TdA Ltd at EuroBike Expo
I drove down to Friedrichschafen, Germany from Rotterdam to meet Henry and attend Eurobike last week. Before I get into what Eurobike was like let me just tell you that driving in Germany was a pain. I drove 1800 kms of German Hwy to get to Eurobike and back. I ran into no less than 6 traffic jams that slowed traffic to 20 kms/hr for 30 minutes or more. Sometimes highways just ended, blocked for construction and there were no clear indications of how to get around it. I got lost.
I was looking forward to driving in Germany because so many people have told me how great the autobahn is and how you can drive as fast as you want. Well it turns out letting people drive as fast as they want has some problems. It’s not accidents. In fact I only saw one accident on the whole trip. The biggest problem is this: not everyone wants to go 180 kms/hr or has a vehicle that can go that fast. I drove 120 when I could. I would have felt safe driving faster but the little Ford car I rented sounded like it was going to explode if I pushed it past 120. Most cars and trucks in the right hand lanes seemed to cruise along at 80 – 100 kms an hour. Cars in the left lane went from 140 to 210 kms/hour. So I’d cruise in the right hand lane until I came upon a slower vehicle and then try to pull into the left lane to pass. But trying to pull into a lane with BMWs flying by at 200+ kph. It ain’t fun.
Anyway. The drive wasn’t that pleasant but arriving in Friedrichschafen was nice. It’s beautiful town located on the Bodensee – a big lake that also borders Switzerland and Austria. An interesting piece of trivia: The Zeppelin was invented in Friedrichshafen. The entire time the bike show ran there was a giant Zeppelin taking off and landing from the back parking lot. It’s quite impactful, seeing a Zeppelin take off. They’re huge.
Eurobike is the largest bike industry tradeshow in the world. 1000 exhibitors. Tens of thousands of bikes and who knows how many parts and accessories. It’s overwhelming. Outside there was a trials course, BMX track and bike jump area where kids from 12 to 20 showed off some pretty amazing skills. A hip hop style fashion show ran twice a day. Eddy Merckx was there, so was Tom Boonen and Ivan Basso and a personal hero of mine Hans ‘no way’ Rey.
But over the hill and disgraced cycling celebrities aside there wasn’t too much new to see at Eurobike. Carbon, carbon and more carbon. Curvy, superlight, soulless carbon. New Shimano groups, Campy, SRAM… blah blah bah. A $13,000 e-bike (who is that for?) Hundred of singlespeeds and fixies in evey color imaginable. New colors were the big thing. For the last couple of years black and white has been the predominant color scheme. Now the pendulum is swinging back and orange yellow and yes, (gasp) even purple anodizing is back.
I was pleased to see Chris King there displaying his excellent hubs, headset and bottom brackets. Chris has also dusted off an old frame design that he used to build in limited runs for US teams. Called ‘Cielo” and built in Portland. It was one of the only steel frames on display that didn’t come with a set of skinny jeans to ride in. Great craftsmanship and nice details like stainless steel dropouts and bottom bracket shell. I wanted one. Coincidently I was wearing an old Chris King t-shirt, the same one that I have worn from Cairo to Cape Town twice now. Jay Sycip, who build the frames for Chris, noticed me ogling the Cielo and commented on the shirt. We chatted about our tours and I told him the unfortunate story of the demise of the Poprad. He empathized and offered me a deal on a frame! Sweet.
We were there mostly to set up a booth on Saturday, the public day of the show. And we wanted to check out all the new electric bikes. Everyone is making an ebike these days. Most of them have a long way to go. Henry has this idea, and he’s slowly convincing me, that ebikes can make our tours accessible to a whole new group of clients. On the Amber Route I spoke with several clients who really want to cycle Africa but are afraid the distance and difficulty of some of the days would be too much. Enter the ebike. With electric assist to help a rider get over the toughest hill and the harshest headwinds a long distance tour becomes more feasible. But our requirements for an ebike are very specific. It has to be simple, no fancy computer controls. It has to be light. It has to work with an existing bike. And it has to have limited power. We don’t want people cruising thru our tours on electric motorcycle. We just want something that can give you a boost when you need it. An extra 50 or 100 watts to get thru a 180 km day or over the steepest pitches of a 2000 meter climb. There were a couple of promising designs. Perhaps in the future we’ll see the first TdA ebike tour take form.
Another reason we attended was for a series of forums on bike related travel the show was hosting. A good chance to see what was new and what other people are doing the industry. Unfortunately these forums were more painful than driving on the autobahn. The word useless comes to mind. Simplistic, uninformative…. Boring. Oh well.
The Saturday show went well. We had a good number of visitors to the booth. The booth itself looked great thanks to Theresa's efforts. Daniel, a former client who lives in Swtizerland, drove over to the show and was a big help. We ran into former clients and visited with companies that make some of the best products our clients use.
Henry and I were there for the whole 4 days of the show. We walked around and shook hands. Tried to tell people about the TdA. It’s hard to develop an ‘elevator pitch’ for what TdA does. The company just doesn’t fit neatly into a box like that.
Ultimately what we did was talk. Sitting outside next to the bike jump sipping overpriced beer and chatting about the company. What works, what doesn’t. How to improve the dream tours concept (which I love). How to better help our customers prepare for and enjoy the tours, how to reach a wider audience with our marketing efforts. Two guys chatting about stuff they like, telling stories and debating the finer points of running a unique business. Good times.