• Nate King
  • Nate King
  • September 27, 2016
  • journal, Reviews, The Periphery

editor’s note: Vitriol below, mind the eggshells.

I’m fresh off the plane from the North American bike industry’s annual tradeshow, Interbike. Based in the tranquil desert burg of Las Vegas, Interbike is a frothing cauldron of innovation, new products, novel ideas, and great minds coming together to keep the flame burning in our small, esoteric industry.

Except, it isn’t. Interbike, an event primarily attended by the great mass of small bike shops, has been slowly declining together with the American brick-and-mortar retail market segment. It’s a tandem effort, made both by big brands one-upping each other with early private product launch events (and not so private, see Sea Otter), and the consolidation of the cycling retail landscape driven by the increasingly consumer-facing aspect of our business (read: The internet – it’s a series of tubes, or something). Product launches at IB are a thing of yesterday. But, this year was unlike recent years past, with a visceral drop in attendance – both from exhibiting brands, and from attendees. The coolest thing we saw at the show? It wasn’t in a booth. It was shrouded in bubblewrap and stashed in a backpack, wandering the show floor incognito with its progenitor greeting industry éclat. The new SRM powermeter…we can’t share many details yet, but it’s modular, rechargeable, strikingly different, and incredibly light. Product aside from that? Not much. The show has, for us, become little more than a place to see people, discuss future plans, and solidify relationships. On the upside, the lack of attendance has markedly driven down the amount of beer flowing out of booths. The longest line I saw wending its way through the show floor was not for suds, but for fresh waffles sometime in the morning. Getting business done at a tradeshow – an Interbike miracle!

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Needless to say, Interbike has, by and large, become an intriguing microcosm of larger market forces at play. The truth is told in who’s exhibiting – small brands attempting to gain a toehold in the market, nutrition suppliers, second-tier bike brands trembling at Canyon’s impending American invasion, and the three major drivetrain players. The “big” brands? Absent, and the mood of the show was overwhelmingly somber. Many (most?) local bike shops are in serious trouble as the marketplace thins out and polarizes. The tone of the show was less “Change We Can Believe In” and more “Convention of the Damned”, one punctuated by the annual Interbike Awards, an event reminiscent of hiding behind the Maginot Line circa spring 1940, but with more abject sexism:

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Yes, this happened. Yes, in 2016.

So, in the husk of a trade event masquerading as a ghost town in a place I never voluntarily visit, we present a list of brands we’d long since thought declared dead. Yet, they soldier on, like Terri Schiavo ringed by the Eagle Forum.

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1) Kuota
Remember that brilliant Italian flash in the pan, circa 2009? The KOM, one of the lightest road frames of the time, scratched our weight-weenie itch. We even felt our inner aerodork emerge upon seeing the Kalibur TT bike. Sponsoring illustrious pro teams like OUCH and AG2R, Kuota had hints of the trappings of a new R&D heavyweight on the block. Somewhere, things went off the rails, likely around the same time they ran out of bike names starting with a K. Helpful hint: anythingSTRONG in the bike industry post-2012 is verboten.

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2) Arrantix/Delta 7/Razik
Would a rose by any other name smell quite as sweet? Born of a BYU engineering project sometime ten-ish years ago, just when you thought the latest IsoTruss-equipped brand from the world capital of MLM schemes was dead, it rises again. Hopefully the bottle bosses stay intact for this round of ten year-old cutting-edge tech.

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3) Primal Wear
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I fondly remember avidly perusing PricePoint’s (RIP) rich catalog as a 14 year-old, lusting after XTR’s new 9-speed group, a pair of Mavic 517s, and fast-fading anodized cockpit bits. The one thing I never lusted after? Primal’s dizzying array of polyester jam band T-shirts pretending to be half-zip cycling jerseys. On the bright side, it would appear that costly licensing agreements have gotten the better of them, forcing a branding pivot. WTFKits, eat your heart out.

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4) Headsweats
Proof that the most ardent of triathlon marketing strategies can overcome even the worst of brand names. Chapeau!

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5) Blue
Whoa, wait, what? We’re still bewildered that a brand that seems like a bigger capital-suck than Google+ has been tossed around like a hot potato instead of put to bed, but so it goes. A game of “follow the Bicycle Retailer breadcrumbs” tells the whole story, but we’ll just leave this one here.

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6) Ellsworth
A couple changes in ownership later, this cautionary tale soldiers on. Once the mountain bike of choice for the elite (I pined for nothing more than an Ellsworth Truth as a teenager, and settled for a Specialist dirtjumper with an ovalized headtube many years later), Ellsworth was effectively buried by a combination of unresolved quality issues, an inability to stay with the times (let alone aesthetic language) earlier this decade, and a large fanbase with a penchant for offensively bedazzled manblouses.

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7) Billy Idol
Another barrel-aged rockstar joins the ranks of Disney Animatronics-powered superstars alongside Bob Dylan and Keith Richards. Props!

8) Hon. Mentions: Bottechia, Olmo

Thanks for reading, and until next year…if there is a next year.

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