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IFMA: The big halls - BikeBiz

IFMA: The big halls

[UPDATED] Peter Eland's final trade show report from Koln, Germany.
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Read the small print on your IFMA entry ticket, and you'll discover a neat

bonus: all public transport within the Cologne regional network is free.

Trams, buses, local trains are all covered - can you imagine anything so

integrated in Britain?

The trams run all night, too (punctually!) and that was how (last night) I

got to a meal/gathering organised by the VSF - http://www.vsf.de. This is an

interesting dealer group: the name means 'Association of Self-Managed Cycle

shops' and it pulls together some of the most forward-thiking retailers in

Germany. The emphasis is on raising the level of service and satisfaction

with cycles as transport, and various initiatives have been developed to

support this, including the VSF-Congress in Bremen (a sort of mini-trade

show), free 'Abfahren' magazines for the retailers, and national publicity.

They've also kicked off a distance learning course, which offers the chance

for staff to become qualified in both technical and business aspects of the

bike trade. The VSF even have their own manufacturing branch,

VSF-Fahrradmanufaktur, who make the sort of high-reliability (and relatively

high-price) city bikes which are the VSF trademark. They do also promote

themselves as the real 'specialists', so VSF shops also tend to be where you

can get out-of-the-ordinay bikes such as folders and recumbents. A few

manufacturers of such machines also join the association, partly through a

wish to support it and partly for the links it brings with a qualified

dealer network.

Saturday morning, and hardly a hangover at all thanks to the quality of

the'Koelsch' beer, produced on the spot in a micro-brewery behind the pub.

Prices for food and drink were a bit lower than in York, UK, and at DM60 per

night (about 20 pounds), the hotel wasn't too pricey either. So it's not an

expensive place to visit or stay. Getting there is probably fastest by air,

but I (luckily) avoided the air-traffic disruption by going Eurostar: a

through ticket to Cologne was just 89 pounds return, and the journey took

about 7 hours (going from Waterloo, and changing at Brussels).

For visitors arriving with a bike, there's a guarded parking area

provided... I managed to sort of cyle in this morning, hitching a lift with

Ben from Xtracycle - http://www.xtracycle.com . He's the European distributor for

this sort of extending subframe which bolts onto most any bike and gives a

nice platform behind the saddle, wide enough to give relatively comfortable

seating or, of course, to carry significant loads. One of their best target

markets is, he told me, the surfing crowd, who find it perfect for carrying

their boards...he was a bit disenchanted with IFMA, seeing too many boring

dealers in suits not open to new ideas. The young, multisport outdoor crowd

is where he wants to be...

So, back to the halls and I'm collared more or less immediately by Ruedi

Frey of ZEM - http://www.zem.ch. If you don't know this machine, it's a rather

stunning design of four-wheeler, four-seater people carrier. It's a techical

tour de force, with all rides having independent pedalling and gearing - and

he's cunningly used the back-pedal brakes in the hubs to provide a reverse

gear. That's even more of a head turner.

So far, you're probably thinking that this has got to be a weird, complex,

expensive and unreliable novelty, perhaps one for eco-freaks looking for

family transport. Frey told me he's already sold over 100, and the

biggest market is bike dealers!

Between the seats there's room for a huge advertising banner. What this bike

does best is attract attention: he showed me a letter from one German dealer

who'd bought one purely as an eye-catcher. With the letter he'd included a

thick pile of press cuttings: by taking it along to most any event, parade

or whatever in their area (a fantastic picture from a gay rights march

sticks in my mind) they reckon they've benefitted considerably in terms of

increased awareness and actual business. They also lend it out free to

regular customers, and apparently there's quite a demand. The latest ones

have been equipped with hub gears all round, and seem pretty robust. And

series production had brought the price down (!) to about £3300...

From there, past Ortlieb, SRAM and various pump manufacturers (nothing much

I hadn't already seen in brochures etc) to an intriguing stand from a

charitable trust (I'm not sure that's the correct translation) who have a

mission to make bikes part of everyday life. They are tackling this rather

ambitious aim with (as a first stage I presume) some nice developments in

cycle trailers: they work with manufacturers to bring new technologies to

market. They were displaying quite a few ideas which, I think, deserve to

take off. Let's hope someone can make them pay:

- with Weber (long-time European trailer manufacturers) they had developed a

fine two-sided trailer hitch, with a BOB-like fork and vertical pivot. It

looked really rather cool, but there was more to come. They'd built

electrical contacts into the hitch, so that the towing bike's rear light

(dynamo systems are compulsory for most bikes in Germany) is automatically

switched off as the trailer is connected, and a light on the back of the

trailer is switched on. A system to achive the same thing with more usual

couplings was also displayed on a child trailer.

- Two mechanisms for trailer self-braking were on show: one mechanical and

the other hydraulic. These should stop trailers 'shoving' the towing bike

when you brake hard with a heavy load...

- they are also lobbying manufacturers to adopt a unified hitch system.

- A neat trolly-like trailer which if I'd understood correctly was

purpose-designed to carry beer crates!

They take their trailer evangelism seriously, setting up stalls in shopping

malls and supermarkets, offering two-week free trials of trailers to the

punters. If after that time they decide to buy, they're sent to a local

dealer.

All very commendable stuff - who could argue with displacing car journeys

with bike+trailer ones - but I doubt if better (expensive) technology is

really the answer. In the UK at least, road conditions and town planning

need some attention first...

OK, back to the mainstream a bit. Ortleib had their usual fantastic range,

Rohloff were their with Speedhubs aplenty, and the big European trailer

distributors Zwei plus Zwei had a big stand, showing off in particular

improved trailers from Chariot in Canada. Nothing very new at suspension

specialists Riese und Mueller (who make town bikes along with the Birdy

folder). But a nice fully-enclosed drive system was on show at Utopia, the

high-end purveyors of semi-custom ultra-reliable touring and town bikes.

They're just getting their catalogue translated, apparently, in preparation

for a UK launch...

Another lot interested in the UK market is Biomega - http://www.biomega.dk - from

Denmark, whose bikes are very much 'designer'. Some of their nicer-looking

machines use cast aluminium frames - don't throw up your hands in horror,

these are quite nice, if more for posing than performance. They do also do

some very 'clean' tubed bikes, with the lines unsullied by a chain: a shaft

drive is neatly integrated.

Anything else? A design consultancy had a height-adjustable stem, and a

silent roller-clutch freewheel, there were several hi-tech racing-type

wheels, carbon spoked mostly, which I'd not seen before, and the Worksman

industrial bike range imported to Germany by Speedliner. They had a new load

trike and a rather ungainly full-size folder flagged up as new products.

Now to the heavy-duty big boys of the bike trade like Shimano, Cannondale, Giant and so

on. March right through the final hall and you leave the exhibition space

proper, walking across to a giant warehouse known as the 'event area'. As I

came in, roadies were erecting a huge set for a party later tonight,

organised by what is apparently the German equivalent of MTV: Viva TV.

Alongside that was the huge BMX area for the 'IFMA Bike Challenge': in an

effort to inject some youth and life into proceedings the best and brightest

of Europe's acrobatic BMX talent was competing, with speakers pounding out

really quite good music and the warehouse setting giving the whole event

plenty of atmosphere. All of the different BMX disciplines had their own

areas: it's not all whizzing up and down a half-pipe.

A break in the drizzle gave me the chance to take a quick wander outside,

too: the organisers had erected a truly impressive mountain-bike course,

with extensive earthmoving to landscape 'hills' and drop-offs. If this

wasn't enough, wooden jump ramps had been erected, and some riders (by their

accents, from the USA) were doing regular shows. Most of the big suppliers

such as Giant, Trek and the like had doubled up their stands, with a tent

outside here to cater to the enthusiastic youth audience, and a stand inside

for the dealers.

Unfortunately, all of this seemed to be a bit lost on most of the IFMA

attendees: not many visiting dealers looked to be lingering amongst the

audience. A few did, though, think that putting on this sort of attraction,

rather than just raking in the money from exhibitors and delivering nowt but

a standard show, is a good effort from the IFMA organisers.

Back inside, and on to the last big hall. Trek, Giant, Cannondale, Scott USA, Corratec and a host more were all there. So were Shimano, a couple of stands selling tools, the test track, and also a test ride area for the 'Extra Energy' stall-holders. We might as well start there first...

Extra Energy - http://www.extraenergy.org - is a non-profit organisation (I think -

translating the different varieties of German charitablenon-profit groups

is tricky) aiming to encourage the development of electric-assist bikes. In

recent years it's become perhaps the definitive source of info for electric

bike purchasers, and the main marketing channel for electric bike producers.

Not only do they organise displays such as this one at IFMA, but they also

take a roadshow around Europe. And, every so often they do quite valid

comparative tests of electric bikes, perhaps the only accurate source of

such info. Manufacturer's 'range' figures and the like are usually not pure

fiction, but they are kind of meaningless without a very exact description

of how they're measured.

As to the bikes themselves, I don't really feel qualified to comment. I'll

report the Extra Energy results when they come out. I can comment on the

looks and image: this year did see a certain improvement: some are still

ungainly lumps of course, with huge black battery packs piggy-backing onto

spindly frames. But quite a few more were starting to look 'designed'. And

going by the number of stalls (about 30) the trade seems to be flourishing.

But it's not I'd say growing explosively. Electric bikes aren't the Next Big

Thing, at least not yet.

A company rather keen to be at the forefront of the Next Big Thing is

Cannondale, and as has already been confirmed all over the internet, they've

got a recumbent in their range for next year. I spoke to the head of their

European operation, Ricciardi Fulvio, and tried to get an idea of what

they're trying to do with it. Aside from Trek's half-hearted effort, they're

the first really big manufacturer to go for the recumbent market.

Their vision is of a very different cycling landscape in a few

year's time. They see this sort of bike being a commonplace sight in

European cities, as increasing numbers of consumers start to value style,

comfort and relaxation over the imagery of traditional mountain and racing

bikes. This year's single model will eventually expand into a full range,

making it an important element in their overall line-up, said Fulvio. Cannondale is fully

committed to it as a product and (he would say this) is convinced that

they'll do it better than the rest. Fulvio said he expects other big brands to start to

compete in a year or two, but is rather proud that Cannondale is setting the

trend.

The bike itself is very nicely done: it's a non-intimidating semi-recumbent,

along the lines of a BikeE but with a definite Cannondale 'feel': big alu

tubes nicely-finished. This bike layout is beginner-friendly and

town-friendly. Most people can ride straight off without practice, and it

isn't low enough to cause worries in traffic.

Shimano: another huge stand and all of the latest groupsets on display. It was

interesting to see in the flesh the ever-more-elaborate 'cockpit' displays

with gear ratios, speeds and the like. And of course the increasing

electrification and automation of the town bike Nexave groupset, with

shifting and suspension so far controlled by wires not cables: how long

until the brakes join in?

Before the show I'd arranged to meet Peter Schoenle from my German namesake

Velo-Vision, a bike shop not too far from Cologne, so I had to rush off to

make the appointment. We'd been corresponding by email since I'd started

Velo Vision magazine (he was very friendly about sharing the name) and it

was nice to puta face to the name. As is the way at these shows, he knew

someone I should meet, and we went off to have a fascinating conversation

with Christophe Dietman of Crazy-D - http://www.polorad.de - who had arranged a

spectacular display of chopper/grifter style '70s bikes. There is, apparently,

even within Germany, enough of a fanatical following for these machines for

him to make a living dealing in them - rare ones can fetch several thousand

pounds. He does a brisk trade commissioning and selling in new 'gearstick'

shifting units: the first parts to fail on these machines.

Winding up for the day, I bumped into an old friend from the UK, who passed

on one new-to-me nugget which may be of interest to some. It appears that

ZAP, US manufacturers of add-on electric assist kits for bikes, are no

longer producing them. Instead, they're concentrating on the ZAPPY scooter

and complete machines. Checking out http://www.zapworld.com seems to confirm

this...digging around also found mention of a fuel-cell bike they're working

on. Be that as it may, I think a few customers will rather miss the ZAP

kits. They were a relatively affordable way to add electric power to a bike,

and despite some reports of reliability problems in UK weather, had plenty

of happy users.

Talking of matters US, the recent events in New York and the consequences

have never been far from us here at IFMA. Television screens around the

halls were provided, tuned to news channels to keep both visitors and

stallholders informed. The opening party was cancelled, replaced by a

more informal gathering. There are, of course, a considerable number of

staff from the US amongst the exhibitors.

This was my final report for bikebiz.co.uk: I'll be at the show for just a few

hours tomorrow (the public day) before getting off to the station for the train home. I hope you've enjoyed hearing about my personal take on the show - I'll be back

next year. And of course, a fuller report on many of the items mentioned,

and more besides, will appear in Issue 4 of Velo Vision magazine, published

on the 4th December.

If you'd like to get hold of one, email me at

peter@velovision.co.uk or check out http://www.velovision.co.uk.

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