28 April 2012

A Bike Show, Then And Now

Today I did something I haven't done in nearly three decades:  I attended a bike show.  Specifically, I went to the New Amsterdam bike show in SoHo.

Naturally, I found myself making comparisons to the last show I attended, seemingly a lifetime ago.  That one was held, as the New York Bike Shows were for two decades, in one of the most unloved major buildings in the history of this city:  the New York Coliseum at Columbus Circle.   It was one of those boxy "International" style buildings constructed during the 1950's as part of one of the most cynical and duplicitous pieces of urban planning in the history of American cities, courtesy of Robert Moses.   

On the other hand, this year's New Amsterdam Bike Show was held in Skylight Soho, a renovated loft building that is part of a neighborhood that, around the same time the Coliseum was built, was nearly bulldozed for another one of Moses' schemes:  a cross-Manhattan expressway that would have connected the Holland Tunnel with the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges.  It was one of his few ideas that, fortunately, never came into fruition.

All right, so you're not reading this blog for history lessons and half-baked ideas about architecture.  So I'll talk about some of the differences between the two shows, and how I was a different person at the time of each of them.

At the old bike show, the emphasis was on racing and touring bikes.  Mountain bikes were new; I think there was an exhibit or two of them.  But I don't recall any displays of utility or transportation bikes, which seemed to comprise the majority of bikes I saw at today's show.

Also, most of the companies that displayed at the old show were the "old school" names of the industry.  While a few American framebuilders and manufacturers exhibited, the majority of those who set up at the show were from Europe or Japan.  

On the other hand, most of the companies that showed their wares today were from North America:  mainly from the East and West coasts of the United States.  There were quite a few frame builders, a few manufacturers of bikes and even more smaller operations that made everything from purselike bags that attach to handlebars and racks to reflective clothing that looks just like stuff someone might wear to an art opening.  I'll talk more about some of those products in a future post.  While I liked some ideas and products better than others, I was glad to see all of those (mostly) young artisans, manufacturers and entrepreneurs: The stuff they're making might entice someone to ride his or her bike instead of a car to work or shop, or might entice someone else to ride a bike, period.  In contrast, most of the stuff at the old show had been made for decades and, through all of that time, was liked and disliked by the same people for the same reasons, and would entice no one into cycling for sport or recreation.

I mentioned that most of the people with interesting new ideas and products are young or youngish.  This is another departure from the old bike show, in which many of the companies were represented by the patriarchs of the families who started and owned them.  And, yes, all of them were male.

In fact, the only females I saw at the show back in the day were the wives, girlfriends and daughters of the men who exhibited or attended.  I take that back:  One bike company had a group of young women in lycra (which was new in those days) and high heels pedaling their bikes on a trainer.  

In other words, the women were props and accessories.  I was neither.  Now there were female artisans, entrepreneurs and sales representatives.  And I got to speak with one author.  I hope to be an author.  I can hope for that.  

Another difference between then and now is one that has to do with circumstances of my own life.  When I attended all of those years ago, I went with some guys with whom I worked in the bike shop, the owner, his wife and some of his friends.  I had known them for several years, but now I haven't been in touch with any of them for at least two decades.   Today I went to the New Amsterdam show with someone I had not met until the other day.  However, I have corresponded with this person for nearly three years.  I'll tell you more about that in a future post.  

At the old show, I didn't meet anyone I already knew. At today's show, I saw Charlie from Bicycle Habitat (who had an exhibit) as well as owners and employees of other bikes shops whom I knew at least in passing.  Plus, I met someone I hadn't seen in about a dozen or so years.  She has been a sales rep for one of the few big bike manufacturers I saw at today's show.  The last shop in which I worked sold those bikes, so she was in the shop pretty frequently. 

What did I say to her?  "My, you've changed!"  All right, that was a joke.  In reality, I passed by her table a couple of times before we caught each others' glances.  In a split-second, I did an FBI-style age-progression image in my mind and realized I was looking at an older version of the rep I knew all of those years ago.  Then she took a longer look at me.  "Should I know you from some place?"

The real question wasn't whether or not she should have. The real question was the way she knew me--and I knew her.  

Finally, at the old show, I think one or two cyclists' organizations may have set up tables.  But they didn't have nearly as active a role as the organization at today's expo.  One--which I never would have imagined back in the day--is a group of women who take social and training rides.  I signed up.  Back in the day, I never would have done that.


  1. Funny how some things really do change, eh?

    I'm looking forward to the reviews. And the pics of you and your show companion.
    (Why do I get the feeling that there were a lot of jokes flying back and forth?)

    As a nearly life-long West Coaster, there are large portions of local US history that escape me. The more I hear about Robert Moses, the more I feel inclined to strongly dislike him and his ideas.

  2. Hi, Justine!

    Great to meet you at New Am, and thanks for buying my book!

    Here's a post I did about you, I hope you like it. Please email me so we can keep corresponding.



  3. Corey, I don't think anyone would have predicted the changes I described.

    Robert Moses' legacy was complicated. Robert Caro has spent more than three decades writing his biography. On one hand, he had perhaps the clearest vision of a modern city. On the other, it was one in which many of us wouldn't want to live.

    April--Your write-up of me was so beautiful I almost cried. Thanks!