I'm back from Interbike 2011! I've been going to Interbike for well over 10 years now and have seen the industry grow and mature over the times I've been at the show. With so many websites these days that cover the show before / during and after the show, I'm going to rather focus on what I saw there and what my thoughts are instead of doing things other websites that will undoubtedly do a better job of reporting and showing you the latest wares.
Every year I go to see where the industry is going and to see if there is a trend is emerging. Past trends have included the advent of pre-built wheels. Before Mavic introduced the Crossmax, no one in the industry would have thought to sell something that the consumer could buy / build for half the price. Mavic made it desirable for consumers to "need" it and retailers to stock it because the margins were there. Are pre-built wheels considerably better than building your own? I would argue not but Mavic and others have now introduced wheels that the average cyclist would not be able to do no matter what. Proprietary technology (spokes, rims, hubs, lacing patterns, materials) make it all but impossible for the consumer to build. Now with giants such as Shimano and SRAM offering affordable wheels for the masses, building wheels with hubs and plain old stainless steel spokes have been regulated to a niche retro skill that old school mechanics still hang on to. Other trends that took the industry by storm was when Fox entered the cycling market and really made the incumbents such as Rock Shox, Marzocchi, Manitou to take notice. First Fox took over the rear suspension market and then took over the front fork market. They were so technically advanced compared to the others with their experience in motorcross and snowmobiles that it was only a matter of time. This was really the time where rear suspension performance / design really took a turn for the better and consumers demanded full suspension. The debate of hard tail versus full suspension was pretty much over when Fox came along and offered quality reliable rear suspension and later front suspension. No more fork exploding and leaking like the other guys. However...having said that, it appears that Fox is not too interested in the low end market as I have seen many other forks from many other manufacturers that never dealt with front suspension trying to get into the area left by Fox over the last few years. Suspension R&D is expensive and not too many companies out there really has the expertise and resources like Fox save for a few so to take on Fox at the high end and to maintain that surely is not easy. Fox forks are expensive and it's come to the point no one upgrades their fork anymore like before. It's cheaper to buy a new frame / fork combination rather than just the frame or the fork. Fox has changed not only how the industry sells suspension but also how consumers use them.
With higher quality rear shocks now available, how to best take advantage of it? Rear suspension design before was relatively simple. Mimic a hardtail as that was what cyclist felt comfortable with and thought how their bike should feel. So making the rear suspension very stiff with very little travel was the norm. Then almost any design more or less worked and manufacturer had their own design and touted it as better than the other guy even though collectively they were not that good. But with Fox now supplying rear shocks, consumers demanded more and Specialized was probably one of the first to licence their rear suspension design (FSR) to other companies and more importantly went after companies that tried to borrow the design without permission. The age of not only patenting rear suspension but going after others that tried to borrow it was born. Now it's not just a matter of designing a rear suspension that was a generic Four Bar or Monolink but manufacturers had to be careful of not copying less they be sued for patent infringement and products pulled from the marketplace or pay a royalty. Specialized did this with their FSR design who they bought from Horst Leitner (AMP Research), Maverick also did the same with their Monolink but I feel that it is limited in that it can not take advantage of the latest technology in rear shock design. VPP owned by Santa Cruz was maybe one of the biggest "brand name" rear suspension designs that was licenced and touted to be the next thing big since since sliced bread. Another huge design in the last few years is Dave Weagle's DW-Link that is licenced to 4 different companies including Pivot, Turner, Ibis and Independant Fabrication. Now consumers are more educated and more demanding so investing in a bike with an unproven suspension design is essentially a leap of faith as the design seemed to change every year so a bike bought last year loses value because it doesn't have the new and improved design of this year. So instead of re-inventing the wheel every year, licence a design that works both theoretically on the CAD system and on the trails, install the latest rear shock from Fox that year and design the bike around it. Then it's a matter of who implements it best. Most bike designers are not suspension experts so let Fox and other do the technical stuff and concentrate on the other things that will differentiate from the competitor using the same design. In the end everyone benefits from the manufacturer to the consumer. No one wants to be the guinea pig for a bike manufacturer.
A confusing trend that seems to be happening also is the number of different sized steerer tubes/headsets/head tubes out there. This also applies to how wheels are attached to frame and front suspension. There just seems to be so many different head tube sizes and how the fork attaches to it that it reinforces the notion of selling a frame/fork as a unit rather than separately. It's just easier that way. The standard 1 1/8" steerer tube is not so standard anymore. That can also be said with wheels with 9mm, 15mm, 20mm and what is offered in the back that older wheels are basically rendered obsolete due to not being to attach to newer forks or frames. At one point bottom bracket spindle/cranks had a similar fate but that has largely been limited as the external bearing BB and hollow type BB spindle that is integrated to the crank arm. That's probably the last thing consumers needed to worry about. This area in general still needs to come to some consensus but at least the BB spindle seems to be stable. There was talk of making larger BB bearings/shells on frames but that seems to have slowed a bit.
Carbon continues to be big this year and for the forseeable future. Just about everyone who's anyone had a full suspension carbon frame available. Pivot has a new Mach 5.7 carbon out for 2012 and is said to be half a pound lighter than the aluminum version but at a cost of course. Santa Cruz had a carbon equivalent of quite a few different frames. There is even a carbon DH frame somewhere at the show. So carbon has basically proven that it can be used for mountain bikes and now there is talk to introduce carbon wheels for mountain bikes as well so I expect to see more and more of that in later years. Stiffer, lighter and able to add or remove material where it needs to be. It's been around forever and seems to have reached a new level of usage and performance not just regulated to road bikes and components.
Shimano continues to refine their DI2 electronic shifting so much so that Ultegra now has its own with Campagnolo playing catch up with no definite release date for their own system. Hooray for Trickle Down technology! This is a niche market but if it's available to Ultegra means it's approaching a price point that the average person can think about affording. Consistent shifting in all weather conditions that's quick and reliable. Definitely something worth trying. Shimano is also introducing a Groupo targeted at the cross market and now that disc brakes are allowed in cross, there is a lot of talk about what kind of brakes riders want. Disc brakes seem perfect for cross so I can definitely see this being the norm just as mountain bikes went from V-brakes. 2x10 is here to stay of course and that will be transitioning as more OEMs switch from 9spd to 10spd. Probably won't affect the average consumer much but check the gearing to see whether Shimano or SRAM offers what you're looking for as they are different. Shimano was also showing off their ICE technology for their disc brakes - ie heat sinks for the pads. They promise to effectively eliminate brake fade. Wow, that's some serious hill if you need heat sinks for your brake pads. Are we still talking about bicycles?
SRAM is humming along with all their various groups to be able to offer a complete groupo, something Shimano can't say they can do. Them picking up Zipp was I think brilliant and really gives them a nice portfolio to offer to the various bike manufacturers. Zipp makes some of the most sought after wheelsets out there so really gives SRAM something that the industry respects and wants. Let's see where they take the brand in the future. It's only been a few years since they've acquired Zipp. Their mountain and road groupos have taken a large piece of the market and they just seem to have more to offer so I always enjoy seeing the SRAM booth at Interbike.
Bikes are basically as environmentally friendly as you can get but what about a bike made with bamboo? Panda Bikes is selling bikes made out of bamboo, lugged but bamboo nonetheless. So there were quite a number of environmentally friendly products and that will likely continue to be the case as consumers become more environmentally conscious.
Garmin took the bike computer market much the same way Fox did. They're offering a product that no one can really match. They have been doing GPS for years and know and understand the technology. They have the maps and resources in place that others simply can't just copy and would take years to catch up. Now they're offereing something that seems to be catching on in the bike industry. Power produced while pedaling. Before there wasn't a clear consensus on how to do this but a new group formed called ANT+ is defining a wireless system to get rid of messy wires and fasteners, etc. Garmin's product called the Vector promises to be able to calculate the power generated in each leg to monitor not just total power but balance between left and right. The device fits into the hollow portion of any spindle so you can move it from your road bike to your mountain bike and since you're using a Vector compatible GPS bike computer from Garmin, you're all set. I think this is a must have for anyone training seriously and want to analyze more data. This is an area definitely with more growth potential as more and more people get on the internet with their mobile devices there is going to be more apps, more technology and more wireless everything in the future.
Moots going back to its roots. Moots has always been a XC bike maker with their YBB and sweet Ti hard tails. They ventured a little into the long travel category with their Moots Cinco using a rear Ventanna rear end but have now gone back to what they're good at. Producing short travel, XC specific bikes that are light, Ti and climb well. The Moots MX Divide is going to be offered in 26" and 29", comes in more sizes than you can shake a stick at and built as beautifully as before. I had a feeling that too many bike manufacturers were trying to get a slice of the Santa Cruz Superlight/Blur market that some may have become me too bikes. Did Moots become that way with an aluminum rear triangle and one time even an aluminum bike? I can't say for certain but those bikes aren't offered anymore so only Moots can say. People don't buy Moots titanium bikes because they're affordable so offering an aluminum bike isn't doing the brand any good. So good on them going back to doing what they know best; titanium.
It's hard to imagine 29" has been around for over 10 years but now what the bike manufacturers are doing is changing the angles a bit so that it feels more like a 26" bike but still have the lower rolling resistance of the larger wheel.
Cane Creek was showing off their latest DB Air. For anyone familiar with the Double Barrel coil shock, this would be very exciting news. Said to be available early next year, this will take rear air shock adjustment to a new level. With this shock, you'll be able to adjust both low speed and high speed compression and rebound. We'll definitely get one and put it through its paces next season. Stay tuned for a test report.
There's never been a better time to get an indoor trainer if you happen to live in an area where you have to put your bike away for the season. The Lemond Revolution ANT+ tracks just about anything you can think of, HR, cadence, power, speed wirelessly of course and feels like you're riding your own bike. No more mind numbingly spinning on rollers like the past but now everything can be monitored, logged, graphed and Twittered to your grandma! Isn't technology great?
GoPro was one of those companies that seemed to have entered the market just at the right time and did it right right from the beginning. Helmet mounted camera that was durable, waterproof, easy to use at an affordable price. No more duct taping your handycam to your helmet to do film your bike ride. One of those ideas where you think "Gee, I could have done that!". Now it's HD and can be mounted just about anywhere from a surf board to a racing car. At the time, they offered something to the market that just didn't have anything comparable. Sucess never goes unnoticed of course and judging by some of the other cameras there, imitation is indeed the greatest form of flattery. Some had GPS, others were HD also, etc but it'll be hard to knock off GoPro. They've become the Kleenex of tissue paper in the portable recording market.
Paul Components were showing off some custom mounts for THUMB Shifters! Who says thumb shifters are dead. They took road bike bar end shifters and changed the mount. They had Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo 10 spd shifters at the show. This would be like modern Retro.
Coolest bike that I saw that wasn't at the show? The Renovo. Well it was there but it was there at Kroptonite's booth. If I had Renovo, maybe I would consider a Kryptonite also but then again, why would I even lock it outside? I've seen wooden bikes at the Interbike before but wow, the Renovo looks like fine furniture and costs just as much. I apologize for the not so sharp picture but you can check them out at their website.
Lots of E-bikes around this year. Something I haven't noticed as much in the past. Are we getting lazier or just a shift in demographics? Let's hope it's the latter. I have nothing against E-bikes in general, it's better than a car but it'd be much better if the person riding the E-bike got some exercise as well.
So essentially things are well and look promising next season. New shinny things for all for 2011!