"It's going to be hot there you know..." warned the fellow next to me as I waited in line to sign the liability waiver. I had arrived in Las Vegas the day before Interbike, and there was still time to make it to the final hours of the Outdoor Demo. While attendees are not permitted to ride the display bicycles at Interbike, the Outdoor Demo provides an opportunity to do just that. Hastily, I attached my wristband and boarded the shuttle that delivered visitors to the remote location.
Set up 35 miles outside of Las Vegas in Bootleg Canyon, the Outdoor Demo resembled a tent city in the desert. An expanse of dirt and exotic shrubs dominated the landscape, in the fenced-off center of which stood hundreds of white, black and red booths. Colourfull flags announcing brand names protruded high into the air. A distant view of hazy mountains surrounded it all. The air was scorchingly hot and completely dry. I checked the temperature on my phone and saw it was 99° F. The sky looked very strange to me - hazy in one direction, with everything in the distance looking blurry and faded, yet crisp and bright-blue in the other direction.
Starting just beyond the tent city was a paved loop road for test riding road and city bikes. The road was closed to motor vehicles during the event.
And extending toward the hills was a network of dirt trails for test riding mountain bikes.
A variety of bicycle, component and accessory manufacturers were represented, ready to demonstrate their new lines of products and loan out bikes.
Interbike and the Outdoor Demo are industry trade shows. Attendees tend to be bicycle shop owners, purchasers, merchandise distributors, importers, event promoters, media, and the like. Many are there to test ride bikes and try components in order to decide whether their shop should carry a specific model, or just to get a feel for the new line.
Being held outdoors in the sun, it is perhaps not surprising that the atmosphere was more casual than at Interbike. In a way it was almost like a village carnival: all bike rides and flowing beer.
The representatives at the booths were a lot more relaxed and casual than they typically are at Interbike, which made for easy-going conversations. Knowing that I didn't have the time to go around test riding everything, I decided to make my way through the demo and just get a feel for the overall event.
Felt Bicycles had an enormous presence and one of the largest selection of bikes. They organised their space like a library, with rows of bike racks lined up like book shelves, and a bike return area. I had a nice talk with the representative about their latest line of roadbikes, including the 7 women-specific road-racing models. I've had considerable positive feedback about Felt from female readers, and now I got a good vibe from interacting with them in person. Worth a look for those shopping for a new roadbike.
Crankbrothers was another major presence, with small booths set up all over the Demo.
I use Crankbrothers pedals on my own bikes and love them, so I was excited to see Interbike 2012 limited editions of all of their models. Visitors were lining up to buy them.
And I suppose that's worth mentioning as one of the perks of these shows - access to new models, prototypes and limited editions at special prices. There was a great deal of buying and selling going on.
The Chris King booth was experiencing a particularly brisk trade, with crowds of people swooning over the colourful headsets and hubs.
They do know how to present their products to maximise the deliciousness factor; the hub-kebabs looked particularly fetching.
One of the more interesting displays was the Moots booth, with their charming crocodile logo.
Moots is a titanium bike manufacturer based in Colorado, specialising in road, mountain and cyclocross models.
On occasion I get questions from readers about what I think of Moots compared to Seven, but until now I had never even seen a Moots up close, let alone ridden one enough to compare. Unfortunately, I was wearing a dress and did not bring my cycling shoes (I had not planned to attend the Outdoor Demo), so a test ride was not in the cards. But visually the bikes come across very differently to me, and I am surprised that some describe them as similar.
Seven roadbikes have skinnier tubes than the Moots, the forks are completely different, and most notably different are the designs of the seat stays, chainstays and dropouts. I have no idea how any of it translates into ride characteristics, but aesthetically it's hard to mistake one brand for the other.
While I wasn't able to test ride any roadbikes, I did try a new step-through Tern folding bike model (a separate write-up of this coming up later) and found it pretty interesting.
I also very briefly tried a Surly Pugsley, on dirt (though not the Bionx version pictured here), and found it simultaneously amazing and completely un-bikelike. The tires are fatter than anything I've ridden before and it almost did not feel like being on two wheels.
They were offering the new Bionx e-assist versions of the bikes for test rides, but at this point I needed to head back into town and was also on the verge of heat stroke - despite having drank water non-stop and tried to duck inside shaded booths every chance I got.
The intense desert heat was not to be messed around with.
Cycling here must be pretty tough, and I am not entirely clear on how the locals are able to stay hydrated on long rides. I drank 3 bottles of water in the course of an hour and a half, and it barely felt like enough. Not all Interbike attendees come to the Outdoor Demo, and speaking to some of them about it later the heat was cited as the major factor. Some find it simply impossible to walk around the canyon for hours, let alone to test ride bikes in any meaningful way in 100° F temperatures.
I am glad I was able to stop by the Outdoor Demo, if only to see the desert landscape and to get a sense for how the event is run. I would say the Demo is most useful for those who want to test ride and compare a variety of road or mountain bike models. Most of the mainstream manufacturers were represented, with a sprinkling of smaller ones. The Outdoor Demo is a two-day event held immediately before Interbike. For those interested in serious test rides I would suggest planning to be there for at least a full day, to bring cycling clothing and shoes if applicable, and to apply powerful sun screen.
Observing the dynamics of the event, it seemed to be at least as much about the socialising as about the test rides themselves, which is probably just generally how these things are. Watching from the sidelines, it is fun to think that major purchasing decisions of bike shops across the country are based on deals struck over beery, sunburnt conversations in the desert. Of course it is not really that simple.