This year’s reflections from the world’s biggest bike show. No, not the Tour de France or the streets of Copenhagen where cycling itself is on show. This is the biggest show of bikes, bits and all the associated services that go with them in the world and it attracts an enormous range of visitors and companies to Friedrichshafen in southern Germany. (Keeping the rough rule that my professional work stays distinct from the blogging my work at the show can be seen over at ECF’s news pages here.)
I have to be honest, am not someone who can get excessively excited by the promised benefits of a new carbon weave or the relative merits of some enormously expensive braking system over another. There are many cycling bloggers and journalists whose raison d’etre is bikes and bits so I have to leave judgement on the merits of the products to them. This year I was even so busy I didn’t even get a single test ride which was a little bit frustrating.
My “Do not despair” thoughts are all about people and atmosphere with the occasional showstopper moment thrown in. I do like bikes as art or design and to be fair to our industry colleagues there are plenty of occasions when the exhibits have some “wow factor”, but to me that is aesthetic as much as technical. (Not all bike show exhibits are eye catching for the right reasons – remember this moment of madness from earlier in the year?)
It is essentially a trade show, business to business, so its primary target is manufacturers, bike shop owners and their wholesalers who come to sort out what bikes they will be selling in 2014, what the components will be and where the trends are. On the Saturday it also opens its doors to around 20,000 cyclists, mainly from Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
The overwhelming impression you get from Eurobike is just how big the bike industry is when you see it on a global scale. This year Eurobike had 1400 companies, 2000 journalists and 45,000 trade visitors putting well out ahead of the other two main shows at Taipei and Interbike in the US.
It is also home base for Europe’s biggest cycling market Germany so there is a lot of focus on how cycling in Germany is going in any given year. As my regular readers know I am very excited about how cycling in Germany is growing, I think their cities and cycle touring have a formula for success that is bringing results.
Now it is very clear that this importance has the highest level of political endorsement in Germany because the star of Eurobike this year wasn’t a piece of technology or even one of the celebrity riders like Tour de France breakthrough star Markus Kittel. They were all swamped by the appearance of “Angie”.
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. With respect to our French, British and Italian friends she is almost certainly the most powerful politician in Europe and in Germany she has superstar status. Various coincidences of the German election campaigning season meant that Eurobike fitted her schedule but the overwhelming mood of the show was that this was a breakthrough moment for cycling in Germany. Nearly 18 months ago I wrote about President Ma of Taiwan coming to open the bike show at Taipei and declaring himself to be Taiwan’s number 1 cyclist.
At the time I was able to reflect that this couldn’t happen anywhere else in the world, it was entirely due to the business clout of the Taiwanese bike industry.
How wrong I was, and how pleased I am about it too because it is a real coup for cycling in Europe, not just in Germany. I was very pleased to get a place in the room for the opening because it was a bit of a superstar moment for us policy wonks too.
Angie herself was somewhat of a surprise package as well. One of our journalist colleagues said she “stole the show”. I think I have only every seen this rather sour-faced, serious woman who is set on bashing her own and other people’s economies into shape. So when she got up on stage, smiled a bit, relaxed and told a few modest local jokes she had the whole room in her hands. It even worked through the rather overwrought translator who was breathlessly trying to keep up through our earpieces in a horrible monotone.
She did apologise for not being a cyclist, explaining that when she was 15 the Russian soldiers in the forests around her home stole her bicycle, but apparently that wasn’t the reason she had a political reputation for not liking the Russians!
As well as the political clout the other stars of a business event are of course the business leaders, however their presence is much more low-key. It isn’t the impression I get from reading about other industries like cars or IT where the CEOs are put on a pedestal. No Steve Jobs moments at Eurobike, Here you are quite likely to bump into the CEO of the world’s biggest bike company casting a paternal eye over his company’s display (Tony Lo of Giant) and the others are out and about on the floor.
Product wise the E-bikes remain the place where the biggest buzz is happening, especially in Germany. Bernhard Lange, President of the German manufacturers’ association ZIV was even able to tell Angela Merkel that cycling has delivered her target of 1 million electric vehicles on Germany’s streets although the ferocious political leverage that the car industry has here meant that she quickly had to tell him that they hadn’t meant that.
One of my favourites was actually British, the GoCycle is a very stylish folding E-bike which I am actually hoping to test in Brussels in the next few weeks.
As I whizzed around the booths there is always room for some stylish carbon and huge arrays of mountain bikes but fortunately right in front of our booth was the Eurobike award winners’ section so I was able to sneak over and take a look at some trend setters.
Among them my first look at a Surly fat bike which was a pretty eye-catching. I have seen increasing mentions in US blogs about them and in the winter of last year I could almost have done with one in Belgium.
Very, very stylish cloth coated saddle from Brooks. Since the company was saved by Selle Royal I think they have done a great job bringing Italian creativity to this most traditional of British icons. It is cotton set on vulcanised rubber – pretty much unique.
Unfortunately the scale of Eurobike does provide the other overwhelming impressions of Friedrichshafen show and an almost permanent talking point amongst the attendees. Once inside the Messe (exhibition centre) it is busy, but well run and efficient. Outside is chaos. There are not enough hotels so people stay up to 30km away, but this in turn means they largely need to drive to get to the show. Some of the veterans have booked the same hotel for about 15 years to keep a place and other experts from the mountain bike festival scene enjoy the camp site instead. However most just drive – on Thursday the queues to the West were over 20km long.
It would be nice to think we could all ride in on the great network of cycle paths or get the plentiful shuttle buses but even the cycling advocacy world knows that getting your way in and out from the countryside in good shape to stand and meet people all day isn’t practical for everyone. Many try to avoid driving, including me. However even with a relatively straightforward journey I managed to mess up one day and required 3 stages of public transport to get back to my hotel at 10.30 pm. Instead of rich Swabian cookery I had a burger from a well-known fast food brand at Friedrichshafen station which really did not sit very well. Not my finest hour.
However bad it gets it seems Eurobike is an addictive draw for the global bike industry and it looks likely to remain the key show of the year. Increasingly it is growing on me. I genuinely believe we have a very special business, I like the personalities of that community, even the most battle hardened CEOs of stock market listed industrial conglomerate seems to smile more when engaged in the bike world. But at Eurobike they are also surrounded by thousands of company owners for whom running a bike company is a multi-generational passion which has been passed on for as much as 100 years. From bike shops to giant companies like SRAM and Shimano we still see the founders intimately involved in many companies, still bringing the energy they had when they started out.
It never feels like that when I work in any other sector, long may it continue.