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Second Hand Smoke of a Different Kind

– We were on the scene at last week’s ProTour races in Canada. You can’t beat Montreal and Quebec City for scenery, and from what we read, the beauty was matched by organizational know-how. Capping it off was two great wins by two great PROs. (Ever since Robert Gesink lost the 2008 Paris Nice on a monumental Stage 6, during the final descent into Cannes, we’ve loved the guy.)

Memory of the weekend? The Wilfred Owen-like fog spewing from the back of the peloton -- a black cloud made up of vaporizing brake blocks and carbon rim dust. While we have some idle curiosity about the long-term health of the pros of the EPO generation, more interesting would be the epidemiology of lung disease for the PROs who live in second-hand smoke of a different kind.

Some photos from Montreal here --

Montreal ProTour

Some photos from Quebec here --

Quebec ProTour

– Every attendee of the NAHBS should be required to read this obituary . They should read it closely, and read it twice.

More required reading , re: ‘Handcrafting.’

Lightweight at SBA– Lightweight, the brand of possibly the most mouthwatering wheelset money can buy, continues to struggle finding a foothold in the US marketplace. After dalliances with a few tiny start-up distributors over the years, then giving it a go with their own self-owned operation, Lightweight is now trying a different course by diving in with New York’s Whopper-sized wholesale distributor, Security Bicycle. The upside is that Lightweights will soon be available at a bike shop near you. The downside is that by going with a 3rd party distributor, prices are sure to spike upwards.

– The insistence of some brands to sell their goods solely and exclusively through brick and mortar retailers is the source of both bottomless amusement and bottomless consternation here. It’s so freaking hard to convince somebody to buy something: To successfully do so, then prohibit them from buying it through the means & at the time most convenient to them -- it’s economic suicide.

Macy We’ve mentioned many times our curiosity when brands such as Specialized and Trek will finally cave in to (a) capitalism and (b) customer service by offering their full bike lineup via the internet. The peril of their brick-and-mortar-only position came into full light for me this weekend while at Macy’s in Chicago, fully prepared to cave into an age-old temptation to buy a Tag Heuer Formula 1. We stared through the case, and stared and stared and stared some more. Within a 200ft radius were countless $$ millions $$ in jewelry and watches, 1 security guard, and 0 salespeople. If I’d simply laid a finger on the watch I would’ve been helpless but to buy it. But I got nary a word from the putatively most effective category of salesperson -- one within the 4 walls of a brick and mortar establishment. Instead, the only form of communication I received was a placard inside the case -- warning of just how verboten it is to buy a Tag online.

And now it will be written in the Competitive Cyclist Book of Commandments: Commandment #2 – Verily, customer service trumps product appeal. (Commandment #1, in case you’re curious, is that any employee who describes the quality of one of our products as ‘It smooths out the pavé’ will be fired.)

– The news of the week was Interbike’s announcement of a date + place change for 2011. Au revoir to Las Vegas -- city of faux luxury and artificial beauty. In its place comes Anaheim -- city of faux luxury and artificial beauty, but in this instance once that entails rental vehicles, authentic morning gridlock, parking headaches, and a vast dispersion of places for dinner engagements and other after-hours affairs where the best bits of business fall in place.

The real OCWe’ve been taken to task in the past by people we like for our occasional and mostly incorrect critiques of Los Angeles. But Orange County -- who defends the OC? For all the other options out there, e.g. Denver, Salt Lake City, Chicago, where did Anaheim come from? And while the debate about the place will be a loud one, more fascinating is how the show moved itself 7 weeks earlier in the calendar -- an unwise choice that, in a twist of irony, compounds the very problems these changes are designed to address: Namely, Interbike’s waning relevance as measured by its loss of big brand presence and its loss of use as a place for global product unveilings.

Why the 1st week of August? It’s a defensive maneuver to parry the moves of companies like Specialized, Trek, Cervélo, and other manufacturers who, in lieu of attending (and incurring the Olympian expense of) Interbike, they instead conduct their own events (typically in late July or early August) to wine and dine their dealers, then hold them at virtual gunpoint to commit to next year’s program right then, circumventing the temptations of the trade show floor. By moving the show up so far, Interbike’s goal is to stir up just enough calendar conflict to force the big guns to re-think their non-presence at Interbike -- something these companies are doubtlessly aware of, and a forcing of their hands they surely don’t appreciate.

Traffic map in the OCInterbike’s second goal is to flank Eurobike -- the venue where the vast majority of global product launches have occured for the last several years; and the venue that serves as a key meeting point for Asian manufacturers and the bike brands who rely on them. There’s Taichung Bike Week in December, there’s the Taipei show in March, with Eurobike serving as a key mid-year time to reconnect.

While we’re charmed by Interbike’s hubris in thinking a simple calendar change will transform them into the global show of record, it’s a decision as naïve as it is arrogant. The key global bike market is western Europe -- by dollars, by participants, by maturity, etc, etc. There’s a reason why the Eurobike show is 2x-3x the size of the Incredible Shrinking Interbike: It’s the home territory of most brands. And for the non-EU brands (read: Americanos like Trek), since the European export market represents the majority of their sales, it’s their de facto home away from home.

Interbike’s change of date + place is sure to alienate both exhibitors and attendees alike. It pressures bike brands to finalize design, spec, and pricing almost 2 months earlier: To which we ask: Who voted to give Interbike the power to mandate the start/end of the model year? What if manufacturers simply refuse to accommodate this new time table?

Dealers across America are sure to be furious for two reasons: (1) Early August is the time of Leadville, Master’s Nats, and countless other A events for both their staff & their customers. It’s peak season. Who has time for a trade show? And if you can get away from work, won’t it be for a family vacation? (2) As next year’s product gets blasted all over the internet thanks to tradeshow reportage, it makes current dealer inventory effectively obsolete 2 months earlier -- August, instead of October.

And for all of Interbike’s green-eyed jealousy of Eurobike, they steadfastly refuse to emulate one of its strongest points: Tack on a consumer day at the end of the show. Interbike enables one of the secret bits of bike biz bad attitude: For bike brands, their customer is the retailer, not consumers like you. You’re a necessary evil, and non-retailers want nothing to do with you.

The future of the trade show in America? The ideal scenario has two words to it: Sea Otter. It’s already the authoritative global venue for mountain bike product unveilings. It takes place in glorious Monterey, and the more illuminated members of the industry celebrate its versatile purpose: Race event, industry event, consumer event. Why not create a second Sea Otter -- call it Sea Otter Fall? A slate of late-season racing put alongside a trade show and an opportunity to give an early look at next year’s goodies for consumers who’d otherwise only see it on cyclingnews. All it needs is a convention center and a commitment to affordability for everyone involved. Whether the Fall event took place in Monterey, in San Jose, or in San Francisco, it’s easy to leverage the Sea Otter brand because both in image and in execution it’s the anti-Interbike: Something we could all use right now.