Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hey! Interbike just ended!


Back in the 1990s, bicycle retail was a nasty, competitive business. Mountain biking had brought a lot of new players to the game. A lot more money was coming into the bike industry than the bike industry was used to. It went straight to their heads.

At the retail level, every sporting goods store wanted some of that easy bike money. They're only bikes. How complicated can they be? Anything without a motor is automatically stupidly easy, right?

Established bikes shops that had coasted along in their comfortable niches suddenly found themselves competing with retailers and brands they'd never known existed. Advertising quickly turned to propaganda. It was dirtier than recent elections and it never stopped.

Through the doors trooped a steady stream of wise-ass kids who knew all about the latest thing. It was great fun to show them how eerily similar the latest ground-breaking design was to patent drawings and advertising pictures of bike products from the late 1800s. Harder to fight were the price wars that went on between shops 50 miles or more from each other, let alone the cut throat and back stab methods used by invading retailers just a couple of blocks away.

Interbike was our intelligence-gathering foray. With a show conveniently located in Philadelphia, we could drive down and spend three days picking up all the information we wanted about the lines we didn't carry. In one trip we could get complete specs and wholesale price information, so when Willie Wiseass told us the great deal he'd been offered by the shop up the street, we had a rough idea how closely they were cutting their Marins -- I mean, margins.

Once the local competition put itself out of business by trying to run at a loss for three or four years, and the bike industry put itself out of business with expensive, complicated, ever-changing bullshit, we had less reason to run off to the trade show. With bicycling a sport of many bikes now, we simply have to decide which of the types will sell the best in our area. No one from outside can tell us that. We know cycling and we know our area. No longer is the customer driven by a frantic marketing machine. Most of the general public no longer cares about cycling. If they do want anything, they will go to their nearest shop and start asking questions.

As a drool fest and an excuse to party with other cyclists, a trade show is probably fine for those who can afford the trip. But since gushing innovation probably does more harm than good, advocacy for good riding conditions, and lifestyle advertising to promote the idea of pedaling in general will do us all more good than tweaking high-tech materials into exquisitely expensive mobile sculptures for the body-sculpted elite to pilot at speeds that still make the average fat motorist snort with disdain.

Put Interbike wherever you like. And call me if anything really interesting happens.

No comments: