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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