“Hey Rob”, the voice behind me in the crowd was asking, “how are you doing”? As anyone that has worked a major trade show knows, this would be a greeting asked many, many times over the course of the event as once-a-year friends attempt to reconnect. Business on the run as all of us try our best to catch up on a year’s worth of history in a few minutes of face-to-face conversation.
After shaking hands, my friend warns me to wash my hands as he’s fighting a nasty cold. Thanks a lot. I make a mental note to keep my hands away from my face until I get a chance to use the hand sanitizer that’s now standard pocket gear – especially after the recent flu outbreaks. At least I got a warning this time.
Welcome to Las Vegas and Interbike – one of the world’s largest trade shows covering all things two wheels … and the wrong place to be if you’ve got worries about catching a cold. I’ve learned to tone down my Howard Hughes-Howie Mandel germ phobias for a few days as it’s difficult to cover a bike show this size without shaking hands and talking. A lot.
It’s not like I need any extra incentives to be my usual grumpy old man self. Vegas has a way of slapping you in the face if you’re not a smoker, heavy drinker, gambler, or think that exercise is getting up from the table for another round at the $9.99 all-you-can-eat buffet. The only gambling I do in Vegas is riding my bike on the car-choked strip.
A few weeks before the show began I started to contemplate the merits of a more sedentary Vegas lifestyle: after some 650,000 miles of cycling during the past 40 years with no major ills, my body’s version of a ‘check the engine’ red light came on in the form of a nagging pain in my right knee. Turns out I had a torn something or another (does it really matter?) that would require simple arthroscopic surgery. I delayed surgery until I would return back from Vegas – just so I could make my annual journey to Sin City to keep all of you informed of the latest industry happenings (well, o.k., that’s not the full story but as we all know, whatever happens in Vegas ….).
While some of the big names in the cycling industry, like Trek, have attempted a bit of a pre-emptive strike with their own 2010 product roll-out months earlier at invitation-only open houses – hoping to give their key dealers a reason not to go to Vegas (and check out the competition of a thousand-plus product brands). Still, over 20,000 industry personnel were in attendance (close to last year’s numbers), representing 4,000 IBD’s.
Another several thousand will weasel their way through the doors of the show even though security is tight to keep out the non-industry riff-raff; including a motley crew of bike-shop rug-rats looking for schwag and other deals, consumers that had leaned on their favorite shop for a pass (“I’m one of your best customers, pleeeeeeeeeeease”), and, of course, the omnipresent hordes of free-loading media types like myself. The Interbike show folks have kicked around the idea for years of opening the show for a day or two to consumers but one figures that isn’t going to happen in the near future if the vendors have any say in the matter.
After two days of outdoor “demo” fun Monday and Tuesday in the hot and windy desert – miles removed from the glamour of the strip – the real industry wheeling and dealing (no pun intended) began in earnest on Wednesday as the Sands Convention Center opened its doors in the heart of the strip.
My show game-plan was to focus mostly on the vendors that are of interest to the tandem crowd but the true bike geek in me couldn’t prevent wanting to check out the whole show – bad knee or not. Well, most of the show that is; there are a few aisles I don’t venture down for good reasons.
I don’t have any body piercing, tattoos, or a punk haircut (I’m lucky to hold on to what hair I have left). I’m not hip. So the BMX zone, popular with the industry’s ‘alternative’ crowd, is quickly crossed off my list of must-visit sections. Next on my ‘no-fly’ zone is the Taiwan pavilion, mostly because the area is always covered in a thick haze of tobacco smoke. Maybe the no smoking rules were lost in translation somewhere while crossing the Pacific Ocean. If I wanted to get lung cancer from second hand smoke I could just hang out in the Vegas casinos for three nights.
I was surprised to find that many of the usual tandem suspects were missing in action at this year’s show: Calfee (no bamboo tandems to check out like last year), Ventana, Seven; and a tandem no-show in the booths of Cannondale and KHS. It appeared that the Co-Motion booth was a bit smaller this year (Dwan correctly noted that the “Interbike show attendance has been decreasing in recent years, (and) we decided to try a smaller booth – Interbike has never offered to adjust their cost per customer!”); while Santana and DaVinci booths maintained their same floor presence as last year.
Since there weren’t any ‘wow’, must-have products to check out – unlike last year’s electronic shifting by Shimano – and the tandem category in particular was underwhelming in any new huge developments for 2010, I’ve included some of the more interesting mainstream stuff in this coverage. While some of these products aren’t tandem-specific, they still might enhance your two-wheel outings … tandem or otherwise.
Having missed breakfast when the show doors opened up Wednesday, I take a page from my fellow media compatriots who know how to stretch a limited meal budget like no other seasoned road warrior can …
and head straight for the free samples of energy bars, gels, and sports drinks offered up by scores of vendors. It’s all here for the tasting: soy, organic, diabetic, all-carb, no carb, drinks for pre-ride, energy mixtures for on-the-bike, post-ride recovery drinks, bars for women, “natural” concoctions, soft, chewy, hard, energy gummy ‘bears’, sports jelly beans …
For years, my traditional first visit of the show has been Co-Motion; this year would be no different, other than a slight detour for the energy bar research. I finished up a handful of Clif Shot Roks, a new protein food that, with a crunchy outer and soft chewy center, was sort’a like a healthy version of M&M’s (offered in peanut butter, chocolate, and chocolate chip cookie dough flavors); just in time to meet the man behind Co-Motion.
“We fill niches missed by the big brands,” Co-Motion chief Dwan Shepard explained as I rinsed down breakfast with a packet of Gu. It’s a mission statement of sorts that Dwan will explain more than once or twice during the show. None-the-less, it about sums up the business plan of this Eugene biz noted primarily for their high-performance, American-made tandems. You won’t find a lot of showbiz marketing hype here … not with Dwan’s down-to-earth personality No exotic frame materials like bamboo in their booth.
That’s not to say that Dwan hasn’t been willing to gamble with some novel and innovative product spec: last year it was the Gates Carbon Drive ‘chain’, and this year many were drawn to Topolino’s tandem wheels that were displayed on their high-end Macchiato model. I was a little surprised to see Topolino wheels (optional $500 upgrade from the stock Rolf wheels offered) because they offer a bit more high-zoot flash than the usual understated elegance and style of their tandem line. Tandems are notorious for being rough on equipment, so these hoops – like any boutique wheelset – aren’t going to be the first choice for everyday needs for many of us.
For 2010, the Mocha, Speedster and Roadster tandems will come standard with dual Avid BB7 Mechanical disc brakes.
The popular PeriScope tandem series (great option for families, hard-to-fit, and rental shops) features changes for the “Scout” (dual discs with a $3025 price tag) and “Hammerhead” (Dwan describes it as the “poor man’s Macchiato, at $1,900 less”).
Co-Motion probably has a broader range of color choices than just about any bike company, and the range has been revamped for 2010, replacing 12 of the 30 “standard” colors. Tandems also featured a pretty cool, optional, nickel-plated headbadge that comes at a $20 up-charge cost.
Since a particular passion of mine – when I’m not riding tandems – is adventure travel, I can’t pass on mentioning Co-Motion’s newest hard-core riding option for singles: the Americano Rohloff, featuring a 14-speed hub from Germany’s industry icon. (Disclosure: I own a Co-Motion S&S Nor’Wester). With Reynold’s large-diameter 725 tubes (fitted for racks/fenders), you’re going to have a difficult time wearing this bike out in your travels. A twist grip and internal hub keep the maintenance and learning curve reasonable, especially for new(er) riders to the sport. The Co-Motion website was updated after the show so you can now check out the many unique design features of this bike; and Dwan explained to me post-show that this bike was “designed from the ground up for the Rohloff hub”. Drop bar is optional and the bike will set you back close to $5K. I was a bit confused (nothing new for me) by a Gates belt version of the Americano Rohloff at the Gates booth but Dwan clarified the situation, saying that “the Gates Belt is going to be an option some day (for this bike), but until Gates and Rohloff work out the details, we can’t offer the system yet, so we still have no pricing or ETA”.
The folks at da Vinci, famous for their independent drive technology – invented and designed by industry wizard Todd Shusterman – had a big development for their biz moving into 2010. Todd told me that they are now producing in-house carbon fiber frames (they’ll also continue to work with Calfee on their ‘original’ carbon fiber tandem). The chainstays and bottom tube (keel tube) are 7005 aluminum (or they can use steel or titanium). Todd says that this will allow ‘em to put the disc tab on the chainstay where “we have always liked to put it for better rack clearance and it is a more robust location for less disc brake squeal/chatter”. Da Vinci, always big on clearance for larger tires, says their carbon fiber frame will maintain this philosophy.
Being a smaller builder allows for a more personal interaction when making a substantial purchase like a tandem … and, as Todd notes, gives them “ability to delivery a steel or aluminum bike in about 2-4 weeks; and a carbon fiber frame in about 6-8 weeks”.
When Easton quit making tandem tubes it shut down da Vinci’s aluminum frame production for a couple years; it also forced ‘em to do “what we have always wanted and that is to design our own 7005 aluminum tubes like we have with the steel frames. The Easton top tube has always been too easily dented and now that our lat-less frame design has been proven, we designed a set of tubes around the open frame”. This allowed da Vinci to increase the wall thickness and dent resistance without a weight penalty. Custom aluminum frames can also be built/delivered faster than in the past now that they can post-weld age (heat treat) the frames in-house. Todd says that they “built a ‘CNC’ oven to cure the carbon fiber frames, age the aluminum and even oven cure painted frames”.
They also increased their already wide crank length options; making cranks in the following lengths 180, 175, 172.5, 170, 167.5, 165, 160, 150, and a three hole 130-150-170mm. According to Todd, “crank length is still the best way to get two riders with varying cadence to work together comfortably and efficiently”.
Other goodies include a new jersey, padded crank bags for travel and a padded drivetrain cover. They are expanding the options of their modified Sram X.9 rear derailleur. They have been modifying the derailleur to shift a Shimano 9sp cassette with a Campy 10 speed Ergo shifter. Da Vinci is adding a Shimano 10 speed STI shifter to Shimano 9 speed cassette option and working on Campy 10 to Shimano 10 speed derailleur as well as a Campy 11 to Shimano 9 and a Campy 11 to Shimano 10s cassette. Todd feels that “derailleurs for the Shimano 10 speed cassettes will be more useful as wide range 10 speed cassettes become more common”.
I can always count on Bill McCready, an icon in the tandem community for his 30 years of popularizing tandems while running Santana and Bud’s Bike Shop, to have something of interest to display each year at Vegas. This year was no different. Here was my same-day coverage posted to the Tandem @ Hobbes tandem forum during the show:
Santana was showing a tandem with Shimano’s electronic shifting. HOWEVER, this set-up wasn’t approved by the Big S; and actually sent the folks at Shimano into a bit of a tizzy over the display. Bill (and one of their engineers) told me that they had tested the shifting and set-up, and had no issues with the performance. The tandem Bill showed wasn’t using a Dura-Ace chain or cog set (probably another concern for Shimano’s boys in blue); but I was told it shifts as well as the electronic stuff does on a single. Interestingly enough, Shimano announced at their tech seminar today that they were now going to be looking at electronic shifting for tandems (officially) in the near future … and this ‘project’ was high on their 2010-2011 short list. Shimano, understandably, is pretty picky about how their components perform under any given application.
Santana had done what many in the tandem crowd had wondered about (and a few had achieved on their own with home-brewed Di2 tandem set-ups). Bill correctly notes that “thanks to the computerized auto trim, stokers will no longer be subjected to the noise of a rubbing front derailleur—or the need to report this aggravating problem to their captain”. The other obvious advantage comes from “using electronic impulses instead of cables … shifts are uniformly fast and accurate”.
At Interbike, Santana introduced three upgraded frames that combine carbon seatstays with Exogrid down- and bottom-tubes. Bill told me that “although ‘lighter’, ‘stiffer’ and ‘faster’ are over-used clichés, a tandem frame built with Exogrid tubing lives up to the hype”; with a “magical ability to cancel fatigue-inducing vibration and buzz”.
The Team Niobium ExoGrid uses what Bill terms an “ultra-resilient steel alloy” with a “resulting frame (that) mimics the sweet feel of titanium, and is lighter than most frames built from aluminum”. The Team Scandium ExoGrid uses Easton’s proprietary super-aluminum—and has a “lighter frame than most titanium tandems”. Team Titanium ExoGrid is “ultra durable, and has a lighter frame than most carbon tandems”. S&S couplers are an option on all three new models.
Bill was also touting Rolf Prima’s new 20/20 tandem wheels that are spec for 2010, saying “each pair of wheels includes a hidden spare rear rim that is built into the front wheel. After you borrow or buy a standard 100-spaced front wheel (say, in an emergency situation while on tour), any shop can have you back on the road within two hours by using the front rim to make your 20-spoke rear wheel as good as new”. As I noted with Co-Motion, there is a trade-off with durability/strength with any boutique wheelset versus a standard spoked wheelset (break a spoke on a high-tension, low count wheelset and you’re going to have a very wobbly wheel to get home on). My regular tandem partner, Pete Penseyres, and I will use standard spoked wheels for everyday training/riding since you can break a spoke on a conventional “high count” wheelset and still complete the ride with a stable wheel. O.K., I’ll get off the soapbox now.
Admit it. There are times when you come across a product that has so much style, quality workmanship, and unique features that you just have to go out and buy it – even if you already own something that pretty much does the same task. Think iPhone or iPod.
After stumbling across the Lezyne booth at Vegas, I have another name to add to my (bike) lust list. Who would have figured that bike tools and accessories could be machined into works of functional jewelry?
One man that did have that vision, after having some time on his hands when he sold his component biz Truvativ, was Micki Kozuscheck; building a major line of ‘engineered design’ bike accessories over the past three years in San Luis Obispo, California. They offer a full line of innovative pumps (from mini to floor), multi-tools, bottle cages, cycling ‘wallets’, and other cycling eye candy. This isn’t the kind of stuff you’re going to hang on a Walmart bike.
I had an opportunity to test-drive a couple of their on-the-bike pumps: the Micro Floor Drive HPG (190gr) and the Carbon Road Drive (small=76gr); as well as a couple of their cycling pouches/wallets. The “Floor” model claims to bring floor pump power “to an on-the-bike package” while the “Road Drive” uses a cool ‘hidden’ hose inside the pump barrel that is removed and attached to one end of the pump to work. I almost couldn’t wait for an on-road opportunity to put ‘em to use. Really ….
It won’t be a challenge to get your tires to full pressure with the Lezyne pumps – unlike a lot of mini-pumps that are lucky to last a season or give your arms a serious workout when you least need it: repairing a flat tire in the middle of your favorite century ride. A nice bonus is the style points you’ll get from your riding partners when they see the gear in action.
Lezyne has even been able to make multi-tools and something as basic as tire irons sexy with their ‘next level’ machined-polish finish. The ultra compact SV-10 multi-tool is a good example of the company’s attention to design and function; the lightweight package (101gr) starts with CNC machined 7075 aluminum side plates and a center pivot that assures smooth action.
Maybe the folks at Lezyne took a page from Campagnolo’s business model. Many years ago I heard a tale of how Tullio Campagnolo, founder of ‘Campy’, answered a question from a reporter touring the Italian factory. The reporter asked several questions about their stylish road gruppo but wondered why they polished the inside of their wheel hubs – especially since no one was ever going to see this meticulous attention to detail. “But God will see” came the famous reply.
While Shimano’s electronic shifting was the big hit of the show last year, it was also one of the more expensive upgrades as well. (Probably the reason for the long lines at the Shimano booth this year as they were offering some sweet industry courtesy pricing deals on the grouppo and other components). Though maybe not on the same game-changing level of Shimano’s gruppo, the MetriGear Vector Power Meter, introduced at Vegas this year was, none-the-less, an intriguing alternative to current power meter offerings. Some of my industry peers went as far as to tag their booth a top-ten ‘must-see’.
In the past 5 years, power meters have become one of the hottest training accessories for the high-performance crowd. While the $1,000 MSRP isn’t particularly ground-breaking news as far as a price point is concerned, the design was. The coolest aspect of MetriGear’s version to measuring watts is having the whole package squeezed into the hollow axle of a Speedplay pedal. Being built into a pedal is probably one of the bigger selling points: easy transferability. The price tag even includes the nice bonus of a pair of Speedplay pedals. Those of us that have used Shimano and Campagnolo pedals exclusively over the years are out of luck – for now, at least. Bummer.
The complicated hardware needed to make all this work fits compactly in the hollow axle, weighs less than 50 grams, and has outstanding accuracy to match the conventional systems now on the market. A tiny rechargeable external battery transmits data to a head unit (the price doesn’t include software or the head mount display but does use wireless ANT protocol so those that have the Garmin 705, PowerTap, etc. won’t have to buy any extra accessories). There are some interesting tandem possibilities for the techie addicts that haven’t been able to get their watts fix when riding paired … maybe we can get Bill McCready to put something together to show on a tandem for next year?
Fellow journalist Ed Pavelka (Road Bike Rider) gave me a lead for my final day’s breakfast: the Chocolate #9 energy gel. Price, packaging, and taste of this gel is about on par with the other gels on the market but it has one outstanding feature that will appeal to diabetic cyclists: the ingredients (coca and organic agave – a sweetener) give it a glycemic index that won’t impair athletic performance. I liked the taste, and it seemed like this product might be a good alternative when you want to have a more uniform hit of energy from your gel.
For those tandem riders that have wondered whether their stoker is really pedaling, Pedeco Electric had an, umm, interesting solution: an electric powered tandem. This is the first time I’ve come across an electric tandem at the show – but that’s not to say the idea hasn’t been floated once or twice before. Look to pay in the low to mid-$2K range for the right to say I know my stoker isn’t pedaling but I don’t care.
Charlie Buchalter, the engineer behind Atoc Inc (the umbrella for Topper Racks and Draft Master), has been a friend of the tandem community for years with his innovative carrier systems for large and cumbersome bikes – especially tandems and recumbents. Tandem rack carriers aren’t particularly ‘sexy’ purchase items for most of us but you really need to take a look at Charlie’s 2010 line-up when it comes time to make a purchase for transporting your tandem(s) safely and easily.
Like most of the media attending Interbike, I was inundated with pre-show e-mails from marketing types hyping 2010 introductions with fancy press releases … and obligatory ‘bribes’ of free beverages (the kind from a keg) and food at the booth as an encouragement to stop by. Like that kind of incentive would succeed in swaying editorial content by hard-working, ethical media types.
As I was finishing up my complimentary beer and pizza on the second day of the show, the Camelbak folks were happy to show me their new innovations in drinking bottles. If you don’t mind spending $10 to $20 to keep your next water bottle chilled during a hot ride – and you do want to keep your tandem partner happy, don’t you? – check out the new generations of the Podium and Chill Jacket models. As part of my investigative work, I did find that the bottles do a great job of keeping beer cold while schmoozing after hours in the aisles of the show.
Another approach to maintaining proper hydration on your next tandem (or single) ride might be the SipStream Hydration system. The aerodynamic and lightweight configuration uses the bike (versus the rider’s back) as the carrier/storage mechanism. The system, which consists of a specially designed water bottle and bottle cage, allows a hands-free drinking experience and will set you back close to $80.
Detours isn’t a ‘tandem’ biz per se but a lot of their ideas for bike gear is based on the tandem adventures of the owner Sam Guntram and his wife. How could you not buy from a biz that uses brochure shots that feature the owner and wife prominently on tandem rides in the scenic Northwest?
Guntram comes across as the kind of person that would be fun to have along on a bicycle tour; easy-going and passionate about all things to do with cycling, including the workmanship of his bags. Several Detour products really lend themselves to tandem applications, and, in fact, were designed after some of the tandem trips that Guntram and his wife took; including top tube bags like the Goodie Bag line ($25 or $30 depending on model). They also bring a touch of color and style to their product line that your more sensitive partner on the tandem will appreciate, including the Digi and Mighty Midge. The smaller bags (great for a camera, phone, etc.) seem very well-suited to adapt to the many attachment locations found on tandems. Guntram correctly notes that most guys don’t care all that much about the look of the pack they stuff under their seat but that women in particular seem to appreciate color and style in their riding accessories (sound familiar with any of the tandem crowd?).
We first met the Buddy Bike biz at last year’s show, with a product that can be truly life-changing to those families with special needs children. We all know the benefits of exercising with one’s spouse or kids … but what can families with special needs children do to include their kids on outings? The Buddy Bike is one of those cycling products you really want to see succeed in the marketplace.
Their “alternative tandem bicycle” has a MSRP of $1,480 and allows the kids to be in front of you instead of behind – reminds me a little of some of the turn-of-the-century tandem designs. Their tandems are far safer than tag-alongs or child seats for those that need a bit more control and help with their special needs kids. The design of the tandem, especially the handlebar set-up, gives the feeling of empowerment and control to kids while the ‘stoker’ manages the ride. The total weight that the tandem will support is 380 lbs and front riders must have an inseam of 24” to pedal. There are optional foot pegs that will give smaller kids a place to rest their feet if they can’t pedal.
For most tandem teams that want a pair of fast, light and durable wheels for the their ‘go-fast’ tandem adventures, Rolf Prima wheels have been one of the more popular go-to brands to select from. Updated for 2010, the tandem wheel models now come standard with rear disc compatibility and a full disc set is also available; as well as ISO 6-bolt rear disc standard. The front wheel is available with rim brake or ISO 6-bolt disc. Heavier teams (you know who you are!) – or those that are hard on their equipment in competitive environments like the Co-Motion tandem stage race – will appreciate the steel freehub body and steel QR. Standard tandem weight configurations are: 1885 gm / 1970-gm disc with 20 spoke front / 24 rear. (Santana was promoting their Rolf 20/20 wheel set at the show, with a wider spacing configuration unique to their tandem design).
The Gates Carbon Drive system continues to make inroads into mainstream cycling applications – including many single speed bikes displayed at the show by major companies. The system is slowly winning converts in applications where the ‘chain’ doesn’t need to be ‘shifted’.
One of the more fun aspects of Interbike is the after-hours socializing at industry events, and catching up with friends for more than the few minutes afforded on the congested aisles of the show floor. Events like the world-class cross-country race on Wednesday (no Armstrong this year but still huge crowds) and the criterium in the Mandalay Bay parking lot Thursday night offered many opportunities for industry people-watching fun. The after-hour gatherings gave me a chance to finish up my informal, unscientific poll on crowd favorites seen at this year’s show, and a couple products that made all of us shake our heads and ask ‘why’:
Many of my peers were impressed by the works of art disguised as bikes; which probably dates me a bit as most of the younger crowd seems more interested in go-fast, high-tech wow factor, and gram weight than artistic craftsmanship. Bell (Giro) always has an interesting helmet or two to display in their booth – usually it’s the helmet worn by the most recent tour winner. This year, Bell combined the techno-new and the old-school classic, with a one-off faux leather helmet … at least I got the impression it was a one-of-a-kind deal not for retail.
The Shimano tech clinics, in particular, were very popular with the bike shop wrenches – little wonder with new technology like electronic shifting and internal hubs requiring mechanical skills that rival what used to be the sole domain of auto repair shops. Various travel bikes by Dahon, Ritchey, and S&S coupled-designs were big hits; no doubt helped by airline luggage fees that are approaching $100 each way when traveling with a conventional bike in a standard box.
In the no-man’s land, between good ideas and bad, was the just plain weird category. Winners this year included the Dahon folding helmet and Clif Shot Roks (a friend disagreed with my opinion that they were like M&M’s; saying, rather, the protein balls that won’t melt or freeze were chewy like gum).
Making the bottom of the whacky list, products that many of us just didn’t ‘get’ – included the inflatable ‘v’ shaped bicycle seat, a bulky/heavy LED sign you wear that blinks “SEE ME” and wholesales for $119, and Topeak’s folding bike that had all the disadvantages of a little wheeled bike without being able to fold up to a reasonably small size. These products tried to improve on what’s already available in the marketplace and, frankly, just didn’t get it right in our opinion.
Leaving Vegas on Saturday it was easy to appreciate the extreme contrast of the stark, desolate desert with the never-sleep, maniac pace of the adult Disneyland that was now quickly fading in my rearview mirror … my profound philosophical insight occasionally interrupted as I checked the horizon for CHP black ‘n whites looking for an easy speeding ticket. Yep, holding a bike show in Vegas is a bit strange but … my thought interrupted by a sneeze. Damn, I think I’m catching a cold.