By Brett Ratner
The Chainlink just wrapped up an eventful week at Interbike, the bicycle industry's largest US trade show. It should go without saying that if you love cycling, attending Interbike truly makes you feel like a kid in a candy store.
For starters, Interbike's first two days consist of outdoor bicycle demos, where you can test ride the industry's latest and greatest bikes, wheels and components at Bootleg Canyon, just outside of Las Vegas.
The Interbike Outdoor Demo Day compound: Thousands of bikes waiting to be flogged (photo courtesy of SnowyMountain photography).
Known primarily as a premiere mountain bike destination (particularly in the realm of extreme downhill/freeride), Bootleg offers miles and miles of technical singletrack trails featuring steep inclines, sharp drops and jagged volcanic rocks covered in loose sand and scree. Trails range from fairly easy to "you could die if you screw up" hard, so the conditions provide a good test of an off-road bike's stability, traction, ability to climb technical terrain and of course take bumps and hits.
Bootleg Canyon offers countless natural and man-made features to test the limits of man and machine, such as this 2"x 4" "skinny" followed by a 4-foot-high drop-off (photo courtesy of SnowyMountain Photography).
Bootleg also features a smooth-as-silk paved bike path that offers some fast, sweeping turns on the way down to the base of the park and a moderately stiff climb on the way back up. There's also an equally smooth stretch of flat road at the base of the park, perfect for testing a time trial bike in aero position or riding a standard road bike flat out. Other features include a pump track with tabletop jumps, skinnies, and a "Fat Bike Proving Ground."
With all this great riding to be had and literally thousands of bikes waiting to be flogged, it was an amazing opportunity to test new technology. It was also the perfect chance to experience high-end, pro-level models of all styles that are generally out of budget, or ride specialty bikes designed for terrain we don't have here in Chicago.
Bike manufacturers had teams of mechanics on hand to set riders up with test bikes (photo courtesy of SnowyMountain photography).
The rest of the Interbike week takes place at the convention center in Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay hotel and casino. Like any other trade show, you wander around football field-sized rooms filled wall-to-wall with booths. The difference is that these booths are full of bikes and cool bike stuff! Aside from being outside riding your bike, we can't personally think of a better way to spend a day.
Almost all the major bike manufacturers hosted large booths, like this one, to showcase their entire 2016 product lines.
Since The Chainlink's readership spans a wide array of riders, from commuters to recreational riders to weekend racers, we made sure we didn't waste the entire week sussing out the technical nuances that separate the latest crop of 27.5" enduro bikes (and believe us, you could spend an entire week doing that).
Instead, we opted for a sampler sundae. In other words, testing different styles of bikes and visiting a reasonable variety of bike, apparel and accessory manufacturers in an effort to try to assess an overall "state of the bicycle industry."
One highlight of attending Interbike is the chance to see actual bikes used by the pros, such as this Pinarello ridden by Tour de France Champion Chris Froome.
And the state of the bicycle industry? We think it's a great time to be a cyclist, plain and simple.
In other words, bikes are really, really good right now. They're light, fast, comfortable, fun to ride, and way more capable than we are. Best of all, companies are taking risks with stuff like unusual wheel/tire sizes, suspensions, drivetrains, disc brakes, through axles, and they're knocking it out of the park every time it seems. Perhaps more importantly, they're paying attention to the new types of riding that are gaining popularity, and finding creative ways to build bikes that meet the needs of today's consumers.
Many of today's bikes can do (and be accessorized to do) practically anything you want.
All said and done, we got to try carbon, aluminum and steel...fat bike, road bike, gravel/monstercross, 27.5" trail bikes and 29" cross country racers...1x11 drivetrains, 2x11 drivetrains with electronic shifting, dropper seatposts, remote suspension lockouts, tubeless tires...and it all rocked.
On the accessory and apparel side, companies are making gear that strives to be more comfortable, higher performance, more practical, better looking...and oftentimes environmentally responsible too. Best of all, companies are responding to niches that are rising in popularity. Want to go "bikepacking" in the wilderness? We saw at least half a dozen companies eager to gear you up. Want to do a nighttime gravel ride out on country roads. We saw light kits galore. Want clothing that can stand up to the weather, but not look out of place once you get to the office, restaurant or bar? They have that too.
Not only is the bike industry making cool stuff, many are finding responsible ways to make it. This company, for example, "upcycles" products using discarded inner tubes and fabric scraps from tent manufacturers and sign companies.
This may sound like brown nosing, but it's not. Bike companies have a long and proud history of ideas that didn't work (Trek 69er) and tech that just wasn't yet up to snuff in terms of reliability (Avid Juicy disc brakes, circa 2007-ish, based on my experiences).
And, let it be stated that there are some new trends we're fairly sure we oppose (electric-assisted mountain bikes).
We're not saying we can't be convinced to change our opinion, but at the moment, we believe "e-bikes" should be confined to test tracks like this. Except for special circumstances, we feel strongly they don't belong on the streets...and definitely, absolutely not on the trails.
But all in all, our local bike shops will have lots of cool stuff available to spend our discretionary dollars on. So, over the next few weeks, we'll be publishing recaps and featuring gear we think you'll like.
In the mean time, we assembled some pix of one of the biggest trends at this years' Interbike: Fat Bikes. Enjoy!
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