You’re So Vain

Words Pete Roggeman
Date Sep 17, 2014

Carly Simon had it figured out back in 1972, only she was talking about a mystery man:

You walked into the party like you were walking onto a yacht
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
Your scarf it was apricot
You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte
And all the girls dreamed that they’d be your partner
They’d be your partner, and…

You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this song is about you
Don’t you? don’t you?

 

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The trade show circuit is winding down, putting an end to the great circle jerk for another year. Tens of thousands of retailers, industry sales and marketing staff, mag editors and photographers, and riders (pros and wannabes) hop in their trucks or squeeze onto a charter flight to head home, the damage to their livers equalled only by their incurable optimism as one season winds down and another begins.

And every single one will spend this week recounting stories about how they won last week. Whether their conquests were earned on the show floor, at the tables, or in a black-walled box that reeks of spilled beer and broken dreams, they will bore the shit out of everyone in earshot with stories baked with lies and lightly sprinkled with truth. Who hasn’t baked that cupcake and eaten it?

 

We are all so vain.

To be fair to us all, trade shows are supposed to be a chance to shake out our plumage for everyone else to admire and fawn over. Sell the brand, show off the results, brag about the audience. It’s not a bad thing. We deserve it after all. This sport and its industry has achieved big things while overcoming great odds. Try to find a sport with cycling’s universal appeal (age, gender, geography) or global latitude (olympic sport, commuter mode of choice, mode of transport for small loads). Soccer may carry the first battle to victory, but not the second.

Rare also is a sport beset by as much scandal and scrutiny. Boxing, perhaps. But who cares about that mess? No national newspaper was ever built on the back of a pugilistic enterprise. That sport’s scandals come and go and hardly anyone notices, but when a cyclist is on the ropes society moves in for the knockout. The love for cycling runs deep in our blood – maybe that’s why we react so harshly when we feel betrayed. Careful though: we risk falling into boxing’s trap. Governing bodies paralyzed in a battle over hegemony. Marketers focused on billboards and brand building instead of authenticity and genuine insight. Athletes so focused on their career that they don’t plan for what comes after, when the spotlight shines on younger legs and lungs, or balls.

 

And yet here we are, moving forward at a great rate as technology intersects with design and business process. Just ask the manufacturers.

Cycling has achieved sporting recognition and greatness that transcends sport. Just ask the media.

Our heroes are world class athletes finding pots of gold hidden at the end of rainbows (worn on sleeves or imagined). Just ask the athletes.

Bike shops remain a viable way to build a successful business and recreate your childhood passion. Just ask the retailers.

Each of them will want their share of the credit. Many will underestimate the role of the others in their own success. All of us are slightly full of shit.

 

For all of this progress, none of us is exempt from the propaganda that has been carted around to bike shows and arranged in neat piles under bright lights for the last month. For every brand with a bona fide breakthrough, ten more will jump on their back, probing for holes in a patent, spending all their energy on a ‘me too’ strategy rather than figuring out how to forge their own path. Far too rare is the kind of thinking that asks “is this something that will improve the ride?”

Here to stay is the bandwagoning that makes every brand tone deaf enough to think their customers want a fat bike with their head tube badge on it.

Consumers were granted access to the show this year on Friday, by special invitation. The brands’ reaction? Those who weren’t already in the air on Thursday night might be heard complaining about the ‘public’ day, or slipping into civvies and cruising the show, safe from the clumsy handshakes and uneducated questions of the outsiders. Those are the same brand reps who spend their year polishing turdy powerpoint presentations discussing the importance of connecting with their consumers. As long as it’s done through the arm’s length of social media, apparently. Because human connections with the public are icky.

You might think the racers are the lucky ones because success is easy to define through victory, but only one can be champion, and many are chasing glory.

The pursuit of victory is noble but all consuming; athletes are all a little bit vain by necessity.

Only heroes realize that personal glory fades, but putting smiles on people’s faces never gets old.

Bike shops measure their success in black ink and as a business that makes sense, but shouldn’t they be bragging about how often they get to ride and how happy their customers are? We all know the adage: “the best way to make a million dollars in the bike industry is to start with two million.” Stop chasing dollar signs. Think back to the smell of a bike shop when you were 12. Recreate that for your customers and you will always feel wealthy.

And the media. Writing about this circus, pretending that anyone will stop long enough in this age of selfies and click bait to really consider whether our opinions and prose are worth five minutes’ consideration. Bestowing awards like “Best in Show” upon products that aren’t even available yet. Who was judging again and why do we value their opinion?

The media is a perfect circle of vanity – we’re so great that we can write about it and then force it down the reader’s throat, too.

Mountain biking is a teenager compared to the wise elder statesman of the biz: road biking. Somewhere lies a parable about aging gracefully and trading youth for wisdom, but at the moment it feels like many of the elder statesmen of our industry have spent too long being obsessed with the mirror in the hallway rather than the window facing onto the street.

Let’s all stop being so fucking vain and get back to making, riding, capturing, and writing about bikes because we love them. Whoever you happen to be, it is not about you. And I’m sorry Lance, but it IS about the bike. Not my bike. Or yours. Everybody else’s.

This could read like a doomsday rant, but I left Vegas this year with the same optimism as the rest of ‘em – maybe even a little more than in past years. My very last meeting of the show was with a company rep with whom I’d seen a great beginning turn sour this year and we both needed to fix that. And within two minutes it was clear that this meeting would be one of the good ones. Not two gulps into my first beer, and we were laughing and connecting over the history of the sport and a shared feeling that we were lucky to be a part of it. As we parted ways, I was handed another beer. “You’ll probably need it” they said.

It was Vegas, after all.


Are you vain or deserving?

 

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Comments

matthew-brown
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Matthew Brown  - Sept. 17, 2014, 10:32 p.m.

Is the point being that you, as a part of the industry, have become jaded? …or disillusioned at companies motives for being in the business? …or hypocritical at how opportunistic the entire industry has become, as your last paragraph would indicate. Just what are you trying to say???

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nowadays
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nowadays  - Sept. 17, 2014, 11:26 a.m.

Great article! I do find the media section interesting and I have to say that reading bike reviews on any of the "media" sites is like reading an advertisement. I am not sure if the top bike brands never make a bad product or the bike world is just so small that no-one dare say anything bad but either way it feels like the media and bike companies share a bed all to often. Personally I love the industry but like with most sports, Cronyism is common and it's not a surprise that it leads to one form of vanity or another.

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slyfink
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slyfink  - Sept. 17, 2014, 11:18 a.m.

"Stop chasing dollar signs. Think back to the smell of a bike shop when you were 12. Recreate that for your customers and you will always feel wealthy." c'mon, really?! tell that to the the shop owners kid when he goes hungry… or his wife when she leaves him, or the bank when they foreclose… running a bussiness is not just about "feeling wealthy". that's just selfish. who's being vain now?

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 17, 2014, 1:49 p.m.

You missed the point a little bit. I also don't quite follow what you meant about selfishness or vanity at the end there.

Of course money is important. But…shops often make short-sighted decisions based primarily on money - spiting their face to save their nose. Great ones make plenty of money but focus on the customer experience first, build a solid foundation and enjoy lots of repeat business. Not unique to the bike shop, this is important for any business, big or small. You can live and die by the PNL, or focus on what you do best and use best practices to ensure you're able to keep your kid fed and your wife…not leaving you.

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Fahzure
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Fahzure  - Sept. 17, 2014, 11:09 a.m.

What award did Richie Schley win in the picture?

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rvoi
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rvoi  - Sept. 17, 2014, 10:59 a.m.

Exactly 5:02 for me to read this at a moderate speed (I timed it). Good use for five minutes today. Thanks!

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 17, 2014, 1:51 p.m.

Thanks rvoi. There's a great feature on a site called Medium (collections of writing from all different authors, topics, etc) with an estimated Time to Read widget at the top, so you have a good idea of how much time you'll need to invest. It makes me read their articles more often. We may have to look into it for NSMB.

General question: would that encourage some of you to read more of our articles if we communicated how long it would take for them to be read at average speed?

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boomforeal
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boomforeal  - Sept. 17, 2014, 10:16 p.m.

DONT DO IT!!!

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rvoi
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rvoi  - Sept. 18, 2014, 6:31 a.m.

It was the comment by howard619 that made me read it fully and time it. This also made me focus on comprehension instead of just skimming along. I think knowing the reading time up front would help. Especially opinion and essay pieces where the reader may not be sure of what they are getting into.

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 18, 2014, 7:49 a.m.

Why not?

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boomforeal
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boomforeal  - Sept. 18, 2014, 10:06 a.m.

because (in my opinion) it dumbs down the writing and panders to pernicious proclivities. journalism should engage and edify - listing the read time up front is an attempt to quantify the worth of a piece in a way that has no relation to its actual substance or value.

when people come to nsmb and read our reviews, articles and editorials, i think they trust that we're going to make a good point in a concise and entertaining manner

if a reader really needs to know how long a piece is going to take to read, they can always scroll down and do a quick word-count estimate. if that's just too hard and they really need us to provide a number, it'll probably taken them longer than the averaging algorithm predicts, anyway 😉

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 18, 2014, 12:07 p.m.

Panders to Pernicious Proclivities? Holy shit, Omar, that's $30 in words right there.

Point taken, but for me your argument gets lost in the ether between idealism and reality. The reality is it's harder and harder to get people to commit to spending more than thirty seconds on the content of a web page these days. We both know (think? hope?) we're worth more than that, but that doesn't mean everyone else's behaviour will support that view. Have a look at it on medium.com. I think you'll find the writing to be neither dumbed down, nor valued based on time needed to read it.

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Cheez1ts
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Garrett Thibault  - Sept. 18, 2014, 9:30 p.m.

I vote do it if possible. I had to restart this one a few times cause I kept trying to read it while pooping. The indicator on what I can read while I poop and what I need to save for before bed would be solid.

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boomforeal
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boomforeal  - Sept. 19, 2014, 9:49 a.m.

yeah, its totally an idealism thing

my wife just made a good point to me though: maybe a "read time" indicator would help create two classes of articles: short, simple ones for people who are "just too busy" to read a lot of "words", and longer ones for people who appreciate a thorough, thoughtful treatment of subjects that interest them - or as garret notes, for when they have time to engage

(great editorial by the way pete)

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 19, 2014, 12:52 p.m.

Thanks, dude.

Your wife put it the way I see it, and the way it seems to work out on medium.com. It's not designed to only attract people to short articles, but rather to let 'em know in advance what they're in for. At that point you can decide if you care enough to read now or never, or bookmark it.

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aron-burgundy
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A.Ron Burgundy  - Sept. 17, 2014, 10:28 a.m.

Personally, I like the idea of a consumer day. And this year's was certainly better attended than 2013. It still doesn't really work in Vegas though. Vegas is NOT a cycling mecca. Sure, there are rad places to ride there, but come on, no one puts Vegas on their "bucket list" of places to ride. There's not a huge population of local riders, and let's face it, Vegas is in the middle of the f@cking desert. There aren't people coming from nearby riding hot spots because frankly, there aren't any nearby.
I answered very few, if any, questions about our products on Friday. We had people coming through our booth, but they were cruising for free stuff. Which is fine, but they didn't really care about anything else. In one particularly hilarious incident, a guy came by, took a water bottle and then also a Sharpie that just happened to be lying on the desk. I guess if it's not nailed down it's up for grabs.
Move the show to somewhere that actually has a good riding community (Denver, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, hell even Atlanta (where I am)) and the consumer day would be better attended. I'm not sure if that's the goal of Interbike though. I always hear, "The show is about the dealers, and the dealers want to come to Vegas to party." But perhaps it should be.

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 17, 2014, 2:06 p.m.

That's a really good point…Ron. Show placement closer to a riding hotbed would no doubt make public day for valuable.

At Eurobike the public day, which has been going on forever, is referred to as "Sticker Day". And it's chaos. The prevailing wisdom is "tie down anything you don't want to walk away". So yeah, I was playing devil's advocate a bit, but the fact remains that with a public hungry to see the latest and greatest, it's an opportunity. Most companies don't take advantage.

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aron-burgundy
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A.Ron Burgundy  - Sept. 17, 2014, 7:15 p.m.

Yeah, like I said it all depends on what the goal of the show is. I like talking to the end user. They say here's where I ride, this is how I ride, which of your products should I be using? Where as with folks in the industry it's always, "Whaddaya got that's new?" Granted, that's what people want to see covered.

My point is that it's tough to cram the two groups together. It has to be an either/or show. Interbike should probably only be two days anyway. Everyone has seen it all at Eurobike and no business is happening on Friday. The consumer day seems to be a "bone" thrown at manufacturers in an attempt to justify the show being three days long. Come on a Friday a couple of years ago and you will see a bunch of shelled people staring at the floor until the sound of tape guns fills the hall after lunch. Now there are slightly more people milling around and the tape guns get a later start.

There's too much navel gazing in the industry and selling to each other. If cycling is going to continue to grow, there needs to be some rethinking of a lot of things. And Interbike is one of the big ones.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - Sept. 17, 2014, 2:31 p.m.

There are other issues with moving Interbike. Few riding destinations have a shitload of hotel rooms that everyone can afford and fewer have an expo space that can handle the number of exhibitors Interbike attracts. And getting a cheap flight there is relatively easy. And there are the other attractions of Vegas - the appeal of which depends largely on your age. Image credit .

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aron-burgundy
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A.Ron Burgundy  - Sept. 17, 2014, 7:23 p.m.

Yes yes yes. I've heard all these points before. I'm not necessarily advocating for moving the show. I was specifically addressing Pete's point regarding the consumer day. Don't be surprised when you have a cycling show in the middle of the desert and the consumer day is a bust.

I would contend that the whole space issue is overblown though. Again, I'll cite Atlanta since it's my home. We have the world's largest airport, multiple convention centers in downtown alone, and shit tons of hotel rooms. In addition, there are rad places to ride nearby. We don't have gambling, but there are plenty of other things to keep you busy.

I go to plenty of other trade shows for work and they certainly aren't all in Vegas. Like I said to Pete below, it all depends on what the goal is. That's something the entire industry needs to ask itself.

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CraigH
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Craig Hunt  - Sept. 17, 2014, 3:19 p.m.

LV might not be a "cycling mecca", but it is good for an early season hit of sun & dry singletrack (there are more places to ride near LV than Bootleg):

Would I head down there to ride in September? No, because the riding in BC is great at that time of the year. But when the weather here is dreary, rainy, and most of the riding is still under snow, sure, why not?

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aron-burgundy
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A.Ron Burgundy  - Sept. 17, 2014, 7:28 p.m.

Yeah, agreed. I said as much above. I'm not knocking Vegas for it's riding. If I were looking for some early season riding I'd rather go to Moab or Sedona though. But then again, Vegas isn't my cup of tea.

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tristan
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tristan  - Sept. 17, 2014, 7:25 a.m.

Right F@#$ing on!

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howard619
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howard619  - Sept. 17, 2014, 6:43 a.m.

Nice piece. I almost stopped halfway through at which point I hated it and thought the writer was a pot calling the kettle black. But alas…There IS a message here. Luckily I had the 5 mins to find it.

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