I just got back from Interbike. And despite all of the hand-wringing and moaning and armchair quarterbacking, it was a delightful event. The venue was clean. Parking was plentiful. Food was quite delicious and reasonably priced. The energy level was surprisingly high. There was a nice mix of legacy brands and dreamers. And overall it made me excited to say I was at the very first Interbike held in Reno.
The thing I still can’t figure out is where were all the heavy-hitters. The big brands were once again nowhere to be found. I have had plenty of conversation with people on the inside and on the edge of the industry as to why this continues to be the case, but it is my opinion as we go into the future this will be considered short sighted by the big names.
In the “good old days” if you wanted to get media coverage for next year’s product launch, you had to be at Interbike. Anyone and everyone knew Interbike was the window to the world, it hinted at where the industry was going, and from the feel of the show you could feel the health of all things bicycle.
And then along came the internet and the ability, or at least the perceived ability, for brands to craft their own message. They didn’t need to make big advertising buys and wait for the media to show up at Interbike to get the word out on their latest wonder. They could take to social media and spread the word themselves. And so they started to abandon the bicycle media with their ad dollars and they left Interbike. They started to hold their own events. Bringing in media to their new bike launches and getting them one-on-one to control or craft a more focused narrative, at a time when they didn’t have to compete with everyone else. They could have the “news” cycle all to themselves, and so instead of relying on a journalist to tell their story, they turned to “influencers” to share on social channels.
The Millner-Haufen Tool Co. booth had a constant crowd who was curious about their line of drill bits and diamond-plated grinding wheels.
"That's mil-spec!" yelled one attendee.
Part work. Part fun.
VR at the STAC Zero booth.
Kelly Valyou of Bicycle Sport Shop in Austin competes during the semi-final of the annual mechanics challenge.
Still room for more.
The outdoor section was a nice addition and provided a breath of fresh air after spending hours on the show floor.
All of this is to say, I understand why they left Interbike. It became an expensive and dated way to get face-to-face with the people they wanted to see and the press they desired to have. They wanted a more focused time with those folk, including their dealers or would-be dealers.
And it worked, for a while at least. But, in my opinion, things are changing again. And it’s time for the Big Boys to return to Interbike. Not just for themselves, but for the fans. We, the bicycle nuts, are ready to have our version of MacWorld/ComicCon/SXSW returned to us in all its glory. We want to make an annual trek to someplace like Reno and see all the bicycles, jerseys, widgets, tools, tires and trinkets all under one roof.
We want to geek about our plane tickets to Interbike and rifle through our t-shirt collection in order to see and be seen by all of the other bicycle geeks. We want to pour through the magazines and websites trying to get some small idea of what we might see at the Big Show. We want to have one destination, one weekend, one opportunity to join our cult under one roof to celebrate this thing we love.
And in order for this to happen, we need one of the big boys to strike the match, start the fire and invest in attending Interbike. They need to see through their current marketing plan, to see the ROI in attempting to returning Interbike to its former glory. They need to realize their current strategy of viral videos, influencers and single one-off media events can be enhanced by helping make Interbike like a trip to Burning Man. One weekend of bicycle worship for the benefit of all things cycling.
It’s shortsighted of the bicycle industry, especially the bigger players, to let this event wane. They should be looking a little farther down the road. Because as the social channels become bigger and more numerous – and as those channels start to reach deeper and deeper into their pockets – investing in Interbike and returning it to its former glory, will make it a place to reach their people at a grassroots level.
Bring on the high tide.
Editor’s Note: A special diamond-studded cog to Cannondale, Shimano, SRAM, Pivot, Thule and all the other manufacturers who stuck around after everyone said the party was pretty much over. Long live Interbike.
Photography by Stephen Lam/ element.ly