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« Let’s opt out of the culture of speed | Main | West Coast Tour 2015 »

It’ll be a Sad, Sad Day

The Interbike Show held in Las Vegas is the biggest annual bicycle trade show in America. It has always been the “Must Go To” show for anyone in the bicycle business. Whether you were a manufacturer or importer selling a product, or a retail bike store owner looking to buy product. Not any more, apparently.

According to this report I read recently, it appears this year people stayed away in droves. Both exhibitors and people attending. The article even goes so far as to ask whether the Interbike Show will be able to continue.

I attended this show for many years. It was how I got my product out there and presented my frames to bicycle dealers. There were many times I could barely afford the expense, there was the cost of the booth, the expense of traveling there, and hotels of course.

But attending this show year after year, put me on the map. It raised me above the status of a framebuilder building one off custom frames for local individuals, to that of a reliable business person with a high quality product that retailers could sell at a profit.

I was competing on level terms with the many import frames. (Mostly Italian.) Even though these companies had a far larger output than me, and therefore a much larger budget to attend these shows. Over the years I built a network of dealers all across America, and they provided me with a steady stream of orders for a number of years.

Apparently, this year’s Interbike Show, some simply could not afford to attend. I am sure many who did exhibit sold less and were left wondering, “Was it all worth it.” Bike dealers, with revenues down this year, could either not afford to attend, or could not justify the expense. Let’s face it, if someone has a new product, one can reach bike dealers on the Internet. Going to a super expensive Trade Show is a luxury not everyone can afford.

The article went on the say that there has been a steady decline in cycling participation for the last fifteen years. I find that hard to believe. In hard economic times there is usually an upswing in bicycle use.

“I don’t believe there are fewer cyclists, just fewer cyclists buying new stuff. They make do with what they have.”

That trend applies to everything, not just bicycles. We are currently living in an atmosphere of extreme political uncertainty. People are not spending money. Or rather they spend it on what they need, not necessarily on what they want. People don’t have discretionary income any more. When people have cash to spare, they buy stuff on impulse.

There is hardly a week goes by when a bike that I built in the 1980s or early 1990s comes up for sale on eBay. Many of these bikes are in excellent, even mint condition. The paint often looks like it just came out of my shop. These bikes have never been ridden.

I have come to realize that I was kept in business for many years, not just by people who rode bikes, but rather by people who bought my bikes on impulse. They saw one in the bicycle store, all sparkling and shiny, and they just had to have it. But then they rode it and their arse hurt, their back hurt, and they never had the discipline to reach a level of fitness where cycling becomes a real pleasure.

Many bikes I built were ridden. Many are owned by the original owners who still ride them, but over the years many were also bought and never used or used very little. These bikes bought on impulse helped not only to keep me in business, but bicycle dealers too. We could not have survived without them.

But that was a different time, prosperous times when people had money to spare. Do you remember the term “Trickle Down Economics,” from that era? What we are experiencing now, is the same principle but in reverse. People have just enough money to get by. (Some have barely enough.) They don’t go out and buy stuff on impulse any more. 

All retail stores, including bike stores are hurting, owners cannot afford to go to bike shows like the Interbike. Manufacturers, because they are selling less can’t afford to go either. It is an old cliché that things have to get worse before they get better. But I wonder, how much worse, have we hit rock bottom yet?

I believe the Interbike Show will survive. They may have to scale down, or go to regional shows. Long standing established events like the Interbike Show just cannot be allowed to disappear, it will be a sad, sad day if it does.

I’m so glad I am no longer in the bike business.


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Reader Comments (5)

I saw recently that this year's UK bike show (at the NEC) set an attendance record. OTOH, I also read that the big EU show, Eurobike, has had many manufacturers defecting to smaller shows that target more specific audiences.

As someone who has attended bike shows in both the US and UK, I must say I prefer the smaller ones with more specific markets. At the small shows, you can usually have a worthwhile chat with people at booths that interest you. The large shows seem to barely suffer consumers - most of the staff is there to meet other business contacts, with much tooing-and-froing into small private rooms. The staff on stand seem to be hired by the hour and often have zero knowledge of the products - they just hand out brochures and plastic bags.

I had a few good conversations at the UK show. In one, I learned of a new product now in testing that will fit a bike build I want to do. Another was a detailed explanation of Magura's hydraulic rim brakes (had totally escaped my knowledge) and finally I had a long chat with a Scottish frame builder with some bikes that interest me - and that will probably lead to a sale for him. Interestingly, I found it easier to have this chat at the NEC show than any possibility of such a discussion at the UK Bespoked show. Although enjoyable, that seems to be more framebuilder-to-framebuilder show with the public just tolerated.

I can't really comment on economics except to say "it ain't as bad as they say it is" :-) And let's remember bicycles have tended to have cycles of sales peaks. Apparently *all* the growth in the EU market is e-bikes.

October 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteveP

One thing that has changed, is in the vintage bike and parts market, With the advent of the EROICA bike rides, a new interest in older bikes and parts that has increased the value a lot.. Not a great change and of no interest to anyone but those who like the older pre 1987 bikes, Just who and what is EROICA remains a mystery, But the Italian one has some 7k riders The one in Britain UK 5-6k The one that I ride every year in California 1-2k riders. This one charges $150.00 per rider. The Italian and Brit ones around $75.00 Where this money goes and just what expenses they have is a big question. BUT it keeps a certain rider interested in cycling and that is a good thing I guess. I do know that the California one has many riding MOULTON built bikes, Dave you should ride, next year in April I know Wes the organizer would welcome you been there' Pretty tough ride very hilly and lots of dirt roads, BUT FUN to meet and ride with riders interest in the old days that we rode and raced in

October 24, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

Perhaps the reason those folks bought bikes that they then rarely rode was that the salespeople sold them on a type of bike that wasn't right for them.

October 24, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterayjaydee

My son works for Bike magazine, and attended both Eurobike and Interbike this year, as well as Sea Otter and other bike trade shows. Attendance at all of them was down significantly. Most glaring, the outdoor demo area at Interbike in Las Vegas, had only a couple companies, compared with almost a hundred at its peak.

It is rumored that Interbike may move to another location, as Las Vegas hasn’t worked out, perhaps Salt Lake, Utah area. Personally, I think the bike industry has shot itself in the foot, with pricing and product changes run amok.

On a sad note, yes, electric bike sales are soaring in Europe. And most disturbing, companies are offering electric children’s bikes! Seems you are right Dave, the new generation of buyers just doesn’t want to put the work into riding a bike, much less learning how to ride well. Soon we will see electric mountain bikes passing us on American trails…


October 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Why go to a bike show when all the stuff will show up on interwebs in hours of the show ? My LBS doesn't go to the show anymore either.
The Trekalized type shop goes to their own brand roll out.

October 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterScott G.

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