other side of the doors.

According to the event guide, Interbike had "over 1,000 brands" but it seemed like there were twice that many. Regardless, it was actually bigger than I had anticipated. There is a premium on marketing within the cycling industry and it was clear that many companies were making significant efforts to portray themselves well at his event - as were many of the other attendees with expensive glasses and bright shoes.

It was particularly interesting to note the unique charactersitics of the various factions within the industry. For example, the BMX and Downhill companies probably didn't use the same marketing consultant as Campagnolo or Cervelo. I also don't see a Campy trucker hat or line of punk-soundtracked crash videos coming anytime soon. I can't think of many sports that have such demographic diversity.

One of the cool things about Interbike is that it provides an opportunity to see not only sweet gear but also a number of high (and low) profile current and former riders as well. There are few sports which provide as many post-career possibilities for athletes as cycling. However, if the above photo of Maurizio Fondriest is any indication, he'd probably rather be riding that limited edition bike than conducting business in Las Vegas.

While there is certainly a focus on product, it is clear that Interbike serves largely as a business and networking opportunity. There were over 10,000 registered "buyers" at the event which makes for an interesting commercial dynamic between the exhibitors and most of the attendees. There is also a corresponding spectrum of activity ranging from the hustle and bustle of the Shimano Sector to the relative calm of the Taiwanese handlebar tassle and bell maker. It takes all kinds at Interbike.

Speaking of doing business, there are rumors that Rock Racing has begun talks with Johan Museeuw as a Director for 2009. I did not make that assumption when I took this photo of Fast Freddie and the Belgian but...somehow it seems to fit in an odd way. Regardless, I think Rodriguez scored himself a nice frame during the conversation.

I first saw Museeuw in the Media Center lounge and it actually took me a second to recognize him. It's interesting that I can pick out riders moving in a pack at 30 mph but can hardly recognize the same guys in street clothes. One would think that glasses and a helmet actually serve to diguise one's identity but it doesn't work that way in cycling. Combine that with the fact that most of the people in the road cycling industry actually look and dress like professional racers...and it becomes even harder to determine who people are in an off-the-bike setting like Interbike.

There were obviously a lot of amazing bikes on display but I found myself drawn to the "race-ridden" rigs such as Bradley Wiggins' Dolan pictured above. It is interesting to see how the bikes are set up and to get a better sense of how they are positioned. I was very surprised when looking at Santiago Botero's Rock Racing Fuji to see that he rides almost the same size bike as Tyler Hamilton.

One of the hardest things about Interbike is trying to stay focused. I kept trying to develop a plan, looking at the exhibitor list and map, picking out people or things I wanted to see. But I would inevitably get sidetracked by something bright or shiny, change directions and end up walking around like I was in a labyrinth. I know some of the exhibitors must have thought I was stalking them as I wandered past their booth over and over again, feebly attempting to make my way to another location without getting distracted. Easier said than done.

While wandering the isles, Interbike provides attendees with an opportunity to confirm or challenge some preconceived notions about style and technology. For example, in addition to determining that I like steel bikes more than anything, I was also able to verify that Valverde's "Don Alejandro" Pinarello may have been an admirable concept but is flat-out ugly in real life. I knew that from earlier photos and video but it was nice to have physical confirmation of its heinousness.

On a related side-note, I was disappointed in the amount of Italian steel frames on display. I understand that there is value in the development of carbon fiber, but there is simply nothing sweeter to my eye than an elaborately lugged steel racing bicycle. There were some token track bikes and stuff but the coolest steel frames are now being made by smaller builders and not the old Italian classics. In fact, the Anniversary edition, chrome-lugged Schwinn Paramount may have been my favorite bike in the whole place. Who knew?

Another pro bike on display was Damiano Cunego's Wilier shown above. Again, I was startled by how tiny it was but pleased that it was an understated black-and-white rig, thankfully devoid of any Lampre pink or blue. The rep saw me checking the bike out, walks over and goes, "Damiano Cunego's Control."

To which I laughed and responded, "Ms. Cunego if you're nasty."

After realizing that he was not as familiar with Janet Jackson as I had assumed, I politely thanked him for his time and walked away covering the name on my show badge. In retrospect, I should have kept that one on the inside. Maybe a Fresh Prince joke would have been better.

I could go on about what it was like to attend Interbike...so I guess I will. Just not right now. The next installment will hopefully include some video of the rather fascinating Mandalay Bay Parking Lot Criterium which took place on Thursday evening. Good times...unless you were racing.


Sebastian said...

Pity Fondriest . . . no Steve Bauer to save his butt this time!

Jason said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one that thought that Valverde Pinarello was butt ugly. It seems like everyone's hyped on it, but it just looks like doo to me