Wading Through the Bike Expo With Thousands of My Racing Friends and (Apparently) the New Market of Commuters

By Josh Cohen March 15, 2010

The Cascade Bicycle Club's Seattle Bike Expo was overwhelming. Walking into the entrance of the Smith Cove cruise terminal on day one, I was bombarded by the noise of several thousand people wandering through almost 200 vendor exhibits, eating from the food stands, watching performances, and listening to presentations by athletes, coaches, authors, and industry people. Once I got over the initial "oh my god there's so much to see where do I start?" anxiety and planned my course of action, the Expo gave me the chance to do some serious geeking-out with everyone from custom-bike builders, to bike advocacy groups, to reps from big-time corporate bike companies. With so many bike companies in attendance, the Expo is a good place to gauge emerging trends and walking around the floor, I saw a lot pandering to the practical-minded cyclist.

The Expo floor looked exactly how you'd imagine. Vendors showed off their latest and greatest bikes, gear, clothes. Nutrition companies pushed their bars, gels, goos, and drinks that all promised to make you faster, stronger, better. Dozens of companies promoted bicycle tours everywhere from around Puget Sound to around Asia. I saw townies, race bikes, electric assist bikes, recumbents, and mountain bikes made of steel, carbon, aluminum, bamboo and even hardwood.

I arrived at the Expo a few minutes after 11, just as the classic framebuilders' panel discussion was slated to begin. The panel featured Ken Taylor of Jack Taylor cycles, Bill Davidson of Davidson bicycles, and Glenn Erickson of Erickson bicycles and R&E Cycles. It was moderated by Jan Heine, editor of Bicycle Quarterly. Davidson and Erickson are both renowned builders who have been making custom bicycles for over 35 years, but the real treat was seeing Ken Taylor. Ken, along with his brothers Norman and Jack, started Jack Taylor bicycles in Stockton-On-Tees, England in 1936 and built custom bicycles until 2001. Their bicycles are considered to be some of the finest to come out of Britain and are often compared to legendary French builders Rene Herse and Alex Singer.

[caption id="attachment_31235" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="Ken Taylor. (Photo by Charlie Clay)"][/caption]

Unfortunately, since I got to the panel late, all the seats were taken. Standing off to the side, it was nearly impossible to hear what the builders were saying over the wall of sound coming off the expo floor. But, the experience wasn't a total loss. I noticed that I was standing next to Portland-based frame builder Ira Ryan and struck up a conversation. Ira builds gorgeous steel frames and forks out of his one-man shop and is a highly regarded amongst young framebuilders. He came up to Seattle to show two of his bikes at the Oregon Bicycle Constructors Association booth.

I'm a big fan of Ira's work and though I tried to play it cool, I was feeling pretty giddy chatting with him.  We talked about Portland vs. Seattle bike scenes, how the economy has affected the custom-frame business (not as bad as I would of expected) and what kinds of bikes people are requesting these days. Along with the sleek race machines he's well known for, Ira's been building lots of townies—pragmatic bicycles with racks meant for getting around town comfortably while carrying a load. It's a nod to the ever-increasing population of cyclists who are far more interested in bikes as transportation than they are in toeing the line as racers.

[caption id="attachment_31250" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="Ira Ryan. (Photo by Charlie Clay)"][/caption]

Like Ira Ryan, many of the big companies are branching out from their traditional focus on race bikes and offering transportation-minded bicycles that come stock with fenders, racks, internally-geared hubs. It's nice to see the big companies embracing the commuter market like small companies have been doing for a while. A hand-built, custom designed frame or even a one-off, semi-custom bike is really nice, but most people can't afford the several thousand dollar price tag. Big companies will be able to provide similar bikes for a fraction of the cost.

Three hours on the Expo floor was more than enough for me, but I made sure to stop by the classic bike show before making my exit. More than 50 vintage, light-weight bikes were on display, organized by country of origin. There were Jack Taylors, Colnagos, Schwinn Paramounts, a Malvern Star track bike from Australia with wooden-rims, and many more. It was like the classic-bike gallery Classic Rendezvous come to life and one of the highlights of the expo for me.

Charlie Clay, Seattle photographer and bike nerd in his own right, was at the Expo as well. Here are some of his images from the day.

[caption id="attachment_31252" align="aligncenter" width="399" caption="A Colnago at the classic bike show."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_31251" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="World champion artistic cyclists performed. "][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_31255" align="aligncenter" width="399" caption="An employee from Elliot Bay Bicycles shows off a Davidson track bike."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_31254" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="Renovo makes bicycles out of hardwood."][/caption]
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