So, I didn't think Las Vegas had any real wildlife, but today, I was proven wrong:
This guy was hanging out in the driveway of our hotel. We admired and photographed him/her (they're hermaphrodites, you know), moved him/her gingerly onto a scant patch of greenery, before proceeding to our real destination, the annual bicycle trade show extravanganza, the Interbike Expo.
The schizophrenia of this industry was immediately apparent as I entered the giant, product-filled hall. Let me begin with the idea that holding tradeshow for the health-conscious, environmentally-minded, green and sustainable industry that bicycling is, in a town like Las Vegas, is in itself preposterous. Every year, dealers and vendors alike plead for holding the convention in a bicycle-friendly city, and perhaps one with some beauty and nature surrounding it, such as Denver, Portland, perhaps Minneapolis, and every year the convention organizers force us to visit the city of sin.
Here are a few more examples of and industry in search of personality. These two sights were literally across the walkway from each other:
Of course this year, just like last, everyone is on the bike commuting bandwagon. Including Louis Garneau, not necessarily a company known for its consistent commitment to utilitarian cycling.
Never mind that the real urban commuters, who actually ride their bikes on real streets, in real traffic, and in real weather, would have to be nuts to spend, what, 85 bucks on the little plaid skort just to define their ordinary daily activity as "commuting". And that those bag handles would make the bags really easy to swipe if someone happened to really like them while you were waiting at the stoplight.
Not to pick on this particular company. I'm sure they do some stuff really well. And they are certainly not the only ones who seek to define bike commuting as some sort of a trend or fashion. Look at this smiling, happy person. Do you actually know any bike commuters who look like this?!
Nah, they're much more gritty than that. Their clothes are not always so clean from being on the road so much. That's why they don't indulge in frivolus bike fashions, except serious weather gear. But that doesn't mean they want junk. They want thoughtfully designed stuff that's made for the way bike commuting actually works and feels. Like this:
A real beauty from Civia cycles. Three or nine-speed versions are available. Beautiful, spare frame, full racks, bamboo accessories add a touch of style. Hey, I'm not saying it has to be dowdy. In fact, style is a big part of bike commuting. But style that derives from real functionality is different than a mere trend.
Like these bags from Detours, made from juice cartons recycled by a women-owned coop in the Philipines. They work well, look good, and support a good cause.
The bike industry seems to be torn on what to make of the growing popularity of bike commuting. Everyone seems to want to capitalize on it, only they are not sure how to do it. Bike commuters have an image problem, which they themselves inadvertently helped to create. They are not perceived by the bike industry as real cyclists. Read: they are not perceived by the bike industry as having money to spend. What happens as a result is that products made for commuters are often cheap and flimsy, and offer a certain urban "look" rather than true utility.
Where much of the industry is missing the boat is the fact that urban commuters are willing to spend money where it counts. Like the example I mentioned earlier: foul weather clothing. Other examples are lights and bags. And, of course, the bikes themselves. Bikes that hold up through the rigors of daily use.
A few bike and accessory companies, usually ones where the owners and/or employees actually use their own bicycles for transport and utility, understand this, and they tend to make ther truly useful products for the bicycle commuter that are engineered with specific functions in mind. Those products are not cheap, but they tend to also not be disposable.
I am here in Vegas to find these products. The products from companies that understand that bike commuting is not a trend.