Flashback. Eight-thirty a.m. and the blue-haired seniors are chain-smoking their way through another tub of quarters at the Venetian slots. Dealers shuffle from foot to foot at their empty tables waiting for the action to pick up, or the world to end. In their ruddy brown uniforms they look sad, empty and in need of ironing. There's no sign of Frank, Dean or Sammy; this feels like Fry's Electronics with a bigger architectural budget.
It's day three of interbike and I'm dead tired after two 20-hour tours of duty. I'm nibbling on my four dollar muffin surfing the tidal bore of attendees coursing towards the Sands Convention Center and the show's final act. Messenger bags, plus fours and body art adorn the younger set; it's probably the only week of the year you can walk a single speed through the casino without getting tackled. A few plump salmon gambling against the current don't stand a chance, they either make it to the slots or get swept downstream into the show.
And what a show... nothing can quite prepare the novice for the spectacle of gear, gadgetry and garb served up by over 900 exhibitors. The venue floor is a maze of industry giants, up-and-comers and fledgling startups oriented by some logic known only to oracles and political wedding planners. Navigating with a combination of dead reckoning and the stars (Mavic, Campagnolo, Cervélo) I managed to find my way around sticking to familiar but circuitous routes. Note to trade show organizers: start thinking about GPS, just don't rely on Garmin for software.
A week later I'm still trying to sort it all out. Here are some highlights.
Bicycles – Isaac Sonic, Velodramatic Best-in-Show
There were so many beautiful bicycles at the show singling out just one wasn't easy. Cervélo had the S3 in gleaming black and silver livery, demonstrating a fresh visual sensibility. The Edge Composites booth was literally ringed by seductive, desirable models (the two-wheeled kind) from Vanilla, Parlee, and Crumpton all wearing Edge carbon. Then there was Museeuw Bikes with what looked like new paint across the range. The MF-3 was a standout along with the new 50/50 carbon/flax wheels.
All of these rides would make me happy, but it was the Isaac Sonic that really got my heart racing. Pictured above, the Sonic was fitted out with Campagnolo's Super Record group and CarbonSports Lightweight wheels guaranteeing it would be unsuitably expensive. The Sonic tubes are massive, but in keeping with the company's appreciation for natural forms, they flow seamlessly into each other.
For all it's brawn the Sonic's clean, understated paint and type-inspired graphics clinched the deal. I'm not sure I'd roll with gold handlebar tape (I don't have the shoes to match) but it sure looked good on the display bike. If the economy ever gets over its nightmare, I'm dreaming there's an Issac in my garage in 2009.
Clothing – Mavic, Panache and a Visit from Rapha
Even though Rapha was officially sitting this one out, U.S. G.M. Slate Olson was keeping his finger on the pulse and checking out the show. Slate, Jeremy Dunn (editor of Embrocation magazine) and I met up for lunch on day two and I got see the new Rapha Softshell Gilet. I loved it, and I'm pleased to say the one I ordered arrived last week. I wore it commuting the next three days and it fits and functions as good as it looks. This is a versatile piece of kit and sure to go fast. Get your order in if you want to enjoy one this winter.
Elsewhere big yellow (Mavic) introduced their luxurious new shoe and clothing lines. Leveraging big daddy Salomon's Design Center in Annecy and its access to rarefied technical fabrics, Mavic has assembled an impressive offering that is as broad as it is deep. The Zxellium shoe in optic yellow and its mountain equivalent, the Fury, are featherweights that feature unique closures immune to the material memory that Mavic claims compromise typical straps. The full, matte-finished carbon soles are as sleek as the uppers and happily their threaded inserts are user replaceable. Several riders in the CrossVegas pack appeared to be wearing the Fury shoe.
In the essential department, Mavic will offer nine varieties of bibs/knickers including the Stealth short that's entirely without seams. Just looking at it made my essentials comfortable.
On a purely visual note, I really like what Mavic designers have done with the stylized "M" throughout the lines. It's used effectively as: a background field on shoe liners; repeated vertically on jacket zippers; horizontally banded on socks and singularly as an accent with pulls, badges, appliques and labels.
Newcomer and Velodramatic favorite, Panache Cyclewear, had a small, cozy display befitting a brand new outfit. It was great to meet founder, Don Powell in person after having exchanged countless emails with him over the past few months. He and designer Dylan Nelson showed attendees some polished, race-inspired pieces available now along with a few novel ideas coming soon. Look for clever overshoe gaskets and an under-jersey wind screen in the not-too-distant future.
Don proudly wore the Panache Training Jersey and Eleven bibs in the industry crit race Thursday night and despite getting involved in an early crash, came back strong to finish the 40 laps in tenth place.
Gear – Edge Composites, Super Record 11, Gore RideOn cables, Allay Saddles
I mentioned earlier that Edge Composites had assembled a sublime collection of bicycles to celebrate the companies growing reputation for quality carbon tubes, wheels and forks used by the likes of Parlee and Crumpton. Recently they've added a seatpost and handlebar to the mix. I'm not sure when they'll be available. I've emailed Jason for an answer.
I'm still getting used to my Ligero-built Edge Composites 38s... the differences between aluminum and deep-section carbon are more than I anticipated and I compounded the issue by going with Zipp carbon-specific pads over the recommended Swiss Stop Yellows. Sometimes I take the whole black and white thing too far. Jason set me straight and there's now a set of yellow pads headed my way. It will be great to stop again. Troy Watson of Ligero has a huge interbike gallery on Flickr. It features plenty of shots of the Edge booth and gear. Definitely worth checking out.
Edge Composites is a company to watch.
Campagnolo Record 11 and Super Record were the jewels of the show and everyone who was anyone was wearing them. I have no close up photographs of the components because I couldn't stop my hands shaking in their proximity. In lieu of that I substituted the fictional 11-speed ad below... the fishnet is a special carbon weave. The "11" bicycle WAS in the Campagnolo booth.
Gore impressed with the return of their RideOn Cable systems recently reintroduced to the North American and European markets. Standard equipment with SRAM's RED group set, the low-friction system is available in two flavors: standard; and sealed (within a continuous liner). Gore's Lois Mabon explained the system and the improvements that should make installation significantly easier for mechanics and wannabes alike. I'll have a feature and long-term road test of the sealed system soon.
I also spent time with Allay Saddles. Using technology that brings back memories of the Nike pump, Allay employs an air bladder under the front half of the saddle. The AirSpan feature is designed to alleviate pressure on that essential region we keep talking and worrying about. Given how easy it is to add and remove air this has got to be a boon on epic rides. Thanks to Allay I'll have one of these saddles installed on my commute bike for testing over the winter. I would point out that if you tune the AirSpan repeatedly while riding there's a good chance your fellow riders might think you're up to something else. Is that an AirSpan in your saddle or are you just glad to meet me?
And that does it for the highlights (well almost all of them). I learned more than I bargained for in the three days, met friends, made new ones and arranged to demo plenty of product in the coming year. If there was a disappointment, it was with the photography. With so much to cover it was difficult to talk and shoot at the same time. Next year I'll approach the event slightly differently. I'll start looking forward to it just as soon as I've caught up on my sleep.