On the surface, Interbike is the biggest bicycle industry trade show in North America. But beneath this glamorous exterior, it is a bubbling cauldron of gratuitous bike porn, blatant posing and institutionalized class discrimination...among other significantly less-distasteful things. I understand that this may sound a bit heavy to the casual observer (considering that it really is a very pleasant and well-run affair) but after reading numerous safe/bland descriptions of the event recently, this seems like an opportune time to provide an in-depth look at what The Show is really like. However, it should probably be noted from the outset of this personal account that the consumption of a near-fatal mixture of energy drinks, gels, bars, chews and beans over the course of my 48-hour Interbike experience has left me in a hyper-paranoid, borderline-psychotic state from which I may never fully recover. As in all tales, both fact and fiction, there is usually some truth to all sides of the story.
Let me explain...
I arrived in Las Vegas at approximately 9am on Thursday, after a whopping three hours of restless sleep. Since the Divine Airline Math Network (D.A.M.N.) determined that it was somehow cheaper for me to fly through Phoenix first, this meant a 2:45am wake up call in order to get to Denver for my flight. There is something unnerving about drinking coffee at three o'clock in the morning but I knew it was better to start warming up the system early since it was sure to be a marathon/death march of epic proportions in Vegas. I couldn't check in to my suite at the Bellagio (or was it a Standard room at Bally's?) until much later in the day so the plan was to catch a shuttle to the Venetian and head over to Interbike at the Sands Expo immediately upon my arrival. Certainly not ideal, but that was the plan.
The sensations of arriving and departing any big city are unique but McCarran Airport in Las Vegas probably has a wider spectrum of energy and hygiene between "coming" and "going" than any place I can think of. The people coming in look like they are getting ready for the best time of their lives and the ones going out either look like the worst rejects from the Real World or undercover junkies and coke-dealers from a lost Miami Vice episode. There is a tangible excitement among the recent arrivals - usually an inexplicable assortment of people from all over the world who curiously decided that spending their money and time in Sin City was a good idea - which inevitably rubs off on you somehow, even if, like me, you are already anxiously awaiting a return to the sanity of home before you even get off the plane. As for the people leaving...honestly, I'd rather spend the night in a graveyard on Halloween than a departing gate at McCarran Airport on any Sunday of the year. Grim is not a strong enough term.
Strangely, even though I have voluntarily traveled to Las Vegas on multiple occasions, I still can't help but wonder what possesses most human beings to actually want to fly there. At least I had work* as an excuse this time, and therefore avoided most of the unpleasant internal arguments over situational morals, ethics and economics which have tended to plague my voluntary visits. Sadly though, possessing a conscience is clearly a detriment to fully enjoying any Vegas experience, regardless of circumstance. *Definitions of "work" may vary.
So after dodging multiple limping Del Boca Vista Retirement Community refugees in matching sweat suits and trying desperately to rationalize the fact that I had recently overheard TWO separate conversations about fake tanning products (including an impressively detailed comparison of application procedures and unwanted side effects) I finally made it through the terminal and into the brisk 90-degree heat of mid-morning in the desert. Apparently there was some kind of contest going on in town where being tan was a huge concern but unfortunately, I was unable to identify a particular skill or talent among those discussing it. Other than being really, really tan of course. Keep in mind that I came in on a flight from Phoenix.
After identifying the proper shuttle, it was a pretty quick jump to the Venetian. The best part of the ride from the airport to the Strip is that it passes numerous super-cheesy billboards for an array of humorously outdated acts, providing ample opportunity for jokes about Donny and Marie Osmond or seemingly anyone who may have been on TV between 1978 and 1984. Donny and Marie are the easiest though. Apparently, what happened in Vegas (30 years ago), stayed in Vegas (and plays 5 shows a week at the Flamingo).
It was almost 10:30 when I finally got to the Sands Expo, seemingly located within the bowels of the still-impressive Venetian Hotel. Entering the main doors of the Venetian, it takes about 15 minutes of snaking through the noise and lights of the casino floor to get to the show area. Thankfully, there are signs hanging from the ceiling with arrows pointing to various places of interest within the maze. Not so thankfully, they are placed in such a manner that you almost inevitably end up running into a cocktail waitress, drunk guy in a tank top or elderly person holding the equivalent of their next Social Security check in a giant plastic cup of quarters as you are trying to read which way to go. If you are very lucky, you can make it through the labyrinth without being cursed at or assaulted (much) and will hopefully manage to avoid being run over by someone recklessly driving one of the 150cc Rascal Power Chairs that the hotels seem to give out to anyone who asks - regardless of any apparent handicap other than inebriation. You could easily lose an Achilles Tendon or blow an ACL from one of those things.
For the record, later in this very trip I witnessed an old man knock another less-old man all the way to the ground with his Power Chair as he sped down one of the faux-cobbled streets at the Paris Hotel. He hit this poor pedestrian so hard his rear wheels nearly came off the ground and then he just took off like he had merely grazed a curb or something. But even as the victim was cursing and picking himself up off the ground after being struck in a blatant hit-and-run Rascal violation, everyone just kept going about their business like it was totally normal. I wanted to help the guy out but I was eating a $10 crepe and didn't feel like picking up all of the coins that he spilled out of his giant plastic cup after getting drilled. Vegas is freaking crazy.
Anyway, I knew I was in the right place when I saw Tyler Hamilton standing in the hallway outside the main entrance, smiling and pleasant as always. Various other "industry" acquaintances began to appear and suddenly the sloppy, glitzy buzz from the casino dropped down to the slightly less-sloppy, slightly less-glitzy vibe of Interbike. A quick trip to bag-check and the media room for my pass and I was ready to go. Or so I thought.
Immediately outside the showroom doors was a display of Pro bikes from Thor Hushovd and Denis Menchov which halted my progress even before I entered. I'm always curious about how people set up their bikes and Interbike is a cool opportunity to see some race-ridden rigs up close, so I stood there for a few minutes checking out the little details that set these machines apart from most. Then, after admiring Thor's green-highlighted Zipp wheelset for one last time, I showed my media pass to the clearly unimpressed security guard, pulled open the door, and anxiously stepped into the two-wheeled madness of Interbike 2009.
Check back for The Real Interbike - Part Two: The Best Little Bike House In Vegas