By: Vernon Felton
Interbike used to be the place where new and shocking products were unveiled to much surprise and acclaim. Mmmmm….not so much anymore.
Sea Otter, Eurobike and dozens of Big Brand press launches have stolen much of the "new and improved" wind from Vegas' sails. That said, there's still some pretty cool (and heretofore unseen) stuff on display here. These are the widgets and trends that caught my eye during my 14th wandering of Interbike.
Flatter than Flat
While low-profile flat pedals abound, Tioga's new ZEROaxle pedal takes the honors for flattest flat pedal on the market. How skinny is it? A mere 7 millimeters at the thickest portion of the platform and about 4 millimeters at its center. It's like an anorexic pancake.
Why the hell does this matter at all?
Clearance, those crucial millimeters between pedal and big-crunchy-Mother Earth, is outstanding, and that means less smacking the crap out of your pedals. If you ride flats on a bike with a low bottom bracket, this matters a lot to you. Tioga, however, claims that the biggest benefit is a boost in pedaling power and a 14 percent boost in pedaling efficiency. Both of those benefits are derived by moving your foot closer to the spindle…or in this case, right on the spot where the spindle would be on a normal pedal. I'll skip the bio-mechanics of this, but there is, in fact, something to it.
Of course, making a pedal this skinny requires a whole lot of monkeying about with the body and bearing design. To wit, the Tioga's platform is made of investment-cast chromoly (to boost strength). Likewise, Tioga ditched much of the spindle and killed the outboard bearing entirely—opting instead for a massive (think "more than twice as large as normal") inboard cartridge bearing. Weight comes in at 450 grams. Clearly, not the lightest things on the market by any stretch.
So, will it hold up? Yeah, that's the real question. Tioga is clear on this point: the ZEROaxle is not meant to be a DH or freeride pedal—this is supposed to be a trail/All Mountain model. We'll see…. Living within spitting distance of the North Shore has taught me that an American's "freeride" tends to be a Canadian's "trail ride" (hats off to our northern brethren), so it's hard to say where too burly begins exactly. I am, however, getting my hands on a set in the next month or so and am looking forward to finding out.
GripShift Back from the Dead
Twist shifters. You loved them or hated them. If, however, you were one of those folks who loved them and moaned incessantly on the message boards about your dire lack of twist-clicky bits, you can officially pat yourself on the back for helping restore GripShift to SRAM's upper-end product line. It's back, it'll be 10 speeds and SRAM didn't just add a click to their old shifters. New innards. New, quicker action…and perhaps even a boost in durability, though old GripShift units were pretty damn robust to begin with. This very set pictured here was just piloted to an XC World Championship title beneath the sweaty mitts of Jaroslav Kulhavy.
How far GripShift will extend down the SRAM line (Just XX? XX and XO?) is still being figured out as I type this, but you can expect to see them for sale in 2012.
Formula's New Hoops
Not content with simply producing disc brakes, Italian manufacturer, Formula Racing, now has a line of wheels and suspension forks. The hoops in question here are the Volo All Mountains. Beyond sexy aesthetics, the wheel sports a wide (21 millimeter internal diameter) scandium rim and a novel hub that places the drive-side rear bearing, outboard of the freehub itself.
Think reduced load on the bearing and longer life from the hub. Perhaps the coolest aspect of the hub, however, is that it converts between standard QR, 15 and 20 millimeter thru axles. It's a very simple and clean design. Nice.
Weight is an impressive 1538 grams for the 29er version and, yeah, these hoops come in both 26 and 29er versions. In short, crazy light and potentially super burly.
Ritchey scaled down their frameset line a few years back, but is adding models to their 2012 line, including a 29er hardtail (a retro-swank, wagon-wheeled P-20). What caught my imagination, however, was this revised Swiss Cross. It looks old school, but the cyclocross frameset is cutting-edge steel. Features include custom butting profiles, American-style `cross geometry and a cool headtube that looks retro (one-inch diameter and all), yet accepts an inch and an eighth bearing and fork. The coolest thing, however, is the price. The frame and fork retail together for $1,200, which ain't pocket change for anyone, but is definitely a lot less than you'd expect from a race machine of this caliber.
The First Mountain Bike
Okay, no one can legitimately call any machine "the first mountain bike" given that people have been surfing dirt since the days of the penny farthing, but this bike right here—Breezer #1—tends to get the credit as "The First Modern Mountain Bike" and it's not much of a stretch to call it the grand sire of every knobby-tired bike at this show.
Joe Breeze built this very bike back in 1977 and won a crap load of downhill races (that's what Repack was, after all) on this bike. Joe himself is still fast and about the nicest man on planet Earth. Plus, his line of performance mountain bikes (including a very swank 29er steel hardtail) is bigger than ever.
I have better pictures of skimpily clad women at the show, but this one will do. The pair here were grinding and go-go dancing aboard a bus on the show floor. About a hundred guys, meanwhile, were dragging knuckles, breathing through their mouths and proving Gloria Steinem right.
Sex sells. Not exactly a mind-bending revelation if you grew up anywhere outside of an Amish community. The sheer number of women at Interbike dressed in ways that you pray your daughter will never dress in, is, however, both staggering and a tad depressing (or "super rad" depending on your perspective on these things). A thong and a set of pasties goes a long, long ways when it comes to marketing.
More Light, Less Money
Remember the super expensive, halogen or HID light you used to own? Well, you can now get the same power today in tiny, tidy, crazy-affordable packages. LED (light-emitting-diode) technology has been on an absolute tear these last eight years; as a result, lights are much better, more durable and more affordable than before.
Consider the commuting light here: Niterider's MinNewt 600 Cordless LED bangs out six hundred lumens (I've mountain-biked with less), recharges via a USB connector and doesn't require a battery pack or the like. Sure, I'd rather trail-ride with the 3,000 lumen PRO 3000 LED model, but this thing packs a lot of midnight sun in a very cool package. Impressive.
Bye Bye, Baggie
Chances are you have a cell phone. How, however, do you keep said cell phone from getting wet or gritty during a ride? I generally stash mine in a sandwich bag, which blows for about a million reasons. One of the simplest and coolest products that I saw at the show is Blackburn's VIP SL: a new waterproof wallet/cell phone bag.
You can actually scroll through functions on your phone's touch screen while the thing sits safe and cozy in its high-tech baggie. Now you can text "Sorry, but I'm at the hospital and can't come to work" to your boss while playing hookie on a ride—without exposing your phone to rain, sweaty fingers and the like. Oh, and it'll sell for about $14. Sweet.
Flat Pedals Grow Smarter
The days when manufacturers could pump out a chunky, sub-par flat pedal are over. Flat pedals are quickly approaching the innovation level of their college-educated clipless siblings. Consider Twenty6's new Predator pedal. Each pedal boasts 12 strategically-placed pins that nest in raised and isolated pin locations on the body. The pins feature breakaway points, so that they shear cleanly during the worst impacts and can be extracted without the hassle of jacked-up threads. The CNC'd body is made of 6061-T6 aluminum and rolls on a combination of Enduro bearings and self-lubricating turcite bushings. Weight is 320 grams with Ti axles and 390 grams with Cromoly axles. Finally, for all the fashion-forward folks out there, the Predators are available in polished, Urban Camo, White and eight different anodized color options.
Gay Shoes on Straight Men
The world was once a much simpler place. You could tell a lot about a man by simply looking at his shoes. You didn't loan money to guys in Birkenstocks. You didn't poke your finger in the chest of a guy wearing 14-hole, steel-toed Doc Martens. You generally despised anyone who wore boating shoes to the mall. In short, you saw a shoe and you kind of knew what to expect.
Not so today.
Consider the footwear right here. A couple of years ago you'd see these shoes and could conclude, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, that their owners were either French or gay. Not that there's anything wrong with being gay. Just saying….
I was stunned, however, by the number of straight guys rocking shoes like these shown here. Shocked, really. When did this happen? Where have I been? Am I the only guy wearing grey running shoes in the house?
I took about a hundred photos of neon green, banana yellow and powder blue loafers and tennis shoes. By the end of the day, I wasn't even sure if orange and blue clogs were gay at all. Clearly, I was growing numb to the whole phenomenon. It's insidious like that.
By itself, of course, the growing explosion of "fancy" men's footwear is no big thing. It doesn't bear the same import as, say, the budget deficit, the blood-diamond industry or the melting polar ice cap. The acceptance and spread of baby-blue tennis shoes, however, signals a less-palatable trend. Today it's just magenta Dutch Boy shoes on 40-year olds, tomorrow it's man purses, socially-acceptable crying fits on the job, and weekly pedicures with the guys. It all starts somewhere.