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Interbike 2016; When Does the Hangover End?

September 24, 2016

Interbike 2016 has finally stumbled through the door, shirt untucked, shoes untied, smelling of overpriced drinks and broken dreams. And, in the end, pretty happy to escape relatively unscathed … though a tetanus shot might be needed.

Ah yes, the annual US pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the North American cycling industry’s main event. Interbike was once the single most important cycling trade event in North America, and at times arguably the most important in the world. What was once the annual order-writing event of the year, with brands and retailers meeting to formalize what was going to be in stores across the country for the next season, has morphed into something that is almost unrecognizable as its former identity. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing … change happens, and often for good reason.

Just to be clear; I am often accused of being “anti-Interbike”- usually by folks at Interbike- because I am critical of the event. But, in reality, it’s very much the opposite- I love “the show” and the yearly reunion of my extended family of cycling industry colleagues. There is no other time in the year where so many of us are all in the same place. I am a big believer in Interbike and its importance- I’ve lobbied to remain at Interbike with every company I’ve worked for/with, even when losing that argument. I’ve sucked it up year after year, making the drive or flying to Vegas, swallowing the massive expense and headache of dealing with exhibitor services (including stolen bikes and damaged booths). So before anybody makes the assertion that I hate Interbike, let me me reiterate- I love Interbike, but I hate Vegas (more on that in a moment), and don’t want to see Interbike continue to lose relevance.

Now for the ranting part …

Interbike is no longer what it was designed to be. It is no longer an order writing event, especially not for bike brands. That couldn’t be made more clear by the fact so many bike brands no longer attend the show. Nearly all of the major brands, and many of the second tier brands, no longer need Interbike because they do their own dealer events (sometimes combined with their annual sales meetings with reps), in June or July. The vast majority of bike companies, even those who do attend Interbike, do their “preseason” sales push long before Interbike happens- even before Eurobike happens. For the brands big enough to skip Interbike (and now even Eurobike), they aren’t even looking for new retailers, so Interbike is of zero necessity for them. Smaller brands looking for retailers can hardly afford the expense of being at Interbike, and the retailers who are looking for new bike brands are often shopping for new brands because they can’t get the bigger brands, or can’t pay their existing suppliers. Interbike, as a sales event, is really only relevant for accessory brands. Even then, many of the clothing brands especially had their preseason push earlier in the summer as well, so they could forecast production needs.

Retailers are squeezed harder than ever now by their bike brands for early preseason orders- with many retailers either refusing to place a preseason or making much smaller early commitments- so Interbike’s timing is inconvenient. Given that September is the last big sales push for many shops in cooler climates, it’s an uncomfortable decision to attend or skip the show. With many of the big bike brands conducting private regional shows, retailers frequently hop around during the busy summer months from one supplier event to another. By the time September rolls around, they’re tired of traveling to sales events and just want to squirrel away as many nuts before winter as they possibly can.

Media folks, a lot like retailers, have been flown around the world for product launches and Eurobike, so by the time Interbike arrives, they’ve seen almost everything there is to see from the brands that matter most to them. Once they get to Vegas, if they even bother going (and many no longer do), they’re trying to see anything they missed from Eurobike, or catch a glimpse of something that wasn’t at Eurobike- or even production samples of items they saw in April at Sea Otter.

Exhibitors who do attend Interbike do so holding both their breath, and their noses. They hope they’ll somehow recoup the high cost of attending with either sales leads or media coverage. Marketing budgets get eviscerated by the cost of being at the show, rather than billing the expenses to the sales department’s budget … because the sales just don’t happen in Vegas. The best a brand can hope for is that they get enough press to somehow justify the expense, but with fewer media folks attending, and Eurobike stealing the news spotlight … it’s a rare occurrence, even for US brands.

And then there’s Vegas itself … Sin City lives up to the nickname. Vegas is overly convenient for many reasons; easy flights in and out, the airport is minutes away from the show, there are countless hotels of varying quality, food options are abundant, convention floorspace is large enough to house the show, and there’s even Bootleg Canyon for Dirt Demo. All in all, Vegas has all the boxes checked off. It works. But it sucks. Vegas is a playground for adults who like to gamble, drink, or satisfy their lusts of all kinds. Though it has attempted to rebrand itself to a degree as being “family friendly”, it’s utterly impossible to escape the heavy-handed appetite for debauchery. The levels of sexism and exploitation are beyond comparison to any other city in the US, yet this is where the cycling industry comes together to celebrate itself. The “lifestyle” of Vegas is built around excess in every capacity, and is counter to nearly everything the cycling industry wants to portray itself as. There is some incredible riding outside the city, but that’s not where the show itself happens. And if you want to get around the city by bike, to attempt to somehow mentally offset the ickiness of the casinos et al … you are taking your life into your hands.

The thing is, even with all of these warts, Interbike does throw a great party for the industry to celebrate itself and promote a feeling of shared objectives. The annual awards dinner is a fantastic event. CrossVegas has become a defining event each year, and Brook Watts has turned the race into a WorldCup event that is truly deserving of the status it now holds. The parking lot hell at the event is proof of the success, as is the yearly hunt for VIP passes to the race! Interbike has grown more and more dependent on the strength of the seminars and tech clinics that happen during the event. Many of these events are filled to capacity and have become valuable features to the shrinking number of retailers attending. The number of retail attendees is shrinking fast, but the percentage of actual decision makers attending is growing- the wheat is being separated from the chaff. Traffic is lower, but more of that traffic can actually buy stuff … as opposed to simply stumble in hungover, smelling of overpriced beer, asking for free stuff.

So what do we do?

Interbike needs to get the hell out of Vegas. It doesn’t fit the industry’s needs anymore. The industry is maturing and is no longer just a bunch of dudes wanting to get drunk and go to strip clubs (though plenty still do). If we acknowledge that Interbike is no longer relevant as a sales event for most of the exhibitors, and is more important as an educational tool for retailers, then we don’t need as much floor space and can move to smaller venues outside Vegas.

If we maintain the same timing in September, then a smaller and shorter show makes even more sense. Sea Otter is in April and is now the de facto early launch for products, Eurobike is when products get officially launched, and the Taiwan shows in November and March are when manufacturers do their spec hunting. September is just too late for anything other than a good party … and that party can be virtually anywhere.

Nearly every retailer, exhibitor, and media person I spoke to during the show stated that they hoped the show would move and that the show no longer held enough relevance to them. Nearly all said, “this might be my/our last Interbike.” That should concern the folks at Interbike HQ. Continuing to keep their head in the sand- or clouds- and pump out post-show numbers that claim attendance or some other category was up defies logic. The industry is in the biggest slump it has been in in decades. The face of retail is changing faster than anybody has ever seen before. Without exception, every person I spoke to was gravely concerned with the health of the industry. Retailers are facing the biggest uncertainty they’ve ever seen as more and more brands go consumer direct in one form or another, more mobile repair companies sprout up, and the economy continues to sputter along. Brands have to decide how they are going to either keep retailers alive, or bypass them entirely.

There are countless other issues impacting the industry, but the two things that gave me the most hope during the show was the growth of the e-bike market, and the  emergence of mobile repair. There were way more e-bike brands at Interbike, and they were no longer standing there picking their noses and praying for somebody to stop and look at their products. Yes, some of the products were iffy, but most show the maturity of the segment, which has been strong in Europe for nearly a decade. And the biggest indicator of the mobile movement being here to stay was the fact that Nissan was exhibiting their vans- fully customized for the mobile bike mechanic/ retailer. And with bike brands actively pursuing partnerships with mobile repair/ retail to deliver and service their bikes … you can bet your ass there will be mobile “concept stores” on the scene in a matter of minutes.

All of this proves that Interbike is more important than ever. It is the centerpiece of the North American cycling world. It’s where we congregate to share ideas, celebrate our successes, mourn losses, and try to find solutions. Without Interbike- or its potential replacement- the industry would find itself rutterless on choppy seas. That’s a heavy load of responsibility for Interbike, but with the right changes it can live up to that burden. Interbike still has a chance to rebuild, restructure, and rebrand. And … relocate. If it does, it might just save itself from extinction …

I now open the floor to discussion … and ridicule …


12 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2016 12:03 PM

    Well said Tim, I agree on mostly all fronts.


    • Tim Jackson permalink*
      September 24, 2016 12:31 PM

      And the success of your events has had a marked impact on Interbike too- and justifiably.

      I know you have a lot more insight and knowledge on the issues, so never hesitate to impart that knowledge.


      • September 24, 2016 2:05 PM

        Thank you Tim,

        Our timely staged PressCamp’s enable inspiring brands to collectively attractive some of the best vertical and active lifestyle media out there. At no time does competing with Interbike or Outdoor Retailer Expo’s ever cross our minds.

        As I said you pretty much nailed it with you assessment and in the very few areas I might have a slightly different opinion? Well I have learned a long time ago rather than comment publicly I opt to go out and ride or play my guitar 😉


  2. September 24, 2016 12:36 PM

    Couldn’t have said it better. Well put, Tim.


    • Tim Jackson permalink*
      September 24, 2016 12:37 PM

      Thanks, my friend- I consider that a true compliment.


  3. Tom Noaker permalink
    September 24, 2016 12:41 PM

    Great to catch up w/you on the floor and agree with your “get the hell out of Vegas” suggestion. Recommend Salt Lake City; Adequate expo space and far better demo locations (Park City, Deer Valley to mention two) plus an international airport minutes from the venues. Even the Mormon influence, wacked as it is, can be easily dismissed (the OR shows – summer/winter – have succeeded for more than a decade) plus you won’t leave town feeling like you’ve been shaken down for your last pocket change.


    • Tim Jackson permalink*
      September 24, 2016 12:43 PM

      As always, my friend, I really enjoyed catching up- it happens way too infrequently.

      And I like the SLC idea a lot, and a smaller footprint would make it very viable.


  4. John Brown permalink
    September 24, 2016 1:28 PM

    I spent this year’s show being amazed at how social it was. My early experience if this show was an all buisness event on the floor, with a healthy social aspect at dinners, parties, etc after hours. This year, more than ever, it seemed everyone was networking relationships rather than writing orders. I strongly agree with a change of venue as well as scope. I would love to see this show be in July in Colorado, run Wednesday through Saturday with an on-site demo running for industry folk Thursday and Friday, and consumers on Saturday. we need to engage both our customers as well as our dealers if this show will have any legs to move forward.


    • Tim Jackson permalink*
      September 24, 2016 1:30 PM

      Yup … lots of socializing and job hunting.

      A move and change of scope is needed.

      Great chatting with you for a split second too.


  5. September 25, 2016 7:04 AM

    …”And then there’s Vegas itself”… I agree, Vegas is a total waste of space. I’m not in any way connected to the bicycle industry, I’m just a cyclist, and there is nothing about Las Vegas that is bike friendly or even remotely in line with the concept of leaving a smaller footprint on the path we travel. Nice work on the blog post though. Now go take a shower and get some fresh ocean air. It’ll all be better soon…


  6. September 25, 2016 2:33 PM

    Lots of great points Tim. I’d say whether IB moves or stays in Vegas, bag the Outdoor demo.
    Focus it rather, on gathering the tribe, seminars, CX Vegas and ?…
    We’ve managed to grow our fall Outerbike for the last 6 years and that includes more dealers coming to our consumer based event. It’s a fun, friendly environment and there’s no better place to test mountain bikes. At our spring event we even debuted new bikes (to consumers) before they hit the Sea Otter event. And we’re announcing a new summer 2017 event in CO next weekend.


  7. November 14, 2016 1:36 PM

    Fully enjoyed your comments and the challenge for the show to remain relevant (which a great many of us would like to see). Moving the show, which seemed beyond consideration not that long ago, is possibly the last, best, nail to hang our collective hats on as our tribe gathers each year.
    I don’t mind admitting my first show was in 1983 in Anaheim. I attended Interbike 2016 after a 2 year absence, expecting to find the the same show I have come to know over the years. The positive vibe of the show and the service it provides for displaying product was still present, but the attendance, crowded isles, and clamor to sus out the best the industry has to offer was way off the mark compared to recent memory. It woke me up to how much a change is needed.


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