Interbike has fallen off our Singletrack Towers calendar of late, as the lack of new product, declining attendance and cost of being there just didn’t stack up for a UK based publication. However, this year there was a new venue, and the offer of a roving reporter in the form of Fahzure, writer of this Red Bull Rampage article. So we sent him along to find out whether we should be giving this trade show a bit more attention…
Interbike, the annual North American bicycle industry gathering, has seen a sudden shift this year with relocation from Las Vegas to Reno, Nevada. The towns couldn’t be more different in size and feel, something reflected precisely in the halving in attendance, lack of sideshows and consumer demo days Northstar resort. The more than 15 year run for the show in Vegas featured cheap flights and lodging, your choice of a huge number of great food choices and dozens of options for questionable behavior, including strip clubs, machine gun ranges, on-the-spot plastic surgery and go-kart racing. The outdoor demo was usually a battle of survival as temperatures frequently hovered around 35*C and the riding was largely on the karsty gnar of the nearly vegetation free Bootleg MTB trails. As an industry only event, the two-day outdoor demo, preceding the indoor show, had a fairly raw feel: beers were regularly cracked before noon; the demo process was informal; there were always proto/freak bikes and people. The “down to business” indoor show had a similar looseness with a broad array of companies, non-profits and media there for, what often seemed, quasi-business purpose (due in some respects to the timing of the Show relative to most product launches, which had happened a couple months prior), often enhanced (?) by liberal schwag, scantily-clad hired booth talent, people in costume, celebrities and celebrity imposters, giving the whole event a sort of carnival air.
Things started to change at Interbike about five years ago as Specialized, Giant and other bike manufacturers pulled out of, or greatly reduced, their presence outdoors and in at the Show, eschewing the event for their own, private affairs where dealers were a captive audience. Last year’s Show in Vegas made it clear a major revamp was clearly in order, booth sales were down, with much of it seemingly sold at a discount to Chinese companies offering a variety of barely rideable one-wheeled things and with the outdoor demo featuring only Pivot as a leading MTB maker whose bikes you could ride. While the situation for Pivot didn’t change much this year (and I imagine they hope not…they were absolutely slammed with customers) with only a handful of other smaller makers, like Haro, present, the Reno demo event had a much more purposeful feel, something reflected in this year’s Show generally. While I certainly miss the Surly tent with squirt guns, that would have felt out of place during the consumer demo days which preceded the industry exclusive portion of this year’s Show, though the trails and venue at Northstar, in spite of the dust, offered alpine riding with a broad range of great and difficult options, without the cheese grater rock threat of Bootleg.
That silliness and quasi-purpose was really nowhere to be found, indoors or out this year. Rather, in Reno, it seemed that business was front and center as these loyalists were doubling down their bets on something that seemed to offer uncertain return in the past. While there wasn’t much frivolity at the Show, there was a generally upbeat atmosphere brought on by seeing old friends and a healthy business and economic climate. Interbike was certainly replete with healthy small to mid-cap market players and it seemed obvious to more than a few of us that an alliance with micro-small cap North American Handmade Bicycle Show could work out well for everyone. That localism might also raise the spirits a bit, especially through side and after-hours activities and events (Interbike-old-timers may remember CX Vegas, Underbike and the Pinball Hall of Fame) as well as the inclusion of more cycling non-profits and related groups, who were nearly non-existent at this year’s event.
Could Interbike, like NAHBS, go on the road moving the carnival to highlight regional players? That seems unlikely due to the types of venues able to accommodate the demo and show, but if Reno can, maybe Bentonville (already hosts to Outerbike and the IMBA world summit) could be host, too. Which really raises the core issue, economics, which is likely to the most constraining factor for the Show’s growth, sustainability and location, especially as, in contrast, Vegas was clearly a less expensive option for almost all attendees. Maximizing diverse attendance should really be the Show’s core purpose so as to sustain its vitality and relevance even with the loss of the big players. Economics, accessibility, affordable lodging, great trails with lifts, convention center big enough, good food options…factoring in all of that, Salt Lake City seems like a reasonable alternative to Reno. Hmmm. See you next year, Interbike, I love you.
Be sure to check out our Instagram story for more of what Fahzure spotted while there, plus this feature on the things he thinks we should want. Or are they just the things he wants?