Monday 11 October 2010

Cycling’s Promised Land: Visiting Eurobike 2010

Having moved to Germany at the end of August, I have been unable to devote much time to feeding the Tin Donkey.  However, this does not mean that I have not been cycling-busy and I have a lot of new material for the coming days.  One disappointment was that my cycling equipment arrived too late to go to l'Eroica this year, and when I saw that this was the situation, I decided on the spur of the moment to attend the largest cycling trade fair in the world, Eurobike, instead.  Here is my report, first published in a different version at, for whom I was an accredited correspondent!

In German folklore, the most perfect place on earth is called Schlarrafenland.  Fountains flow with wine, or beer, and the pigs frolicking about in the fields already have knives and forks thoughtfully stuck into them for convenience.  In terms of trade shows and bicycles, the closest thing to this surely must also be found in Germany: Eurobike in Friedrichshafen on beautiful Lake Constance, where Germany, Switzerland and Austria meet.

This year the show ran from September 1-4.  Unlike the Other Enormous Bicycle Trade Show held in the United States, Eurobike has its final day open to the public.  Germans love trade shows and I was a bit apprehensive about trying to make my way through vast crowds of salivating bicycle enthusiasts and seeing enough to interest Tin Donkey readers.  I had been told that two days would be necessary but I could not take advantage of this good advice due to my own time constraints, but I am glad that at least I took to heart the “wear comfortable shoes” suggestion.

The Pride of Friedrichshafen
A shuttle bus brought me from the main train station to the impressive exhibition grounds located adjacent to the Friedrichshafen airport.  Throughout the day we were to be entertained by the coming and going of the Zeppelin NT airship, based in a huge hangar adjacent to the show.  Friedrichshafen was the original home of the Zeppelin works, and a number of descendent companies, including the ZF transmission manufacturer, are still located there.  The company was a world leader in building lightweight, high-strength structure and old Count Zeppelin would have undoubtedly been impressed with what was on display at Eurobike.

I wandered about the show trying to gauge where the bicycle industry is headed and to enjoy the more idiosyncratic elements of our all-consuming lifestyle.  However, here are some numbers to impress you with: the show, which covers 100,000 square meters of exhibition space spread over 12 halls, saw 41,482 trade visitors from 102 countries; there were around 1,100 exhibitors from 42 countries; 1,732 journalists from 35 countries reported on Eurobike; there were 300 new product introductions; and on Public Day, 22,300 visitors paid to get in and look around.

My clever plan was to move rapidly through each hall, up and down each aisle, and then return to points of particular interest.  I also planned to limit my literature collecting to avoid dragging tons of paper along with me and concentrate on photos.  The plan fell apart immediately as I entered the largest hall , A1, which had some many interesting things going on that I ended up spending three of my allotted nine hours at the shows there.  However, to get to Hall A1, I first had to pass a demonstration area where merry participants were racing around on recumbents and tricycles in a wide variety of designs.  Nearby were several different Human Powered Vehicles (HPVs) on display, including one that resembled the famous Vector that set speed records and was tipped to be the auto replacement of the future three decades ago.  Although this never came to pass for various reasons, the Europeans have clearly not given up on the Velo-car idea entirely although human-powered air conditioning might be a prerequisite invention.

Entering Hall A1 (which the show guide helpfully noted was devoted to “bikes, accessories, parts,” as were all the remaining halls except for two), I was first drawn to the displays devoted to the huge number of show prizewinners, covering the range of everything bike-related.  I spent some time looking at the accessories and bikes displayed but was already beginning to feel overwhelmed with the crowds, so I headed to the area devoted to bike touring.

“Bike touring” tends to conjure images of sweaty adventurers on heavily-laden bicycles dragging all their worldly goods through the Kalahari or Tibet but many European regions have not only come to the realization that cyclists bring money but that they have to be proactive in attracting them.  There are private companies offering tours, which are generally of a fairly sedate nature, but I was impressed by the number of regions that were notable for mountain biking that were now working to attract more serious road cyclists.  Particularly strong pitches were coming from government agencies in Italy, Germany, Slovenia, Switzerland, Cypress and Austria.  Spain was represented by Mallorca, which draws thousands of German cyclists every Spring and there were even tour offerings for Thailand and Africa.  Literature included detailed routes–I particularly liked the fact that almost every ride featured in the Friuli Venezia Giulia booklet seems to take you over the unspeakable Monte Zoncolan!  Also commendable was the booklet, “The Climbs of Champions,” from Piedmont, suggesting a route with six major climbs on it where you can “measure your strength with legendary champions to achieve your victory.”  In addition, many regions also provide links to routes to load into your GPS unit before you arrive.

There are exhibitors at Eurobike who would be of limited interest to the public on Open Day (manufacturers of decals come to mind) but should not be overlooked in terms of the industry as a whole.  For example, a German trade school specializing in training bicycle and motorcycle mechanics had a stand and was seeking students.  The course sounded very comprehensive and there was even a version available for people who do not plan to be professional mechanics but only want to look after their own bikes.  As bicycles become more complex, the need for trained mechanics will not decline and apparently a shortage already exists in Europe.

Already loaded with brochures, I was now confronted with the hundreds of stands of manufacturers that are the core of Eurobike.  The majority of exhibitors in Hall A1 were Italian, with celebrated names including Campagnolo, De Rosa, Wilier and Santini.  De Rosa’s stand, in particular, was most impressive, with each of the bicycles on display exhibited like artworks.  Smaller manufacturers, without the same global presence, had much more modest displays.  However, bicycles shown by Milani, Viner, Scapin and others did not appear to be of lesser quality, although the crowds were elsewhere.  It was good to see that some of these builders had not given up on lugged steel frames.  Milani not only offered a very fine racing model, but also a nicely-equipped touring bike.

The majority of offerings by the Italians are as modern as anyone else’s predominantly Taiwanese- or Chinese-sourced goods.  There was a considerable presence of firms from Taiwan at the show and several of them showed carbon frames with no names that looked as if they could have been produced for several noted brands.  There were many brands that are marketed primarily in Europe and unknown to me but the bikes looked very similar.  There was even a line of carbon bikes named for Mario Cipollini and the stand featured a great video of the Lion King which was at least attracting more people than the bikes named after Marco Pantani.  No sign of Jan Ullrich bikes at all, though.

Shimano had an enormous stand, as befits is predominant role in the global bicycle components business.  The Dura-Ace Di2 electronic shifting system was to be seen all over Eurobike 2010 and visitors were given an opportunity to try the system out on trainer-mounted bikes, if they were willing to stand in line long enough.  One of Mark Cavendish’s bicycles was on display, as was a time trial bike belonging to Andre Greipel but Shimano seemed to downplay these compared to the new expanded Alivio internal hub system for commuting bicycles.

A company that did not downplay its role in racing successes was Specialized, which overshadowed all the other exhibitors in Hall A3 with a gargantuan display of seemingly every product it markets, and where it introduced the new Roubaix SL3 to consumers.  At the front of the display in the place of honour, behind a plexiglass wall, were bicycles that had been used this year by Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck and Fabian Cancellara.  The stand featured some strange things, including the one-off tandem Transition time trial bike that made everyone smile, but showed just how wide the Specialized line really is.  A large part of the stand was devoted to the Globe line of commuting/transportation bicycles.

The Specialized stand was mobbed by visitors, as were the smaller stands of Cervelo and German mail-order seller Canyon.  Other stands looked more like bicycle parking lots and did not draw as well, even if the sellers were well-known and long-established.  Bianchi is part of a company that markets other brands, including Gitane and Peugeot.  Some of the stuff was pretty strange: Sparta, which has given up on that diamond frame idea to produce bikes that look like ladders with handlebars and saddles, offered its own retro bike with a salute to modern artist Mondriaan; PG-Bikes saw its stand, where it showed bicycles that looked like 1920s motorcycles but with ridiculous gold plating, continually mobbed; and a Swiss entrepreneur showed a slightly Alex Moulton-like bicycle under the rather unfortunate brand name of Bruno.

Speaking of sissies, a strength competition, sponsored by the people from Austria who want you to come to the Őztal region, saw me try to put out my maximum power on a mountain bike.  I managed a not-dishonourable 863 Watts, which is pretty good with street shoes and jeans and earned me a water bottle with the bilingual motto “Not for Weicheier!/Nicht fűr Pussys,” which seems to have lost something in translation in both directions.  My friend Frank, a dedicated and very powerful cyclist, took a crack at this Great Test of Strength and scored less than I did.  This is simply ridiculous but at least they announced his name when he did the challenge whereas I guess I looked so pathetic they did not bother.

On the non-retro end of things, another trend was builders to take a leaf out of the Cervelo book and emphasize the aerodynamic qualities of their road bikes.  Scott showed its “Project F01,” with supposedly 20 percent less wind resistance than its Addict frame, while Canyon’s Aeroad CF claimed the same advantage over its Ultimate CF stablemate.   However, one of the more interesting developments was Cannondale’s refound enthusiasm for aluminum as it introduced the new CAAD 10, which weighs in at 1150 grams in a 56 cm frame.  The suggested retail price of the bicycle, outfitted with Dura-Ace components and boasting the BB30 bottom bracket, is 2599 Euros, which would make it highly competitive in the market.   And Bavarian manufacturer Corratec is now outfitting some bicycles with its UBBS (Universal Bottom Bracket System), which lets you use an adapter to fit any kind of bottom bracket you like.

Tommasini Tecno
Besides me, e-bikes were on the move all day long.  There is no question that this was a major element of Eurobike in 2010, with a huge number of exhibitors and a large demonstration area.  In Germany, no license is required if the bicycles cannot exceed 25 km/h.  Unlike some of the Chinese electric scooters now appearing in North America, all the e-bikes on show in Friedrichshafen used lithium-ion batteries rather than lead-acid ones, so are perhaps a bit more environmentally-friendly.

E-bikes seem to be opening cycling up to a new market, including older riders and commuters, as well as those of insufficient fitness to enjoy a standard bicycle.  Although I can understand the attraction of a motor assist as you pedal, it seems that the weight of the bikes, which ranges from 24-32 kgs, would neutralize the benefits.  Of course, components have to be matched to these higher weights and stresses and this has not been the case as over 11,000 e-bikes were recalled in Germany when forks did not deal with the forces imposed by front hub-mounted motors.  Nonetheless, with e-bikes retailing for much higher prices than standard commuting bicycles, this may be an important new profit centre for the industry.

For those with an interest in classic bikes and gear, the show, which represents pretty much everything that is state-of-the-art in cycling, has a limited amount that is not here and now marketing driven.  There were a few salutes to the past besides the two high-wheelers on display for people who believe pneumatic tires are a passing fad.  For example, it seems that attempts are underway to reinvigorate Peugeot as a new lion logo has been developed and some crazy futuristic show bikes were on display, as well as a completely retro bike that looked like it could have been used for delivering newspapers in 1951 in Paris.

Another interesting retro stand was that for Cooper Bicycles, which is run by the son of famed racing driving John Cooper (think Mini Cooper) and produces what I first took to be steel fixed gear bikes but which in fact feature a Sturmey-Archer three speed hub.  The models are named after race tracks where John Cooper had success, such as Spa.  The bikes are understated and very attractive.  The stand was located outside and it was quite noisy as BMX riders were jumping monstrous berms behind us to entertain the crowd, flying high into the air all day long.

Another familiar name was that of  Eddy Merckx and at the stand a cross bike in the Molteni orange colours was positioned next to a current and equally orange Merckx bicycle.  The Merckx stand was also impressive in its size considering that the parent company operates from what seems to be a large barn near Brussels.  However, Mr. Merckx’s successors running the business are not interested in any steel bikes, unlike the fine offerings from Casati, Milani, Tommasini and Scapin.  I was particularly taken with the Milani bikes, where not only a racing model but a touring one was on offer, as well as with the absolutely dazzling Tommasini Tecno, which will blind oncoming traffic with its gorgeous polished bits and pieces.  And Colnago continues to soldier along with the Master, alongside of its carbon offerings, but the fixed gear steel Super was not in evidence, nor was Bianchi’s celeste steel racing bike.  Incidentally, Milani is looking for more North American representation, so if any Canadians want to import these lovely bikes I would be happy to pass along the information.

Campagnolo had its Athena 11-speed groupset at the show, and its aluminum parts would look very good on a more traditional bike, although the brake/shifters are still carbon.  And there was at least one competitor to Brooks in the luxury leather saddle market: Sella Montegrappa had some beautiful offerings, including a saddle and tool kit presented in a wooden case.  Other more traditional offerings include some very nice retro gloves by Roeckl, the German glove specialist.

Of course, there are always fringe offerings at a show this size, and not only were there highwheelers but the ridiculous Pashley Guv’nor, a copy of a 1928 English path racer as well as bikes made of wood and bikes that are beyond any sign of good taste.  The aforementioned PG Bikes not only had a huge stand of ugly bikes, but one of those was the world’s fastest e-bike, which will hit 100 km/h and retails for the hilarious amount of 59,000 Euros.

Staggering to the final hall, I was confronted by the ongoing bicycle fashion show, where energetic, not to mention photogenic, models jumped around in alternating choreographed routines and managed to get changed into the right clothing for the next fast-paced presentation in time.  With my legs exhausted after eight hours of walking, this was more than I could take and I headed back to the beer tent to enjoy the end of the day in the best tradition of Germany, and of course Schlarrafenland.

Arrividerci!  The lovely Erica at the Nalini stand.

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