Eurobike, established since 1991 in Friedrichshafen, Germany, is the largest bicycle trade show in the world and this year hosted over 45,000 participants from 111 different countries. The show runs from Wednesday to Friday each year for trade visitors and the press and on Saturday is open to the public. This year the show was opened officially by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor but the real fun took place the day before since Tuesday was Demo Day in picturesque Ratzenried.
Demo Day is Demonstration Day (not, as exhibitors might have feared, “Demolition Day”) and many new and notable premieres are made here as the press and trade are given the opportunity to try out the equipment before the show proper begins. Ratzenried is 50 kms northwest of Friedrichshafen in the beautiful Allgäu region of the wealthy German state of Baden-Wurttemberg. The area is predominantly mixed farm and forest and offers exceptional traffic-free roads. In the countryside the roads are one lane wide (watch out for the few oncoming cars!) and are in amazing condition, with nary a pothole nor bad asphalt to be seen anywhere. They feature delicious curves and a whole lot of short but steep ascents and thrilling descents. This was to be our playground for the day, observed by placid brown cows. The weather forecast was poor but there was no rain as predicted.
Festivities began at 0800 and the Pez crew was on time but there were already big crowds building up. The organizers’ view of “the trade” is a bit broad as there were a lot of people who just liked to ride bikes there, some with their children. Some of the members of the press looked a bit doubtful about their own cycling ability but not us!
Leaving the press centre there was a little hill to climb and the mountain bikers were already flying around innocent pedestrians. Our goals for the day were pretty simple: try out some of that sweet electronic shifting; ride a “comfort” road bike; ride an uncomfortable but state of the art time trial bike; experience disc brakes on a road bike. Well, maybe photograph a few Daily Distractions as well…including Pia, who had staked out a position right in front of the entrance and was handing out refreshments that would be so necessary during the day.
Demo Day did not include all of the 1,280 exhibitors present at Eurobike but an impressive number nonetheless had set up stands. The routine was simple: pick out your bike, hand over your ID and, in some cases, sign a release absolving the supplier of any responsibility for your idiotic riding and promising to fully compensate for any damage (see “Demolition Day,” above). There were mechanics on hand and a pile of pedals, although those with foresight (i.e., Pezcyclingnews) had brought their own pedals along with shoes and kit.
My first visit was to the momentarily-empty Shimano stand, where I was set up with a Shimano-branded frame (it was clearly not something cheap) and given the chance to try the newish Ultegra Di2 electronic shifting system. I rolled passed the incoming streaming hordes of visitors with some difficulty, narrowly avoiding being hit by exuberant MTB types, and down a little hill to the start of the demonstration course. I suddenly realized I was completely in the wrong gear for this and got off the bike to take a closer look. A moment of fiddling around and I quickly saw that the Di2 set-up works identically to the mechanical Shimano shifters I use normally except that the levers, which at first do not seem very ergonomic, do not need to be pushed very hard. I rolled down the hill and out of Ratzenried onto the 6.7 km test course. Within a moment I was shifting as if I had used Di2 for years.
In addition to three different MTB courses, Demo Day offered two road courses, my 6.7 km one and one that was 12.5 kms. My goal was to try as many bikes as I could do reasonably and I figured the shorter course would be sufficient. In addition to the lovely scenery and excellent paved narrow roads, it also had over 100 m of climbing.
The Shimano bike was light and responsive but my main interest was in the shifters. Moving from the big to the small chainring was accompanied by a little electric sound as the motor pushed the derailleur but the speed was remarkable and the shift smooth as silk. I found shifting the rear cogset not quite as smooth; the system pushes the chain a bit further than necessary and then trims it out and I suspected that my bike was not 100% set up as I could hear the chain rub a bit. Nonetheless the technology is very impressive. My friends had said once I tried electronic I would never be able to go back but the day was still ahead and there were other things to try.
I passed up some of the odder bikes, such as the one with wooden rims, fenders and handlebars. There was a weird folding bike presented by an English inventor who had not really gotten into the spirit of Demo Day since he only had a prototype and only his son was allowed to ride it.
Disc brakes were next on my list and I thought I could kill two birds with one stone by trying Specialized’s new Roubaix comfort bike featuring discs but no luck: the stand was mobbed by eager cyclists and would remain so for most of the day.
I was not sad for long as I continued to walk around the various stands. First I admired what looked like a superlightweight and airy shoe from Fizik…
…and then stayed with the Italian theme as I walked by the Colnago stand and saw that a) there was road bike with disc brakes and b) nobody else was asking for a bike. This was quite remarkable to me so in I scooted and explained what I wanted. Looking me over, the mechanic put me on a 52 frame ( my first experience with a sloped top tube bike since I usually ride a 56/57) and he set the seat height perfectly without any changes. Experience tells.
The bike I was given was a Colnago C59 Italia with deep carbon rims, Dura-Ace electronic shifting and disc brakes. It felt very very fast and I quickly learned that disc brakes, although adding a bit of weight to the bike, are a huge leap forward. I definitely went around the course much faster than the first time and while becoming familiar was part of it the ability to brake with much more confidence played a big part. The disc brakes modulate with superb regularity—no grabbing or jerkiness. Their only downside, if it can be called that, is the “whooshing” noise they make when applied. The latter section of the course offered a nice little downhill curve and the speed of the bike was phenomenal. However, now being used to electronic shifting, I was unable to fathom why you would pay extra for the Dura-Ace Di2 components over the Ultegra version.
The workmanship on the C59 was faultless and its hill-climbing capabilities were clearly far beyond mine. That said, there are new cars, albeit fairly modest ones, available on the market in Germany for less than the cost of this magnificent bicycle.
On returning to the Colnago stand, I switch to the company’s latest-for-2014, a comfort bike. This model, the CX Zero, was also beautifully made and its components, including its white Deda handlebars, made me feel very Mario-ish. This test model was equipped with the new Ultegra 11-speed mechanical shifting system. The bike was exceptionally comfortable (the marketing people were not lying) and I was nearly as fast around the course as on the C59. And although I enjoyed using the Di2 systems on the previous bikes, the new Ultegra mechanical one is so good, so smooth and fast I would probably take that for myself. So rather than not being able to go back from electronic shifting, I find myself unable to stop considering a switch from my older Dura-Ace components to the new Ultegra mechanical.
Next up was a Cervelo product, the only time trial bike I had seen so far. This was a P3 with Ultegra Di2 shifters both at the end of the aerobars and next to the brakes. I soon discovered that the course was a bit too hilly for a good test of a time trial bike since I had to come out of the aero position to climb a lot but I was intrigued by the shifting. It seems much more logical to take advantage of the effortless shifting electronics offers on a tt bike than on a road bike and I would seriously consider this myself. There is no break in concentration with the shifters and it felt like second nature to use them.
My final ride for the day was another time trial bike, this time from the young Austrian firm Airstreeem (yes, 3 “e”s). The company has a staff of ten, is located near Salzburg and designs its products at home and, as do most of the other firms present, has them manufactured in China. The bikes are attractive but I think their chief selling point is their value proposition since they seemed quite reasonable. This must be a shared feeling as at the show proper the Airstreeem stand was mobbed for most of the time. This bike only had electronic shifting at the end of the aero bars and I missed the brake shifters but it still felt pretty fast although the frame was a bit too large for me. One advantage of taking a 56/57 frame size is that all the exhibitors have bikes for you!
In additition to riding the bikes, there was a lot of other things going on at Demo Day. Of course the Allgäu tourism people were not going to let this promotional opportunity slip by and provided a musical diversion in the form of a group of Alphorn players, who gamely held their ground as cyclists swirled around them.
There were some brochures about riding in the region and presiding over the Allgäu presence was Andrea Haussmann, the 5th Allgäu Cheese Queen! In addition to handing out cheese, a big deal in this dairy farming area, Andrea gave out autographed cards of herself and happily posed for photos with her cheese tray.
There were others doing the autograph thing and as I rode by on one of the tests I saw John Degenkolb signing away at the Shimano stand.
The other clever promotion was by X-Bionics, a Swiss company producing high-tech compression sportwear. They handed out their bright orange kit everywhere for people to try and on my test rides I saw this orange armada roll by several times. Look for a report soon about X-Bionic’s clothing here at Pezcyclingnews soon.
With the time available I could barely scratch the surface of all the things I wanted to do at Demo Day, which has been a fairly recent addition to the Eurobike program. Besides bikes there were plenty of accessories and energy drinks. The Vittoria tire people set up a pizzeria on the premises and brought along the Giro d’Italia trophy for good measure.
Although my testing was not very scientific I think it reflects the saddle-based intuition of most cyclists. It seems unlikely that with such intense global competition there are any truly terrible bicycles on the market (although I wonder about some of those folders) but what you choose is determined by your physique, goals and taste as well as pocketbook. Demo Day was a good introduction to the Aladdin’s Cave that is Eurobike but that is another story!
When not flirting with Cheese Queens in Southern Germany, Leslie Reissner may be found counting Colnagos in his sleep at www.tindonkey.com