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secondsummertours.com » 2011 » October

Monthly archive of October 2011

 
 

Vegas Interbike show review 2011

After a year’s hiatus, RTR’s feature editor Rob Templin couldn’t wait to make a return trek to Las Vegas for the annual Interbike show. Well, maybe we’re exaggerating a bit about Rob’s enthusiasm for a return visit to Vegas but who can resist a city built on hype and the ability to sell you on any version of reality that you might desire?

Months before the Interbike show starts – September 12-16 this year – the e-mail press releases from various exhibitors begin to arrive in my mailbox. Most of the material is your typical run-of-the-mill p.r. stuff that you’d expect to see before a major trade show. In the case of a niche market like cycling, the product being promoted was guaranteed to improve my – your – cycling life: making us faster, more stylish, and healthier depending on what was being hawked.

Of course, there are plenty of serious products to check out each year at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas, the setting for Interbike the past decade. It’s just that some of the fringe offerings – like the ‘athlete’ titanium wrist bracelets claiming to enhance energy, good luck and “life” levels (whatever that is) – pushed the limits of reasonable, or even truthful, advertising. But after a week of all things two wheels – combined with the boulevard’s themed hotels and cheesy promotions – the line between reality and deception starts to blur a bit.

As in years past, Interbike began with two days of the ‘dirt demo’ in the normally dusty setting of Bootleg Canyon – about a hour’s drive outside of Vegas, near Boulder City. The Outdoor Demo, as it’s officially designated, gives dealers a chance to test-drive much of the product to be displayed inside the Sands Convention Center later in the week. I say ‘normally dusty’ because the second day of the outdoor venue on Tuesday included an industry bike ride to Lake Mead that featured a heavy dose of Mother Nature’s fury with lightning and an intense thunderstorm; even forcing the park service to cut the ride short because of minor flooding issues.

I had several goals for this year’s show – including the usual search for tandem-related product and visiting the ‘must-see’ booths that were generating a buzz among the attendees. On Wednesday morning, when the real work of selling product began inside the Sands Convention Center, my first planned stop was the Lezyne booth to check out what was new with the San Luis Obispo outfit. First, however, I had to weave my way through some pretty cool ‘bike’ artwork being displayed in various locations throughout the show; some of which was being sold for charity.

Anyone that’s owned an iProduct will tell you that Apple got it right by combining a heavy dose of style with quality workmanship, ahead-of-its time features, design, and performance. Lezyne appears to have taken a bite from the Apple approach with a line of cycling accessories that can be best described as functional cycling jewelry; product that will bring a smile to your face every time you need to use it. How often can you say that about most of your bike tools or accessories? It was as good as any reason to make their booth my first visit after checking out the cycling artwork on display.

New for 2012, Lezyne jumps into the (crowded) light market with several cordless handlebar/helmet lights; with the Super Drive LED being their top end model. According to marketing man Patrick Ribera-McCay, “two years ago we started researching LEDs and found a gap in the market to target”. Some of the main criteria their engineers were looking for in a bicycle light included: aluminum body for durability, high output (450 lumens for the top end Super Drive LED), easy to replace “industry standard” batteries (for longer burn times if needed), and competitive price ($110 MSRP for the top end S.D. LED). All their light models are compact, lightweight (CNC-machined aluminum), and low profile; with the same handle – solid feel – you get from their other flagship offerings: mini-pumps, multi-tools, foot pumps, and shop tools.

They also have developed for 2012 something they’re calling the Air Bleed System (ABS), a patent pending design that allows their Flip Thread Chuck and Flex hose in their pump systems to incorporate a pressure release valve (making for much easier removal of the pump when inflating Presta tubes). According to Patrick, this feature upgrade for 2012 will be “retrofittable to all previous model Lezyne pump products”.

Lezyne, who had great success as a sponsor of the HTC pro team in 2011, also was showing a new line of shop tools, including a unique Y-wrench (3 way tool) that has a “Serviceable Body Design”: a 2 piece CNC-machine steel body held together by 3 allen screws. This will allow for easy replacement of worn bits on the tool. Very cool concept that provides extended service life.

A step away from the Lezyne booth was another booth on my Vegas wish list: Co-Motion Cycles. Dwan Shepard who, along with Dan Vrijmoet, runs the Eugene, Oregon tandem biz takes a rightful pride in their ‘Made in America’ bikes. Dwan and Dan don’t have to worry about explaining a ‘Designed in America’ label that other bike manufacturers use to explain product sourced off-shore.

There are a couple of folks that I really enjoy visiting every year at Interbike when it comes to discussing the current tandem/bicycle marketplace – mostly for their straight-forward talk and honest industry insight that doesn’t include a heavy dose of self-serving marketing spin. Dwan, who successfully battled cancer several years ago and continues to ride daily, showed he still has the passion for building bikes as he walked me through the booth and talked about some of the 2012 design changes and improvements to their 2012 line-up.

Dwan showed me the new BB30 FSA SLK-Lite tandem cranks on their race models – which meant they had to fabricate BB-30 shells, including their own BB30 eccentric shell (a first in the tandem biz).
With in-house CNC lathes and mills to produce their machined parts, they continue to make many improvements in their line (many unseen). Dwan also notes that, “we’re getting pretty savvy with CAD/CAM work … (which) results in smoother-looking parts that integrate better with our frames”. Recent improvements in production mean that the lead time for tandem orders has been reduced – 4 to 6 weeks depending whether a stock or custom frame is desired. I asked about the Gates carbon drive system they introduced to the tandem market several shows ago (a lubricant-free, non-stretch belt and pulley system used on the ‘drive’ train of tandems, or for single gear singles) and was told that after many miles of use, the system has proven itself, and was a stock feature on many of the models.

New for 2012 is the 29 ‘niner’ Java model, an ultra-rugged frame which should handle just about any off-road challenge you could face in your cycling adventures. The tandem features a huge, specially-built fork with Co-Motion designed super-sized zonally-butted tubing. The Java – with a base price of $5,365 – has plenty of clearance for large tires/fenders, and can be equipped with 700c tires easily with the stock Avid disc brakes.

One of the most versatile tandem concepts to hit the marketplace in years, Co-Motion’s PeriScope model(s) has continued to evolve over the years as it’s grown in popularity. The PeriScope tandem models for 2012 include the Scout (MSRP $3,195), Torpedo (MSRP $4,445), and, for the racing crowd, the Hammerhead (MSRP $7,325). All PeriScope models use a quick-release dual telescoping seat mast system that grows with your children (or allow easy change/versatility with different stokers that would otherwise be hard to fit on conventional tandem set-ups).

Next up on my show tour was another industry favorite, Todd Shusterman – the man behind da Vinci Designs and his innovative independent coasting system (ICS) for tandems. Keeping with this year’s Interbike art ‘theme’, the da Vinci booth, as usual, was filled with stunning Brian Davis original art.
It doesn’t hurt my opinion of Todd that he also knows a bit about high-zoot IPA ales, but I’ll save that feedback for another show report.

The biggest development(s) for da Vinci Designs this year wasn’t so much what they were displaying at Vegas; rather, it had to do with their move to new digs in Denver, Colorado purchased this year.

When first introduced in 1993, the da Vinci Designs patented independent coasting system offered a radically new way for people to enjoy riding tandems. (I still remember being impressed with the first generation of ICS on a tandem that I rode with Todd in Boulder in the early 1990’s, while on a business road trip for Burley Design Cooperative).

Eventually, Todd figured the best way to ‘sell’ ICS was to produce tandems in-house rather than licensing the feature to others; it also resulted in another ‘Made in America’ success story. Unique to their line of tandems are four chainrings and a wider range of gears than any other tandem brand. Most importantly, from their perspective, is the elimination of most shifting issues that many tandems face.

Both Todd and Dwan still have a bit of that ‘inner child’ excitement when it comes to producing their tandems or talking bikes, and it shows in the details and pride of the end product. And like the other tandem guru at the show, Craig Calfee, they don’t seem to mind getting their fingernails dirty in the pursuit of a better product.

Near the end of the show, as I was talking industry stuff with Todd, one of his tandem-spec suppliers came by to discuss the requirements for a small custom part for one of their tandem models. I jokingly asked the supplier if Todd was picky in his spec “demands”; and with a sly smile, she told me that he wants “everything perfect”. But, I imagine, Todd’s customers also demand the same.

One of the largest bike categories every year at Interbike is the boutique wheel market … it seems that there is a wheel set for every price and ride category you could possibly imagine; especially at the high end. But when it’s come to the tandem market, one name has been synonymous with the high-performance category: Eugene (Oregon)-based Rolf Prima. If any company has the right to brag in their brochure that their tandem wheels are the “long reigning gold standard of tandem wheels”, Rolf does with their hand-built, ‘Made-in-America’ hoops.

Brian Roddy, the current owner of Rolf Prima, worked with Rolf Dietrich (the original inventor of the paired spoke design) while at Trek on the introduction of the technology. Before a short stint at Burley – where I got an opportunity to see his engineering skills up close when we both were partners of the cooperative – Brian, Rolf and two former Trek colleagues (also former Burleyites) started up Rolf Prima in Eugene in 2002. To minimize confusion between Trek made wheels and theirs, they chose ‘Rolf Prima’ rather than just ‘Rolf’.

Brian says that “I’ve been involved with the Rolf wheel program since day one at Trek through all the Rolf Prima years in Eugene”. As many in the cycling community already know, when Rolf retired in 2009, Brian bought the company from his partners – continuing the same level of passion in their business model that Rolf was well known for.

Rolf offers tandem wheel configurations with a full disc (front/rear) option – using the ISO 6-bolt standard, or just a rear disc option. Both have the same 20/24 spoke count. Brian, an avid mountaineer when he isn’t riding his bike or building wheels, also told me that they “expanded our line over the last two years to be compatible with 160mm rear frames and various rear disc brake spacing”. For 2011 they’re using a higher end alloy in the rims for increased rim life, as well as introducing 26” wheels.

While Calfee wasn’t displaying any tandems at the show, their small booth was still crowded with dealers asking about the custom carbon fiber repair service they were promoting, as well as the cool retrofit kits for Shimano’s electronic Di2 shifting (including an internal “seatpost” custom battery). Calfee rep Michael Moore did assure me that not only are they still producing tandems (as they have since 2000 with the introduction of the Tetra Tetra), they have a couple of exciting offerings for 2012 that they didn’t have space to show in the booth. When it comes to lightweight carbon fiber tandems, few in the cycling community would argue that Craig Calfee has paid his dues, and is now the premier tandem builder with the high-tech material.

S&S couplings for traveling Calfee tandem teams will now be available for their (lighter) Dragonfly model – the couplers add 3 pounds, bringing the total weight to an amazing 24 pounds (whew!). Previously, only the Tetra model had this option (approx. 28 lbs with couplers). Other options for 2012 include: dual Gates belt drive system (leveraging two eccentric bottom brackets), Rohloff hub compatible frame, Di2 internal battery and wiring system (including a configuration for coupled frames!), and an exotic full-carbon stoker bar-stem (no pictures yet). As you might imagine, the price of exotic doesn’t come cheap from the company that was building carbon fiber bikes way before they were “in”: the Dragonfly will set you back $10,295 with couplers (deduct $2,500 sans couplers).

If you ever wanted to ride a tandem-specific tire made by the same biz that sponsored one of the leading pro teams in 2011, here’s your chance. Schwalbe, sponsor of the Leopard-Trek pro team, was displaying a “tandem” tire (in fact, they were the only tire company at the show that I could find with such an offering). For your heavy-duty adventures on hard-pack dirt roads or wherever you need a ‘bullet-proof’ tire, Schwalbe was offering up the Marathon Dureme Tandem in a 26” (x2.00) and 700” (x40c). According to the literature and the rep at the show, the tire is a “strengthened tandem version for heavy loads”, with a re-enforced sidewall. MSRP will be (approximately at press time): $90.

Rumors of a new Speedplay off-road pedal have circulated for months, if not years. But this year, a new pedal called the Syzr (pronounced scissor) was finally ready for public view at Interbike … but full production is still many few months away and pricing has yet to be set. This pedal might be a good option for those tandem teams that like to use a ‘walkable’ touring shoe for their tandem rides. The pedal features a “pedal grabbing cleat’ that’s different from Speedplay’s normal configuration but still retains a significant amount of adjustable float (10 degrees). The big rumor at the show – which couldn’t be confirmed at the time – was that Garmin had bought Speedplay. An interesting development if proven true; especially in light of the other significant ‘pedal news’ (below) that makes measuring your power output far easier than ever before.

Pedal-based power output measurement appears to be finally coming to the marketplace after several years of fits and starts … the somewhat infamous ‘vaporware’ of every bike trade show when samples and prototypes fail to materialize into production models. The good news is that several companies (Garmin and Look) appear ready to start shipping pedals that are easy to install (no wheel, crankset, or drivetrain hassles), using somewhat common ANT + wireless technology, and independent right/left leg power measurement. Both companies utilize a system of strain-gauge sensors inside the hollow pedal spindle – recording force vectors (displayed on the computer head in watts). An added bonus with this approach is the ability to easily switch pedals between bikes for power measurement.

The downside of this high-tech development? Get ready to max out the credit card for another expensive cycling toy … and start practicing a good explanation to the spouse for that unusual item charge on your monthly Visa statement. Garmin’s Vector pedal will run you around $1,495 (available in March); and uses what appears to be a pedal they sourced themselves but are calling “Look Keo compatible”. If I was a betting man (this is Vegas after all), other pedals will follow in 2013 using similar technology – this is where that rumor starts to make business sense. Look and Polar have collaborated with a pedal of their own featuring – no surprise – the actual Keo pedal that Look manufactures (MSRP $2,295). I’m sure the behind-the-scenes “negotiations” – if any – were pretty interesting between these two industry leaders as each raced to introduce their own pedal-power system. Garmin’s system got the nod from my informal rider poll at the show based on price, and ease of use/number of features. Both, however, performed flawlessly when I tried ‘em out.

Electronic shifting is here to stay but I’m probably not telling you anything you didn’t know already. After the pro peloton put it through several years of testing, Shimano is finding it difficult to keep up with the consumer demand of the still-pricy upgrade. In what is one of the worst kept secrets of the past year, Shimano has now officially introduced the technology to the Ulegra line at almost half the cost. More importantly, the good news for tandem riders, according to Shimano’s marketing manger, is that the Ultegra level will be more modular, and thus easier to modify for tandem applications (as long as you’re running a double with a 27 or 28 max rear cog depending on frame). But (and you knew that was coming didn’t you?), it’s going to be a challenge to get your hands on a stand-alone Ultegra shifting gruppo as most of the production will be going to complete bikes.

And as has been the case for other Shimano component innovations, Campagnolo was playing catch-up with their Tech Lab 11 electronic shifting being displayed at Interbike. But getting any details on availability, tech spec, and pricing was about as hard as finding a cheap room in Vegas on a weekend. I’m hoping that at next year’s show I won’t be writing about Campy “vaporware”.

If nothing else, 15 years of living in Oregon as a partner of Burley Design Cooperative taught me the value of good cycling rainwear – especially commuting in the wet winter months. For years I used Burley-branded foul-weather gear but with the demise of the cooperative (now a corporation whose main focus is importing trailers manufactured off-shore), many of us were left scrambling to find a replacement. One of the companies that jumped into this cycling niche, and has proven themselves with a loyal following, was Showers Pass; incorporating a high degree of style and technical features not available previously to the cycling crowd. Based out of Portland, Oregon you know that they have one of nature’s best testing ‘labs’.

Ironically, one of the new products the biz was promoting this year wasn’t gear to keep water out while cycling – rather, it was a mechanism to bring water to the rider: ValEau hydration system. ValEau was designed by Frank Bretl (and business partner Mark Proia); both are mechanical engineers at HP, their ‘day job’. The reservoir is positioned below the seat, and has a drinking tube that runs to the handlebar; including one of the product’s major selling features: a retractable magnetic reel for easy drinking valve access. In other words, the bike ‘wears’ the system not the rider. Eventually Frank and Mark, both avid mountain bikers, connected with Showers Pass to bring the product to market – hence the introduction at this year’s Interbike.

If you’re looking for a unique way to record your next cycling vacation, there were a couple of options being shown at Interbike. The Epic Adventure and Go Pro “Hero” video cameras – attached to the handlebar or helmet – give you the ability to easily film your ride hands-free while moving down road.

Go Pro had a huge presence at the show, an indication of their take on the market potential of the cycling crowd. The downside of the Go Pro, from a cycling perspective, is the bulk and clunky architecture of the camera; while the Epic has a very streamlined ‘bullet’ shape that blends in better on the helmet or handlebars. While the Epic (around $150 depending on version) is also substantially less money than the Go Pro ($250 for nicer HD versions), it doesn’t appear to have the sophistication and features of the more expensive Go Pro; which also has a solid performance record after years of sales across the sporting spectrum. The Epic should be available to consumers by the end of the year.

If you’re the kind of rider that uses a mirror to monitor traffic behind you, then the Hindsight 35 might be an alternative to check out. The system features a rearview camera and video display (for the handlebars). Riders can see what’s coming up from behind without a mirror, and the unit records in 10 minute segments – stopping automatically in the case of an accident. The display is an ANT+ computer that will have other cycling functions/options like heart rate, power output, etc. (MSRP $299).

Buddy Bike, invented by Bob Gardner (who was also at Interbike), showed their innovative alternative inline tandem bicycles: smaller riders sit in the front while the rear rider controls the steering. The design of their bikes makes them especially beneficial for children with special needs who otherwise wouldn’t be able to enjoy our sport – or get outside for a regular exercise program. The pedals work together on the same drivetrain and the front seat is much lower so both riders can safely enjoy the view. The two models shown at Interbike are currently available: the best-selling Bike Sport with a Shimano Deore 27-speed hub, and the Buddy Bike Family ‘Limited Edition’ equipped with NuVinci N360 CVP drivetrain. The NuVinci drivetrain, according to company rep Shelley Patterson, makes shifting “as simple as adjusting the volume on a radio. I believe that the simplicity … will eliminate novice-rider fears over shifting”. Shelley, and Buddy Bike, also heavily promotes adaptive cycling activities, including a roundtable at Recumbent Cycle-Con on Oct 23 here in Southern California.

As noted earlier, lighting systems have become a big business if Interbike is any indication. One of the design and performance leaders for the past decade has been NiteRider. My years of RAAM training and racing – 30 years ago when you had limited options for a quality, lightweight, high-performance lighting system – have taught me to really appreciate how far companies like NiteRider have raised the bar for dependable and high-powered lights.

Tom Carroll, the man behind NiteRider (and still running the show), originally was looking for a lighting system for after-hours surfing fun when the crowds were gone. It didn’t take long to figure out that hands-free waterproof lights with lots of power would also translate well to cycle use. Over the years, NiteRider has continued to improve and evolve their products – often in conjunction with the improving nature of LED ‘bulb’ performance. They now offer a full range of lights for all of your cycling needs; corded and cordless, taillights, and more.

Atoc is the #1 source for racks for tandems, recumbents and trikes in the U.S. With good reason. They understand the challenges of carrying bikes and trikes of all sizes. Charlie Bouchalter – the man behind the Tandem Topper and DraftMaster – has been a long-time supporter of the tandem and recumbent market at rallies and consumer shows across the country. Draftmaster is part of the Atoc family product line, which also includes (Tandem) Topper; all product are American-made.

Talking with Charlie, and seeing his products over the years (not just at Interbike, but in actual use), it becomes very clear why his racks are so popular with the tandem and recumbent niche: quick installation, no expensive add-ons (kits come complete), quality materials customized for specific use, and ease-of-use with bulky and heavy bikes.

Since Interbike was celebrating its 30th anniversary, it seemed like as good a time and place as any to release a book on another important 30 year cycling milestone (as well as provide another excuse for a industry party gig, as if they really needed one) … and Geoff Drake – collaborating with Jim Ochowicz (founder of the 7-Eleven cycling team) – did exactly that with a fascinating look at “7-Eleven: America’s Greatest Cycling Team”. Geoff Drake (former editor of VeloNews and Bicycling Magazine) has written the proverbial ‘must read’ for any serious enthusiast of the American bike race scene – especially the early years when a group of top amateurs (7 medals at the ’84 Olympics) turned professional after the L.A. Olympics.

Coincidentally, Bill Humphreys, a friend from the racing days when we all wore leather ‘hairnets’, bumped into me in the aisles of the Sands Convention Center, and showed me a book he was also releasing at the show called “The Jersey Project”. It’s a coffee-table photo journal that combines shots of race/club jerseys with stories matching riders to many of the jerseys depicted. Surprisingly, the layout and content works well to take you back to another time that any seasoned and passionate cyclist will appreciate.

As the show wound down late Friday afternoon, and most of the 23,000 attendees were already on the way home, I enjoyed a few last-minute chats with industry friends and watched as a thousand-plus exhibitors prepared to ‘break down’ their booths. I left my sample titanium bracelet hanging on a bike at a booth that could appreciate the concept of sketchy marketing better than I could … and it sure wasn’t doing my ‘life energy’ much good as my tired feet led me to the exit. At least my inner child and enthusiasm for the bike scene was not only still going strong after a week in Vegas, it also had me putting together my holiday wish list for Santa.

Rob Templin, when he isn’t stuck in Las Vegas for the week, is out showing friends his favorite cycling locales with his biz, Second Summer Tours – adventure bicycle tours to exotic destinations like Maui, New Zealand, Chile-Argentina, Oregon, California; and the two major pro races in the U.S. RTR staff also contributed to this report.