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2008 Interbike Confidential

– Las Vegas is a city where nuance in any form is hunted down and eliminated execution-style. Perma-excess is the brand. Here at the Venetian Resort — home of the Interbike trade show — the Venice theme delivers not art, but four-story McFrescoes. Not elegance, but a numbing ocean of Sherwin Williams ‘Gusto Gold’ thinly painted near the floor and the ceilings; on the trim and the moldings. The bike industry has made threats in the past to re-locate & revamp our annual tradeshow so the profit drives advocacy & access instead of lining casino mogul pockets. But inertia and fear of the unknown have won the day. It’s four more years here in Vegas.

We truly detest the scene, but nonetheless our goal here at Competitive Cyclist is to point out things that the cycling ‘media’ might miss. It’s called best practices, not plagiarism, when you transcribe press releases word-for-word as a cycling industry ‘feature story’. By contrast, our goal with our What’s New section is to provoke thought & discussion, and unlike the bike biz’s fourth estate, occasionally ask the question ‘Why?’

– The majority of the big-gun manufacturers did their ’09 product line unveilings either in the weeks leading up to the Tour de France or at the Eurobike trade show in early September. So Interbike was a bit bereft in pyrotechnic launches. The one exception was Cervélo. They showed off ’09 bike line in full at Eurobike with only one question mark — that of the much-rumored P4 time trial frame. The ‘net buzzed with speculation about its existence, but no P4 was present at Eurobike. And as far as that speculation went, it centered around one question only: Is there a P4? No one delved into hypotheticals about engineering details. Rather, all you saw were discussions that centered on its mere existence.

Cervélo chose to unveil the P4 15 minutes into the 1st day of Interbike. We describe its technical specifics elsewhere on Competitive Cyclist. Rather, what you need to know is the size of the sharp-elbowed stampede that thundered to the Cervélo booth at the show’s opening. The ‘P in P4 must stand for paparazzi. Unless you sprinted to the booth, you needed binoculars to catch a glimpse. It was bedlam. Flashbulbs went bizarro as a thousand iPhones simultaneously beamed shaky images of the bike all across the globe. It was the bike everyone’s coveted all year, but no one had ever seen. The scene was surreal — a bike played the role of rock star.

What amazes us, though, is this: We’ve known full details of the P4 since July. So has the entire Cervélo dealer base. Not only was the dealer network fully briefed on it 60 days ago, but every Cervélo dealer placed their entire P4 order for 2009 at the end of August. The order book for the P4 long ago closed. Before being provided details on the P4, dealers had to sign an NDA. The act of signing the NDA wasn’t a big deal. What amazes us, though, is that the dealers were seemingly universal in their silence over the last 2 months. Imagine telling 250 groups of people something of such juicy intrigue, and asking them to keep silent about it — and then none of the 250 ended up spilling the beans. En masse silence like that seems like an impossibility. To us, it was like a psychology experiment that gave totally unexpected results. The drama of the production put on by Cervélo at the Interbike unveiling was possible — in no small part — thanks to the discipline of the dealers. Every day that went by over the last 2 months when I didn’t see details of the P4 on the ‘net, it was another day of amazement. So, anyway, props to Cervélo on the engineering of the P4. And props to our fellow Cervélo dealers for maintaining radio silence.

– We’ve started to see a trickle here of Shimano Dura Ace 7900, and we’re hopeful we’ll see the electronic components by January. Lots of folks got their maiden voyage on 7900 at the ‘Dirt Demo’ sessions in the days prior to the show. What stunned us was the underwhelming reaction of the people who rode it. It’s not that 7900 isn’t light, precise, superb componentry. But, rather, except for the change in the STI lever hood shape (which is, in fact, a big deal), few remarked on any noted improvement in shifting or braking quality. Except for its STI ergonomics, Dura Ace 7800 is phenomenal stuff. With 7900, we wonder whether Shimano took a huge leap forward or not in re-defining what ‘amazing’ means.

The feelings we heard expressed weren’t negative. Rather, there was a widespread feeling of ambivalence, i.e. ‘I’ll need to try it again’ — a ‘wait and see’ type of commentary. This tentative take on 7900 marginalized Shimano just a bit — something that was exacerbated by a Shimano promotion we can’t say that, at least from a branding perspective, we agreed much with. They had a deal at the show where you could buy a set of their SH-R300 shoes and get them customized to your feet (right there at the show) for an obscenely low price. The line to get the shoes was, as you might imagine, like an autograph-session-with-Lance x5. And while we’re always hip to a good deal, the message to us was: ‘We’re giving these away.’ When you take a semi-luxury good (which is what a $300 MSRP shoe is), and do more than drop your pants on the price — you literally take your pants off and throw them up on the basketball hoop so you’ll never be able to fetch them — it smacks of desperation and heavy overstock.

The funny thing is this: The R300 shoes ARE amazing. But the marketing message of their shoes is: ‘Sans customization process, these shoes aren’t living up to their potential.’ No other company preaches a similar message, and we know these companies (Sidi and Specialized in particular) that make damn nice shoes. So if we know (by studying Sidi and Specialized shoes) that customization isn’t a true necessity to own awesome shoes, why bother taking the more complicated route: First, the trouble of finding a competent, experienced Shimano shoe dealer with your shoe in stock; and then hoping their in-house shoe-customization-specialist is actually at work that day? If I was a retail customer and I ran into the least bit of turbulence, I’d say hell with it — give me the shoes Sylvain Chavanel (Specialized) or Fabian Cancellara (Sidi) use. The whole premise of the R300 — the ostensible requirement of customization — runs the risk of dooming this shoe platform to failure. Hence, Shimano’s likely overstock situation, and hence the Lehman Bros-like markdown of the true value of the shoes during Interbike.

– Attention Lance-haters: I hate to be the messenger here, but FYI the bike show was unanimous in its celebration of Lance’s return to racing. Lance’s Tour wins are regarded as the leading driver behind new-cyclist-recruitment and mid-to-high-end bike sales growth during the golden years of the bike biz from 2000-2005. Bicycle unit sales have been in decline since 2005. Lots of folks are hoping an 8th yellow jersey will reverse the trend.

– Commuter bikes were the rage at the show. Brands like Civia and Ortlieb have a serious upside if escalating gas prices does eventually create more cyclists. Moots did up their own commuter bike, the aptly-named CoMooter, that we swooned for. It was our favorite bike of the show by far.

There was a bit of a fantasy going on, though, insofar as the collective mentality here was ‘Build them, and they will buy.’ We saw commuter bikes of all shapes & sizes & prices, each appealing in its own way. But the question I ask myself is this: Thinking back to the last 3 cities I’ve lived in, would’ve I felt safe if my wife rode to the grocery store? Could my kids safely ride to school? The answer each time, sadly, is no. Gas could be $8/gallon, and my terror at thinking of my loved ones on their bikes in that proximity to cars would keep me driving my Chevy. Without infrastructure, I fear that commuter bike sales won’t fulfill the promise invested in them at Interbike this year.

If there was any sense in this industry, we’d tax ourselves or otherwise come up with intelligent ways to open a floodgate of dollars to Bikes Belong. They understand that without altering transportation infrastructure, cyclists will always rightly be paranoiacs, and those with merely a healthy risk aversion won’t commute by bike .

– Some new stuff we saw that we liked: Rickshaw Bags Vanderkitten clothing for women The Bell Volt helmet Skins compression clothing Lightweight’s skewers