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Interbike Confidential 2007

It would be too easy to say Interbike has become irrelevant. The signs are all there, of course, that North America’s one-and-only trade show has outlived its usefulness to the bike industry. The European equivalent to Interbike -- Eurobike -- takes place a full month beforehand. All the North American industry A-players make the trip to Freidrichshafen, and cyclingnews.com and velonews.com do a superb job in covering the new product releases there. So, in short, nothing at Interbike is ever new anymore: Everyone has either seen it in person or online already. And, to boot, the industry as a whole is showing greater resistance to the traditional model year cycle of October-September. Rather, when cool stuff is ready for the world, it’s in the bike shop showroom (think Pinarello Prince Carbon and Trek Madone and Oakley Radar) or at least all over the press (think SRAM Red) long before trade show season.

Could we live without Interbike? Yeah, probably so, though we’ll admit that from a social networking perspective it still serves a useful business purpose. And we can always hold out hope that the show will move to place less disorienting and generally stupid as the Las Vegas strip. An authentically cool destination might make attending seem more appealing and (through an act of indefensible rationalization) unmissable. Some folks recommend Denver. Others say San Francisco. But I vote for the locale suggested by a great customer this week: Cuba. Not unlike Vegas it’s a resort, but unlike Vegas its exoticism appeals to our senses. Mojitos; the sound of the ocean; sumptuously dark women. Is Castro dead yet?

In years past we used our Interbike Confidential report here at Competitive Cyclist to provide you with an exhaustive overview of what we saw and what industry trends appear to be emerging. If that’s what interests you most, we suggest a visit to cyclingnews.com. Their coverage is more comprehensive than ever before, and it’s deadly accurate. We’d be fools to try to better it here. Rather, 2007 demands a different approach to our Interbike report. A postcard would be too short, but a full-blown feature isn’t warranted. How about this? 8 postcards. It seems like the perfect amount of space to convey the authentic Interbike experience --

Postcard #1: H-O-T Gossip

It’s been a few years since we’ve heard news with the sort of far-reaching impact as the impending acquisition of Zipp by SRAM. Clearly, both sides are stoked about the possibilities and Shimano people (for the first time ever?) seem damn nervous. Think about it: Shimano has still proven themselves to be incapable or unwilling to produce attractive high-end wheelsets and attractive carbon cranksets. For 2008 Zipp has killed it with both. To put these weapons right into SRAM’s arsenal makes them a frightful force. That being said, of course, some people familiar with real-world M&A transactions mentioned to us how odd it was that nothing was announced beyond a letter of intent between SRAM and Zipp. Such letters, we’re told, rarely see the light of day, much less get shouted from the mountaintop like this one has. We hope the deal goes through since the acute competition will give the world better componentry at better prices. But might this announcement be -- by normal M&A standards -- a bit pre-mature?

SRAM/Zipp, aside, though, that’s not even the juiciest piece of gossip. Rather, what blew us away was the chatter of Pacific Cycle buying Cannondale. Perhaps you’ve never even heard of Pacific. They own Schwinn, GT, and Mongoose. Rumor is that they’re buying Cannondale, shutting down the US factory and turning it into a warehouse, and shifting the production of America’s best big bike manufacturing company to Asia. It gives Pacific a high-end performance offering in their portfolio of generally dumbed-down (albeit highly recognized & profitable) brands. Sounds like a smart strategic move to us, though it’s sad to see America’s final sizeable maker of bikes go offshore.

Postcard #2: H-O-T Bike

Cervelo R3What new bike sighting thrilled us the most? The florescent orange Pinarello Prince Carbon was allllllmost it. Pinarello blew away the show with its display of 6 or 8 different versions of the Prince. But, for us, the Prince finishes runner up behind the new color of the Cervélo R3. It was a gutsy move by Cervélo to change the color of the R3 at the height of its popularity. After all, Cervélo doesn’t always hit home runs with their color palette (the Blue/Black P2 Carbon of 2006 and the Anodized Grey Soloist Team of 2007 both come to mind as ill-advised choices). But the White/Black combo of the 2008 R3 will astound you. It’s not even a combo, really. It’s just White with Black decals, and it’s the perfect counterpoint to the Black with White decal design of the R3 SL. And, unlike the rich, complex beauty of, say, a Colnago Extreme Power, the new R3 has an uncomplicated purity to it. The model shown at Interbike had a standard clear-coated Cervélo Wolf SL fork. But we were told that the production forks will be painted White to match. It was knee-knocking gorgeous. And given that we’ll tell anyone who asks that the Cervélo R3 is the best value in a race bike (if not the best bike regardless of price), its newly heightened beauty makes it that much more tempting to own.

Postcard #3: 2009

Forget about 2008. Here’s the impending reality that we can’t shake: It’s an absolute lock for 2009 that Shimano will release electronic Dura-Ace. According to a contact at Shimano, it’s better than you could ever imagine, including (if I really heard my source correctly) a self-trimming front derailleur. If fly-by-wire is good enough for airplanes, I guess it’ll have to be good enough for bicycles, too. Here’s to hoping that Shimano will allocate no small resources to provide service departments with some really good tech training. The nice folks over at Rivendell will doubtlessly see a massive spike in membership if Shimano doesn’t make field training (not their strong suit) a top priority.

Postcard #4: 2008

Of all the intriguing stuff forthcoming in 2008, nothing tantalizes us as much as Assos’ new bib short line. The general hierarchy remains the same -- you’ll see FI.13, FI.Mille, and FI.Uno, just like you do now -- but the entire garment in each case has been completely revamped. The new line of bibs is known as the S-5, and you’ll see new lycra, a new pad, a new chamois, and new straps on each S-5 model. Prices go up dramatically, but the quality of the pieces we saw was breathtaking. They’ll range in price from $165-$305, but not unlike what we saw from Assos with their jerseys this season, the technological advancement between old and new will impress you. We hope to see them around March 2008.

Assos S-5 bib shortTwo pieces of trivia about the S-5 we dig: Firstly, each short will come with small jars of Chamois Cream and Active Wear Cleanser. Secondly, you’ll note that Assos uses a soothing baby blue color straight outta Tiffany in the all-new chamois, in the webbing between the bib straps, and in the packaging of the short itself. Assos calls this color klinik, which at first glance seems to be one of those made-up pharmaceutical industry words, until we meditated on things (the word and the color itself) and it made us think of Clinique -- the cosmetic stuff used back in the day by Mom. And don’t worry if you don’t dig the color. You can’t see the klinik webbing under your jersey anyways…

Postcard #5: Yo weight weenies, dig this

Speedplay Nanogram pedalInterbike is a flea market of jaw-droppingly lightweight goodies, but none in 2007 seemed quite as cool as the Speedplay Nanogram pedal. It’s built on their Zero platform, but it weighs a full 25% lighter than a set of Zero Ti pedals. A Zero Ti pedal/cleat combo is 282g. A Nanogram is 214g(!) The base plate and cleat spring housings are carbon fiber. The pedal body bow-tie is alloy instead of steel. And all the fasteners get lightened to either alloy or Ti. And they get ceramic hybrid cartridge bearings. They’ll cost $625, and to Speedplay’s credit they state that they aren’t ideal as an everyday pedal since the alloy bowtie will wear out more quickly than the steel bowtie of the Zero. You get the normal 1-year Speedplay warranty, but keep in mind that normal wear & tear isn’t covered by warranty. The Nanogram should be available before year’s end.

And a side note on Speedplay: The Zero Ti and Stainless pedals will be available in White effective immediately.

Postcard #6: Say hello to my little friend

If there’s one thing you can count on at Interbike, it’s that a gaggle of pros and Pro stuff will line the aisles. We were chatting with our Cervélo sales rep when we accidentally bumped into Stuart O’Grady. We saw Magnus Backstedt milling around for the better part of 2 days just like another bike shop dude. And -- if we recall correctly -- it was last year that we were introduced to Levi Leipheimer in a Venetian bathroom. (It’d be cute to say he’s jockey-sized in more ways than one, but we were introduced to him at a sink not a urinal…) Henk Vogels, Saul Raisin, Steve Bauer, etc, etc, etc. And especially given that there’s a decent purse criterium now associated with Interbike, the minor league domestic grunts were in full force. There are enough pros running around, in fact, that it totally doesn’t seem as cool as it should, and rather it’s the subtle Pro stuff that electrifies instead.

To wit:

At the Cervélo booth Stuey’s Paris-Roubaix-winning R3 was on display, as was Fabian Cancellara’s ’06 Paris-Roubaix winning R3. We don’t know what you’ve gotta have in your DNA to set out to win l’enfer du nord and then successfully pull it off, but we’re taking notes since SURELY there are lessons for life in general to be had there. We’re not certain how to interpret Cancellara’s bike, but it had details there that told a deep truth. Instead of the perfunctory ‘F. Cancellara’ sticker on the top tube, there was ‘Tony M.’. And on the top tube was a decal of a yellow blimp reading ‘The World is Your’s’. Yes, the translation from his Swiss-German to English had a typo, but it told us one simple thing: Forget about watching La Course en Tete for race-day inspiration. Instead, make a habit of popping in a copy of Scarface and wear the grooves out. If our hero Fabian makes a hero out of a coked-out Tony Montana, what does it say about us? Please, don’t tell us. We probably don’t want to know.

By the way, if you’ve never seen Scarface, you can feel free to leave Netflix alone and just visit this page instead. It’s the Cliff Notes version, and it’ll get you as close to the mysterious world of Signor Cancellara as you probably need to get.

Postcard #7: Welcome to our strategic inner chamber

Two thoughts here to share on impending changes at Competitive Cyclist:

(a) We admire women. We admire them in their clothes. We admire them out of their clothes. Interestingly, though, we typically don’t make a point of admiring their clothes alone. But we couldn’t keep our eyes off the rack of new Assos ns.13 women’s jerseys, the Giordana Forma women’s collection, and pretty much anything made by Shebeest. We’ve always had a thing for Sidi’s high-end women’s road shoes -- you see delicious things there in glossy white and pale pink you never get as a man. Likewise, the colors and cut of some of the women’s clothing we saw astonished us. It was beautiful stuff -- honest-to-God more interesting and appealing than almost all the men’s stuff. We don’t sell any women’s clothes now because women never scare us more than when they’re shopping. But the quality of what we saw was so remarkable, we might have to give selling it a focused shot. Hey Title Nine, tell us this: For every Scarface YouTube clip we show on the site, do we need to add a clip from Notting Hill? Even if that’s what we’ve gotta do, expect to see this change from us sooner than later.

(b) We don’t sell Reynolds wheels, but we probably should. They offer a couple of rim depths in their $1,200 Attack all-carbon clincher, and we didn’t see another wheelset at Interbike that matched it. Sure, Campy and Lightweight at DT have nice carbon clincher options at $3,800+. But getting the mix of lightness, aerodynamics, convenience, and cost offered by Reynolds is a game changer when it comes to the supra-Ksyrium wheelset marketplace. It’s an especially important issue in our minds because the new $1,300 Mavic R-Sys -- while nice in terms of beauty and general ride quality -- has thick, round spokes surely soon to be proven in the wind tunnel to have the aerodynamics of a hippopotamus. Companies like Cervélo and Zipp have preached the virtue of low drag for years, and they’ve earned themselves a massive audience since their data is so stunning. We fear a grassroots backlash against the R-Sys when the aero truth gets revealed. No company stands to gain more than Reynolds since in comparison to the R-Sys the Attack offers weight savings, substantially superior aerodynamics, and an easier-to-digest price. Expect to see Reynolds here really soon.

Postcard #8: The undisputed highlight of the show

The Scene: Walking with my co-workers down the main lobby at the Venetian en route to a dinner meeting. Dolled up women and crisply-attired men abound. A foursome stands out remarkably. We swear to you, they were glowing. It’s an aging-though-bemuscled Marcus Allen cruising past with three women in tow, each longingly wrapped to a part of his arm, each way too young to have ever heard of Al Cowling.

The Conversation:

‘That’s Marcus Allen’, says Brendan.

‘Who’s that?’ says Craig.

‘Football player’ says Brendan, ‘Raiders then Chiefs I think’.

‘Oh,’ says Craig.

‘You know his nickname?’ says Brendan.

‘Um, no’ says Craig.

‘Driftwood’ says Brendan.

‘Driftwood?’ Craig says. ‘Why’s that?’

‘Let me explain’ says Brendan. And explaining it is the highlight of Interbike. We fucking hate this city. We hate this show. Can we get home to Little Rock so we can go for a ride?