Smoke and Mirrors: Las Vegas’ Farewell to Interbike

This is an article I wrote about my Las Vegas/Interbike experience that appeared in Dirt Magazine issue 105 last year. Seeing as Interbike did in fact return to Las Vegas this year, as did I, I felt it might be fun to return to these words. Although my experience of Las Vegas was a little different this year, I still stand by what I said in this article. I should add that if you read the original article in Dirt then the images you see were taken by Sven Martin.

After just a few days of being in Las Vegas I stepped outside of my hotel one night to see the moon beaming down on me like a giant search light and I had to question whether it was real or not. Las Vegas is a trip for the sober let alone the gonzo drug fueled explorations of folk lore. The place is perpetually the desert of the real. Everywhere you look everything is a greater and larger caricatured simulation than the reality it tries to replicate. The simulation of cultures, societies, and histories artifacts become more grandiose then the original. Larger than in it’s original form, more vibrant, more colorful, and larger than life as one knows it previous to coming to Las Vegas. It is like being hit by a montage of hyper real, wide awake dreaming visions.

Caesars Palace is more palatial than plausible. Indoor alleyways of Italian vistas languish in perennial dusk light. Pirate boats are afloat and aflame in the main strip. Spurting fountain desert lagoons larger than the real estate of several hotels put together. Mexican restaurants more authentic than anything I saw in my travels to Mexico. Sky ceilings made up of giant screens that flash an epileptic digital swirling banquet of Route 66s, guitar necks and celestial storms. Everything becomes a challenge for one to be able to differentiate between what is real and what is more than real. And this is why I questioned whether the big round moon that was ballooning in sky above the main strip of Las Vegas was actually real or just another magicians technological trick. It turns out this moon was real, but it took me a while to check for strings or cables first.

Las Vegas has been the home of Interbike since the inception of the great bicycle trade show of that name in 1982, despite occasionally shifting temporarily to other locales such as Reno, Anaheim and Philadelphia. Since the mid nineties the show has been firmly located in the shifting sands of the Las Vegas, but 2010 was to be the last year the expo exposes itself there. This was the big farewell in the home of showmanship and showgirls, and so after several years of hiding from the tractor beam pull of the spaceship, I gave in and decided to see for myself the simultaneous theatrical spectacles of Interbike and Las Vegas.

The grand scale of Las Vegas distorts perspective. Something that appears close by or small will often be huge and far away. Similarly something that appears at first to be small will actually open up to something colossal.

If you try walking in Las Vegas you soon become tired and the target of your walk seems to never get any closer. Corridors stretch onwards like optical illusions. Each block that houses the hotels and casinos is in fact humongous. The hotels monumental creations hide their enormity in the forest of other hulking architecture. As you approach Las Vegas two things stand out. Firstly, that Las Vegas stands out from the great dry dusty desert that it precariously rises from like an angry bright zit. The great expanse of nothing that surrounds Las Vegas is in stark contrast to the concentration of high rise home of high rolling aspirations. But, secondly, the expanse of desert lends no relativity to the scale of this monopoly board. From above and nearby the city seems tiny and it’s buildings appear toy like. But it is only once you try to walk anywhere within it that its scale becomes significant.

Once you are within the belly of the beast, if you come across some facet of Las Vegas that appears small, look closer again, as it will no doubt surprise – as if the illusionists of design enjoy playing games. For breakfast the first morning we ate in what I thought was a small quaint restaurant, but the next day when we were seated in another area of the restaurant I realized that the restaurant was actually a thousand seater restaurant. The creation of consumerist ‘ideals’ and desires – like the little quaint restaurant – is tailored for but only in the way that will maximize the larger possible number of people with similar desires.

The scale of all of Las Vegas imitations and fabrications are monumental but what shocks is that everywhere is busy and bustling. As if no matter how big anything is produced it will still be full. As if a man tried to make a container to hold the sea water, he could never create a container so large as to be too big to hold the whole sea. The global recession doesn’t seem to affect this place. No signs of a slow down or business closed signs, just an insatiable demand created by an unappeasable supply. As I first checked into my hotel my eyes were stretched to take in the magnitude of the lobby’s dimensions, but there was a long check-in queue. And for all following five days that queue persisted.

But I believe perhaps the scale is designed not just to accommodate immense wants but also to keep each of it’s occupants from getting too close to the fabric of the simulations. To stave off anyone from seeing the thin facade that houses the projection of the immense colorful simulations. We shouldn’t be allowed to see that Caesars Palace is made from Gypsum board, lighting effects, and papier mâché. Las Vegas is like a movie set which replicates reality to the eye and emotions, but to the touch it crumbles. You get the feeling that if you push to hard on any wall it may tumble to reveal the bare bone steel skeleton substructure. It is crafted to project the image of something more ideal and perfect than the real, but it is just smoke and mirrors.

And so it was into the familiar cocoon of bicycles that I sidestepped this wide awake nightmare of hopped up fairy tales and ferris wheels of reality. I had hoped that the closed circuit of insular preoccupations occupations – bicycles – would act as an island escape, but did it?

Interbike, like Las Vegas, is huge. The hall spreads and spreads and every corner is full of bicycle related bits and bobs. There are so many stands and exhibitors that it really should take more than three days to get around them all, even if each for a cursory glance at each. My partner in Interbike ethnography, Fergs, and myself took on a spiral approach to the exhibition. Our thinking was that if we started on the outer edges of the show and circumnavigated it one whole revolution then squeezing inwards another layer and then continuing the loop, again and again until we reached the centre, we would be covering all the nocks and crannies. Our technique worked we think. I believe if you tried to scope the expo map and flutter between each of the hot spots then it would lead to excessive walking, distractions along the way, and maybe missing all the hidden secret gems along the journey. Like that electric powered unicycle.

After many many ever shrinking spiraling revolutions of the hall we found ourselves  nearing the centre of the hall. The nucleus or event horizon. And what did we find? Well for one there was the Big Red S and their closed booth (only those with the right credentials were allowed inside whilst those without were left to broken heartedly gorp from the other side of the red ropes). The rest of the sweet chewy centre was taken up by road bike stands inhabited by guys in polo shirts, immaculately gelled hair and cologne. Queues of lanky guys who look like the worst thing they have ever eaten was a protein bar that had been left out of the cooler for twenty minutes stood around snapping pictures of olive skinned skinny guys signing pictures of their calf muscles.

By the end of day two myself and Fergs retired to the pool, content that we had seen everything and the third day would be just left just to pick the remainders or do a double check on something or someone, but then a colleague asked us if we had seen such-and-such and this-and-that. Blast. It seems we had still managed to overlook some aspects. There’s so much to see and yet you don’t see it all. There’s too much to take in, too much crap to ignore, and by day two you become desensitized to it. Several times when someone asked me what stands out from the show, I struggled to think. After a while everything becomes a blur of anodized, over graphically enhanced, parts and bicycles. Everything blurs into one and the same. Only the truly weird stands out, but it stands out for it’s weirdness not greatness.

And thats where some ideas and philosophies of marketing come to light. When you are bombarded with a thousand different marketeers trying to market their wares then you start to ask who really stands out and whose marketing really works? It would be easy to say that my lasting memories from the show are the brands who offered whiskey, beer and booth babes. These three simple offerings to the male psyche certainly stand out. It often helped to differentiate one brand from the others but does it help someone to want and desire these goods over others? Sure, it felt good sipping free beer and the intoxicating buzz that rapidly followed due to air conditioning dehydration and long walks in the halls served to accelerate any feelings of warm euphoria towards said brand at that moment, but would it change my buying habits? That OC blonde with tattoos and possessing a snake like tongue that flitted over her big pillowy lips may of made me deviate from my spiral just long enough to get a signed calendar of her and her buddies, but did it make me want and desire the consumerist plastic badness that her plastic goodness over shadowed?

The answer is possibly maybe. Certainly within the confines of the hall the end result of this consumerism evaporates long enough for the glitz and glamour to take hold. There’s no day light inside that hall, no trees, no wet roots, dirty puddles, mountain views, loamy corners. Within the hall it’s easy to forget why we are there: that bicycles are meant for riding. Instead a facade descends upon our consciousness. Bicycling become an abstract concept. Shiny toys, commodities, and symbols of status and power, rather than the enabling, life affirming tools that help us to escape, to retreat, to spread our wings and breath some air.

Interbike can be likened to the tale of the emperors new clothes. In that environment we are locked into a colossal hall of tailors who convince the emperor within us all that we are wearing the finest robes, when really we are naked. The yearly cycle of obsoleteness and the annual sacrifice to the gods where our commitment to buying into the new colors and acronyms is demanded. There really isn’t much new at Interbike. What little tweaks and minor changes that have been made to bikes and parts this year have already been seen either on the trails, in the magazines or on the web. But nothing really changes. It’s the same but different.

Don’t let me dissuade you or overlay my subjective projections of my truth upon yours. There are many different stories to Interbike. Aside from the hard sell of soft truths, there is business behind closed doors. Behind the natty presentation of produce, secret doors open and close allowing a scheduled list of business brokers to discuss the future of business in bicycles. Deals are signed, contracts negotiated, sales are made. This show acts as a single locale for everyone to come together to speak face to face and sell what they have, be them retailers, distributors, suppliers, or riders.

Next year the show moves West and forwards one month. No more Las Vegas days and nights. Instead Anaheim becomes the spot upon which to focus. But will the focus lose some sharpness? Many of the “industry folks” I spoke to said that Eurobike has become more important for them because it services a wider audience than the North American centric one that typifies Interbike (For many folks I spoke to Europe makes up a larger market for them anyway), and as it has always previously been earlier than Interbike it acts as the real place to show their wares. I couldn’t find any Interbike personnel to ask why exactly why they have swapped but the common theory is that the organizers wanted to reseat Interbike as the top show, so an earlier date was required and Las Vegas couldn’t fit them into it’s own busy schedule.

I doubt I will bother with next years Interbike, once was enough and if I need to check out the hot new colourways then I will wait till I see them on the trail. I will have to return to Las Vegas though. My eyes and mind need a severe workout once in a while of the sort only Las Vegas can deal out. Las Vegas I adore your deserted reality and your frivolous exaggeration of the humdrum two dimensional nature of history and it’s artifacts.

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