Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Real Interbike - Part Three: Attack Of The Bike Clones

Regardless of any formal training or specialized credentials, I consider myself something of a Scientist. Not traditional, lab coat and Bunsen Burner science mind you, but more of the psycho-social, holier-than-thou kind of science that usually involves a healthy dose of self-indulgent over-analysis, qualified speculation and inactionable conclusions. Perhaps it is for this reason that my degree from the University of Colorado has the initials B.A. and not B.S. on it. Although one could argue that a Bachelor of Arts degree merely reflects the ability to make B.S. an art form. And I am determined to put that diploma to good use.

So it makes sense that Interbike, for me, rapidly devolved from a Bicycle Industry trade show into a Bicycle Industry freak show of sorts, a global bike-culture circus of one-upmanship and false posturing for me to document, recount and ultimately ridicule. Just like a good scientist should.

Perhaps viewing Interbike attendees as a Species is more accurate, if not, at the very least a little more sympathetic. This perspective then makes it easy to break down various sub-species according to the kind of bikes they ride or if they even ride at all. Further analysis of physical features such as hairstyle (both head and leg, male and female), visible tattoos/piercings and wardrobe can then be cross-referenced with a linguistic database of words like "sick" "chamois" and "resistance" to create a complete taxonomic map of Interbike attendees. With some additional funding from the National Science Foundation and Trek Bikes, it is my assertion that this data can then be used to create a formula to accurately predict behavior patterns in this population during at least 85% of normal daily activities. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The point is that the Bicycle Industry, as much as any other I can think of, contains people that really look like they are in the Bicycle Industry. For better or worse. There are a number of individuals (usually with titles like Vice President of Something or Whatnot Director) who looked like they could have been in another industry (and probably have been at some point) but with the exception of many similarly logoed shirts, the crowd at Interbike tends to look like the crowd at the Solvang Time Trial in the Tour of California. Only slightly younger and less well-dressed.

Don't get me wrong, I think this is a good thing. I was never able to wear shorts and running shoes when I worked Laser Industry trade shows and am admittedly bitter that I was grilled on technical specs by physicists and engineers, not bearded bike shop managers from Vermont named Grizz. Again, the fact that wearing a suit and tie at Interbike would be the equivalent of wearing cut-off jeans to Photonics West is not a bad thing at all. Although I am certainly not advocating cut-offs, but that is kind of missing the point. It's the freedom to wear them that makes the bike industry cooler than most...albeit, more prone to otherwise-inexcusable wardrobe choices and guys with strange nicknames.

One of the things that I have noticed about Interbike and cycling culture in general, is that there is often very little visible difference between the best athletes in the world and some random, relatively fit person with shaved legs, colorful athletic shoes and a Lance Armstrong wristband. To the untrained eye, it must seem like there are at least 20,000 professional cyclists in Boulder alone. But the interesting thing is that most of the professional cyclists at Interbike (at least the Road and Mountain riders - BMX is a whole different beast) actually seem to dress the most normally, often in a manner that shows no signs of aforementioned casual bike-wear conformity seen on so many non-pros. But ironically, by dressing so normally they almost stand out more. It is an interesting phenomenon.

As I mentioned earlier, the BMX scene is a very unique sub-species in the Biker Kingdom. Possessing the most youth appeal and highest ratio of ink and metal-to-skin at Interbike, the BMX Zone was pretty cool to walk through at a brisk pace. Even though I started riding similar bikes at a young age, the haunting memory of having my Predator stolen from out in front of Der Weinerschnitzel in 1986 was just too much for me to handle. Especially with so much caffeine, guarana and B-Vitamins coursing through my veins, causing horrible flashbacks of corn dogs, root beer and that sickeningly empty bike rack at the corner of Camino Alto and East Blithedale Avenue in Mill Valley.

BMX has changed a lot since back then though. I thought I was badass when I would ride on my pegs and get more than 6 inches of air on any jump. Now guys are doing flippity-flips, tumbly-twists and other stuff that could be considered far more athletically challenging than riding up or down a hill quickly. It's too bad they all look like felonious thugs wearing shirts that are too small, pants that are too big and hats that look like they will blow off when the air conditioning kicks on. I actually thought a lot of the bikes and equipment were pretty cool but sadly, the collar on my shirt and plaid on my slacks made me feel uncomfortable in the BMX Zone and I had to hastily retreat to the safety of the Media Room for a cup of coffee and some stale pretzels.

The Media Pavillion at Interbike is basically a big room in the middle of the show floor with glass walls, a bunch of lunch tables and so many chairs that it's impossible to walk through without banging your shins repeatedly. There is another stage room where televised interviews take place but the main draw for most of the writers is the snacks. Every so often someone re-stocks the coffee and if you are incredibly lucky you can actually get a bagel or a cookie to nibble on. There were rumors of brownies and fruit but I never saw them and think the whole story may have been exaggerated for the sake of a few gullible and hungry journalists. With no brownies or cookies, I was left to sit alone at a table in the middle of the room, staring out through the clear walls at the Interbike population - taking notes, laughing to myself and furiously adding data to my taxonomic ranking of the Biker Species as I finished off the remaining coffee and pretzels.

Check Back for The Real Interbike - Part Four: It's A Small Interbike World

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