Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Oh no, ... you guys are the crazy ones!"

I heard that a fair amount while working the SIR booth at the Seattle Bike Expo last weekend.

As I mentioned in an earlier post I spent Saturday up in Seattle working the Seattle Bike Expo. It has been a few years since I attended the bike expo and being there caused me to think back to days when I used to look forward to it eagerly. It was a chance to see what was new, get a shot at some ‘deals’, see old friends, make new ones and just swim with the school of bike geeks for a bit. I also recall using it as an opportunity to register for STP and get a ‘low’ number, (shows what a bike snob I am).

I still get a good feeling rubbing shoulders with so many people who are bikish. Funny thing, they still come in all sizes shapes and colors. I like that, there is really nothing about the bike that is exclusionary; anyone who has at least an inkling can find some way to get on a bike, and for those who have challenges, physical or psychological, there is someone, (many folks actually) who would likely be glad to help get those challenged folks through the obstacles. Bike people know how much fun, how liberating, two wheels under your own power and command can be, and we tend to like to share. Sure there are some who could use a stint in a ‘re-education camp’ but that is a pretty small minority according to my highly unscientific study.

So I got the fun of walking through a crowded group of disorganized people who have bikish tendencies. Here’s a tip for negotiating the gabbers: When confronted with an impasse of gabbing cyclists, don’t bother with ‘excuse me’ just sing out ‘on yr left!’ and the crowd willingly parts, occasionally with a little chuckle. Having been away from this and other such events for sometime I noted a few differences. Are these really differences from 5 years ago or do I suffer memory warp? Anyway here are some random observations:

There are more providers of cycling services now (as a proportion of all exhibitors) than there used to be. Lots of organizations offering tours, training/coaching services, tourism opportunities, and other things that you might think of as only peripherally associated with cycling. In fact, I think it is fair to say that if you can imagine some service(s) associated with some aspect of cycling, there appears to be a niche (it may already be full so be thinking about the design of your mouse trap).

Sports nutrition, energy sustenance, drinks, gels, chews, etc are a bigger market for cycling than they used to be. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the acclaimed healthy/energy/recovery benefits of these products and their palatability. I tested lots of these products and didn’t come across anything that makes me think I have been missing something in my cycling life: The tasty stuff probably would not solve any of my current problems and the stuff that’s ‘good’ for me? Well, I’ll just have to make do. Some things don’t change. There are a couple of Seattle area shops that appear to be unloading an enormous volume of product, just as they did years ago.

Oddly enough, it seemed to me that bikes comprise somewhat less of the total volume of what is displayed. But it is bikes that get people stopping and talking. A few shops and some small boutique frame makers displayed some very fine looking machines. They got people to stop, look, and talk. I’m the same, a nice looking (or unique looking) bike is gonna get me to pull over on the shoulder and have a closer look.

There are more offerings of utilitarian bikes, obviously this is a city thing as I never see any of these kinds of bikes in places I ride. There are also some absolutely beautiful bikes, some of which are stupid expensive. I’m fine with that. There is a bike for everybody and person for every bike. I have no more interest in owning a $9,000 carbon fiber race bike than a cheapo cargo bike. And I actually get a kick out of seeing them all under the same tent. That outfit with the wooden frames was there though and I have to say, those finger joined, custom made wooden bike frames are so pretty and appealing to my aesthetic that, … if I could afford it, ….naw, never mind.

My primary purpose in attending the bike expo was to work representing our little rando club. I’ve done this in the past. I knew the number of club members who had volunteered was fairly small, and I personally believe there is some benefit in doing this, and well, saying it is one thing, but actions are believable.

We had a decent set up. Excellent actually compared to the poor souls who were hawking their wares out in the tents. I’ve mentioned recently that March seems to have come in with a snow leopard instead of a lion. I felt somewhat vindicated as some of the folks I talked with commiserated, especially as I tried to talk them into riding the populaire the next day.

Eamon had done a great job of setting up our little space. It was small but that just means to you have to be smart about what you display and how you display it. Albert set up a little slide show of scenes of riders riding brevets and all things Rando, our club has a great photo archive on Flickr. He had brought a computer monitor and an ultra portable PC to display the pic’s on an endless loop. This was very effective at getting people to stop. Given that we didn’t have anything to sell, and not much to give away, the next best thing is a beautiful bike, or a visual attraction and we had both.

Probably the very best tool for attracting folks is a nice looking bike, and a purpose built rando bike is particularly fetching in the mind of those with at least a bit of bike experience. Mark V was nice enough to bring his new(ish), Curt Goodrich custom randonneuring bike to put on display. Let me just say that a beige rando steed with a fair amount of rando accoutrements is the ‘little black dress’ of bike displays these days and this one was a stunner. So it’s a bike expo and well, you need a bike or two. We had other bikes on display as well. Once folks stopped, it gave us a chance to beckon them in to our slippery little slope of ever increasing distances.

I was surprised at how many people knew about randonneuring and a little disappointed at how many said they were not interested because they thought we were crazy. Let me go on record here as saying that I suspect there may be a conspiracy afoot to generate slander, rumors and bad PR. Oh sure, the “you guys are crazy" comments were all in good fun, but I do believe that many of these people, who are prime candidates for success in randonneuring are likely never to give it a fair shake based in large part on some misconceptions. Too bad, lots of them seemed like fun people that I’d enjoy riding with. I realize that this endeavor is not for everyone, but more people are potential randonneurs than they know, and after all, how will you ever know if you do not give something a fair shake?

I would have a hard time guessing how many people I talked with, I bet it was nearly 100, and of all those people I believe there are somewhere between three and seven who just might take the plunge. I hope they show up at our 200K populaire next weekend, and if they do I hope that our members make an effort to help them have the best experience possible. I spoke with one guy (a Cascade member) who knows all about SIR and Randonneuring, he’s got the right stuff: He does a lot of riding (he said he usually gets about 8,000 miles a year) and does a fairly long commute, about 25 miles. He’d been inclined in years past but was not sure how he would fare. We talked it over and I made sure he knew where to get the details on the ride, registering and even joining. I took him over to my medal shadow box frame and pointed out the 200K medal he’d qualify for if he finished the ride.

About those medals: The displays I brought along were nice but they didn’t have much of an impact. As most people have an affinity for things small and shiny and I just figured they would be a bigger draw.

It was fun, I did my part, and I‘m hoping at least one or a few people give it a whirl. If you are a rando rider, you ought to think about doing some form or of volunteer work to attract more people to the sport.


  1. Ahhh, Dr. Codfish,
    As Mr. Heine points out, a randonneur bike is all about reliability, speed, comfort and beauty. If one doesn't get too caught up in the mystique of old French bikes and such, one might find that the real beauty of a wooden bike is the unmatched comfort of the ride.
    Fine craftsmanship delivers reliability, geometry provides the handling, and wood the ride; the aesthetic of wood is a fortuitous, but distracting feature, however attractive.
    You should give one a ride sometime, the laminated bamboo bike by Renovo is quite affordable and the ride quality is sublime. Just saying...
    Thanks for the kind words,

  2. So you are saying that the medals in the shadow box were like tiny little dry flies, but the Goodrich was more like a giant 9" flasher? ;-)

    Or perhaps the fish were more like big salmon than shy trout?

    Nice report. Hope to see you at the 200. I'll be at the secret control. I can't tell you where it is; it's a secret.

    Oh, and if the wood bike guy wants to lend me one for a brevet or two, I'll write ride reports all over the web complete with beauty shots. Just sayin'.

    Joe P

  3. Good analogy Joe, I think the fish were just a little 'low water shy' as they say in the steelheading community, and in that situation subtle trumps gaudy (beige bike and all)

    "Oh, and if the wood bike guy wants to lend me one for a brevet or two, I'll write ride reports all over the web complete with beauty shots. Just sayin'"

    Oh no you don't! That pitch is mine alone. With my fame and celebrity (starting to sound like Fat Cyclist, oh my!), I am the perfect candidate for "extended field testing and wildly enthusiasitic, yet totally unbiased endorsments" of these beautiful convergnece zones of functionality and art.

    I hope you are getting this Kennyboy: There is no doubt that, with the exception of Jan, people in the 'ride till you puke then ride some more' community look to the great bottom feeder for their advice on where to turn for the next 'next thing'.

    I have no doubt that the ride is the primary sell and the fantastic looks are just icing on the cake. I worked in the woods for 25 years, my old man was a logger, mill worker, and all around wood butcher so a wooden bike is really close to the heart. I did stop by your booth and talk, and ogle, and actually felt the frame you had sliced in half. I didn't mention in the post but I was very impressed with the price of your product; not really 'out there': one of your bikes would probably cost less than I paid for the Tournesol.

    What holds me back is our current fiscal crisis here at Rocky Acres, and of course the bike quotient: Bringing 'Woody' into the 'holding tank' would mean pitching one of the others and ... well, wait a minute, I can't remember the last time I rode the Ibis,.... hmmm, now about that fiscal crisis.

    Just thinkin'

    Dr C

  4. Dr. C
    I got it, I got it.
    I'd propose riding a bike with stock geometry, if you like that, we'll see what we can stitch together for your particular brand of craziness.
    What's your size anyway?
    Just askin'

  5. Oh, come on here guys! We all know one is not a significant sample size. You need at least two testers.

    Joe "comfortable on stock geometry" P

  6. C'mon boys, be nice and share...just remember the 'wildly enthusiastic' part.

  7. Hey, I would of course defer to the good doctor. You enjoy now.