Are We Blinded By Bling?

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This year marked my first trip to Eurobike, the enormous trade show at which all parts of the bike industry converge on the small German town of Friedrichshafen. In three days I took notes on products from 32 different brands, plus spoke to many more. As a team of four, we published more than 40 stories, plus live videos, pre-recorded videos, and took many, many photographs. We hunted out the newest inventions, the latest products, and the strangest sights. But I can’t help feeling we missed out the most important stuff.

Yes, we’re a mountain bike magazine, so naturally we focus on those products. And weird tech that may or may not give a glimpse into the future is interesting, if not yet practical. It’s easy to roll your eyes as you’re shown yet another bike with a battery strapped to it, or walk past a stand which specialises in just the elastic that holds your bib shorts up. But there are lots of stands that barely register, our irrelevance filter is on, and we walk straight by in search of more gears, lighter carbon, or plusher travel. Come with me as we head into the show…

Some things are easy to poke fun at.
Bet this is great on rough surfaces.

Right next to the stairs to the press room are a number of different tricycles. Most have baskets, some have e-assist, and there are no curious crowds milling round them. But for the people these are designed for – people with mobility problems or lack of balance, these bikes could well spell the difference between dependence and independence, isolation and integration, access and exclusion. I’m just as guilty as everyone else of walking past – I don’t even have a picture, having been distracted by some neighbouring novelty folding bikes.

For when the family planning doesn’t work out.

Outside in the demo area there are bikes for carrying people in twos, threes and fours. Bikes with great big platform areas for lugging loads, bikes with boxes, bikes for families with more children than will fit in a Vauxhall Zafira. These are practical bikes that to British eyes have an air of the hipster about them. Practical only if you have a segregated bike lane to cruise along, plus a large garden or garage to store your oversized beast of a bike in – and who in the UK can claim to have both of them? These are bikes for those absolutely determined not to use a car unless absolutely necessary, they’re political statements, a subversive status symbol: the opposite of a Chelsea Tractor.

The Buffalo Bike, not sexy, but important.

In one of the main halls is the SRAM stand. There are shiny bikes, and pro bikes, and Eagle cassettes. I think there was a juice bar. And then there’s what might well be the most important bike in the entire show: a step through steel bike with integrated rear rack, a kick stand, and 26in wheels. This is the Buffalo Bike, in the World Bicycle Relief corner of the SRAM stand. It’s not even the latest model – it’s decided that there’s no need to spend valuable money on having the newest version sat on display here, instead of out in the field, being used by a girl to get an education which might just pull her entire family out of poverty.

These bikes do not have all the bells and whistles – well, OK, they probably do have bells, and reflectors, and maybe even mirrors – of the high end bikes that the cycling media is looking for. They’re not tested in wind tunnels, or made with carefully laid weight and epoxy saving weaves. There’s no pro-team spec, or commemorative race winning paint job. Superficially, there’s no a lot to get excited about.

So many important choices to be made.
It’s easy to want things we don’t need.

Indeed, we gave more coverage to tat and outright consumerist nonsense than we did to these bikes. It’s easy to boggle over bikes which it’s hard to see have any purpose in the real world – who invested their savings in a bouncy, folding, height-adjustable, e-monstrosity? How much of a statement does someone need to make about how interesting they are to need wheels made of rope, or a bike that looks like a wartime motorbike? And shoes – glitter shoes, novelty shoes, carbon shoes, grippy shoes and disco slippers. Yes, there’s a curiosity factor here, and as fans of all things bike, it’s easy pickings.

However, as a fan of all things bike, I feel I might have failed to cover the things that are the most important. Mountain bikes are fun but they’re not affecting an individual’s ability to get about their daily lives. The bikes I have walked by are the ones which have the ability to change the environment around us, the society we live in, and to change lives. The things I’ve written about are little more than toys; these bikes are tools.

Or do I underestimate the power of the mountain bike? They can surely change the lives of the individuals who ride them, bringing fitness, headspace, friends, confidence, escape. Play keeps us young, and sane. Maybe that is enough. Perhaps fun is something I should value more – and can value more by taking a moment to appreciate the machines that are the real life changers.

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