Saturday, September 24, 2016

Reconnecting with the tribe

Some hate Vegas--but I always have fun out here
If it's September, it's time to travel to Las Vegas and attend Interbike. One of the largest gatherings of industry insiders in the world, Interbike has been a fixture for the US retailer and international visitors for two decades or more. Some of my readers may not even know that I run a small bicycle retail establishment, Tandem Pro, from the confines of my house, and so I have been to Interbike more often than the number that the digits on my hands and feet combined would yield.
At the finish line of Crossvegas, the UCI world Cup opener for 2016
For the past ten years, Interbike has also become synonymous with "It's 'Cross Time!" Initially just a sideshow, Crossvegas has advanced to World Cup status, and this year it marked the opening round of the 2016 UCI Telenet Cyclo-Cross World Cup. So what could be more fortuitous than to be assigned to such a race and also attend Interbike?
Fancy bikes such as Markus Storck's special edition Aston Martin-inspired
road bike are pure bike porn
For four days I was out here in Vegas to work and to "work." The race stuff took place on the first two days, and then I spent my time at the tradeshow. I had been put up in the Monte Carlo, and Interbike takes place in the Events Center of Mandalay Bay. So I got a chance to use the better part of $50 in credit with Lyft, Uber's pendant that is trying hard to break into the market in Vegas. Show hours are from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., with the last few hours usually spent with a beer in hand chatting with like-minded retailers and exhibitors.
Really? Is this going to sell?
If one attends an annual event over such an extended period one makes friends whom one sees the next year, and the next, and the next. The bike industry is so appealing to me since it exudes the same feeling of community that a good mountain bike race has. I talked to dozens of long-time industry insiders whom I have met over the years, some of them owners of big companies, others grunts who every year seem to hold a similar job with a different bike company. One exchanges ideas, asks how the kids are, bemoans that we're all getting older, and hands out fake compliments about how good we look. It doesn't matter--it's just really, really great to see these folks as it provides a sense of tribal belonging that humans still crave thanks to our ancestral roots.
Empty aisles and Korean eBike peddlers
Interbike itself has lost much of its luster. Gone are the heady days of the mountain bike boom in the mid-nineties when one booth after the next showed off something with a wow factor of 1,000+. Thanks to the Internet, new products now are old news before they ever make it to a tradeshow, and customers in general are better educated on what's hot than retailers. As a result, Interbike seems to me on the decline--fewer exhibitors (maybe not by number as long as the East Asian suppliers flood in with their products that nobody gives a damn about) and definitely much, much less foot traffic in the aisles. On Thursday at noon, with another day and a half of show to go, it felt as if it was five minutes before closing time on Friday. Anemic is a complimentary term. Large bike companies such as Trek, Specialized, and Giant now have their own private dealer events, and fewer and fewer retailers see the need to come out to Interbike. It'll be interesting what the next few years will bring.
The Aria is one of Vegas' newest creations
The Chandelier restaurant, inside the Aria
Beautiful use of space by another Aria restaurant
Outside of Interbike I used my time to reacquaint myself with Vegas. In the two years since my last visit here, the new Aria has sprung up, with its fabulous shops and restaurants; the High Roller has become the largest wheel in the world; and removing the ceiling from Vegas by establishing more outdoor spaces with shops and restaurant instead of slot machines has become de rigueur in new developments. Quite frankly, this make-over was long due as Vegas' old casinos (for example the Imperial Palace--now completely redone and reborn as The Linq--as well as the Monte Carlo, Excalibur, and Flamingo are all still steeped in the '60s and '70s). If you haven't been to Vegas in a decade, do yourself a favor and go out there again: It's a different place.
The High Roller is larger than the London Eye; rides at night are $50
Of course, they still try to part you from your money in every possible way. But what used to be just gambling has moved into all facets of the hospitality and retail industries, and the possibilities to dine and shop are endless. Just don't expect too many bargains. Yep, that was indeed $10 for an IPA in the Beerhaus in a 12 oz plastic cup. The breakfast buffet on a Saturday in the Monte Carlo is going to set you back $29 with tax. Ouch. But those who come here bring a wad-full of greenbacks and don't give a damn, and Vegas knows that and milks it.
Paris is still here
Thank goodness for us old guys, sex still sells. Be it lovely mock copettes, body-painted breasts, or simply the unending stream of imported gals on a bachelorette trip, there's eye candy everywhere. And right next to it are the eyesores that even Vegas cannot gloss over: homeless people who are lying in the streets, veterans "proudly" asking for help, and other who are simply hungry and silently hold up a small card-board sign. Yep, that's Las Vegas, too.
Sex continues to sell in Vegas
So I leave you with a pic of an older man reaffirming his vows to his beloved wife in front of the Bellagio, with one of the many Elvises holding watch and tourists cheering them on. Vegas is Vegas and will always remain Vegas.


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