Interbike, the bike industry's annual trade show at Las Vegas is drawing huge crowds. In fact, it's party time as a perfect storm of eco-conscious consumerism, health-conscious lifestyles and wallet-sapping gas prices conspires to get people out of cars and onto bikes -- especially electric ones, writes Leander Kahney on Wired.
"The gas prices are the best thing that ever happened to cycling," says Kevin Menard, whose year-old custom bike business, Traitor Cycles, is thriving. "I hope they go up even more."
The gargantuan trade show, and the crowd filling it, has never been bigger, organizers boast. A record 23,000 people and 750 exhibitors fill several acres of the Sands Convention Center, further proof that all is well in the bike biz. "While the economy is really sketchy right now, it's not for the bike industry," said Rich Kelly, Interbike's marketing manager.
"You can feel the collective buzz," a smiling Tim Blumenthal, executive director of the bicycle advocacy group Bikes Belong, says from the middle of the bustling show floor. "It's a really, really heady time for us. This show feels very optimistic and that bucks the general economic trends. There doesn't seem to be many businesses that are thriving, but the bike business is doing very well."
Cycling enjoyed a "huge spike" in interest in June when gas topped four bucks a gallon, Blumenthal says. Much of the bike industry has enjoyed double digit growth since then. Some manufacturers have seen 50 percent growth in the last quarter, and dealers can't keep up with demand. The service sector ("tubes and lube" in industry jargon) also is booming as old bikes are hauled out of sheds and garages and dragged into shops for tune-ups and tires. A growing number of people are ditching cars in favor of bikes for commuting to work or running to the supermarket, Blumenthal says.
"Cycling for recreation in America has always been big," he says. "Now we're starting to see cycling for transport."
Electric bike manufacturers are particularly bullish, convinced that Americans will turn to eBikes that can be pedaled like a bike or ridden like a scooter. They've been around for a while, but the third-generation eBikes arriving in bike shops feature relatively lightweight frames and fast-charge, removable batteries. They're easy to ride, a cinch to store and dirt cheap to run.
Dozens of ebike manufacturers attended Interbike for the first time, and Schwinn was there promising to have the $3,2300 Tailwind eBike it developed with Toshiba in showrooms next year. Schwinn claims the battery's good for 25 miles and can be recharged in as little as seven minutes using a commercial charger (about 30 minutes from an outlet). Schwinn's confident there's a big market for eBikes. Almost 21 million eBikes were sold worldwide in 2007, according to market researcher EBWR, and some experts predict every home in China will have one by the end of 2009.
"Electric bikes are a dramatically growing phenomenon within the U.S., and we intend to be a serious contender within the eBike category," Schwinn executive Bruno Maier said in a statement.
Phil Herzog, marketing manager of Hebb eBikes, an eBike maker, said huge improvements in battery technology are making eBikes more efficient and easier to use than ever - and tons of fun to ride. "The tipping point has been reached," he says. "If things keep going the way they are, everyone will have an eBike and no one will have a car any more. Anything can happen."