By Vernon Felton
Las Vegas is a lot of things, including the perfect place to shoot a grenade launcher, dabble with alcohol poisoning and begin your lifelong relationship with Herpes—all in a single, blurry weekend! Las Vegas, however, is not a cycling Mecca. Vegas is to bicycles what tuna is to tapioca pudding; mutually exclusive. The fact that the bike industry descends on the Vegas strip each year to celebrate all that is great about cycling has always struck me as bizarre.
Interbike in Las Vegas? Really? The bike industry can’t find a more compatible alternative for their annual trade show?
I, of course, am not the first soul to question why Interbike and Sin City have become steadfast bedfellows. Whenever the tradeshow powers that be, however, get tired of hearing these complaints, they always adopt an exasperated tone and suggest, Well if you don’t want to hold Interbike in Las Vegas, then we can always go back to doing the damn show in Anaheim.
This strippers-versus-strip malls bargaining tactic quiets the rabble immediately. It also, however, strikes me as a straw-man proposition. Vegas or Anaheim? Those are our sole choices? It reminds me of my father, turning around from the steering wheel of our station wagon and glaring at us squabbling kids in the back seat. His threat was simple and effective: If we didn’t all shut the hell up, this family vacation to Disneyland could quickly become a family vacation to the nearest retirement home. “And you know,” he’d growl, as a vein throbbed in his forehead, “just how much you like cleaning out those bed pans.”
Yes, simple. And effective.
It’s so very wrong
Last year was my 16th visit to Interbike and I found myself as bewildered by Vegas as ever. For one reason or another, I had to repeatedly walk through the Excalibur casino. Now, there are a lot of ludicrous “attractions” in Las Vegas. Getting poled through a fake canal in a fake gondola by a fake Venetian gondolier with an authentic Kentucky accent? That’s pretty crazy. Watching the lesbian-vampire-rock-star pirate ship battle on the sidewalk outside of Treasure Island? Pretty disorienting. But the Excalibur Casino? That takes the cake.
Who the hell goes out into the desert with the hope of transporting themselves back to King Arthur’s round table? I don’t get that fantasy at all. The middle ages were basically a long, drawn out period in which you were constantly under threat of death by the plague, the feudal system, the Church or some innovative combination of all of the above. You seriously want to time travel back to that particular fantasy? And then there’s this: The Excalibur is probably the most half-assed version of a castle you could imagine. The world’s 7th largest hotel and casino looks exactly like the kind of slapped-together, pastel-painted fiberglass castle you’d find at a very crappy miniature golf course—except it’s been super-sized into a 70-acre, 4,000-room mountain of what the fuck? Simply walking through the Excalibur lowers your IQ 40 points.
And yet, I’m going to miss it
So, at this point in the narrative I’ve established myself as both arrogant and elitist. While there’s probably truth to that characterization, I should add here that I am not attending Interbike this week and I am, despite everything I’ve typed to this point, broken hearted about that fact.
Yes, Vegas is a foul, nicotine-stained, velvet-clown painting of a city. Yes, it is a uniquely bizarre place to hold a tradeshow dedicated to a healthy physical activity. But, after all these years, Vegas has also become home to Interbike and I’m sad that I won’t be boarding a flight tomorrow and watching Vegas’ Mordor-esque landscape come into view as my plane lands down at McCarran International Airport.
I’m torn for two reasons. For starters, there’s a part of me that will never stop being a bike geek. It doesn’t matter that Interbike now plays second banana to Eurobike—I’m still in love with the process of walking through the hundreds of Interbike tradeshow booths and fondling the new, shiny bikes and parts. Yes, all these parts are just lumps of plastic and metal. The ride is all that matters. I agree. But seriously, if you don’t get excited at all by several hundred tons of new-and-improved crap amassed in one convention hall, you simply don’t have a heart beating inside your chest.
I’ll miss pawing the goods. More importantly, I’ll miss the people.
The bike industry is a special place. Most of its inhabitants could be making more money in more secure jobs doing anything else. Many of us stay because, well, we love pedaling bikes. This fact alone weeds out a hell of a lot of potential wankers. There are simply a lot of really great people working at all those bike and component companies and Interbike is that one time of the year when you get to see them all in one place. Interbike is like a giant Christmas party, except you actually like everyone there, you don’t have to explain why you shave your legs and everyone is wearing the same dorky black socks as you.
Sure, Interbike is big business first and foremost—a place where orders are filled, contracts are negotiated and business cards are handed out–but it’s also a place where long-lost friends get together once a year and have a beer or two … or three. They might also catch a concert or eat a really outstanding meal on the boss’ dime. That is a thing worth looking forward to. It almost makes me understand why the bike industry continues to drag its sorry ass to the seediest place on earth each September.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but here goes: I miss you, Vegas. See you next year.