– Last week we made our annual pilgrimage to Friedrichshafen, Germany for the industry’s largest trade show, Eurobike. While it’s rare to be surprised by what you see there, it’s still an essential event because Eurobike is where a summer’s worth of hype can be confirmed or dismissed. For three days we fondle prototypes and conduct umpteen ten-minute interrogations. By the end of it all, the view of next season in our crystal ball becomes unclouded.
Most impressive technology of the show: It was an easy choice to award this to Shimano Dura Ace 9000 mechanical shifting. In an outcome that was perhaps predictable, Shimano has made its cable-actuated shifting so crisp and friction-free that it begs the question, ‘Why go electronic?’ Both the front and rear shifting operated with near-effortless purity. It shifts faster than Di2 and offers superior tactile feedback while costing and weighing well less. At the same time the second generation Dura Ace Di2 Shimano displayed didn’t shift noticeably better than its predecessor.
Novelty of the show: Pro bikes are always on wide display at Eurobike, but this was the year of Olympic bikes all over the place.
Most exciting trend of the show: Like any good member of the tifosi, my blood runs neon yellow. It’s one part safety, one part beauty and three parts Euroness. What was once an accent in my kit is now the main reason I ride. When I wear neon yellow, I am multitudes.
It appears, though, that the Italians are diversifying their portfolio. Their fidelity to neon stays true, but now in a new hue, orange. Let’s not recycle the adjectives neon or fluo. Let’s distill it to one perfect word, fresh and Euro — l’orange.
Honorable mention goes to a trend I can’t comprehend. A few big German bike brands decided that the last few inches of road bar drops should be free of bar tape. In one instance tape was replaced with the naked carbon of the bar itself. In another, there was a rubberized cap that produced the hardly desirable effect of preventing any hand movement.
Traffic conversion lesson of the show: Topless, body-painted women drove a lot of traffic to a few exhibitor booths. That traffic, though, looked at nothing but the topless, body-painted women.
Most surprising lack of progress of the show: This one is a tie between two things we expected to see more widely developed by now. First is 27.5′ mountain bikes, aka 650b. Ritchey had a beautiful example on display. But there was little eye candy beyond that. In a desperate pursuit of relevance, some second-tier Euro brands had off-the-Chinese-shelf frames on display. But the first-class mountain bike brands showed very little. Either the tooling or some other factor is making progress slow. Or, perhaps, these brands are having such sellthrough success with 29ers right now, they don’t want to confuse consumers by championing yet another standard.
The other noticeable absence was road disc brakes. Colnago had its C59 disc on display, with the awesome bonus of Formula hydraulic integrated shift levers. And Canyon had a bike as well. But it was built with cable-actuated discs. The million dollar question, it seems, is how much time it will take for the big three drivetrain manufacturers to design and develop brakes that can withstand the unique needs of road bikes. The brakes need to be lighter, withstand far higher speeds (and therefore heat) as well as longer periods of braking. On top of that, these brakes must be hydraulic, which requires an all-new integrated shift/brake lever.
Best single piece of marketing of the show: Lapierre’s booth was topped with near-billboard sized signs. Each was different, but each shared the same purpose: Inspire people to ride. This one gave me goosebumps.
Most quizzical naming convention shift the show: Cannondale had one bike called the ‘Trigger’ and another called the ‘Claymore’ (was that ever anything other than the Vietnam-era mine?) While I sort of get the fact that there are sub-segments of bike riding populated by people who glorify breaking stuff, most glamorously themselves, it seems that resorting to munitions’ names is taking a good idea too far.
Best component of the show: There was no shortage of fascinating candidates here. The Rotor powermeter looked intriguing, as did the Continental belt drive system and the Zipp 202 carbon clinchers. But Thomson’s unveiling of a line of road and mountain handlebars was so overdue, seeing them was like watching a dream come true. Its seatposts are so blissful to adjust and own, I can’t wait to put my hands on a handlebar as soon as they’re available.
Freakiness from the Taiwan Pavilion #1 This is as close as you can get to saying ‘Trek’ without being it. The font, the length of the name, everything else connotes the brand from Wisconsin.
Freakiness from the Taiwan Pavilion #2 These are not the Teletubbies, despite the obvious similarities.
Most fascinating beauty from outside the show We stayed in Langenargen, about 7km from the show. While roaming the town I came across some amazing things. A vintage Singer tandem outside a bar, a balsa wood velodrome study inside an architect’s window, and the most consistently lovely place in the world — any German cemetery.
Most obvious industry anxiety attack of the show: ‘Innovative’ cable routing. This originally appeared with the emergence of Di2-specific frames that lacked cable stops. We’ve now arrived at a place where frame manufacturers are trying to have it all: Build frames that permit sleek cable routing for Di2 without surrendering the hardware required for mechanical shifting. Lots of approaches for this were on display.
Most well-executed freaky German shit at the show: While Lightweight has proven unable to find consistent US distribution, it’s still a commanding presence in Europe. Apparently they have some new goodies to unveil come springtime. And the Masters of Gram Elimination known as AX Lightness unveiled its first-ever frameset. Another fascinating development were the components manufactured by a small outfit called Carbon Ti. Its chainrings and disc brake rotors were something to behold.