I was delighted to receive two tickets to the London Bike Show last weekend and rather gutted to find out I couldn’t go. As an ex-pro who still cycles every day, my Dad was of course, more than happy to pop along. Here’s Tony’s account of the bike show on Saturday…
The moment I stepped off the Docklands Light Railway on Saturday morning I knew it was going to be busy. The snow that had fallen copiously in the London area the previous day meant I had to use public transport although I have never been totally comfortable travelling on a driverless train and leaving everything to a computer. I had assumed that the weather would keep a lot of people at home but I was so wrong. The masses propelled me towards the entrance and looking around at my fellow visitors I couldn’t help but notice how well prepared they were for bad weather with a good selection of beanie hats, stout boots and several in what appeared to be rubberised jackets. All was to become clear.
The queue at the entrance was at least 50 deep but moved quickly. My ticket was snatched away and I found myself inside the ExCeL centre – but oh no, the overhead banner proclaimed “Welcome to the London Boat Show”! My inner chimp panicked, how would I retrieve my ticket and get back out? Then I heard someone say “the Bike Show is in the hall at the end”. Tickets gave access not only to the Bike Show but also to the Boat Show, The Outdoors Show and the Active Travel Show.
It wasn’t yet 11 a.m. but it appeared that the Bike Show was drawing in well over 25% of the visitors and so my slow shuffle down the first isle began. The sheer volume of people attending in such bad weather is a fine testament to the popularity of cycling, however, on this occasion it did make it difficult to have a chat with stand attendants.
Even though progress was slow, what struck me straight off was the number of stands showing complete road bikes for sale. Pinarello had the largest stand, right in the centre, displaying a wide range of complete bikes from entry level sportives at around £1,000 to their top end time trial machine coming in at £14,000. If you can only manage £11,000 then you can pick up a nice little track number. Boardman was also there in force at the far end, close to the Animal Bike stunt track where Martyn Ashton (four times British Bike Trial Champion) and Blake Samson were performing mind boggling acrobatics and aerial manoeuvres.
I know I’m an oldie, and call me old fashioned if you want but much of the roadie’s off season pleasure used to be gained from reviewing and selecting the various components that were to be built onto the coming season’s new frame. Now the pressure of volume production versus price directs most of us towards pre-configured complete bikes built around a mass produced monocoque carbon fibre frame, 99% of which are manufactured from one of four or so factories in the far east using carbon fibre spun from one of three Japanese facilities, Toray, Toho Tenax and Mitsubishi Rayon. Time and time again I asked where the vendor’s frames were produced and got the same answer. At Canyon Bikes I asked again if their frames were made in China? “No” the proud German lady proclaimed, I was momentarily excited – perhaps it would be Dusseldorf or Nuremburg, but alas “….ours are manufactured in Tie-van” (she meant Taiwan)!
I could only find three suppliers displaying custom carbon frames. Sigma Sport were offering a hand built custom carbon frame from the iconic Italian Colnago house using preformed carbon lugs bonded to the tubes. I was told Signore Colnago strongly believes this is the right way to do it. You would need £3,000 or more to have one made to measure but I can’t help thinking that these are like giant Airfix kits – preformed pieces glued together and very quick to assemble, although I must admit the multi-stage hand paint process is fabulous.
Le Beau Velo, distributor for the Italian Fondriest brand were offering a bespoke carbon fibre ‘layup’ frame, where the joints are held together with cut-to-fit carbon fibre sheets bonded with epoxy resin rather than preformed lugs. I was told no UK fabricator does this. These frames are hand made in Italy and again have a price tag north of £3,000. Their tubes are constructed from Toray carbon fibre from Japan but they claim the actual manufacturing of the tubes is performed in Italy, presumably by ATR who also supply Colnago and are one of the very few non-Asian manufacturers of monocoque frames. Equally as strong, stiff and responsive as a carbon monocoque, Le Beau Velo’s typical custom frame customer is a gentleman of a certain standing who can afford something that looks special…that is special, whilst still young enough to ride to its full potential (or most of it anyway), “a top end racing frame that is seldom used for racing”.
The Extra stand was also displaying carbon lugged frames manufactured by Time. Time is a French company who obtain a lot of their revenue from contracted carbon fibre work at the Airbus aircraft factory in Toulouse. This has enabled them to become another of the very few non-Asian manufacturers of carbon fibre weave, although their volume in comparison to the far east manufacturers is very small and the number of frames they produce is also small in comparison.
Independent steel and titanium frame builders were noticeable by their absence and I saw only a handful of non-carbon frames for the serious rider. There was no Bamboo construction in evidence at all, which is surprising given the ‘green’ momentum these fabulous machines have been getting. Perhaps the cost of renting a stand at the show is prohibitive to all but the largest suppliers and distributors.
One final note; I happened to be ushered by the masses out of an isle just in front of the Jaguar Performance Theatre as the newly formed professional team sponsored by Madison Genesis was being presented (video below). First up was Dean Downing followed by 8 or 9 fresh faced professionals all hoping to be part of this year’s UCI Continental team under Roger Hammond’s stewardship. They also announced that Genesis has been working with Reynolds to develop a new ‘953’ steel-alloy frameset.
Overall, a hugely enjoyable and educational experience, if hampered a little by the sheer volume of visitors. I stopped on the way back to meet my wife at the newly built Westfield-Stratford shopping mall. It was empty by comparison!