By Christopher Jones
It was up in the air as to whether Eurobike 2021 would be cancelled, after last year’s event was abandoned because of COVID-19.
However, most of Europe has adapted to the COVID situation and good vaccination numbers have made it possible to conduct large-scale events, with the necessary precautions.
Under new German COVID provisions, known as 3G rules, exhibitors and visitors required a full vaccination, proof of recovery or a recent test to get in the door and masks for all indoor areas were enforced.
For the final time, the world’s biggest bike show was held in the southern German city of Friedrichshafen, on the shores of Lake Constance with its view across to Switzerland and Austria.
The event moves to Frankfurt next year and, even though the locals refer to their city as a large village, the new exhibition grounds are a sprawling collection of halls that are often challenging to navigate.
On the flipside, the Frankfurt exhibition grounds boast convenient access via the international airport and large central train station. It is also far easier to find accommodation within walking distance, as opposed to across international borders which was sometimes the case for Eurobike at Lake Constance, where accommodation would be booked out nine months in advance.
Eurobike 2021 was an unusual show. In my case, it was the first Eurobike show in 20 years that I attended as an exhibitor rather than a journalist.
I planned the exhibit for a young and innovative company, which gave me a much better peek behind the scenes.
Regardless of whether you were an exhibitor, a trade visitor or attending on the open days, there were big differences to previous years.
Numbers and Vibes
Notably, and not surprisingly, exhibitor and visitor numbers were down. Instead of the 1,400 exhibitors from 2019, this year the organisers recorded 630 exhibitors and 32,000 trade and general public visitors, which is half the traffic.
The exhibition halls had ample space and broad passages. Some halls had large sections cordoned off at the rear.
Eurobike often has one hall dedicated to Asian OEM brands and filled with hundreds of tiny booths. COVID travel restrictions meant some Asian exhibitors were unable to attend, so half a dozen booths were simply empty with apology notes.
American exhibitors and visitors were also largely absent. Even Zwift, which has a UK office and boasted one of the largest stands in 2019, was not on location due to company policy restricting staff from travelling.
There was some US involvement. A small team from Feedback Sports was on location with its bike stands, indoor bike racks and trainers, as was part of the Paul Lange German distribution consortium that also includes Elite and Shimano.
Niner was the only American bike brand at the show, represented by founder Chris Sugai.
Lezyne went almost unnoticed but Gates Carbon Drive kept up appearances – especially as drivetrain solutions remain a hot topic.
Yishun Bike was one of the few Asian exhibitors present, as they have a European office and (I assume) some local staff. They still adopted the classic ‘heads down and glued to the mobile phone’ strategy which triggers the ‘walk straight past’ strategy from most visitors.
However, one of the highlights of the show was the Japanese Wind Tunnel Manufacturing company, which displayed its portable, stackable wind tunnel. The engineering challenges of creating a reliable wind tunnel in a compact format shouldn’t be underestimated and the Aero Optim-Cell series resolves some of the fundamental hurdles that have prevented small scale wind tunnel reliability and viability.
At the conclusion of the show, the wind tunnel modules were transported to a major bike brand to aero test its bikes and UCI WorldTeam.
I counted one New Zealander and four Australians – all European based.
New Zealand brand Aeroe, which has a clever bike rack solution, was unable to attend personally but found a Kiwi in Munich to represent the brand at Eurobike.
There were no Australian brands and travel restrictions meant visiting Eurobike was also off the cards for Australian trade visitors.
One of the pleasures of 2021 was the vibe. No longer were there swaths of humans filling every space and obstructing thoroughfare. This year it was possible to calmly walk the length of the halls, seldom blocked off.
Not only that, lower visitor numbers meant it was possible to easily find and speak with the right contact person without waiting for ‘years’. Of course, there were still a few exhibitors who felt it was cool to ignore visitors but for the ones who were open, it was an opportunity to really take time. There were a lot of smiles among the show veterans because it was the first time in two years to get face to face.
A number of brands attended Eurobike just as trade visitors so there were plenty of CEOs, product, partnership and marketing managers roaming the floors.
For the first time, it was easy to travel by car to the show and there was hardly any congestion. There are usually cars backed up for miles and many of the access roads are blocked for hours in the morning. I usually try to cycle instead and even the bike traffic was low this year.
Genuine innovation was very hard to find this year and part of this could be the slowing of industry and the supply chain.
The new Shimano 12-speed road cycling group set captured the interest of visitors but there were more interesting products.
Typically, the Eurobike awards do a good job of identifying great bike and product ideas but it felt a bit weak in 2021.
Beyond the eye candy, a Kettler cargo bike (Cargoline FS 800) showed off a masterpiece in mechanical engineering, with the front wheel steering incorporated inside the hub for a compact and smart solution to the traditional bulky steering column.
German brand GRDXKN presented a printed clothing solution that transforms fabric into a 3D structure. They explained the benefits and, while I am not sure of the direct benefits for sportswear, it was new and attractive.
The Belgium-based Classified Powershift rear hub is a solution that incorporates two-speed internal shifting into the hub while accommodating a rear cassette. As a result, a front derailleur is no longer needed, offering a more compact solution for a comparable range of gears.
Veloine’s cycling jersey and shorts for pregnant women caught the interest of many women as a smart and obvious idea for sportswear.
Another highlight was provided by Germany’s New Motion Labs, that has developed a chain and drivetrain solution promising increased efficiency and a far longer lifespan for track cycling and cargo bikes. Chain and chainring wear can be extreme for work cargo bikes.
There were far fewer road bikes on display and even mountain bikes took a backseat to e-bikes. Activity at Hall A1, with the electric motor brands and e-bike electrical solutions, appeared to be comparable to Eurobike 2019, with just as many brands exhibiting.
Demo bikes provided by a number of brands were particularly popular during the public days. So was the Drop and Roll Tour demonstration led by Danny MacAskill.
A few of the exhibitors I spoke to expressed disappointment with visitor numbers. However, most valued the opportunity to spend more time with customers, partners and leads and have their eyes on Eurobike 2022 in Frankfurt in 2022, which promises to be big.