FIRST PUBLISHED December 2004
Interbike Las Vegas Special
Las Vegas is a decidedly odd venue for a cycle show, as anyone who has attempted to ride a bicycle there will appreciate. American cycle activists, if that is not a contradictory term, have been pushing for the Interbike trade show to become a roving affair, visiting a different metropolis each year and spreading the non-motorised message far and wide. Ah, would that it were so! The organisers have had other ideas, signing up with the Sands Convention Centre in Las Vegas for years to come, or at least until the oil runs out and they are forced to hold it somewhere more sensible.
The city can only really be reached in two ways – driving from Los Angeles (a trifling 300 miles across the desert), or flying in from just about anywhere else. One would think a car something of a hindrance in a small city dedicated to gambling, drinking and other sinful but primarily static pleasures, but this has not prevented car-bound tourists cruising Las Vegas Boulevard by night and day – a pointless activity generating more or less continuous congestion.
Actually, just for the record, cycling from the airport is by no means inconvenient.The only really serious error one can make is to follow the Mole’s example and head east on Interstate 215, a singularly unpleasant highway, necessitating an awkward cross-desert escape manoeuvre. One should, instead, turn left onto Kitty Hawk Way, slip quietly onto the sidewalk east of Paradise (thus avoiding a six- lane one-way cataclysm), and left on the Tropicana sidewalk to Koval Lane, from whence access can be made to most areas in relative safety.
Until very recently, Amtrak trans-continental trains stopped in Las Vegas, but in one of those bouts of blood-letting to which public transport is periodically exposed in the USA, the trains were withdrawn and the downtown railroad station demolished. Ever since, there have been calls to reinstate the trains, a scheme that would be craftily funded by on-board casinos ready to swing into action as the cars cross the Nevada border. With our own Dear Leader taking an unhealthy interest in gambling and other unwholesome things, it can surely only be a matter of time before some New Labour policy-wonk suggests just such a scheme for subsidy reduction on the crumbling relic formerly known as British Rail. It’s hard to imagine a warm welcome for casinos aboard the 7.47 from Bogworthy Junction, even if they do stay under wraps as far as the Berkshire border.
Generally speaking, Las Vegas tends to be a step or two ahead of Bogworthy in the transport stakes. The city (Vegas, not Bogworthy) boasts no fewer than three private monorails, all of which are free, but oddly enough (or perhaps not) each line stops only at casinos run by a particular mob. This crafty free enterprise system could, of course, be adapted to suit London conditions when the Super Casinos arrive, by building the gambling establishments close to centres of employment. A win-win situation! Or perhaps not.
Las Vegas has tried to alleviate its own transport frightfulness by building a super-slick public monorail, neglecting in its haste to build stations at any of the places people might like to go, such as the airport or the downtown district. For a few weeks last summer, the cars of the Robert N Broadbent monorail dutifully pottered from nowhere to a point several miles distant, until a wheel fell off one train, and a drive-shaft fell off another, these calamities causing the system to be shut down; ‘indefinitely’, say the critics.
Accepting the advance publicity for the monorail at face value, the Mole arrived without a folding bicycle this year, an error soon rectified with a borrowed bike. One or two other brave fellows made good use of their wheels, including Richard ‘cycle everywhere’ Locke, designer of the Airnimal, who proceeded to cycle everywhere as promised. One was particularly impressed to find Richard wearing non-cycle friendly footwear and loaded down with carrier bags at the Designer Discount Mall off Highway 15. Hmm, quite a ride.
But what of the Interbike show? Brompton, Airnimal and Carradice had cobbled together a little Brit corner (aka the British Pavilion), decorated with a few brave, if slightly moth- eaten, Union flags. Nothing very exciting to offer, but all very British and ‘business as usual’.
…arguing with Bernard Git proves as futile as snail baiting, but entertaining nonetheless…
As one might expect, the French gave better value for money, an outfit called Twister Bike marketing the ProRace, an epicyclic-geared bottom bracket device, rather like the Mountain Drive, but with the net result of, er, only one gear. Claimed to require ‘less muscular contractions’ (sic), the ProRace is also said to produce ‘More power for less effort’, resulting in a ‘lower heart rate’. For non-engineering types, the ProRace actually performs the same function as a larger chainring, but at much greater cost, and with added friction. Arguing with the delightfully named Bernard Git, the charming Frenchman behind the ProRace, proves as futile as snail-baiting, but entertaining nonetheless.
Not far away, the equally charming French-Canadian ladies and gentlemen of Bionx (formerly EPS) were demonstrating their gearless, brushless, bionically-powered and braked electric-assist bicycle. Although a bit expensive, this magic device performs the near ‘perpetual motion’ feat of storing cycling puff that would otherwise be blown away on long descents.
So much for Europe. Korean company Bikevalley was exhibiting the TaRa shaft drive, a practical sort of device, that may or may not be genuinely new, as is the way with bicycle innovations. Unlike the bevel gears fitted to most shaft-drive machines, the Chilsung gear developed by Bikevalley uses rollers in place of pinion drive teeth, which reduces friction and eases maintenance. In the company’s own words, ‘…the distinguishing part of the central driving the special toothed shape curve of sprocket adapting a rolling movement friction and rotating the power, emerging from previous traditional chain sprocket and bevel gear and this Chilsung gear using shall change the history of traditional inconvenient chain Bike…’ Eh?
Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? And watch out – Bikevalley is working on the rather alarming ‘Z-pump black hole’ whatever that might prove to be.
Home-brewed US innovation proved altogether sexier, if a little weak in the practicality stakes. The Mole’s favourite was the Double D Chopper, said to be the longest pedal-powered chopper on the market, with a claimed ten-foot wheelbase.This monstrous device is easier to ride than it looks, which is fortunate because it has only one gear, and a single back-pedal brake. One begins to grasp the value of advance stop lines…
Staying with the motorcycle theme, Electrodrive is producing a neat electric bicycle based loosely on the Harley-Davidson, with a battery in each cylinder barrel and chain drive to the rear wheel. Are they serious? Well, they seem to be. Of course, one must bear in mind that the Double D’s, Harley replicas and sumptous Manhattan cruisers are no more likely to venture onto Las Vegas Boulevard in the rush hour than fly to the moon, which explains how they get by without gears or brakes. Still, you have to hand the Yanks full marks for style.
Folding bikes were less well represented at Interbike than in previous years. Yet another new Birdy distributor was trying to pick up dealers, with a slight air of desperation. The company has been unlucky in America, with both Jeep and Burley, failing to make a success of the venture. One wishes the current incumbent luck.
Not far away, the Mole arrives on the Breezer stand just as CEO John Doidge explains to a passing TV crew that the folding bikes concept really is a little passé. Oh, yeah? But then Breezer did adopt the less-than-scintillating Oyama range, which might explain the rumours that the company has decided to pull out of folding bikes altogether. One wonders whether Uncle Joe Breeze might not have done better to take A to B’s advice before getting into the market, but there we are. The Birdy, for example, would have made a lovely Breezer.
Finally, if you haven’t heard of the Giatex, be prepared for something rather odd. Described as a ‘stretching bike’, the Giatex features a telescopic frame tube that brings the wheels somewhat closer together for storage. It’s actually not quite as daft as it sounds, but hardly compact when folded, or indeed full-size when stretched. As the publicity has it, the Giatex will expand to fit the kids as they grow, which sounds jolly practical. But the time has come to wave a fond farewell to the whopping choppers, expanding frames and useless accessories for yet another year and pedal back up the freeway to the airport. Viva Las Vegas!