Interbike Cancels 2019 Event
I suppose it shouldn’t be a shock, but Interbike - the largest, most established bicycle tradeshow in America - has been cancelled for 2019. It was announced just days ago, and if you’re a bicycle industry vet, this isn’t the first you’ve heard of it. If you’re a non-bike fitness enthusiast, it might come as a surprise that the cycling business has been doing poorly for the last decade.
I wrote a recap of the 2018 edition of Interbike, wherein I was optimistic about the event’s future – if the show attendees and pillars of the industry could shift their focus and goals for the show slightly. This isn’t about pure sales. It’s not about product launches (though it could be). It’s about coming together once a year to talk, plan, cooperate, and get energized for the year to come. But this requires that we actually come together and physically attend the show – and do so with the maturity of knowing that a niche industry requires collaboration for collective success. It also likely would’ve helped to have moved the show to a new location several years ago, with extravagant Las Vegas prices hurting everyone.
I wish I had reason to say otherwise, but I don’t think the situation will change anytime soon. We continue to become more fragmented, more guarded over our slice of the pie, and more sure that we can succeed independently with our blinders on.
Comments and criticisms have been rolling in since the announcement of the show’s cancellation, and it puzzles me that the solutions seem obvious to the casual observer, but elusive to those in the business. Cycling continues to cater to the small percentage of elite customers, ignoring the vast number of fitness participants who could become cyclists (i.e. future paying customers). We’re selling ego, not fun. For many brands, it’s considered heresy to suggest otherwise. There are two typical courses of action: 1) create a specific “casual” line of products which typically receives little attention, development, or non-endemic advertising dollars, or 2) dilute the overall product message to make it sound like you have something to offer every customer in the world, but without actually offering the required price points or doing any promotion outside of the niche industry. In other words – the stuff we offer to new customers is not the right product, or we never reach them at all.
People still want to ride bikes, and they find ways to do it. They go to online discounters. They go to big box retailers. They buy a stationary fitness bike. All of these are not considered by the elite cycling business to be real competition, yet they’re taking a huge amount of business. It’s almost as though we rely on shaming people into buying. “If you were a REAL cyclist, you’d buy from a real cycling company.” I’m going to let you in on a little secret: The average consumer doesn’t give a shit about the “real” cycling business. They are busy. They want to exercise and have fun. They will find a way to do it with or without you. We’re not just competing with other niche cycling companies – we’re competing with Crossfit, yoga, golf, and camping.
I don’t want to harp on the manufacturers unfairly. The trade show itself has its own share of the blame, becoming less cooperative over time. This year I attended on my own dime (because I believe in what I’m saying), and found it frustrating and difficult to even gain access - despite working for one of the largest triathlon publications in the world and having attended the event for many years. My badge was denied. Then I could come, if I paid a ~$500 fee. After going back and forth several times, sending and re-sending samples of work in which I’d covered the event in a very positive manner, they relented and gave me my Working Media badge for free. While at the show, I was denied access again by an event staff person, while I was headed to a meeting scheduled with a paying vendor in their booth (it was before the public opening to retailers, during which time media is denied access). It seemed like the perfect time to have a private, quiet meeting. For a struggling event, they seemed intent on creating barriers for the media to actually cover the event.
Where we go from here – I don’t know. Tradeshows aren’t dead, with efficiency, low cost, and quick adaptation to change aiding in success. The shows that succeed are about fun, relationships, and catering to what people want to learn. Shows like Sea Otter, The Running Event, Paleo f(x), and even the revived Chicagoland Area Bicycle Dealers Association (CABDA). If Interbike comes back – and I hope they can – they need to take a few years off, regroup, and build a new event from the ground up to create a new identity and future.