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secondsummertours.com » 2012 » October

Monthly archive of October 2012


Interbike 2012 / Las Vegas / Bike Show wrap-up report

Surfers call it a flat day, when the surf isn’t up. Time to roll over and go back to bed. For the media, it’s called a slow news day. Unfortunately for the journalists pounding the aisles of this year’s Vegas Interbike show, rolling over and going back to sleep wasn’t an option – so the media did their best to find something – anything – to report on. If this year’s Interbike had been a novel, it would have been titled, “All Quiet on the Western Front”.

Just because there wasn’t a lot of what I call ‘wow factor’ products to check out September 17th-21st inside the Sands Convention Center and at the Outdoor Demo (held in Boulder City the first two days), didn’t mean that the show was – to use a Vegas term – a bust. In fact, numbers for both vendors and dealers was up according the folks at Interbike, “… both Interbike and OutDoor Demo saw significant gains in key metrics such as number of exhibitors, total attendees and net square feet”. For both these groups – the show isn’t open to the public – a quiet product year was probably a good thing since it gives IBD’s, in particular, a bit of breathing room going into 2013 with buying and vendor decisions.

The good news, for small businesses displaying at the show, was the opportunity for a bit of media attention that might not have happened if the big players in the industry had brought ground-breaking product to the floor (say, like Shimano’s electronic grouppos in previous years).

The first stop in an attempt for find a little surf in the Vegas desert was the Shimano booth – and by the number of familiar press passes, it seemed that I wasn’t the only one in search of a bit of interesting show copy. The industry giant has always played the role of the proverbial elephant in the (show)room when Interbike rolls around, and this year was no exception.

For the past two decades, it has been a case of other companies trying to stay up with Shimano’s innovations and lead in the component marketplace. In a rare bit of role reversal, Shimano appeared to take a cue from Campagnolo’s 11-speed offering, and introduced their own ‘mechanical’ Dura-Ace version at this year’s show (electronic 11-speed Dura-Ace should hit the market in early 2013). Since the 11-speed ‘mechanical’ Dura-Ace wasn’t really big news or much of a secret – media and public alike knew months ago – the main reason for visiting the booth was to actually test ride the stuff to see how it performed.

As Shimano executive Wayne Stetina (long-time icon in the cycling community, and someone who used to regularly destroy my legs on training rides before work) told a group of gathered journalists during a demonstration, “mechanical is alive and well.” And he just might be right. After some time playing with the new component group on a trainer, I found myself giving the shifting one of the few mental ‘wow factor’ awards for the show – it was that good. One disclaimer: the bikes were ‘show ready’, and the shifting was about as good as it’s going to get performance-wise.

I’ll be curious to see how the gruppo’s performance holds up after months of use under typical rider usage and maintenance parameters. The 9000 mechanical group (approximate cost $2,500 / sold separately) also includes a cool design change that utilizes the same bolt circle diameter for both compact and traditional chain rings – a welcome improvement.

For the tandem and mountain bike community, it’s going to be a long wait for electronic shifting to trickle down to their end of the cycling niche because the demand is so high for the ‘conventional’ road bike market. Of course, tandem manufacturers haven’t had any problems using double-ring cranksets on some of their models with the electric shift systems.

At previous shows, I’ve compared Lezyne to Apple while calling their products “functional jewelry”. Eye candy is a way over-used show term but the Lezyne booth – with displays full of multi-tools, lighting systems, hand and foot pumps, shop tools, and cages – was just that. They’ve done such a good job with their design work, in fact, one major bike company came out with their own mini-tool line that looked to be taken straight from the Lezyne catalog. What do they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery …

Marketing manager Patrick Ribera-McKay showed me the 2013 highlights as we walked through their booth. Even ‘simple’ every-day products like a foot pump and shop tools can produce a ‘wow’ under the guidance of the Lezyne engineering and design teams. For 2013, it would appear that the engineers in San Luis Obispo have, again, done their homework.

Not a biz to shun competition (they co-sponsor a pro cycling team), they jumped into the highly competitive lighting category in a big way last year. For 2013 the evolution continues with the introduction of their top-end Mega Drive light ($199.99): a 1000 lums, self-contained CNC sculptured beauty with a host of high-performance technological features – including constant current and one piece internally reflected lenses. They also redesigned the Super (500 lums), Power (400 lums), and Mini Drive (200 lums) xl models with new CNC machined aluminum bodies. If you want a bit of style with your lighting system, check the full line out.

Tandem and recumbent riders (and others with compact frames) will find Lezyne’s dedicated left or right off-set waterbottle cages an answer to the problem of getting a waterbottle in and out of the cage easily with tight clearances. (Another option, maybe not offering as much panache as Lezyne’s model, is Blackburn’s new Sideroller bottle cage). They also will be offering a full line of unique ‘organizers’ for both off and the on-the-bike storage needs (think cell phone, camera, tools, etc.), as well as a full selection of well-designed quick release seat bags.

A big reason for my visit to Vegas was to check-in with the major tandem players to see what was new for 2013. Like the industry as a whole, there wasn’t a lot of breaking tandem headlines to report on. It’s even been awhile since a few of the major bike companies (like Trek and Cannondale) have offered much – if anything – to the tandem community. Which keeps ‘made-in-the-USA’ niche players like Co-Motion and da Vinci Designs working overtime to fill the demand.

da Vinci Designs has had their hands full the past couple of years just keeping up with the demand for their bikes, so don’t expect to see a lot of new product introduction for 2013. Even a lousy economy hasn’t seemed to impact the business in their new digs in Colorado. “The ability to coast independently makes riding a tandem far more natural and enjoyable” has been the mantra for this Denver-based biz for several decades now. Like Co-Motion, they handbuild their machines in the U.S. (with the exception of the imported Grand Junction model) with a level of craftsmanship hard to find with the ‘big box’ bike companies. For tandem teams looking for versatile and bulletproof wheels, DaVinci was displaying their 26” custom Rolf Prima / da Vinci Designs tandem wheels – now available for rim or disc brakes (front and rear).

Co-Motion came to Vegas celebrating 25 years in the business of producing American handmade bikes – based out of my old hometown of Eugene, Oregon. The booth displayed samples showing why they’ve become the most popular U.S. tandem biz: the innovative, highly adjustable PeriScope line (Scout, Torpedo and Hammerhead), road/touring and racing tandems, S&S travel options; and for the single bike crowd, cross (two new hydraulic-ready models), urban, and heavy-duty touring offerings.

Many times a company will spec components for their bikes not based on intended use but, rather, for marketing purposes and perceived ‘value’. In the case of Co-Motion, co-owner and the ‘face’ of the biz, Dwan Shepard specs what actually is the best match for the intended use of each of their models. Hence, Continental tires were prevalent throughout the booth of bikes – a tire that’s not only pricier than many other brands they could have used to keep costs down, but one that can be a challenge to procure on a regular basis. But the tire is a great match for tandem applications, so that’s what they use. A small detail, for sure; but one that speaks to the level of design and detail the company puts into its bikes. By the way, partner Dan Vrijmoet might operate behind the scenes managing bike production, but put him on two wheels and you’ll see why he’s the company guy for developing fast designs for their machines.

If you want some good examples of what makes Co-Motion tandems special, take a look at these models from the show:
• Equator (base: $7,095). The tandem eliminates derailleurs and complicated controls with an internally-geared 14-speed Rohloff hub and duel Gates Carbon Drive belts (Co-Motion pioneered the use of the Gates system several years ago), and a 44mm Chris King internal headset.
• The race-ready Robusta (base $7,455) has a lighter weight (and semi-compact lateralless frame) for 2013, as well as (standard) dual discs. The Supremo also got a similar make-over for 2013 with a lateral-less design and Di2 option.
• The Macchiato (base $9,525) was shown with a really cool fighter jet themed paint job, and, at 24.8 lbs, is race-ready. And if you really want to fly, add on the Ultegra Di2 upgrade ($1,049).
• The Trident ($6,395) continues the PeriScope legacy with a budget-priced three-seater for the whole family; dual disc brakes and 26” wheels make this a durable machine. The PeriScope concept was another Co-Motion first that has set the standard for a multi-use, adjustable tandem.
• And since small details that matter was mentioned earlier … check out their new stainless steel dropouts and Max-Adjust stoker stem – polished, CNC machined beauties.

I got a pleasant surprise when I stopped by the Ritchey booth to visit with a former business partner from Oregon. It seems that Tom Ritchey (yes, that Ritchey) and his wife Martha have been “field test(ing) all over the world” a new tandem offering, the Double Switchback. World travel on a tandem isn’t a bad perk – probably helps when you’re the boss and own the business though.

Using the proven Ritchey Break-Away design familiar to their single (travel) bikes, this tandem uses 650b mountain wheels but also accepts 700c road wheels and tires. It makes, according to one show staffer, for a “versatile machine for travel”. ETA for bike shops should be early to mid 2013, with a tentative frame price somewhere in the $3,600 range (which will include two suitcases).

One large company that hasn’t left the tandem market is KHS, displaying their value-packed offerings again this year. Both models feature mechanical discs. The Milano, the ‘road’ offering, comes in at $1,899 and is available in two sizes: small (20/16) and medium (23/21); and features a 6061 alloy frame with oversized CrMo fork. The Sport, an entry-level model, comes in a 18/16 and 20/16 size and features a CrMo frame – a great value at $1,139 (especially since this end of the market isn’t really being serviced by the industry at this point).

The Cardo headphone communication system for cyclists also had a prominent presence at the KHS booth since they’re the distributors (see the last edition of RTR for the review of the devices). At $469 for a pair they’re not cheap but they do offer a host of high-tech features that haven’t been available to the cycling community before. Cardo might be a familiar name to those that ride motorcycles.

When I lived in Eugene, Oregon (as a partner of worker-owned Burley Design Cooperative for 15 years), I had to learn very quickly the basics of riding in the rain – especially since I had moved from sunny Southern California where few venture out when there is even a light drizzle or the roads are wet. Burley Design Cooperative designed and manufactured rain gear so I had part of my learning curve covered when I moved north. When the cooperative disinagrated over a decade ago, many cyclists – myself included – scrambled to find an alternative source for our rain gear. Enter Showers Pass …

For the past 5 years, this Portland-based business has grown and refined its foul-weather gear with the latest high-tech fabrics and designs. Last year, in a bit of irony, they even developed a bicycle-mounted hydration system that aimed to deliver water to the rider (not repel it).

There were a handful of companies featuring foul-weather gear for cyclists at the show, but what sets Showers Pass apart – besides the quality and design – is value. For example, their Pro Tech ST ($125) uses a high-tech transparent waterproof/breathable fabric which is incredibly lightweight and packs easily into the rear pocket of your jersey; a great jacket also for chilly early morning riding where you want to cut the wind. Several other companies had a similar offering – the high-tech transparent material is popular with the high-performance crowd – with a MSRP substantially higher and no significant difference in quality that I could decipher.

They also have a complete line of clothing (pants, helmet covers, jackets, booties, etc.) for both men and women, and a jacket to match every kind of riding condition (racing, commuting, touring, casual). Rain pants have always been a piece of foul weather gear that I’ve found problematic when it comes to solving the comfort versus water protection equation; so I’m looking forward to testing their rain pants this winter season (“Roadie” and “Club Convertible 2 Pant”) to see how well they function.

Cyclists – tandem and recumbent riders in particular – are always looking for a little more storage space on their bikes for extra gear. KoKi might just have the answer for you with a nifty, and stylish, selection of what I call ‘frame’ bags – with the versatility to attach to many different locations on any bike.

They also offer a full range of touring, urban, rack-top, and seat post bags. The contoured Flow, a rack-top model, offers a great option with the ability to convert to a daypack – the mesh shoulder harness zips away to allow easy attachment to your rack.

Owner Guntram Jordan calls their top-end seatpost pack, the Fullback, a “brevet buddy” – with its large top opening, waterproof top and bottom, and outside pockets. The innovative quick release makes removal a snap when you don’t need to take the bag along for extra space. On any large tour these days – like ‘state’ rides such as Cycle Oregon – you’ll find these seatpost bags as the most popular way to carry extra gear.

One of the more unique features of virtually all of their packs is the recycled rice bags used as liners. In Asia you see these bags everywhere, according to Guntram; “especially in its woven and laminated form as rice, feed, and seed bags … the bags are tough and durable”. Since these bags are recycled (after being cleaned, sorted by color and size, etc.), no two KoKi bags are alike inside. Cool.

When I’ve ridden tandem competitively (usually as the stoker), I’ve heard more than once the all-to-familiar “power … more power”. In the case of Vegas, more power wasn’t a problem as plenty of new power-measuring systems are hitting the market. In 2011, Look partnered with Polar to introduce the Keo Power set-up ($2,500); and, unlike the Garmin Vector system (also introduced at last year’s show), it actually came to market.

Quarq (recently acquired by SRAM), showed a different approach to measurement by building the system into the crankset’s spider. At roughly $1,750 to $2,000 (depending on crankset) both are pricy ‘toys’ for your holiday wish list.

Pioneer – yes, the same company famous for its electronics like home theater – had a small presence while introducing their SGX-CA900 cyclocomputer at $700 and SGY-PM900 wireless water-resistant pedaling monitor sensor at $1,500 (sold with a $80 b.b. that will work with Shimano’s Dura-Ace and Ultegra cranksets). Available early next year, the device will be able to measure individual left/right leg data. Information can be downloaded, transferred, and shared through Pioneer’s online service.

Coming in at a substantially lower price point, the Stages One System ($700 to $900 depending on crankset) uses a small module that it adheres permanently to the left crankarm. This lightweight piece will transmit to most ANT+ receivers (like the Garmin). As you might imagine, this unit is going to have a few less bells and whistles than its more expensive competition.

Calfee, famous in the tandem community for their high-zoot tandem offerings with exotic options – to say nothing of his bamboo bike frames – focused their show presence on their solid reputation for carbon fiber repair and special modifications (like special routing for Shimano’s and Campy’s electronic shifting systems, or the ability to store a battery in your seatpost).

Cirrus Cycles had a suspension seatpost, the “Body Float”, that might perform well for tandem applications (especially the stoker). The seatpost uses two coil springs and has no damping – just isolation from bumps. A quick showroom test wasn’t enough, however, to make much of an educated opinion of long-term performance.

Buddy Bike presented two new models for 2013: Buddy Bike Sport Deluxe and Buddy Bike Adventure. Buddy Bike terms itself the ‘alternative tandem bicycle’.
According to spokesperson Shelley Patterson, Buddy Bike Sport Deluxe will feature Fallbrook Technologies Inc.’s award winning NuVinci® N360™ Continuously Variable Planetary transmission. Both models will be based on the innovative Buddy Bike patented design that places the stoker in the front seat while the captain steers from the back. BB Sport Deluxe will include the features and larger frame of BB Sport, the company’s most popular bike model. BB Adventure is a single-speed, simplified bike model that will be available exclusively to bike rental shops and adaptive cycling programs in an effort to provide more locations where families may experience the Buddy Bike. Both of these new models will be available sometime late this year.
Shelley stated, “The simplicity and no-maintenance features of the NuVinci N360 eliminate novice-rider fears over shifting, (allowing) parents to focus on enjoying a safe ride with their children. Our goal (is) to encourage more families to bicycle, especially families with special needs children who might otherwise never enjoy the thrill of riding a bicycle.”
Another ‘proudly made in the U.S.’ manufacturer, Rolf Prima – and a ‘neighbor’ of Co-Motion’s in Eugene, Oregon – was again displaying what they call the “gold standard” for tandem wheels: “hands down the ultimate choice for fast and lightweight wheels”. Options, as in year’s past, are rim (1830 gr) or disc brake (1895gr) compatibility; 20 /24 bladed spokes. A quick look around at any tandem rally will confirm Rolf Prima’s claim to being the gold standard.
In what could be a game-changer in the sport video camera market, two mainstream electronics brands hit the show for the first time – giving some serious competition to industry leaders Go Pro and Contour (also attending the show).
JVC showed their new Adixxion Action Camera at $349, with features that include being waterproof (without any special protective housing), Wi-Fi built-in, and digital imaging stabilization. Sony, at $269 (version with Wi-Fi) also offers stabilizing features but not the built-in waterproof design. Sony’s Gregory Herd stated that their cameras would soon be available at R.E.I. At the dirt demo, the first two days of the show, Looxcie showed off a tiny video camera that attaches to your ear like a Bluetooth headset, allowing you to talk on the cell while streaming live action via WiFi, 3 or 4G. The 10-hour version has a $179 msrp.
And, finally, I stumbled across the ultimate wipe for bike use from the folks at White Lightning: bamboo wipes that are tough, sustainable, and recyclable (6 wipes for $6.00). Maybe there is something going on with this bamboo thing; first Calfee bikes, and now this.
By the way, no need to thank me for the plug White Lightning; it was a slow news day.