A review of Interbike 2010, on the back of a big and bold Eurobike show earlier this summer, from Mark Faga and Gary Roethenbaugh of MultiSport Research….
Leaving Las Vegas
With around 23,000 total attendees annually, Interbike is the largest bike industry show in North America. The Sands Expo next to the Venetian hotel on the Las Vegas strip is well placed for those who like to work hard and play hard.
This year, more than 24,000 exhibitors and attendees filled the hall for Interbike 2010 – representing a 3% increase on Interbike 2009.
Just ahead of this year’s show, Interbike management confirmed that it would be holding its 2011 trade show during 8-12 August 2011 in Anaheim, California. The date and location realignment came ‘after months of collecting feedback from bike industry retailers, manufacturers and partners through surveys, forums and discussions.’ Interbike plans to hold the show at the Anaheim Convention Center for three years, beginning with the 2011 show.
Of the many bike and triathlon retailers walking the floor, the attendees tended to have a love or hate relationship with Las Vegas. Some people enjoy Vegas and think Anaheim will be less than exciting, others can¹t wait for the show to move.
According to the team at Interbike, retailers attending in early August next year will have the benefit of meeting with their brand partners shortly after product introductions. This provides them with more options and market intelligence in the timeframe when many purchasing decisions are made.
Interbike 2011 will therefore be 6 weeks earlier than usual. The earlier date in August does recognise that the buying cycle has come forward. As so many bikes are produced in Asia, lead times need to be longer.
Commenting on the change of dates for Interbike, Mike Nix, President of the National Bicycle Dealer Association (NBDA) said, "The NBDA supports and endorses the date and location changes because it is in the industry’s best interest.”
He added, "We understand that these changes will take some adjustment, but we know that it will put Interbike in the sweet spot of the buying cycle and help the show remain the most important business gathering for bicycle retailers."
Following the change of dates and cities in 2011 – August will be a busy month for the bike industry. Just after the Tour de France 2011 (the 98th Tour, held over 2-24 July) has completed, Interbike will be aiming to lure bike manufacturers to its 2011 show. More than ever before, next year, Interbike will be going head to head with Eurobike.
On the other side of the pond, in Germany, Eurobike has gone from strength to strength. Eurobike 2010 saw trade visitor numbers grow 6% to reach over 41,400 this year, with attendees from 102 countries.
Following its Demo Day held on Tuesday 30 August 2011 – the main Eurobike 2011 show then takes place on Wednesday 31 August to Saturday 3 September.
With such a narrow time window between Interbike in mid August and Eurobike at the end of August, the two events are vying to be the key global destination for bike retailers/buyers.
Eurobike is certainly bigger in scale. Although, for the triathlon community it is arguably less pivotal. At Interbike this year, there were a number of triathlon related booths with tempting triathlon products. The Triathlete Magazine redesign was unveiled there. It¹s an indicator of the importance of Interbike for the triathlon community.
Interbike is obviously a show dedicated to cycling manufacturers selling their products to bike retailers. However, the triathlon industry has over the years moved into the picture. Even though tri is clearly in the minority, the presence of triathlon was felt through a number of dedicated brands on show.
In addition, there were a number of cycling brands that dabble in triathlon and are starting to make a bigger push into the tri category. Coupled with this, there were many triathlon and time trial bikes showcased (On day 1 of Interbike, the Scott Highroad TT bike was proudly displayed in a glass cabinet at the main show entrance.).
Clearly, the TT/triathlon bike has an aesthetic appeal to bike lovers. The challenge for triathlon going forward is to emulate the strength and scale of the road cycling industry. A bigger scale triathlon industry would be a bonus for all industry players – from manufacturers, to retailers, service providers and the media.
At Interbike, the triathlon booths tended to be smaller than many of the larger bike or nutrition booths. This does illustrate that there is still some way to go. Although, surely, the only way is up!
The big compression squeeze
Among the triathlon brands, the booths with some of the biggest space were dedicated to compression. 2XU and Skins led the way with a good amount of space devoted to compression fabric. Compression is becoming better understood by athletes and is slowly entering the consciousness of the mainstream consumer. 2XU is also armed with new data that supports the effectiveness of compression.
Another smaller player also present at Interbike was SLS3. The company states that its triathlon apparel and compression-wear is ‘designed to reduce muscle vibration, a major cause of muscle fatigue, improve the feedback between your body and your brain, increase accuracy and efficiency of your movement, and provide superior comfort and fit.’
At these early stages in the lifecycle of compression-wear, all brand owners were keen to back any claims made with strong scientific research. With scientific support and athletes generally feeling the benefit when using compression, this is an area likely to expand in the months and years ahead.
Dig the new breed
The larger exhibitor space purchased by compression specialists 2XU and Skins reflected a new breed of expanding brands coming through. Although these companies are smaller in scale than the global leaders in the bike industry, there was a notable buzz around their booths.
(At Eurobike, the Skins booth was described by some factions of the bike media as ‘incredible’. Deploying models in large cut out holes and a ‘human hamster’ cyclist pedalling on-high and kitted out in Skins apparel – it was certainly high impact.)
The impression given by companies such as 2XU and Skins, alongside other operators such as Pearl Izumi, is that they are intending to go places. While all of these companies are not purely engaged in triathlon apparel, they do see this as a core offering to be involved with and they are intending to ride the growth curve.
Pearl Izumi had an innovative plug and play retail fixture on show. Here, the company offered bike retailers in particular a ready-made solution for getting triathlon products in store. With training support and a dedicated fixture laying out essential triathlon gear – such as footwear and apparel – Pearl Izumi is looking to capitalise on the demand for triathlon coming from the bike trade.
Pearl Izumi recognises that retailer and consumer education is required. As provided by a number of other operators, such as blueseventy, supporting sales materials enable retailers to make a quick start into the world of triathlon.
We see therefore how bike brand apparel players, in tandem with bike retailers, are getting into triathlon. While it may not offer the scale of the bike business – good margins on certain triathlon lines will help support a bike retail community under pressure amidst the ongoing credit crunch. So, as the bike industry embraces multisport, this can only be good news for triathlon’s growth prospects.
Custom – it’s all about you
There were several vendors with a product offering built around one-of-a-kind or small-run products.
Serotta – based out of Saratoga Springs, New York – builds bikes fitted to the athlete in the US. Italian custom bike frame specialist Liger also had a custom triathlon bike on show, with tailored geometry and an innovative paint job.
Meanwhile, apparel companies Epix and Champion System sell triathlon kits and bike jerseys that can be printed with the visual design of sponsor companies, clubs or individuals.
There were two main hybrid/integrated product offerings at Interbike this year:
Integrated hydration: Camelbak is selling a line of clothing that integrates its hydration system into clothing. Instead of wearing a backpack, the bladder blends into the clothing. Kestral was showing its time trial bike with the Speedfill hydration system already on the bike. Beyond an endorsement of the product, this speaks to the beginnings of recognizing that time trial bikes are not naked in race conditions, but must also accommodate hydration, nutrition, patch kits, etc.
Integrated pedals: Last year Metrigear’s Vector power meter was integrated into a Speedplay pedal spindle. We saw how power measurements started to become integrated more seamlessly into the bike and into accessories. This year, we are seeing a competitive response. Polar and Look were demonstrating their new integrated power meter pedal that works with Look pedals and Polar bike computers and software. This will be available in 2011.
Garmin is also getting into the pedal power business by acquiring MetriGear on September 21. MetriGear adds power meters to Garmin’s sports line of products.
“Power is becoming the must-have information for cyclists who want to improve their performance,” said Cliff Pemble, Garmin’s President and COO. “Adding MetriGear’s talents and technologies to the Garmin family is a natural fit as we share a passion for fitness and are dedicated to making advanced technology affordable and easy to use.”
Multiple companies converging on this space are good news for triathletes who like to geek out with bike data.
Some interesting material developments were also on show at Interbike:
Carbon vs bamboo: With jokes about pandas getting a little old now, bamboo frames have come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. In Asia, bamboo is often used for scaffolding poles. It is a strong material, with flexibility. So, as a bike frame material there is some logic. Also, if produced appropriately, bamboo is sustainable – which ties in nicely with the environmental benefits of cycling.
Whether bamboo becomes a material of choice at triathlons in the key markets of North America and Europe remains to be seen. Californian designer Craig Calfee, of Calfee Design, did unveil a bamboo bike for triathlons – building upon bamboo road bike prototypes developed back in 2003.
However, Calfee has recently gone on to point out that “Carbon is still the mainstay here…. Our long experience with carbon fiber gives us the advantage in knowing how to get the best ride quality and longevity by orienting the fiber in the most effective manner.”
Carbon’s credentials are strong. Lance Armstrong’s six Tour de France wins on carbon underline the importance of this material to the cycling community and the industry that supplies it.
For both roadies and triathletes, similar factors influence purchasing decisions, such as: performance advantage, peer pressure and price. As production efficiencies ensure that carbon has become increasingly affordable, this has brought about a number of affordable entry level carbon bikes in recent years. Meanwhile, for many high-earning age group triathletes, premium priced carbon products will always have an appeal.
Ultimately, the weight to strength ratio of carbon fiber and its kudos among triathletes will likely keep carbon in pole position for some time to come.
coldblack: another material advancement on show at Interbike was the coldblack fabric – the new finish for textiles available for licensing from Schoeller Technologies AG. The Swiss based company was originally founded in 2000 and has been expanding the footprint of its innovative fabric in a number of active apparel categories. At Interbike, both blueseventy and Epix Gear were displaying triathlon suits using coldblack.
The coldblack fabric acts as both a sun reflector and a UV protector. So, while regular dark fabrics absorb both types of radiation and therefore absorb heat, coldblack reduces the absorption of heat rays, particularly in darker colors, and in all textiles. Coupled with this, coldblack guarantees a minimum UPF of 30 ‘when applied to any textile in any color without affecting the look or feel of the product.’ As a result, textiles with coldblack can make an effective contribution to protecting against harmful UV rays.
For long distance triathlon in particular, such as the ever growing Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events, this fabric would have a clear appeal. Black has always been a favoured colour, not least for its ability to cover up a triathlete’s modesty during hot and wet racing conditions! For 2011, we expect to see more of ‘cold as the new black’.
Economies of scale
The use of coldblack provides an added value premium for triathlon apparel. The products on show from blueseventy and Epix Gear were at the higher-end in terms of performance functionality – and therefore price.
Across the range of products on show at Interbike, and at Eurobike earlier in August, a polarization of pricing could be found. However, lower-end value offerings are very much seen by the bike and triathlon industry as recruitment vehicles rather than longer term product lines. Ultimately, in these testing economic times and as more new triathletes (and roadies) take up their sport of choice – a lower cost product is attractive as a first time purchase.
Once the sport has taken hold on an individual, they tend to stick with it. From this point onwards, there is a general migration upwards in terms of the price paid for bikes, equipment and apparel. So, we can see how a small amount of lower priced entry products in each brand owner’s range are deployed to entice new consumers. From here, there is a broad base of mid-tier price products – followed by more alluring super-premium offerings.
Ultimately, most products badged as ‘elite’ are not actually purchased by elite triathletes. Instead, these are typically worn as part of sponsorship/endorsement deals. It is the aspirational age grouper that will be prepared to buy an ‘elite product’ – and this is the type of consumer set to drive the value growth for triathlon in the years ahead.