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Cycling News and Opinions
Unfair and Unbalanced
September, 2010

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories

September 28: Our review of the 2010 Interbike show is posted.

Regarding Interbike, here are a few pieces of my mind...

This is the last year the Interbike bike show will be held in Las Vegas. Next year it will be in Anaheim, California in early August instead of late September. I have heard few words of regret from anyone in the bike business regarding the venue change. I originally wrote “not heard a single word of regret” but that was before a distributor gave me an anguished explanation as to what he thought will probably be very wrong about Anaheim.

To understand the general hostility to holding the annual bike fest in the city built on sin you have to get under the skins of the people who populate the bicycle trade, whether they are bike shop owners, shop rats, small distributors or manufacturers.

The majority came to devote their lives to generally low-paying careers because they love bicycles. Yes, I know, it looks like everyone rides bikes so there must be a lot of money in them. And for a few brilliant entrepreneurs, yes, there is very good money to be made in the bike trade. But in general, job satisfaction is high and earnings are low.

They believe in bicycles and want everyone to ride them, race them, own them and adore them with the same passion they have. In other words, most of them are missionaries. Instead of putting muumuus on half-naked south sea islanders, they live to put bicycles under people. By participating in the bicycle industry they are trying to do their part to make the world a little better place. They aren’t saints, just basically good people wanting to do the right thing.
And what they hate most of all about Las Vegas is that every year the bike industry leaves millions of dollars in what is one of the most bike-unfriendly cities in the country. Yes, Anaheim is an unpleasant urban mess, but a lot of Las Vegas is new and modern and even though they had a chance to put bicycles in their transportation plans, the city’s planners have made no place for cyclists that I or anyone else I know can see.

Moreover, a lot of dealers want to take their families to the trade show because many of them get little time off during the rest of the year. But they don’t like walking down the street with their kids and being handed brochures and business cards with pictures that…er…are designed to appeal to those who are not planning on keeping all of the commandments. A city built on cars and sin according to a business plan laid out by Bugsy Siegal seems to them to be the wrong place to hold the annual convention of an industry devoted to living a good life. Now it must be noted that Interbike is one of the largest trade shows in the country and finding a huge venue available at the right time isn’t easy. But for now, it’s so long Las Vegas and hello Anaheim.

Now in Las Vegas’ defense, a distributor noted to me that rooms can be had at all prices in Las Vegas in September, often really good ones at low prices. Airfare and car rentals are usually cheap. I’m told that the same can’t be said of Anaheim during the high tourist season. 

The other big change is the move from late September to early August. Interbike is fighting a war with the major bike manufacturers and the prize is the dealer’s “open to buy”.

Originally the major annual bike show was held in January in New York City. There was a smaller and well-thought of show put on by the Chicago area dealers and bike shows would be held a various times and places around southern California. In 1982 Interbike turned the American bike industry upside down by holding a bike show in early fall. This made it possible to pre-sell goods to dealers, getting them to forecast their needs early enough for the distributors and manufacturers to produce and ship goods in the following spring based on these pre-season orders. The clothing business had always done this, but it was new to bikes. Up until then, with long product cycles (Campagnolo produced Nuovo Record groups for well over a decade), distributors did their own planning. Now they could shift the burden to the dealers.

And here is where the war heated up. A dealer has only so many pre-season dollars to spend, room on his floor for only so many bikes. This is his “open to buy”. The wholesalers started demanding ever earlier commitments from the dealers. This had two benefits. First, the earlier the orders get to the factory, the smoother the production is. Factories hate, no, detest, variations in production numbers. For maximum efficiency they want to produce close to the factory’s capacity without slow-downs (which, because of fixed costs, then yield higher-per unit cost and therefore lower profits) or order spikes, which cause delivery delays or over-time. All bad to factory owners.  Getting the dealers to cooperate with the factory’s desire for optimal production has been a large part of the reason for this fight for early pre-season because this lowers the per-unit cost to the importer/distributor.

But there is a more important reason. The large companies don’t want Mr. Dealer walking down the aisles of the Interbike show with money jangling in his pockets. His eyes could wander. He could look at other competing products with lust in his heart. The solution? Cart the Mr. Dealer off to Big Bike Company headquarters and spend several days filling his head full of mush about how the coming year’s products will clean and thrill his customers. In the meantime the sales staff will industriously turn Mr. Dealer upside down and shake loose his wallet and spare change. Spare change will be scooped up and wallet returned with just enough money for bus fare home. If this is done correctly Mr. Dealer has no serious open to buy should he get the nasty idea of attending Interbike.
It worked so well that several of the major bike companies withdrew from exhibiting at Interbike.

Interbike clearly viewed this process with alarm. Interbike was slowly being rendered irrelevant. The smaller exhibitors didn’t want to spend tens of thousands of dollars to talk to dealers who couldn’t buy. So, to give its exhibitors a leg up, the show was moved to early August. Is this a dog chasing its tail? Will the majors now demand still-earlier preseason commitments? Time will tell but I can’t see the majors letting their dealers go to a bike show where their competitors can make goo-goo eyes and show shiny bike parts without having already pledged their lives, their fortunes and sacred honor to the Moloch of pre-season.

The other question on everyone’s lips was will the dealers leave their shops for several days in early August, when business is often red hot. Leaving then would be fearfully expensive. Nearly every distributor I spoke to was deeply concerned about attendance and the possibility that the shops won’t show up. It all looks like a high-wire act that will be fascinating to watch.

September 4: David Herlihy, a contributor to this site, has done it again. If you want to read a terrific book, get a copy of The Lost Cyclist. In the spring of 1892 Frank Lenz took off on around-the-world bicycle trip. Lenz rode across the U.S., Japan, China, India, Persia and made it to eastern Anatolia. Somewhere there Lenz had disappeared. Another American cyclist, William Sachtleben traveled to Turkey to find out what had happened to the cycling adventurer.

Herlihy goes to great lengths to paint a detailed picture of the cyclist's world in the late nineteenth century and then proceeds to tell the astonishing tales, both of Lenz's great ride and Sachtleben's dogged work to solve the riddle. I found the book riveting. It's well-written and the story never lags. The research Herlihy did is staggering. I can't recommend this book enough.

I mentioned that Herlihy had done it again. If you are a bike-history nut and haven't read Bicycle: The History, then you are missing a treat.

Herlihy is apparently unafraid of work (folk here say it isn't good for you). He's going to be almost everywhere on his author tour.

Here's his schedule:

31-Aug 2 pm Nantucket MA Whaling Museum
1-Sep 7:30 pm Vineyard Haven MA Bunches of Grapes
7-Sep 7 pm Lexington KY Joseph Beth
8-Sep 7 pm Cincinnati OH Joseph Beth
9-Sep 7 pm Louisvile KY Carmichaels
11-Sep 2 pm Alton IL History Museum
12-Sep 3 pm Oakland CA Diesel Books
15-Sep 7 pm Bellingham WA Village Books
17-Sep 7 pm Missoula MT Fact & Fiction
20-Sep 7 pm Iowa City IA Prairie Lights
21-Sep 6:30 pm Des Moines IA Library
22-Sep 7 pm Omaha NE Bookworm
23-Sep 7 pm St. Louis MO Left-Bank
25-Sep 7 pm Memphis TN Davis Kidd
27-Sep 7 pm New York NY Bicycle Habitat
29-Sep 7 pm Kansas City MO Library
2-Oct 11 pm Oklahoma City OK Full Circle
6-Oct 5 pm San Antonio TX Twig
7-Oct 7:30 pm Santa Monica CA Library
8-Oct 7 pm San Francisco CA Public bikes
10-Oct 2 pm Salt Lake City UT Library
13-Oct 7 pm Boise ID Redscovered Books
14-Oct 7 pm Seattle WA REI flagship store
16-Oct 7 pm Asheville NC Malapros
17-Oct 2 pm Charlotte NC Joseph Beth
18-Oct 6 pm Greensboro NC Cycles d'Or
21-Oct 7 pm Palo Alto CA Books, Inc.
22-Oct 7 pm Truckee CA Bookshelf at Hooligans
23-Oct 4 pm Reno NV Sundance Books
26-Oct 7 pm Andover MA Andover books
27-Oct 7 pm Norwell MA Library