Usually, this lead article in our Interbike report focuses on the trends and major news at the show. This year the news is the LACK of major trends or movements in Las Vegas. Everyone is all over the map when it comes to colours, suspension, designs and product introductions. Label this year: "Same Old, Same Old". If there were any key topics of conversation, they were: Shimano's pushed back product release date; growing mainstream introduction to the internet; the upcoming trade journal war; and a shift in the balance of power from supplier to dealer.
Shimano announced a few weeks ago that they would be pushing back their product introductions to the fall, bringing them more into line with the calendar year. Generally, the industry is applauding this move (and many breathed a sigh of relief that Shimano took the lead here). We have seen product launches begin to turn into year 'round introductions, leaving the dealers constantly scrambling to have the most up-to-date equipment (and avoid being stuck with outdated stuff). It has also led to a scramble among the trade shows to be the first,with bottlenecks happening around mid-September, and dates moving up to late August for some European events.
With the exception of a few speciality retailers (eg, those in university markets) and manufacturers, Shimano has forced other manufacturers to push back their release dates - not that they are complaining. However, it now appears that we are going to have a mad jam among the trade shows to make sure that they hit the crucial timing for revised release dates. In North America, this means that shows like Toronto and Philadelphia are likely to be marginalized.
Interbike West (ie, Las Vegas) was reporting record attendance (preregistration) and Kathy Newkirk of Interbike told me that they are thinking of moving their show dates for '99 "back a couple of weeks", from September 10th to late September. Cabda (Chicago show), the second largest show in North America, has already blocked off early October (perfect timing as a follow-up to Interbike), leaving Philly without a good date, and forcing the Canadian show to either go head to head with Cabda, become a very late show (ie, late October), or try to buck the trend and come out earlier than Interbike. None of these choices are particularly attractive. (And despite how it may sometimes seem, a lot of the U.S. vendors I spoke with actually like the Toronto show, citing it as a good way to develop new accounts in the Canadian market.) So expect this battle to play out over the next few months.
The internet has been discovered by the mainstream bike industry, and they are embracing it with the fervour of the newly converted. A note of caution here though - expect a backlash of disillusionment in 6 months or so, when many of the newcomers finally realize that, while the internet is indeed an excellent tool for marketing, communication, and sales, it is no 'quick-fix'. A strong strategy and willingness to invest the necessary funds and resources will lead to some successes, and a bunch of failures... We predict the internet will continue to grow and mature, but that for the next year or so there will be a large number of 'get rich quick' operators mudding the waters - you kept tripping over them in Las Vegas.
The next topic of interest was the recent flurry of acquisitions in the trade publication world. Up front, we will disclose that we have been part of that activity (more details below). Until this summer, there was Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (the acknowledged leader in news reporting), American Bicyclist (the oldest trade journal, focus on dealers), BDS and Pulse (both similar to American Bicyclist). Now that the dust has settled, we find BRaIN still in front, BDS bought by Inside Communications (Velonews) and turned into Velo Business, AB bought by Cabda and now run by us as North American Bicyclist and, struggling to hold on, Pulse (note: there is also Bike Trade Canada and this Bike Biz News that you currently holding, but both publish only sporadically). Also, BRaIN, Velo Business and NAB have trade websites (ours is at www.biketrade.net). Expect to see BRaIN and VB go head-to-head on news reporting, while NAB offers more analysis and retailer focussed stories.
Finally, the trend towards dealers having a dominant position over their suppliers is more apparent then ever. Suppliers are scrambling to sign up dealers and, now that they have finally begun to eliminate excess inventory, the dealers are playing it cagey. The top brands in various product categories (eg, Trek, Specialized, etc. in bikes; Bell in helmets, Rock Shox in forks, etc.) are still having few problems getting the dealers they want, but the battle is on for the second tier lines. Dealers can expect to be wooed furiously as the Konas, Rocky Mountains, Diamondbacks, etc. all battle for floor space. The aggressive pricing and up-spec'ing of models (we are talking primarily bikes, here) will afford dealers the opportunity to make some very good deals in the next few months, which they can then in turn use to entice consumers into the stores. There is room for some optimism here.
In conclusion, we can say that while the product changes are somewhat subtle, they point to a revitalized market and industry. If we can sort the trade show issue out satisfactorily, then there is much to look forward to.
Dual Disk Hardtails
One trend visible in the high end of many manufacturer's lines was the dual disk equipped hardtail. Last year only Trek and Cannondale had a bike like this, but for 1999 companies such as Schwinn, Oryx, Brodie, and Giant, to name but a few, had at least one model on display. Some companies have opted for Formula, while others are showing either the Hayes hydraulic or the newest prototypes of the Hayes cable actuated brake. The fork of choice is usually a Rock Shox SID, but there are some variations. The goal is to create a lightweight performance racing machine, perhaps the equivalent of Formula 1 racing car. Despite the high end market niche for a bike like this, the manufacturers are trying to keep the price around the $2000 retail price point. Disc brakes are clearly coming of age. The influence of racers on the World Cup circuit, particularly Alison Sydor (she has used disks all season), seems to be trickling down to the consumer level. Even if you don't race these bikes will offer spectacular performance under all conditions.
Asama Picks Up Diamondback
Asama Bicycles has picked up Canadian distribution of the Diamondback line of bicycles and DBR accessories. With the withdrawal of Tucker-Rocky from bicycle distribution in Canada, a number of lines have become available, however, Asama scored one of the big prizes by securing Diamondback. The other winner was Outdoor Gear Canada with Answer/Manitou (see OGC Grabs Answer/Manitou).
Asama is showing the line in Toronto, and promises to have inventory by October 1st. The B.C.-based company is also planning to reopen an eastern warehouse by the spring (they closed their Mississauga warehouse 3 years ago).
Asama will be phasing out their own premium line, Rockline, to concentrate on Diamondback, however, the Asama name will continue to be used on lower priced and juvenile models.
The Chicoutimi-based manufacturer of aluminium bikes has a couple of new projects in the works - a bike/car deal, and U.S. co-branded arrangement with Daredevil.
Early in the summer, Devinci signed a sponsorship agreement with Ford for their offroad racing team - which has borne fruit by placing 4 riders on the national team for the Mountain Bike Worlds. Ford and Devinci have also put together a car/bike package. Initially, the program is only taking place in Ontario, however, the companies hope to roll it out across Canada for next season. Purchasers of certain models of Ford vehicles (Escorts and pickups, for now), can get a Devinci bike (in team colours), plus a rack for an extra $500. Devinci reports that the program is enjoying success so far.
Devinci and Daredevil (a Québec-based cycle clothing company) also released a new line of bikes at Interbike for the U.S. market. The bikes will carry the Daredevil name.
Another Fad is Born
Everyone in the bike industry has been exposed to the "bicycle saddles cause impotency" story by this time. It seems that this story just wonıt quit - another revival of it appeared in the Globe and Mail within the last week. Well, some saddle makers have decided to cash in on the craze.
I counted at least 5 different versions of saddles that promise to protect your delicate parts from damage. Some are just regular saddles with a depression or cut-out, others look like they are the product of warped and twisted minds. Specialized is running a series of ads with the caption: "If you canıt get excited by this saddle, buy it." Also cashing in is Terry Bicycles, who have seen their sales of Liberator saddles soar.
Just what we need - a short-term jump in sales fuelled by fearmongering. The big question is: how many people were turned off cycling by the same campaign...
OGC Grabs Answer/Manitou
Outdoor Gear Canada will take over Canadian distribution of Answer/Manitou products from Tucker-Rocky, who are getting out of the bicycle business in Canada. OGC will carry the complete line of Answer/Manitou shocks, shoes and components, and will add technical support for these products to their race event program.
Bike Purchased by Petersenıs, Bicyclist Ceases Publication
Petersen, a very large U.S. magazine publisher, who owns the Bicyclist (formerly Bicycle Guide) and Mountain Biker titles has made some major moves in the past few weeks. First, Bicyclist will cease publishing with the October issue. This will leave North America without a single purely road cycling consumer mag. Bicycle Guide/Bicyclist has struggled for years, as the mountain bike craze grew, but it is still unfortunate to see the demise of what was once a fine publication.
Petersen has also announced the purchase of Surfer Publications - publishers of Bike and Powder magazines. At this time, it is uncertain whether Bike will continue, or whether it will be rolled into Mountain Biker (most likely). Related to this, Petersen has lured away from Bicycle Retailer editor Marc Sani, to become editor of Powder and Mountain Biker. This is an enormous coup for Petersen, and a big loss for Bicycle Retailer (as they battle Velo Business), since Sani is highly respected within the industry.
Interbike Reports Record Advanced Registration
Retailer registration for Interbike in Vegas was up 42 percent from the year before. Advanced registrations of 11,887 owners, managers and staff were recorded, representing 3,145 outlets. Show floor space was up slightly from last year, with 918 companies represented, including 120 international ones.
Changes at ACS
Among the numerous Canadians making a quick dash to Interbike were the Aurora Cycle Supply guys. Stuart James was joined by new eastern and northern Ontario rep James Bongard in Las Vegas, to check out what the competition were doing "and maybe pick up one or two items (for distribution)". KHS bikes are going well for ACS, reports James, with a new program in place for '99. Retailers will be able to mix and match component groups and frames, with ACS stocking a full complement in their warehouse. Choices will include full LX, XT or XTR groups, with matching RST, Manitou or Marzocchi forks. KHS is also introducing a new soft tail design - a rear suspension system that works on chainstay flex, a la Moots and Ritchey (among others). The bikes will offer 1" of travel, and will start at around $1000 Canadian retail.
Rocky was garnering lots of attention at the Demo Day with their RM9 full suspension bike. The 9 refers to the 9" of rear travel that the bike offers. To bad that the sample was a prototype, not ready to ride at the Demo Day. The frame is available in 18" only, with an asking price of $2500 U.S. retail. It is constructed of Easton Rad tubing. Rocky says that it will be available at the end of the year.
Sram vs Sachs?
The line between Sram and Sachs (the U.S. company that bought German Sachs earlier this year) is beginning to get rather blurred. Sram is stamped on derailleurs carrying the Plasma, Quarz, Neos and Centera names (all Sachs models). The explanation is that Sram has limited use of the Sachs name, and is gradually moving everything over to their own brand. Chains and internal hubs will remain Sachs for the time being, since they are so heavily identified with the (former) German company. Also, the Sachs-based products will remain Shimano compatible, while Sramıs ESP line continues to forge its own path.
Among the new Sram products are disc compatible hubs (very nice looking, and light), a new brake lever design with shortened reach and more sculpted design, and a new line of 'V' style long-armed cantilevers. The new brakes will come in 5.0, 7.0 and 9.0 versions, to match the derailleur groups. One of the most useful features was a Nightcrawler for the brake cable. A Nightcrawler, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, is an enclosed casing for the cable, that stops it from becoming too gunked up, so that it won't move properly. The unit also has a handy plastic piece for easy grip on the noodle while unhooking the brake.
Finally, Sram is very near to introducing their own 9 speed cogset.
These Canadian road bike builders decided to skip the Canadian show to concentrate on their U.S. customers. Among their new offerings was a 2.9 pound (1.3 kgs) road frame built with a custom blend of Columbus tubing. The frame, with a Profile carbon fork, has a suggested retail of $1799 U.S.
Trek has not been sitting still! They have introduced WSD - Women Specific Design - bikes for next year. The 4 models (2 road, 2 mountain) will be proportionately designed for women, with the road models have 650c wheels.
Also new is the VRX series - Variable Rate Suspension. These full suspension bikes (4 models) offer 3 position adjustability in the rear shock, for riding ranging from cross-country to downhill. The Y-bike series will continue to exist, with the VRX positioned in the downhill, 'Freeride' market, and the Y's in the cross-country niche.
As always, lots of new stuff from Shimano. Let's start with shoes. There are now 19 models of shoes in the line, many new. For mountain bikes there is a new top-end model called the Kilazilla. It comes with an exoskeleton (X-O in Shimano speak) that will make it easier to walk in, while maintaining rigidity for cycling. Next down (in new models) is the Zillaroid - a higher cut boot, which designed for the offroad touring group. A low-cut version of the same shoe is the Megagan - the new part about this shoe is that it will be the first shoe ever offered by Shimano specifically for women, designed with on a last for a woman's foot. The final new shoes in the offroad range are the Lavadron and Valadron. These are high and low-cut version that resemble nothing so much as hiking boots. They are intended for the touring crowd who want to go for a walk as well as a ride. All of the last four shoes mentioned come with a single velcro strap and laces. The downhill shoe is unchanged at this time; Shimano says that they are redesigning it. the road shoe line has also had some work done, there are now 5 models. The reason is because of the Spinning craze at fitness clubs - Shimano has seen very large growth on the road side. Finally, Shimano has a shoe that does not accept cleats - the Reconorath. It seems to be intended for the BMX crowd.
In Shimano componentry, the big news is Mega9: 9 speeds for LX, XT and XTR and 105. All of these groups, plus Ultegra and Dura Ace will now also accept the Shimano Flight Deck computer. The Flight Deck didnıt get much play last year, partially because it was restricted to high end road. LX and XT both get major reworkings, particularly in the brakes and the crank. LX looks especially strong, gaining parallel-push technology for the braking system and much better cosmetics. STX and STX-RC get no changes, but Alivio moves to 8 speed and both it and Acera get V brakes. On the road side, as mentioned above, 105 goes to Mega9, Dura Ace, Ultegra, RX100 and 300EX stay the same, and RSX goes to 8 speed.
Auto-D, the electronic shifting system for city bikes that Shimano has been selling in Europe will now be offered in North America. Shimano is pushing it pretty heavily, with an Auto-D display at the show, but dealer interest seems lukewarm so far.
Finally, Shimano is offering a 25th Anniversary Dura Ace group. Polished and buffed like you've never seen, 50 grams lighter than regular Dura Ace, 50% more expensive than regular Dura Ace, and limited to 6000 worldwide. Each set is numbered and comes in a fancy aluminium case, with a special edition watch. Available in January, Bill Scullion of Shimano Canada says that some will be available for the Canadian market - order early.
This French company introduced it's one shifter for both front and rear this year (see Canadian Cyclist #2, 1998). They are now rolling out both a rear derailleur and a set of brake levers. Expect to see it next Spring in the stores. The shifter is now being spec'd for '99 on Procycle, Cycles Devinci and Victoria Precision in Canada (they are talking with others). In the U.S. the company is selling direct to retailers, in Canada through Cycle Lambert.
A new high end fork - the SX Carbon. It is a cross-country fork with 70mm of travel, a foamcore carbon brake arch and a hollow crown. Weight is 2.8 pounds. The shock doesn't use air, just a titanium spring in the right leg, and a twin piston chambered hydraulic damping system in the left. U.S. retail is $649. Manitou has added grease gun type fittings on their forks to lubricate the stanchions - the system is called Microlube and is a nice touch. Also smart is an upgrade kit for the '98 forks that will give the rider much of the weight reduction realized in the SX Carbon. The kit is $249 (U.S. retail), and excellent upgrade sale for dealers who can't talk people into what will be a very expensive fork in Canada. Finally, Manitou has introduced an on-the-fly lockout thumbswitch for their forks ('98 and '99). Just reach down and flick the switch on one leg to lockout the suspension. U.S. retail is $85. As mentioned elsewhere, Outdoor Gear Canada has taken over distribution of the Manitou line.
Specialized definitely had the hottest couple of bikes at the show - the FSR XC M4 and the M4 Road. M4 refers to their new aluminium alloy (containing silicon and vanadium), which has great elongation properties, allowing the company to effectively shape the tubes and vary wall thickness. The result is an aerodynamic road frame that is sub-3 pounds, and a stock out of the box full suspension bike of 23 pounds. Both will be offered with a variety of component and fork options. The road will come either as a Dura Ace or an Ultegra bike, priced at $3000 and $2000 (U.S.) respectively. The FSR XC M4 offers 3" or rear travel and 70mm front.
Also new from Specialized is the King Cobra helmet. Technically, it was supposed to be out for '98, however, production finally began 3 weeks ago. The snap-on visor is very neat, and weight (without the visor) is 9.4 ounces.
A new BLT helmet light, and upgrade from the Firefly. It offers an aluminium body, 15W bulb, LED charger and 5.0 amp battery - brighter, lighter, stronger and longer lasting. Plus, only $30 dollars more (at retail) than the Firefly - definitely a winner.
Norco is also revamping the Adams Trail a Bike brand that they bought last year. 4 new models of child attachment bikes, 2 trailers and 2 joggers, plus a line of kids bikes to come. Norco is turning Adams into their juvenile line.
New, lower priced Raven full suspension bikes - the 700 (LX/XT, $3155 Canadian retail); and 900 (Plasma shifter/derailleur and Magura hydraulic disc brakes, $3515 Canadian retail). Both offer 80mm of front and 100mm of rear travel.
Cannondale was also showing an experimental lockout unit for their Headshok suspension fork (Alison Sydor is currently riding it), and the disc brakes that Alison has been riding all year are now beginning to ship to dealers in limited quantities.
While the Cross Max and new (cheaper) Cross Links wheel sets were getting attention at the Mavic booth, it was the Mektronic electric shifting system (road) that was the biggest hit of the show. This is the old Zap system as it should have been! Three positions of shifters (top of brake levers, on the drops and on the top of the bars), a built in computer, and smooth, smooth shifting. Plus the retail is $700 U.S. It works with Shimano 8 and 9 speed out of the box (spacers needed to work with Campagnolo). Weight is the same as Campagnolo and Shimano systems. A very exciting design, expected to be in the stores by next spring.
Alex Steida has surfaced again in the bike industry, working with this Alberta startup company that is producing a very nice monocoque carbon frame. Canadian retail on the frame is $1899. Contact them at 1-800-383-2007.
Hayes was showing a cable actuated hydraulic disc brake. It is activated by a standard linear pull brake cable, so that it can be attached to regular brake levers. Very smooth action.
Hugh Black of True North Cycles is one Canadian who decided to exhibit at Interbike rather than BTAC. He was showing a new straight blade fork design that was getting a lot of attention and a prototype cyclo-cross bike. Also in the booth was a radical design one-arm suspension fork with a Hayes disc brake. The Descent fork was one of those small booth wonders that had people lining up to try it out. The fork is extremely plush. Complete weight for the fork, shock, hub and brake is about 6 pounds. U.S. retail is $1195. Contact them at (416) 749-0314.