Interbike: It’s All About the People

Photo from Interbike 2016. Courtesy of Interbike.

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

Well that’s a wrap on Interbike in Sin City, ye olde Las Vegas. What a year it was… but not necessarily in a good way.

The Outdoor Demo event looked like an Old Western, with metaphorical tumbleweeds blowing through a dry desert wasteland. Where once booths filled with bikes and a massive food tent and beer garden stood, this year the shuttle busses used that space for parking, bringing us hundreds of yards closer to the one and a half loops of remaining tents.

Immediately after arriving at the demo, I got distracted looking at a bike, and Jeff and Aaron kept on wandering without me. I saw them again about 10 minutes later, before I had finished setting up my test bike. “Alright, we’ve seen the whole demo,” Aaron proclaimed. While I thought they were joking, when I spotted a sweet-looking prototype an hour later and started taking photos, Aaron said, “yeah, we already took photos of that.”

They really had seen everything during their 10-minute sweep.

The indoor show wasn’t much better. Where years ago we’d see throngs of people walking toward the event in the morning and hour-long lines at the coffee shops, the wait for that black gold was delightfully short. While no booths stood empty, when comparing the floor map to the one from last year, it was clear that an entire swath of the expo hall had been roped off and was not being used. And as for brands that actually sell complete mountain bikes? I can count the number that attended on one hand.

Despite corralling the remaining exhibitors and attendees into a smaller area to help keep energy high, many exhibitors noticed the lack of walkthrough traffic, and the plethora of competing brands that didn’t show up. This led more than one person I spoke with to ask, “Well, if nobody else is here, then why are WE here?”

It’s All About the People

Photo from Interbike 2016. Courtesy of Interbike.

Despite the show being radically smaller this year, the Singletracks team still found plenty of interesting people to talk to during the day. We also spotted some cool tech–some that we were expecting to see, and a few products that surprised us. You’ll be reading about all that tech on the site for days to come.

Still I asked that question of myself: “why exactly are we here?” My answer always came back to one thing: it’s all about the people.

For a billion-dollar industry, the world of mountain biking feels very small. Despite the thousands upon thousands of people that descended upon this latest Interbike show, as the attendees separated out into our respective micro-niches, I began to see the same faces again and again and again. And it’s these relationships that keep the industry moving forward.

While I can’t yet claim a lengthy tenure in the industry, I have reached the point where I’ve created valuable relationships–I’d call many of them friendships–with people at all sorts of companies within the industry. However, nobody stays at the same job forever, and inevitably those friends move to different brands. But even as they do, the relationships remain. The continuity of those relationships helps the industry to continue moving forward despite transition and turnover. It’s the relationships that keep the industry churning ahead.

The Internet Doesn’t Cut It

Photo from Interbike 2016. Courtesy of Interbike.

The internet accomplishes many tasks incredibly well, and it has co-opted many of the roles that Interbike used to serve. Websites like Singletracks now play a massive role in sharing new products with consumers just moments after they’re announced. You don’t have to worry that you’ll miss something, because your social media sites and inbox will be blasted with all the latest and greatest tech.

Doing business and placing orders online has revolutionized bike shop ordering. In fact, most shop buyers I talked to said that every single one of the brands they work with requires orders for product for the upcoming calendar year to be placed before Interbike even takes place.

So what does that leave us with?

Relationships.

Despite the rise of social media, I’m dubious about how effectively those platforms facilitate truly meaningful relationships. If all you needed to stay in touch with your loved ones was social media, would you still go home to see your family for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Why can’t you just catch up on Snapchat?

While Zuckerberg and Co. are working hard to develop a virtual reality in which we can login and interact with anybody anywhere in the world, there is still no substitute for a face-to-face conversation. Seeing the reactions on somebody’s face, being physically present and completely engaged in the conversation–there is no substitute for this type of interaction. And I hope there never will be.

This Is the Reason

Photo from Interbike 2016. Courtesy of Interbike.

This is the value that Interbike still successfully provides. It creates an excuse for thousands of mountain bike industry friends and acquaintances to all show up in the same place, at the same time, to rejuvenate those friendships and working partnerships–and hopefully make new ones. It provides an opportunity to have true, in-real-life, face-to-face conversations.

This year at the show, while I set most of my appointments with people I know at brands that had exhibits, I had a number of impromptu, unplanned conversations on the floor, and several meetings with folks who weren’t even exhibiting. And I saw dozens upon dozens of others doing the same out in the lobby, at cafes and coffee shops, and over a pint of beer.

I don’t think the indoor trade show in its original form is dying–I think it’s already dead. Based on my conversations this week, I’m not optimistic that a move to Reno will return Interbike to its former glory. Yet despite the demise of the traditional trade show, Interbike and the like still serve a very important purpose. I hope that we will always have an excuse to collectively meet as an industry and raise our glasses to mountain biking!

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