Notes from the 2012 Seattle Bike Expo

The Bike Works bike parking corral was packed

What can I say about the Bike Expo? Two huge convention floors full of bike stuff. As regular readers of this blog have probably picked up on, I’m not really into high performance bike stuff. I mean, I think it’s cool and an incredible feat of engineering and human capability, but it’s not really my thing. So keep that in mind while reading this post.

The Bike Expo is sort of a trip for me. I love seeing so many people in Seattle all excited about bicycling. I love seeing Seattle-based businesses show off the things they have been working on and get the chance to meet other people in the industry. And the performances are lots of fun to watch (the energy gel shot samples, however, I’ll pass on next time).

The Laurelhurst Unicycle Club!

The venue is fine once you get there, but biking to the Expo entrance at the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal is sort of a drag (and walking/transit is outrageously difficult). There were multiple people employed to stand out in the parking lot to yell at people for “biking in the road,” which is definitely a strange welcome to a bicycle event. If you arrive by bus and don’t have a bike, you have to walk two miles out of the way to get to the entrance because the port doesn’t allow people to walk through their endless parking lot. I understand it’s some sort of national security mumbo jumbo, but is a person on foot really more dangerous than a person in a car? I guess I should take that up with the Feds.

Inside, it was great to see Seattle bike businesses doing well. Swift Industries, Mad Fiber, various regional ride and race organizations and many others all seemed to get a lot of attention.

There were also some new Seattle businesses, like LED-By-Lite and Bicycle Heroes, which launched in the fall. Based and stitched in Seattle, Bicycle Heroes makes awesome wool cycling caps out of discarded materials and old wool pants. Their table seemed pretty busy, and I bet they moved a lot of wool.

There were also a lot of good speakers. I got the chance to see Portland’s Mia Birk give her presentation on everyday biking. I read her optimistic book Joyride about a year ago. The book basically gives a rundown of how Portland normalized bicycling as a serious means of transportation, which is useful for any bike advocate to know.

Really, there was too much at the Expo touch on everything. After leaving the carbon-crazed display floors, I took a stroll through the bike corral and noticed that the bikes out there were very different, each with some kind of hauling solution and other customized quirks. But that makes sense. After all, you don’t see a lot of pickup trucks on the floor of a sports car trade show.

I can’t help but think that the bike industry still has a long way to go before they really hit the sweet spot with American consumers. Before heading to the Expo, I went shopping for a bike with a friend. She has an old Peugot in typical 70s bike condition (AKA something is always wrong), so she’s looking for something comfortable and ready for dependably hauling her everyday life around town. And for some reason, the options seem remarkably slim.

Every shop we went to, the salesperson talked at length about gear ratios and head tube angles — which is certainly interesting, but also a bit overwhelming. After all, when you buy a car, they don’t tell you about the engine or the brake pads. They tell you about the sunroof and the cup holders. You don’t have to choose from hundreds of different headlight and tail light options. You don’t pick out your gas pedal style or choose a style of mudflap. They just come standard (and you can change them if you want to).

I guess what I’m saying is that the bike shop of the future might be really boring to gearheads and industry folks. And that’s OK. There’s room for all kinds of shops in the city. After all, there are more people biking every day, and we are at some point going to reach a point where city biking sales far outpace racing bike sales. Then it will be interesting to see how events like the Expo evolve.

What were your thoughts on the Expo?

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35 Responses to Notes from the 2012 Seattle Bike Expo

  1. Pingback: Notes from the 2012 Seattle Bike Expo | Seattle Bike Blog | Bicycle News

  2. RC says:

    In regards to helping your friend shop for a replacement bike, my first question would be, “Which shops did you go to?” The shops I frequent (Free Range, Recycled, and once upon a time the old Counterbalance) have never brought up gear ratios and the like, unless I explicitely bring them up.

    In fact, in the case of Free Range Cycles, they specialize in steel bikes usually of the type for hauling yourself and your things around town. The owner can come across as abrasive to some, but I appreciate her candidness and ‘tell it like it is’ mentaility.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Totally! We did go to Free Range, and it was awesome. I think that. It came off harsher than I wanted it to. I love our city’s bike shops. I just wonder how well a shop that took a drastically different take on things would fare. Obviously, bike shops know more about selling bikes than I do. It just seems too confusing for someone who knows very little about bikes to find one that will work for them. A car salesman would make that happen, but it’s harder for bikes for some reason. Then again, ppl work in bike shops and not car lots for a reason…

      • merlin says:

        Tom, how long has it been since you bought a car from a car salesman? (disclosure: in my case about 6 years)
        Rather than look for a bike shop that functions like a car dealership, I’d suggest people get the new book On Bicycles and read the chapter by Ulrike Rodrigues on “How to help a bike shop help you.” She presented from this chapter at Bike Expo and had some great ideas about shopping for the right bike shop before you shop for a bike

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Yes, my point isn’t that buying a bike should be just like buying a car (that would suck), but there may be some lessons in how to make the buying experience a little less overwhelming. I definitely need to read that book!

  3. Devin says:

    Yes! I was so thrown off by the men in uniform telling my friend and I stop stop riding on the road and to ride in the pedestrian walkway (which was practically impossible). The ride there isn’t that bad. Riding from Capitol Hill, through downtown, and up the Elliott Bay Trail was actually pretty nice. The day was drizzly, but still sort of pretty.

    Otherwise, yeah, I really enjoyed having SDOT there to talk about biking. I wish I could have seen city leaders talking – the Mayor, the City Councilmembers that bike (Bagshaw, O’Brian, Rasumussen).

    All in all, it was a nice excuse to get out for a ride. After the expo, I headed up to Fremont and grabbed some food at Roxy’s and then off to the Go Means Go party. Good little ride, indeed.

  4. Mark says:

    Excellent post Tom. You captured both the excitement (what Davey called “a science fiction convention for bikes”) and the frustration of the non-functional focus without getting grumpy like i would’ve!

  5. Leif says:

    The location definitely needs to change. Way to many people driving to a bike show (I’m ashamed to say I was one of them, though I blame the person I went with for that). The convention center, Centurlink expo hall, Armory on Lake Union or someone in the Seattle center would all be much better choices for transit, riders and walkers alike. And since drivers have to pay at the cruise terminal anyway it wouldn’t be much different for them.

    In terms of the wares I was hoping to see a lot more variety of bikes. Specifically I think the vendors mostly ignored the largest market: commuters. The wood bikes are awesome and all, but seriously, where are some wheels that I can just ride? I was hoping to see a bunch of local bike builders and national brands showing off a wider range of stuff. Sleek carbon rides are great and mountain bikes can be fun, but most people just need something to take to work, the store or a show. I’m not sure if this is a problem of Cascade not doing enough to bring more vendors and mentor them on what type of bikes to bring or vendors not realizing the opportunity.

    • Devin says:

      Well said. Yes, CenturyLink Expo Hall is massive and easy to ride to. Seattle Center is supposed to the our cultural exhibition center, and again is easy to get to by bike or transit. What say you Cascade?

    • Sarah says:

      I didn’t go to the bike expo this time, entirely and completely and ONLY because of the location.

    • Greg says:

      Actually, I found it easy and fun to bike to. Perhaps it depends on where you’re coming from? Access from the north and south (I’m in Wallingford) is easy via the trail. I guess if you’re coming from the east it’s not so great?

      And I think the phenomenon of “folks driving to a bike show” has a lot more to do with the general regional lack of bike infrastructure than the specific venue. Moving it somewhere else won’t fix that…

      Any reason why transit folks didn’t do bus + bike?

  6. Merlin says:

    For me the main attraction was the chance to hear Elly Blue, Mia Birk, Amy Walker and Ulrike Rodrigues talk about practical everyday cycling. I was expecting their presentations to be packed to the gills with fans – and was a bit disappointed at how easy it was to find a seat at all 3 talks involving various combinations of these inspiring women. I have only been once before – last year – and I thought overall there was some evidence of a move in the direction of everyday cycling. The photo contest had less lycra for one thing. It was great to see Sam from SDOT on the panel discussing bike infrastructure – her name wasn’t on the program so that was a welcome surprise.
    I seem to recall that last year, there were better signs for wayfinding through the parking lot. That was really confusing this year, especially on the way out.
    I’ll definitely plan to go again, just to see if there really is a trend. Maybe next year the greenway groups will have their (I mean OUR) own tables – for example.

    • Leif says:

      Breakout rooms for the speaking sessions would also be nice. As it was setup the speaking sessions and general noise of the convention were competing for sound. While the speakers could still be heard, it does make for a less pleasant listening experience.

  7. William C Bonner says:

    Was this well publicized, including on this blog?

    I never heard about it, but that’s similar to many things happening around town that i hear about on the nightly news AFTER the event has happened.

    • merlin says:

      If I remember right, there was an ad for Bike Expo on this blog that ran for at least a couple weeks.

      • William C Bonner says:

        I read the blog via the rsss feed, and so primarily see features and not the things in the sidebars. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have the problem of finding out about things going on in town after they’ve happened in general, and not specific to this forum, so I was largely wondering how this event was publicized prior to happening, and whether it primarily attracted the general public or the already converted hard core?

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        I posted about it (in addition to the ad campaign), but it was fairly close to the actual event. I meant to get something posted a few days earlier, but it didn’t happen.

        Don’t know if you use twitter, but following me there is also a good way to get multiple notices about things. http://twitter.com/seabikeblog

  8. Steve says:

    It’s been held at Century Link Exhibition Center in the past, it was held at the same time as a Golf Expo, as I recall, with a curtain in between.

    I’d imagine that Smith Cove is the best combination of size and cost of the venue.

    One of the constant complaints no matter where it’s been held is that too many people drive.

    • Mark says:

      I’ve been one of the complainers that too many people drive to this event, which is historically and fundamentally a recreational bike show.

      This year really blew my mind. The numbers of people who bicycle, while still smaller than we’d like, are way, way up from 10 or 15 years ago when 5 to 12 people a year rode. This year we parked over 800 at he Bike Works bike corral. Hurrah!!!

  9. Dan Taflin says:

    I’ve been thinking for years that bike manufacturers and dealers are missing out on the commuter/casual rider market, but then again my personal tastes often seem to be different from that of the masses, so I as often thought that perhaps I’m just different. Nice to hear someone else make the same claim!

    Here’s a bike I think would sell like crazy: a rugged, reliable, nearly maintenance-free multi-geared bike with a comfortable saddle and seating position. By rugged I mean you can ride it off curbs without it going out of true, by reliable I mean the tires are puncture-proof, and by nearly maintenance-free I mean you don’t have to endlessly clean, lube, adjust the brakes, adjust the shift cable, replace the chain, true the wheels, etc., etc. You just take it out and it works, period. Once or twice a year you take it to the shop for a tune-up, just like a car.

    Know of any bikes like this?

      • Breadbaker says:

        I’ve ridden one of those, as they are the bikes you can rent from stands in Toronto. Worked great in Toronto, because Toronto is entirely flat. Probably not a good choice up the Dexter hill, unfortunately.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Yeah, those bikes exist, but they are not the norm (in America, at least), and they likely cost more than a lot of people are prepared to pay. Bikes with dynamo lights, internal shifting, drum brakes, etc are far more standard elsewhere (here’s an awesome term to know: Stadsfiets). But you won’t likely find many for that tempting $600 price point people love. And if you do find them, they may not be the hill-climbing machine you would prefer.

      Maybe this would be a great idea for a future thread: What does The Seattle Bike look like? Obviously we are not all going to agree, but it could be fun to try to come to some consensus about what the must-have features are. And it would be great to try get it all into a single bike at an “entry-level” price (from my experience, that’s something like $600 for a new bike, which may be impossible to hit for a bike in fully-loaded form).

    • wave says:

      I agree that it would be great if there were more options for the commuter — a nice simple practical bike that focuses more on being user friendly than carbon and gear ratios. There are some cool-looking, simple bikes like that out there (with internal hub gears, built-in racks, etc), but they’re pretty pricey. It would be nice to have more options like these that aren’t so expensive:

      http://www.linusbike.com/
      http://publicbikes.com/
      http://www.paper-bicycle.com/

  10. Nick says:

    A better venue for transit, bike and pedestrian would have been nicer. With regards to the bikes on showcase, I think it gets at the bike as a recreational object and not a means of everyday transport mindset. The margins on the ‘toy class’ are much higher than for commuting bikes because of the volume. Granted there are more folks commuting by bike each year, but those are folks that have overcome the other hurdles of showers at work, sharing the road with cars, etc.

    Personally, I would have liked to seen a booth or two that were more approachable in setting up your current bike for commuting and or helping you do route planning from your neighborhood to your work. Staff it with folks that are passionate but that someone in a corporate job can relate to. Perhaps the greenway booth(s) would be a way to make this happen.

  11. Will says:

    Wow! From the sound of it I’m glad I didn’t try to take the train up from Portland and bike to the expo. It’s weird they won’t let you walk or bike through the parking lot. How exactly do people get from their cars to the building? Fly?

    Most of the ride from the train station to the expo center looked nice on the map. It’s too bad they ruin it by preventing some customers from directly accessing the show.

    • Gary says:

      Will, it’s actually a fine ride from the King’s Street station to the pier where the Expo was. A bit of griping by some one who was asked not to ride on the road is to be discarded as its entirely legal to ride on the road. Although pedestrian/bike trail while not as fast is way prettier than 15th.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        I agree that, for those biking, the detour isn’t so bad (just a little, you know, weird since it’s a bike event, but bikes aren’t allowed on the road…)

        But for people walking, it is really far out of the way. Maybe a compromise would be for Cascade to pay a pedicab company to ferry people on foot to the door.

  12. Pedro Apellido says:

    Why was the FUN left out!?!

    Seeing this as a first timer, I ask:
    -Fun for the Whole Family? Pls!
    I attest to the joy of riding supersedes that of any B2C event. But why not think out of the box? (eg. http://www.gdl2020.com.mx/recreactiva)

    -Fun for the diverse rider? sorry!
    I ditto to the earlier comments and article notes, in that as a commuter… what happened? Again, great opportunity missed. Many ideas (eg. C2C, ideology of bike share system, etc).
    Quick highlight… @WSU, with 120 bikes-to-share…. 16,100 times checked out…. and more than 5,650 unique users. Can you say promoting community?
    http://www.greenbike.wsu.edu/

    -and, simultaneously “what’s the message”… • Create a sense of belonging to the city; I hope?
    Again, a missed target. Seattle shines with it’s cultural diversity. And, as an avid traveler, I’ve seen bike and people of color mix. (See: http://youtu.be/XV3L83YEARo …or…

    . So what can we do?

  13. Jack says:

    Good review.

    I hadn’t been to the Expo in a couple years and I really, really like this venue. I like when venues are “cohesive” and you can walk through it with ease and see what types of vendors or booths are where. This accomplished that.

    It was a tad difficult to ride to, but I can live with that.

    Buying a bike should be easy. Pick a price point (tons!), go into a shop, and ask to ride the bikes. Don’t listen to sales people, especially if they start talking like a bike geek. You are paying LOTS of money, you (your friend) needs to dictate the conversation. And ride the bikes- ride lots- best test.

    Good luck

  14. Troy says:

    The Expo was pretty wack this year. Location still sucks. Speakers were ok but I didn’t see any bike exhibits that blew my mind. Nothing new or eye-opening. Disappointment-ville I am your mayor.

  15. BJ Bikes says:

    I don’t usually go to this because unless you are in the market for a new bike, it is all about carbon fiber, triathlons, and performance. Gotta say I just like having a steel bike and riding it, and not feeling the need to mill around with thousands of others who may or may not feel the same way. It just me. My bike is a way for me to get around. My home is a place for me to live and I don’t attend the home show either.

    It would be nice to see less emphasis placed on performance race bikes but I think there is more money in that market. How often does a commuter buy a new bike and full setup? For me an average of every 15 years. Racers are always buying new bikes and gear. Its just the way it is.

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