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secondsummertours.com » 2009 » April

Monthly archive of April 2009

 
 

Leaving Vegas … Interbike 2008 coverage

  Interbike 2008

Every few years, the cycling industry heavy-hitters  debate moving  the annual Interbike show away from the Vegas strip.   The landmark Sands Convention Center  has hosted the two-wheel crowd for close to a decade but that hasn’t stopped talk of moving the show back to its former address, the Anaheim Convention Center – with the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ across the street being a big draw for some (aka, Disneyland for those of you without kids).     

When it comes to hype and marketing, both locations offer plenty of opportunities for those hawking the latest and greatest must-have products: showmanship is king in Vegas, and Anaheim/Disneyland has Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.   This year, showmanship won out with many of the Vegas Interbike vendors – as usual – doing their best to put a positive spin on their ‘09 offerings.

My simple assignment  this year, as always, was to search out tandem-related goodies that might be of interest to readers of RTR.     Unfortunately, I didn’t  find much in the way of ground-breaking technology or accessories to share this year.  Most booths were displaying product with only minor changes from previous year offerings.  

There will be less reason to replace your current ride this year but maybe that’s not a bad thing (as Jerry Seinfield might say) as we watch our 401k’s and retirement investments tank in the current economic meltdown.   If you’re willing to spend, however, in the admirable goal of helping to stimulate the economy (that is, if you’re one of the lucky few still to even have a job or excess cash to spend after the holidays), I did stumble across a few goodies that could have you asking for your own government bailout. interbike 2008 010

The full impact of the financial firestorm was still in its infancy when the show began in late September, and as I write this piece many months later, the financial markets are still searching for a bottom.    Ironically for the cycling crowd, the only bright spot for the pocketbooks of many Americans – dropping gas prices – might impede the trend of many recent converts to alternative transportation (like cycling) to fall off the green bandwagon and revert to former bad habits if gas prices stay low.  

I’ve taken the liberty of broadening the scope of this year’s ‘tandem’ coverage to include some developments that, while not necessarily tandem-specific, might be of interest when it comes to enhancing your own two wheel fun.

Getting Dirty in Vegas / September 22-23  

Interbike begins with the two day outdoor ‘Dirt Demo’, some 20 miles outside of Vegas in Bootleg Canyon (Boulder City).   The ’dirt’ designation is a bit of a misnomer because road bikes are as welcome as their off-road cousins at the outdoor setting that allows retailers to sample and ride much of the new stuff for ‘09 – 5,000 people and 200 brands contributed to making this the largest outdoor show in 13 years.  

The outdoor desert setting is more conducive to testing product than the more pristine conditions inside the Sands Convention Center later in the week.   If the indoor show is glitzy rock ‘n roll, the Dirt Demo is country western where you can let your hair down a bit and have some fun demo’ing all the cool new stuff.

Co-Motion and DaVinci were two of the better known tandem companies to display at both the Dirt Demo and Interbike.   The logistics of presenting at both venues is a challenge, and they deserve a lot of credit for making the effort to promote tandems to retailers.

The Schmoozing Moves Inside / September 24-26th

After two days of sun, wind, and dirt – along with a little riding – most of the crowds were ready to move indoors to the Sands.   The wide-open desert of the previous two days was replaced by the crowded aisles of the Sands Expo and Convention Center – over 20,000 exhibitors and attendees checked out the ‘09 industry offerings.   My traditional first stop when the doors open the first day, has been to visit the Co-Motion booth to see what’s new at their booth.   This year was no different.

When I was a partner of Burley Design Cooperative – back when they  still manufactured tandems and were a worker-owned cooperative – we had a friendly, long-running  rivalry with the Co-Motion folks down the street.   Along with other tandem-friendly manufacturers in the area, like Bike Friday and Rolf wheels, these Eugene, Oregon companies are unique to the American marketplace for  being able to keep jobs in the U.S.

Co-Motion owner Dwan Shepard would be the first to admit that his approach to marketing tandems is pretty conservative.  As he told Ed Pavelka of  Road Bike Rider, “We’re not hip so we’ve stopped trying to be”.     Co-Motion was displaying a really cool touring bike, which on a personal level, I found particularly intriguing since I enjoy nothing more than exploring strange new places around the globe.   But that’s  a story for another crowd.   The head-turning development that Dwan had to show me for ‘09 did include the one word everyone in the cycling industry seems to be using these days: carbon.

The Gates Carbon Drive system
Dwan explained that Co-Motion had an exclusive arrangement (at least for the foreseeable future with tandems) with Gates and their super strong polyurethane belt that goes by the moniker, Carbon Drive system.   In the case of tandems, Co-Motion found that replacing a standard drive-side chain with the Gates  belt made for a lighter, cleaner, and more responsive drive system.    

The ‘carbon’ drive-belt works for ‘linear’ applications like a single speed (as was the case with Trek’s single speed offering being displayed at the show) or the drive-side of a tandem where you‘re not shifting gears.  The ascetics might leave some traditionalists shaking their heads but, yes, it really does work – even if the plastic-looking set-up appears a bit out of place on a high-end tandem.  

Co-Motion tested the chain successfully in many environments (including the Co-Motion tandem stage race) before giving it the spec nod.   If you want an interesting first-person look at the drive system, someone that trained and raced with the chain, check out Henry’s blog on WebCyclery.com (he also raced the belt in the Co-Motion race, and is a single speed addict).

Pete Penseyres and I learned the hard way that there are huge differences in the stress levels for a drive-side chain on a tandem and the chain that drives the traditional gears on the other side of the frame – having no problem using a superlight/hollow-pin chain on the drive side but breaking the same model chain while making a shift during a San Diego to Yuma bike race years ago.

Santana
My next stop is usually Bill McCready’s Santana booth (as a matter of disclosure, Pete Penseyres and I were sponsored by Santana for a number of years back in the 80‘s).   The approach of these two industry icons (Bill and Dwan) to selling tandems is, to say the least, a night and day contrast in marketing philosophy. 

Santana had stacks of slick product catalogs to give away at their booth; with copy that came under the guise of being an actual tandem magazine, “Tandem and Tandeming”.   The catalog offers some good tandem buying tips and historical perspective, as well as including information about Bill’s tandem tours – all topics that Bill is more than happy to talk to me about when I visit at the show.    Like the catalog, Bill does a good job of promoting his tandems as the only choice that any sensible person could make after examining all the ‘facts’.

Since this is Vegas, and Bill is the consummate showman, the Santana booth has cobbled together a show-stopping 10 seater bike.  No, it hadn’t been ridden or tested before the show – but that doesn’t really matter since the bike serves it photo-op goal by showing up on the front cover of the ‘Show Daily’ magazine that Bicycle Retailer and News (BRAIN) puts out for the retailers during Interbike‘s run.   Of course, all the retailers also want to get their picture taken on the 10 seater as well, so Bill can smile when I make note of his effective show prop during our talk.

Bill is more than happy to take me aside on the first day of the show to discuss the merits of his high-zoot, exclusive tubing for their higher-end offerings – especially the ExoGrid tubing.   While there aren’t really a lot of major shakeups in the ‘09 Santana offerings, Bill has a way of making all of the ’09 lineup seem new and exciting anyway.  

No matter how you take Bill’s marketing spin on the ‘right’ tandem to own – which, not too surprisingly, generally leads one to the Santana line – few would argue the point that Bill McCready has done a substantial job of promoting tandems to the cycling marketplace over the past decades, and popularizing bikes ‘built-for-two’ to the masses.

DaVinci
One of the last ‘must visit’ booths for me every year is inventor Todd Shusterman’s crew at DaVinci tandems.  Todd is always ready to chat up the merits of his tandems -especially the value of independent drive on a tandem.

While independent coasting isn’t going to be a feature that all tandem teams must have, Todd has made enough converts to the concept to make DaVinci tandems a popular alternative to conventional drivetrain tandems – especially for those that want more gearing options , or want a cleaner and more compact drivetrain.   Todd has also put his design skills to good use over the years with many unique component modifications that you might find useful for your tandem needs (check out their website: www.davincitandems.com).

KHS
KHS has found a solid niche with tandems in the $1,000 to $2,000 range, a market that once belonged to Burley  – before they discontinued all non-trailer production.  Many specialty tandem dealers – like  Tandem CycleWorks in Denver -  have replaced the  Burley offerings with the value-packed KHS models.

There really isn’t a lot of flash to the KHS line – or a Bill McCready to promote the ‘09 lineup – but no one will be embarrassed to show up on a club ride atop their $1,799 Milano road model (and take the savings  to go on several really nice tandem vacations!).   In today’s economy, if you want to get into tandems without spending over $2,000; check out their four models that run from just under a $1,000 to the Milano at the high end.

Draftmaster
Draftmaster is part of the Atoc family product line, which also includes (Tandem) Topper.  Owner Charlie Buchalter has been a long-time supporter of the tandem and recumbent market with his innovative car racks.   At any major tandem rally, many of the ‘serious’ tandem teams  can be seen sporting Charlie’s products atop their vehicles.  

Some of the more recent developments from  Atoc include a ‘Tadpole’ Trike carrier (rear mount), the ‘Hang Up’ wall-mount storage system for your Draftmaster car rack (no price was available at the show), and ‘Lite Beams’ a new series of light-mounts designed to put your bike lights where you want them (no price available at show) – utilizing either the qr skewer or the 5mm braze-on boss that some touring forks come with.      The Lite Beams are designed to resolve several common complaints with traditional mounting of headlights: handlebar mounted lights that are too high to cast easy-to-see long shadows, no room on handlebars for a light, and many carbon fiber forks and handlebars that aren’t compatible with light clamps.   Charlie also is said to be working on a high-beam option.

Shimano Ups The Component Ante
For this writer, the Shimano booth had one of the largest wow-factor offerings with their Di2 electric drivetrain.   There was always a constant line of  retailers waiting to get a chance to ride the demo bikes on wind trainers in the booth (the bike shop rug rats, on the other hand, were hanging out in the other portion of the booth waiting to get killer deals on custom-fitted Shimano cycling shoes).  

The new electric drivetrain, supposedly available in January (but I’m sure demand will make it a scarce item), is lighter than current ’08 Dura-Ace and only grams heavier than the ‘standard’ ‘09 Dura-Ace gruppo.   In a nutshell, the stuff works; and remedies all the issues that had been present with Mavic’s “Zap” version years ago.  Di2 consists of ‘STI‘-style shifters – but the shifting is activated by ‘buttons‘ on non-moving levers.   The system also includes derailleurs, wiring, 7.4-volt lithium-ion compact battery pack (600-mile range on full charge) and charger (1.5 hours to recharge).   There is even a ‘brain’ in the front derailleur that trims automatically as the rear derailleur shifts up and down the cog set!

Like most of Shimano’s offerings, they’ve engineered the new system to be dependable and allow, hopefully, for that rare contingency when something goes wrong (like the battery pack goes dead).   Needless to say, this will be THE component package to have on your bike in ‘09 if you want the cool factor with friends.

While Di2 was promised for early ‘09 release (January/February), it still wasn’t available as of this writing (February ‘09).   No word on tandem applications from Shimano at this point but just think of the possibilities …

interbike 2008 016interbike 2008 014

Campy
11 speeds and the usual Italian jewelry styling … need we say more about Campagnolo‘s ‘09 gruppo?   
Well, o.k., if you want a little history to go along with your next tandem or single bike purchase, check out “Campagnolo  75 Years of Cycling Passion” by Paolo Facchinetti and Guido Rubino; and distributed by VeloPress ($39.95).   VeloPress had one of the more popular booths at the show with a constant stream of celebrities autographing their latest books, and free copies of all the latest hot cycling magazines. 
While I’ve used Shimano components on most of my bikes over the past 30 years, I grew up with ‘Campy’ and the legend of the name.   The book, as VeloPress editors note, “is a celebration of this legacy that will be cherished by every cycling fan”.   With the superb photography, and historical accounts, this is a must-have coffee table book for all those that call themselves passionate about our sport – no matter what their favorite ‘gruppo’ might be.
Buddy Bike
This was the first year that I’ve seen Buddy Bike at the Vegas show with their innovative tandem for beginners and special needs children.   Roy Wallack has already done a great review of the tandem for RTR (Issue #23 / Review #140), so I won’t re-hash the details here.
Buddy Bike touts themselves as the “Alternative Tandem Bicycle”, with some very unique and special features – including a novel design that allows the ‘stoker’ to steer the bike while the ‘captain’ (child, or smaller person) pedals the front – not all unlike some of the tandems at the turn of the century that were designed to allow couples to ride together in a socially acceptable manner (ie. the man controlling the bike from the rear position).
Buddy Bike sees their target audience as being  “special needs families (including schools, camps, and organizations); and bike shops (rental operations)”.  The weight capacity of the two currently available models is 380 lbs.    If you’ve been searching for ways to include special-need kids in your outdoor activities, you can visit www.buddybike.com for more information about their programs and bikes.
Other tidbits from the Interbike show this year:
Tubeless rims/wheelsets continue to spark interest among the major component players (and retailers/consumers, of course) – leading to discussions at this year’s show to set industry standards.   From a tandem perspective, tubeless wheelsets might offer a solution to the problem of pinch flats that tend to be a bit more common on ‘bikes-built-for-two’.   At showtime, Mavic was  the only major player not committed to the technology but that could change in ‘09/’10.
If it weren’t for the presence of numerous companies hawking their energy bars and drinks at the show, bottom-feeding journalists  would starve since we’re too cheap to ante up for the $10 burgers and $5 cokes at the concession stands inside the Sands.   I have yet to meet a bar or drink in Vegas that I didn’t like (and keep me energized for pounding the aisles).  Thanks also has to go to the companies that sponsor courtesy espresso bars and, most importantly, to those that serve up tasty microbrews at each day’s end-of-show activities.     
By now, most of you are probably aware of the awkward Lance Armstrong press conference that ensued at Interbike when Greg Lemond showed up  to talk drug testing – while  Lance wanted to focus on his plans for a comeback and his ‘09 cancer-awareness program.   Maybe awkward is too mild of a description …
Electric bikes are making a comeback … or at least you might get that impression with all the models displayed at way too many booths.
Electra displayed a tandem version of the cruiser-style single bike.   Priced at $1,100; this is an easy-to-ride machine designed for the beach (duh) and rails-to-trails terrain.
Also in the running to take some of the former Burley tandem market: the $2,669 Cannondale Road Tandem 2.   This would be a good choice for those looking for tandem teams looking for a ’race’ light machine that transfers all your energy to the road (of course, there is a trade-off in a bit harsher ride with the super stiff frame).