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secondsummertours.com » BIKE STUFF

Articles filed under ‘BIKE STUFF‘

 
 

RECUMBENT AND TANDEM RIDER MAGAZINE

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Vegas Interbike Diaries

2014 Edition

A look at a few of the cycling accessories that you might want for next year (and a few you probably won’t)

Mandalay Bay Hotel on the southern end of the Las Vegas strip was introduced last year as the new venue for the Interbike Tradeshow – after spending 12 years closer to downtown at the Sands Convention Center.   As one might suspect with a new setting, there have been some growing pains along the way for one of the industry’s showcase events.   Like last year, the introduction of consumers to the show was – to use a Vegas term – a bit of a bust.   Friday’s last day ‘consumer appreciation’ attendance was up only by a few hundred over last year’s paltry 900 tally.   Overall, from the business end of things, the show itself was pretty much flat compared with last year’s numbers and booth space.

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With many name players like Specialized, Trek, and Cannondale emphasizing earlier 2015 introductions in private dealer events months before Interbike, many independent bicycle dealers (IBD’s) had less reason to the spend the money and resources to make a separate visit to Las Vegas.   It’s been a strategy that has proven effective in maintaining market share among the dominant bike companies, and keeping many retailers from checking out the competition or new products.   Also, the timing of product introductions has become less dependent on a show like Interbike. Even industry powerhouse Shimano took a break from a heavy show footprint, opting instead to use its resources for dealer clinics and tech seminars. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty to check out and report on this year.

Even with a year under my belt at the new venue, I still found myself getting turned around when I needed to make a dash for booth appointments.   And it wasn’t just me that found navigating the show layout a challenge – if my conversations with other attendees was anyindication.

The Good

The first day of the show was all about reconnaissance of the convention floor and doing a quick walk-through, with the luxury of stopping at booths that hadn’t been on my radar from pre-show research.   On the second day, one biz that was on my schedule was San Luis Obispo based Lezyne.

I’ve been using several of the Lezyne floor pumps (including their ‘travel’ model) for several years now. They’ve become some of my favorite cycling tools, flawlessly performing workhorse duties day-in, day-out while still being the epitome of style.   Little wonder that I’ve compared their CNC-machined bike jewelry to Apple in years past when it comes to form and function.

And I’m not the only one impressed with their product lineup if the number of knockoffs of their designs is any indication. Ironically, one of those companies copying Lezyne’s designs (especially their compact CNC-machined multi tools) has been very aggressive on litigating their “design rights” when they felt others had infringed with competing products.   What do they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery?

This year, for those in the ‘mature’ category of consumers in need of larger viewing displays, Leyzne had two options: floor pump models with a very simple two-button operation and auto-shutoff function with large 1.5” LCD displays for the ‘reading glasses’ demographics.   If you’re old school, the Classic Floor Drive with a 3.5” precision gauge would be a great choice. ($69.99)

Lezyne jumped into the light category several years ago with state of the art LED technology with most models featuring USB recharging capability.   Here in Southern California, many midweek group rides start well before the sun rises – especially in the winter months. Visibility is crucial in a setting like this where cars rule.   Riders need more than just a good headlight to see the roadway, they also need bright front/rear safety lights to be seen.   The Zecto Drive Pro (red rear, white front) with USB recharging cable is just the answer.

The compact, lightweight (47 gr) dual purpose pair offer up enough light to make them worth leaving on even during daylight hours: 160 lumens for the front white light and 40 lumens for rear red.   The Clip-On system provides versatility either strapped or clipped on, $49.99 (all prices quoted are MSRP).lezyne

For added visibility during those difficult solo commutes, the ultra-compact Femto Drive (the aluminum body uses standard, replaceable CR2032 batteries) can be attached to almost any point on the bike frame or – my choice – the helmet.   The pair offer side/ 180 degree visibility, and are well worth the extra 31 grams and $27.99 cost.

Getting a flat always sucks so you might as well make the repair as easy as possible with the Carbon Road Drive hand pump. The CRD is the ultimate in weight, durability, and performance: full carbon barrel and handle with overlapping handle pump design, CNC-machined aluminum piston and end caps.   80 grams of power, includes carbon fiber frame mount.   A work of art. $99.99

And speaking of flats, have you ever tried getting off one of the new generation of tubeless tires (even ‘old school’ tires can be a pain to install when new)? Lezyne alloy levers ($16.99) or composite Matrix levers ($4.49) are guaranteed to make the job easier.   Much easier.   Levers, tube and CO2 cartridges can be stored in the Flow Caddy, new for Lezyne’s Year 8.   The lightweight (60gr) rigid container is designed to fit almost any waterbottle cage (or rear jersey pocket), and includes a cloth organizer that fits into the caddy. $15.99

inflator

Don’t want to use a pump (or maybe, just looking for a faster inflation alternative on group gigs)?   Also new for Year 8 is the CO2 Control Drive head inflator.   The CDHI allows you to easily determine how much CO2 you discharge into your tire at once; a simple twist of the CNC control knob is all that’s needed.   The CD head inflator handles presta or schrader tubes and uses threaded cartridges (a neoprene sleeve for insulation from the freeze of the cartridge discharge is included).   46 grams; $26.99

Lezyne offers a full line of carbon fiber, aluminum, and alloy cages ($24.99 to $59.99) to meet every need, including carbon fiber models with right or left side mounting of the waterbottle.   We’ll be reviewing some of these Lezyne accessories in a future issue.

If Lezyne is the upscale, high-zoot supplier to the consumer market, St Paul, Minnesota-based Park Tool is the blue collar equivalent to the IBD/consumer shop trade.   And that’s meant to be a compliment as the company has built a reputation for over a half century of designing and producing tools that are incredibility durable and user friendly. Take a look in the service area of your favorite IBD (or garage of any passionate cyclist) and you’ll find well-worn Park Tool ‘blue’ hanging on the wall.   During that first year of operation 50 years ago, they introduced a repair stand (PRS-1) that was so unique they were granted a U.S. patent; since that time the line has grown to include nearly 400 bicycling products.

Of the multitude of new tools introduced this year (33 to be exact), one, in particular, was getting all the attention at the PT booth: their CP-1 chain whip pliers.    As the name implies, the tool ($53.95) is basically pliers with chain pieces on either side, allowing easy lock ring removal with no manual adjustment (grips cogs from 9 to 24 teeth).   Whether you’re a pro / shop mechanic or just someone that just likes to do their own repairs, this new tool will make a nice upgrade from the former standard chain whip design(s) that were guaranteed to give you bloody knuckles at some point.

Park tool

 

In the helmet category, there was one huge buzz word this year: MIPS, “Multi directional Impact Protection System”.   Developed by a Swedish technology company, the concept is to minimize impact forces to the rider’s head in an angled crash by allowing the helmet to rotate a small amount (compared to a non-MIPS helmet).

MIPS helmets, at least all that I saw by various manufactures, used an easy to spot thin liner in a bright yellow color.   Curiously, only one vendor was displaying a high-end “pro” 2015 model using the relatively new technology.   The option isn’t cheap as it appears to add anywhere from $40-60 per helmet – the company licenses the technology to helmet manufacturers – but that cost could drop dramatically if the feature becomes standard in helmets across the board: from budget to high-end pro versions.

Even the Giro-Bell juggernaut literally bought into the new technology with a small investment in the Swedish company.   Only time will tell if this feature becomes mainstream and something consumers demand in their helmets – not just marketing hype.

And talking of high-end models, Bell was exhibiting the innovative ‘Star Pro’ – not a MIPS helmet at this time but that could change according to a company rep.   To regulate this dual purpose helmet’s airflow, temperature and aero efficiency on the fly, the Star Pro uses a simple slider mechanism that opens or closes its vents.   Very cool (no pun intended).

According to Bell’s Director of Marketing, Azul Couzens, “Our intention with Star Pro was to eliminate the either/or choice cyclists have long been faced with when it comes to being faster or cooler. We believe we’ve delivered a truly game-changing (helmet) …”

The helmet provides riders with Overbrow Ventilation, multi-density Progressive Layering, and a Magnetic Zeiss Shield for integrated eyewear on select models (removable with different tints to come).

While competitive riders will appreciate the ability to become ‘aero’ with a simple slide of the switch, it actually might have just as much interest from the commuter/recreational crowd that wants to close off the helmet when the weather turns sour (think snow, rain, freezing temperatures, etc.). Estimated cost will be $280 with the Zeiss Shield and $240 without.   We’re really looking forward to testing the Star Pro in the near future when it becomes available to the public; you might have noticed some pro riders using prototypes in this year’s Tour de France.
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“Nutrition,” as always, was a popular category at Interbike –with the usual major players in the category like Cliff Bar and Power Bar maintaining a strong presence.   I use quotation marks for nutrition because many energy bars are nothing more than glorified candy bars.   But that didn’t stop more than a few ‘upstarts’ from trying to elbow their way into the multi-million dollar market with their own version of the ultimate sports bar, gel or drink (including women-specific offerings).   Waffle style ‘bars’ seemed to be the rage this year when it came to putting a new spin on energy replacement.   The ‘waffle’ category, of course, took off many years ago with Lance Armstrong gracing the cover of the Stinger brand.

It’s always fun to stumble across a booth with cool stuff – especially one that hadn’t been on my ‘must-visit’ list.   Nite Ize was one of those discoveries last year. This year they were celebrating their 25th anniversary.   Founded by Rick Case back in 1989, while an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, their first product was a headband for a mini flashlight – based on a fishing trip where holding the light in the mouth didn’t work out very well.   As I stepped into the booth this year, my initial quick look – like last year – turned into a half hour of browsing a range of innovative and useful products lining the walls, not all bike-specific.

With so many companies showing various mounting options for all of our high-tech toys, Nite Ize took a decidedly different approach to mounting a Smartphone to the bike with their “HandleBand Universal Smartphone Bar Mount” ($19.99) – a very simple and, surprisingly sturdy and easy design to mount your cell to the handlebars.   Made with lightweight expandable silicone and an aluminum base at its core, the single band securely wraps around nearly any sized bar (including strollers, shopping carts, etc.) and phone combination.

One of my favorite gadgets was their ‘Doohickey’ ($4.99), a small key-size wonder made of durable stainless steel that features a half-dozen tools that does everything from tighten bolts and screws to opening a bottle of your favorite brew (any product that includes a bottle opener ranks high with most cyclists that I know); it attaches to your key ring or strap.

Some of their other innovative offerings included: QuikStand ($9.99),which is a portable mobile device stand in brushed aluminum about the size of a business card (and a great accessory for “credit card” – lightweight – touring where your smartphone becomes your ‘laptop’ in the hotel); LED TwistLit lights – which can be purchased individually in 3 different colors ($8.99) or as a 2 pack red/white combo ($17.99) – that can be attached almost anywhere on the bike with reusable rubber twist ties; and the KeyRack Locker ($9.99),for those that need a bit more individual customization with their pocket full of keys.

 

key rack lockerniteize standniteize handlebar mountdoohickey

I’ve always said that Rolf wheels are the gold standard for any serious tandem team.   But company owner Brian Roddy told me that for 2014-15 they’ve gone platinum with their “industry leading alloy (tandem) wheels (that) incorporate the Delta Rim Technology used on our highest end (single) road wheels” – improving handling and stiffness ($1,099 disc).   They come in an axle length of 135 / 145 mm or – at a “small upcharge” – 160 ($1,179); both have a 20/24 spoke pattern (1885 grams).     For race day (or when you just have the best for that important event), you can opt for the Tandem Disc Carbon (disc brake, $2,399) with its all-carbon clincher rim.   The 24/24 spoke hoops, with 145mm rear spacing, come in at an impressive 1630 grams.   Both tandem wheel models use titanium freehubs.
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When it comes to carrying gear on your bike, I can always count on long-time industry veteran Guntram Jordan of KOKI to come up with the (soft) goods, so to speak.

The primary focus of the KOKI product line is finding creative and stylish ways to carry more gear on your tandem (or single) – whether for running errands around town, a lightweight touring gig, or a full-blown world adventure: urban bags, smartphone cases, seat bags, waterproof welded road panniers (“H20 Proof” bags), rack top bags, and a collection of handlebar bags for any need.

Guntram builds a bit of playful elegance into his gear with the use of recycled rice bags from Asia – actually polypropylene in a woven and laminated form – as their primary lining material (utilized virtually in the entire line-up). No two KOKI bags are the same as a result of using this tough and durable material that, by the way, has resulted in a thriving market for the recycled material.

Getting a lot of attention from dealers in their booth were the Fullback ($95) and Halfback ($75) rear packs – using an unique seatpost mount that can be attached to all seatposts – including carbon fiber models.  The Fullback, with top and bottom waterproof molded rubber, was a prominent choice for many cyclists on several of the weeklong ‘state’ events (like Cycle Oregon and RAGBRAI) our staff visited this year.

This pack includes a raincover, and ‘gear spider’ on the top lid for storing that extra rain jacket.   A nice touch, that shows attention to detail, is a top that doesn’t zip open into the seat – which makes for easier access to contents (8.5 liters at 610 gr).   The Halfback doesn’t have the side pockets of its bigger brother and comes in at 540 gr and a 5 liter capacity.

koki pack

 

Revelate Designs was one business that normally wouldn’t have been on my ‘must visit’ list except for the feedback of a few RTR staffers that spoke highly of their offerings – based on personal experience with the bag line.   Eric Parsons started producing bags using an industrial sewing machine in his basement apartment in Anchorage, Alaska in 2007. Revelate Designs (originally Epic Designs) quickly built an almost cult following with their high-end bikepacking gear designed for extreme applications (like the world-famous Iditarod Trail Invitational).   It didn’t take Eric long to give up his civil engineering job as demand grew.

Today Revelate remains a small Alaska-based business that sew and manufacture everything in Anchorage Alaska and Springfield Oregon, with as much domestically sourced materials as possible.The Ermine (7.1 oz, 6-12 liters) was the booth show-stopper; it’s a no holds bared, save-every-gram, racing seat pack – and it defines what the company is all about. It’s made of a blend of high performance materials including Dyneema / poly blend woven Cuben Fibre, racing sail cloth laminates and dual urethane coated ballistics. It substitutes stiff fabrics for the foam and plastics found in their other seat bags. At $175 it’s not cheap, and you better like white because that’s the only color it comes in.   The Pika (12.6 oz) is a less expensive seat pack option ($125) with the same capacity as the Ermine. Thankfully, it’s available in a multitude of colors.   One of our staff nabbed the Pika sample, and is hoping to put it through the paces with a few backcountry tours – we’ll review the results in a future issue.
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It was only a matter of time – after seeing the consumer demand for the Go Pro video sports cameras – that significant non-cycling industry giants like Sony and JVC would take note.    Even Garmin and Shimano have jumped into the sports video camera fray in the past two years.   Besides bringing the weight and bulk down (with more aero designs), all these new players also upped the quality and feature options while bringing price points down considerably.

However, if you own a smartphone – and who doesn’t these days? – there is another, more economical, option to recording your daily rides, bad driver behavior, or those epic vacation two-wheel adventures.    Velocity Clip touts their offering as the “world’s only universal smartphone action mount,” and includes a host of mounting accessories for almost any application.     As we played around with the sample in our offices, we also realized that with a few simple modifications, you could also use Velocity Clip (mounted in ‘reverse’) as a GPS monitor with Google map’s turn-by-turn directions – probably would have helped to read the manual first to figure this out!  The basic unit has a built-in tripod mount (fits any standard spec), angle adjustment, and  secure rubber grips which are adjustable for any smartphone (even those with protective cases).

Velocity Clip offers a host of accessories to keep your camera optimally located for video capture: chest mount ($29.95) , head mount ($19.95), bike mount ($19.95), suction cup mount for your car’s dash ($19.95); or extra adhesive mounts – 3 flat/ 3 curved ($19.95) – for general applications.    According to company reps, the stock mount has been “tested up to 150 mph, under water … as well as in jarring conditions that would see any conventional mount shaken loose”.
velocity mount

 

Having worn Bolle cycling sunglasses throughout much of the 80’s and 90’s during my more competitive days (as did superstars Miguel Indurain, Pedro Delgado, and Laurent Jalabert for those of you with a historical cycling bent), I was sorry to see the brand disappear from the cycling scene close to a decade ago.   For the past several years, Bolle has been renewing its cycling roots – including sponsorship in the pro ranks (powerhouse Orica GreenEdge among others).

It was a pleasant surprise to see Bolle at Vegas this year representing a full selection of technologically advanced eyewear designed specifically for the cycling market, including their ‘pro’ level 6th Sense and Breakaway models ($179.99 to $199.99).

The 6th Sense and Breakaway models are fitted with Bolle’s exclusive B-Clear lenses.   Made with ultra-lightweight Trivex material, these lenses provide visual clarity, impact resistance and are extremely lightweight.   Frame shapes are engineered for optimum aerodynamics, with hydrophobic and oleophobic coatings (protects from the rain and smudge marks).   Lenses, as is the industry standard these days, can be easily interchanged depending on weather conditions.
bolle

 

Two companies threw down challenges to RTR even before the show began.   The first challenge came from the folks at Swiftwick regarding their line of compression socks.   A month before the show, I received an invitation to stop by their booth.   I was upfront about being skeptical regarding the advantages of a compression sock.   But they assured me that’s o.k., come by and we’ll explain the benefits.   Besides, if the socks are good enough for the pro ranks (teams like 5-Hour Energy and United Healthcare have been wearing Swiftwick for years) maybe there is something to the concept.

Marketing Communications Coordinator Kathryn McKinley explained that the socks were originally designed and tested in the demanding sport of cycling where a cheap sock was “unacceptable”.   Over the years, the Swiftwick brand has grown to include almost any sport or activity you can imagine.   Now they even produce gear for amputees.

While far from scientific, I took Swiftwick up on their offer to try the world’s first sock to qualify for a Medical Class II designation.   And what better ‘testing’ ground than several days of walking miles of rock hard aisles that make up Interbike; particularly brutal for many of us more comfortable riding 50 or 100 miles on the bike than taking a hard pounding on the unforgiving floor of Manadalay Bay.

Their medical socks, according to reps, are beneficial for tired and aching legs, leg discomfort, mild to moderate swelling, poor circulation and mild varicose veins. I don’t have varicose veins but as for tired and aching legs, that’s a Vegas show given – just ask any vendor standing in a booth all day or a shop owner doing the same as me walking the aisles.   The Medical Health+ version would be a great option for long distance travelers – or anyone looking for a knee-high medical compression sock for that matter – at an economical price point ($24.99); this sock can help to prevent edema and Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).   For athletes, Swiftwick introduced the world’s first Medical Class II athletic recovery sock, Medical Recovery+, made with REPREVE®; saying it was “perfect for athletes of all abilities, (and) this graduated compression sock is proven to bring your body back to optimal health after exercise”.   ($69.99)

Their ASPIRE line is thin, light and offers serious runners and cyclists a minimalist feel to their compression sock, yet still perfect for athletes of any sport. ($17.99)   At the same price point, and if you want that ‘racing’ look, they offer the VISION FIVE that several of their sponsored pro teams wear. The PULSE line is the thinnest Swiftwick sock and incorporates a patented antimicrobial silver-ion bonding process that helps to eliminate odor-causing bacteria; while the PURSUIT line is the world’s first 200 needle compression sock made from all-natural Merino Wool, sourced from farmers in the U.S.

And like the ASPIRE and PULSE lines, linked-toe technology prevents blisters in all three of these ‘cycling’ lines by eliminating bunching in the toe-box (and all are under $20). Combined with the managed compression, they support all 3 arches in the foot, making for a no-hotspot, blister-free sock.   And, yes, after several days of show ‘abuse’, their medical socks made a difference.   Really.   In the next few months, our staff will be giving the cycling line a workout on the road.
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The second ‘challenge’ I faced came from Yurbuds, claiming their earbuds, with patented twist lock technology, would be the most incredibly comfortable headphones I had ever worn. Not only did they guarantee me a secure fit, they promised that the ear pieces wouldn’t fall out of my ear under vigorous activities (like mountain biking).

Athletes have several specific requirements for any headphones they might choose for their workouts (besides sound quality of course): comfort, durability (especially when it comes to heavy sweat and changing weather conditions), and a snug fit while still allowing ambient sound through so you don’t lose awareness of your environment.    It’s obvious that Yurbuds developed their extensive line with input from athletes – and a focus towards these special needs.

Two consistent features are prominent through their entire line: an earpiece that is ultra-soft and designed to match the contours of the ear, with twist lock technology; and QuikClik magnet technology (which helps to get the earpieces from getting tangled up by using powerful magnets in each earpiece that allows them to ‘stick’ together when not in use).

The sample I was given to check out, the ‘300’ Inspire series, came with two sizes of rubber ear pieces for the best fit, and was designed for active athletes like cyclists.   The Inspire 300 ($39.99) did indeed live up to its claims on several fronts: they were very comfortable while still providing a snug fit under active use. When connected with a smartphone, there is a one button microphone that operates the play, pause, or track control; and allows easy connection (or hanging up) with incoming phone calls – depending on model of smartphone and Yurbud.

Yurbud’s full range of earbuds includes models for women, wireless models, and behind-the-ear versions; ranging from $19.99 to $99.99
yurbuds

The Bad

Interbike is a mixture of innovative product introduction by both big and small companies, mainstream bike biz stuff that every IBD needs to stock, and more than a few products that leave you scratching your head in bewilderment wondering who the target customer might be – or if there is even a market. It’s this last category that can actually provide weary show attendees (and media) with some cheap entertainment.

One such product was the Zackees Turn Signal Gloves.   Just wrong on so many levels. Where to begin?   How about an expensive $75 price tag (that’s with pre-orders, so I’m not sure if they plan to increase the price later).   Then there is the need to remove batteries after each ride when you have to wash them.   Do riders really need a lighted glove that might actually confuse drivers – especially if you already have good headlights and taillights, and generally use common sense when signaling your intentions to drivers?

The company was offering a somewhat expensive battery charger option if you didn’t want to purchase special disposable batteries.   I didn’t find the gloves particularly comfortable and they didn’t look very durable.   Dealers and riders that I informally polled at Vegas, after showing them the sample turn signal gloves, saw little upside to the product or viable real-life benefits; with the majority giving it the ‘thumbs down’ award for the show.   Far better lighting bicycle lighting concepts were being offered at the show than this $75-plus dud.
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I couldn’t let any Vegas coverage go without mentioning the proliferation of electric bikes for 2014 – including a very sexy Specialized $6,000 version that is selling well here in the states.   But the whole subject of motorized bikes – especially trail use issues with fat tire versions – has become a hot topic for industry veterans (to say nothing of consumer response).   At the Outdoor Demo held on Monday and Tuesday before the actual indoor show began Wednesday at Mandalay Bay, battery-powered mountain bikes had a relatively huge presence compared to previous years.

Jim Felt (yes, that Felt) even came to the Outdoor Demo with a camouflaged motorized mountain bike with racks and a trailer (used for his other passion of hunting).   More than a few dealers I talked to weren’t particularly enthusiastic about motorized bikes taking hunters with guns further into the remote backcountry areas, and didn’t have plans to sell the category.   Sentiment runs the full gamut on the topic of motorized bikes, especially when used off-road.   Recently, the Mecca of mountain biking, Moab (Utah), banned motorized bikes from many popular riding trails; a trend sure to continue across the country. On the other side of the issue, there are plenty of solid arguments for what electric-assist bicycles might be able to do for rethinking alternative transportation options.

The Ugly

There are days – seasons really – when riding a bicycle gets downright ugly.  Literally.       For those that don’t want to be held captive by Mother Nature, a ‘new’ old face at Vegas was offering solutions to make those bleak weather days a lot more palatable.

Many years ago, I had experimented with Sealskinz’s ‘all weather’ socks while living in Eugene, Oregon – where cyclists know how to do wet and cold winters.   Unfortunately, my previous experience with the Sealskinz socks wasn’t spectacular, so I was curious to stop by their booth to see what – if anything – had changed with this company based out of Great Britain (where, by the way, they also know how to do wet and cold conditions year round!).

I quickly found that dramatic changes had taken place in their product offerings, design, and materials over the past decade. In fact, so much has changed that there is no way we could cover the full line here.   The ‘new’ Sealskinz product line focuses on the areas that most hard-core riders find the most challenging to keep dry and comfortable when summer ends: feet, hands and head.

At the heart of the majority of their gear is a patented StretchDry technology.   This is huge feature when it comes to comfort, and long hours in the saddle; allowing them to produce products which are not only waterproof and breathable but also fit close to your body.   They call this Aqua Dynamic Design. A great example of their obsession to detail is their knitted sock and glove products where EACH single piece is tested for waterproofness.

Available in a range of lengths and thicknesses, they have an ADD sock to meet every possible riding scenario – all with Merino wool.     Thin Socklet , Thin Ankle Sock, Thin Mid-Length Sock … all the way up to a Mid-Weight Knee-Length sock ($38-$58).   The ADD technology is also used in their waterproof Cycle Over Sock ($55), a compact and lightweight shoe cover (great for dry dusty conditions as well) that’s easy to store in the back of a jersey pocket.  New for 2015 are the HALO Oversocks with a repositioned zipper and a LED light that’s been added to the heel – with an easy to access, battery-operated light.   MSRP is set for $70, and should be available in December.

For wet weather, Sealskinz has the Ultra Grip Gauntlet gloves with ADD features (with Merino wool lining) which will help you stay comfortable even through a Pacific Northwest soggy winter.   The dotted palm and fingers offer excellent grip, even when wet, and a new (2015) cuff provides better protection. ($50)

The Handle Bar Mitten (“Lobster Claw” design) was created for cycling in the most unforgiving conditions with Primaloft insulation for extra warmth ($70); a nice touch is the fleece wiper on the thumb (if you’ve ridden in the cold, you know how handy this wiper comes in!).   There is even a glove for winter use that is smartphone friendly: the Men’s and Women’s Winter Cycle Glove. The women’s model comes with a slimmer fit around the wrist and palm, with a longer finger profile. ($65)    I’ve only scratched the surface with the selection here – which also includes models for kids, equestrian and hunting use.   It’s easy to see why Sealskinz is now the go-to gear for riders residing in areas where winter is not kind to the unprepared.   I’m glad that I took the time to visit their booth for an updated look at their line (I just wish some of this sophisticated gear had been around when I lived in Oregon years ago).
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Vegas isn’t my favorite bike town for a number of reasons.   The irony of holding a convention dedicated to all things two wheels in this city isn’t lost on those on the more passionate end of the industry spectrum.   It’s easy to take a few cheap shots with the city’s demographics: exercise programs consist of getting up from the dinner table to hit the buffet table for a second serving, smoking is still acceptable in most public areas, drinking and gambling to excess are the norm – even somewhat expected behavior, and cycling can be a contact sport with the local drivers.

However, Vegas is making some impressive changes to its bike culture, including trying to promote bicycles as a viable alternative transportation choice.   Las Vegas can now brag about having more bike lanes than cycling’s All-American bike city of Portland.     Now that’s the kind of change that is truly good for those of us in the bike biz that actually get out and use our sport’s gear, and for one journalist, the most important bike accessory of all.

Rob’s involvement in the cycling community spans more than four decades, ranging from the somewhat traditional (a partner of Burley Design Cooperative for 12 years) to the extreme (four-time Race Across America competitor, where in his last attempt he finished second to Austrian Olympian Franz Spileaur). He holds a number of long-distance records with tandem partner Pete Penseyres, and has earned a few National Championship jerseys along the way.   Rob has provided editorial contributions to every major cycling publication over the past 40 years, and also owns/operates a bicycle touring business that travels to exotic destinations across the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2009 Vegas Interbike

“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.

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 …

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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).