Eurobike… Details

Faced with a sea of shiny metal and carbon fibre Jo Burt gets right up close

by Jo Burt   September 20, 2009  

Not even ten minutes in the door and already I’m show-blind.

Deutschland Über Halles

A walk through Shimano, completely oblivious to the Eddy Merckx stand on my left that I would only discover three days later - as they were packing up, and blitzkrieg blinged by the triumvirate onslaught of the Bianchi, DeRosa and Campagnolo stands with a sneaky south-paw kidney-punch by Cervelo to the side and my brain rolls over and surrenders.

It must have been the Italian influence. Time to beat a hasty retreat and regain strength with the first of many many many restorative coffees and ham-and-cheese rolls.

Eurobike is huge, bigger than huge; it fills 12 massive halls, spreads across numerous tiny outdoor stands and spills into a separate detached building voluminous enough to hold a Zeppelin. No, really, it is an airship hanger.

Conventional wisdom has it that you should initially sweep the halls, efficiently scanning as you go, skim-reading the show and noting bikes and bits with a mental highlighter pen to return later at a more studious pace to harvest the wheat you've separated from the chafe. But no matter how thoroughly you think you’ve recceed the halls there’s always the deep lingering fear that you’ve missed something new, important, spectacular, innovative or just plain lovely. This gnawing worry isn’t soothed by every time you bump into someone you know they ask “Have you seen the (insert thing you haven’t seen here) on the (insert manufacturer you’ve missed here) stand?” and you're compelled to yomp across to the other side of the complex into a erroneously unprobed corner, without even pause for a restorative coffee and ham-and-cheese roll, to have a look-see.

And still you will only skim the surface.
There's. Just. Too. Much.

The whole mess of pedal-powered life is here, from the quiet Taiwanese man that will make you a headbadge for the frame his compatriot in the stand across the way will sell you through every single permutation of cycling minutiae to the worryingly wide-eyed German bloke that will make you jockey-wheels out of carbon-fibre. You can aimlessly wander onto the bike stands of manufacturers you’ve never even heard of and get lost in the prairie expanse of display that is far far bigger than those from the likes of Trek and Specialized who you always thought were the Big Boys, and get corralled by trekking bikes - the continentals do seem to like their trekking bikes. And they like their electric bikes too - ugly bikes with plastic shoe-boxes bolted to them for the battery to not so successfully hide, ridden round the halls with silent speedy smugness.

And the end result of all the trudging endless hall miles and sore feet and the blinking in the bright lights and the smelly t-shirts and the too much pork-product and beer and a bag full of brochures and the overwhelmingness of it all and finally the eyes unable to focus on anything closer than a contrail?

Sadly, a gentle disappointment.

Great to see so many bikes, no, strike that, fantastic actually, and heartening to see such a broad spectrum of cycles and related ephemera, especially with normal everyday get-you-around bikes being given as much prominence as the top-end carbon exotica. Funny to see some brands desperately and perhaps cynically jumping on last years bandwagon before the wheels fall off, good to see those that have always done what they’ve always done still doing it well, interesting to see others pushing their particular envelope, nice to see new technologies being gracefully absorbed, amusing to see little Taiwanese companies making cheap copies of extremely expensive bike parts, and fun to see the mad widgets and inventions. Wonderful to see a whole World of cycling all together. Proud to see a Passion still.

But painfully nothing to walk away from the show with a hushed tumescence, a wry smile and a fuzzy dream about. Nothing to stop a geek dead in their bike tracks and make them catch their breath.

Maybe it's because spy-shots and pre-production pictures and rumours and the general tsunami of internet chatter as manufacturers try to steal a march on each other by getting their newandimproved product into the public eye as soon as possible has taken away the sudden frissance you used to get from seeing something in the flesh for the very first time, that little heart-skip that only happened in those pre information-overload days. It's hard to get that schoolboy thrill when you saw pictures three months ago.

Maybe because it doesn't appear to be a time of massive innovation, possibly a result of the UCI throwing petulant rules around that are stifling any funky thinking, just a gallery of nips and tucks to view, neat detailing, refined development, subtle ingenuity, invisible strength-to-weight ratios and stiffness-yet-compliance under new paint jobs.

Maybe it's because there are too many me-too designs; too many bikes sharing too many features, the same curved top-tube, that same seat-tube cluster, that same heat-tube bulge. Lego-kit cookie-cutter frames, a by-product of the vast majority of the bike industry emerging from the same three factories, and all designs processed through the same three computers producing a glut of similarity only made different by graphics, and even that is confusingly similar as we surf the in-mode wave of green and white.

Maybe it's all of these things, maybe it is none of them, but the eye was continually drawn to little delicate jewels of thought and design, the clever little features that suggests that some bike designers actually ride bikes or absorb feedback rather than just look at Pantone colours and the latest tubing catalogues, elements that make a bike rider nod their head at the little bit of functional originality. Or it's a little quirky detail that's skipped under the broad sweep radar, nuggets that make you smile, moments of beauty added to a bike just because, a sense of humour amongst all of the C.A.D., or simply a glimpse of something unexpected and elegant, the joy of beauty added to that which is useful. All those real reasons you should buy a bike, not for it's material or it's name or its ride quality but that thing that makes you warm inside every time you swing your leg over it, or merely just gaze at it.

Despite being battered from an over-indulgence of bikes bikes bikes for three long days and then shoe-horned into the back of a car for a day-long drive across France where we talked about bikes and home to a late-night replacement bus service for the last leg of the journey where I read bike magazines to pass the time, by rights I should have spent the following day weary in a darkened room nursing a carbon, ham and cheese hangover. But I gladly clipped into my bike, the one that makes me warm inside the most, and what was supposed to be a gentle spinny ride to ease legs screwed tight from walking show-hall carpet and back-seat concertinaing turned into an over enthusiastic, too far, too fast thrash, cheerfully imploding and crawling the last 5 miles home, unashamedly stopping off for take-out and eating a large fish'n'chip supper off my lap in my bib-shorts with a stupid grin on my face.

Never become blind to that.