What has and has not changed at Interbike
I just got back from the annual bacchanal of the bike industry, the North American bicycle trade show, Interbike. I always have mixed feelings about the event: it’s not about the bike for me, but about the social change we can make with the bike.
I’ve been going for about 20 years and thought I would share some observations. Here are 3 things that have changed and 3 things that haven’t in that time.
1. Not changed: Industry leaders’ generosity. When I first went, I was soliciting product donations for the winter auction of the fledgling San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Most people I talked to were willing to give something because they supported the cause, even if they doubted the benefit to their bottom line. That remains the case.
2. Changed: the industry’s understanding of the potential profits in bicycle transportation. What has changed is that a large number of industry leaders have come to see that bicycle-friendly communities actually result in more bike sales, and therefore more profits. It’s easier to make the business case for support. Trek, SRAM, and the industry coalition People for Bikes, for example, support CalBike with $10,000 annual grants as a business investment. Like any smart industry, they know they have to play the game in the state capital.
3. Not changed: Las Vegas’s inhospitably to bicycling. I rode my bike every day about 4 miles from my hotel to the convention center and back and was honked at – at least three times. The lanes were narrow and traffic was fast. I found myself choosing the sidewalk over the street, something I almost never do. To be fair, none of my riding was in the proper city of Las Vegas but outside its jurisdiction. Clark County sucks for bicycling.
4. Changed: the number of people who actually bike to Interbike. Unlike the first year when I went, when I was a freak for biking to the event (a bike show!), this year there were hundreds of bikes parked in the bike lockup area. I think it’s a sign that the retailers who attend more and more are employing staff who rely on bikes for their transportation in their home cities and still prefer to rely on bikes wherever they go. That’s a good sign.
5. Not changed: there’s always some “latest shiny thing.” Every year the place is full of shiny gadgets and there always seems to be something new and exciting that will change the market. They’re not that new. This year I saw more 29ers than ever before. Are they a fad or a trend? Only time will tell.
6. Changed: the “urban market is here to stay.” The urban bike market is established. The first year I went there was not a single bike on display equipped with fenders, lights or racks. This year, there was a whole “urban section” with a dozen companies supplying those kinds of bikes. Hats off to Joe Breeze for being a trailblazer in that market and thanks to Electra, Public and Nirve for your support of CalBike!
My own agenda at the show was to connect with advocates and industry leaders and scheme on working together to strengthen our movement. Thanks Tim Blumenthal, Randy Neufeld, Carolyn Szepanski, Caron Whitaker and Jakob Wolf-Barnett for taking the time do some of that scheming with me. See you soon!