Trucks, vans and trailers were lined up the other day outside a hulking west Bloomington industrial campus — Shimano, Campagnolo, Surly, Michelin, DT Swiss, Park Tool, HED, SRAM, RockShox, Ritchey, CrankBrothers,and scores more.
This was the U.S. bike business’ pre-spring coming-out party — they call it Frostbike. It's been convened each year since 1988 by Quality Bicycle Products, the nation’s largest wholesale distributors of tires, gear cables, handlebars, spokes, bottom brackets, panniers, saddles, brake levers, water bottle cages, seat posts, multitools, and (the company says) 40,000 other bike parts and accessories to 5,400 of the nation’s bike shops and dealers. QBP also owns such lines of bikes as Surly, Salsa and Civia.
“Most people view this as a kickoff of the season,” said QBP President Rich Tauer. “Winter’s almost over, figuring out what products will be out there.”
Closed to the general riding public, Frostbike is important for the nation’s bike companies because they get casual, up-close contact with local bike shops from across the country. For example, Banjo Brothers, the Minneapolis bike bag and accessory company, credits meetings with Los Angeles bike shop owners at Frostbike several years ago for its recent breakthrough in the Southern California market.
For bike shop owners — and, by extension, bike riders — Frostbike is an advance look at what new and potentially cool bike stuff is available for 2016.
A survey of Frostbike last weekend suggests the bicycle industry did not, this year, reinvent the wheel. Or the tire. Or the chain, frame, derailleur or floor pump.
But ask people at the nation’s bike companies about breakthroughs and you are shown tweaks, with varying levels of broad impact on the cycling public. For instance, the Lazer bike helmet people were showing retailers a new “inclination sensor.” The sensor is intended — probably not for the bike commuting market — to monitor the position of riders’ heads so as to “keep you in your most aerodynamic position” (with helmet, $450).
If truly revolutionary bike products are on the way, they might have been in what Tauer playfully referred to as the “secret rooms” deep in the vast QBP complex. It was there, he said, that manufacturers were discreetly displaying prototypes, beta versions, and other unreleased bike stuff in development.
But, for the general biking crowd, progress does seem to be marching on, sometimes even affordably and helpfully. Some examples:
• Park Tool — one of the world’s largest bike tool makers, located in St. Paul — has new Steel Core Tire Levers ($14.95) to handle tire changes of stubborn mountain bike tires. (Said Park Tool President Eric Hawkins, who met with retailers at Frostbike: “Plastic is fine for a lot of road tires, but some of the mountain bike tires will break them.”) Park also just released four new multitools (road, triathlon, commuter and mountain bike, $25-$50), and a series of small torque wrenches, or “drivers” ($35-$60).
• All-City, QPB’s line of “urban cycling” bikes, introduced what it calls the Log Lady, a retro-styled, 27.5-inch-wheeled, single-speed mountain bike with the outline of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge in a cutout on the frame ($1,499, complete). Log Lady refers, inexplicably, to a character in the old David Lynch “Twin Peaks” television series, not the bike’s intended customers. It is not, All-City staff said, a bike only for women.
• Ergon, the German saddle-maker, claimed at Frostbike a significant step toward saddle sore reduction with the SMC4, a new seat with “flexible wings” that bend ($79.95-$99.95).
• Riders with big tech budgets — and unembarrassed about how much gear accumulates on their bikes — will be interested in new products from Garmin, all of them synced to the company’s GPS bike computers.
For example, Garmin has a new headlight ($199.99) that scans closer or farther ahead, based on the bike’s speed, monitored from the handlebar-mounted computer. New rear brake lights ($69.99) have an “accelerometer,” which clicks red lights on as the bike decelerates, and pops them off when the bike resumes speed. Seat post-mounted rearview radar ($199.99) alerts riders to the number and speed of approaching vehicles within 153 feet of the outfitted bike. And a glasses-mounted, eye-level screen ($399.99) displays data — Google Glass-like — that the cyclist would otherwise have to view by looking down at his or her handlebar.
“I’m not sure there’s anything revolutionary here,” Tauer said as Frostbike came to a close. “But a lot of great stuff.”
Tony Brown is a freelance writer from Minneapolis.