Outerbike: a game changer?

The success of the Moab event could signal a change in the way the bike industry talks to consumers

2011 Outerbike, Moab, Utah. Photo: Leslie Kehmeier Wide Eyed World Photography
2011 Outerbike, Moab, Utah. Photo: Leslie Kehmeier Wide Eyed World Photography

The cycling industry’s biggest event in North America is surely the Interbike show, held every September in Las Vegas, Nevada. The only issue with Interbike is that it is only open to bike industry folks. That means unless you own a bike shop, work for one, or work for a manufacturer, you just have to wait to see the hottest new bikes of the year until they hit the floors of your local bike shop. Well, not really. Enter Outerbike.

The Outerbike festival is Everyman’s chance at getting his or her paws on the newest bikes, not just drooling over it on the carpet of a booth in an expo center in Vegas, but in the dirt, on the road, and clipped in.

For the past two years Outerbike has been held in the mountain-bike mecca of Moab, Utah, and if one gauges the success of a business on how much growth it sees in a given year, well, we have to consider Outerbike a raging success story. In its second year now, the number of registered participants more than doubled from 350 to 800; and many of this year’s participants already plan to come back next year.

According to Carla Hukee, brand manager for Niner bikes, “I think people have clued into the fact that this is the absolute best deal in a mountain bike vacation you can possibly get. I mean it costs almost a hundred bucks a day to rent a bike in Moab; why not get a really badass bike in Moab for a hundred and fifty bucks for three days, plus food, beer, and parties?”

Some major cycling brands were in attendance, handing out bikes to anyone with a wristband — Specialized, Trek, Santa Cruz, Niner, Yeti, GT, Rocky Mountain, Ibis, and Pivot were all on hand.

Once you chose your bike, you headed out on the incredibly well marked Brand trail system, just north of Moab. Out on course, you found Jeeps acting like four-wheel drive sag wagons if you had difficulty; they also had spare parts, food, or water if you needed it.

Hukee sees trade shows like Interbike as a thing of the past, kind of old school. Prior to the Internet, the only way you could see something new was to go to a tradeshow like Interbike. Now, with new products released every quarter, everything is already out before the show. “Who we really need to talk to are our customers,” said Hukee. “We think it’s important to support our dealers and we see this as talking directly to their customers; it’s our job. We really think it’s important for the bike industry and the media to support events like this; this is real, this is where it’s growing.”

Niner didn’t even attend Interbike this year, for the first time since the company was founded in 2003. Instead, they have opted for a demo tour, which is comprised of three large company vans packed with bikes that tour the major cycling markets and bring the latest and greatest offerings directly to the dealers — and their customers. They’ve done over 70 tours this year. They are aiming for 100 next year.

On the first day of the Moab-based event, which is organized by cycling travel company Western Spirit, hundreds of participants lined up in forty-degree weather, in the rain, to mount their chosen steed. While the weather did clear up, the lines didn’t abate.

2011 Outerbike, Moab, Utah. Photo: Leslie Kehmeier Wide Eyed World Photography
2011 Outerbike, Moab, Utah. Photo: Leslie Kehmeier Wide Eyed World Photography

For all of its successes, the event did suffer from some organizational snafus that director Ashley Korenblat hoped to iron out next year. Some of the riders complained that the bikes they wanted were never available, or that bikes were reserved before the gates even opened — on a reservation system known to some, but not others. One of the issues was that bikes were being taken on long shuttle runs, such as going to Porcupine Rim, Magnificent 7, or the Whole Enchilada. This took them out of circulation for half a day or more, leaving those who wanted to ride that one particular bike, in that particular size, out of luck.

For next year, Korenblat plans on limiting some of the more popular bikes to the Brand trails, and also allowing people to reserve bikes online in advance so that you can plan your days — one day of shuttle rides on bike X and another of 1-hour laps on bike Y.  “For some people it’s their vacation, their trip to Moab, and they want to go do the big rides,” said Korenblat, “and there are also people who are really trying to decide what bike to buy; we have to try to please them both”

One thing that will change for next year according to Korenblat is the number of bikes available. “Next week, I’m calling the marketing directors of these bike companies and saying, ‘proof of concept? Check’ I want your entire Interbike truck here,” she said. With 800 riders from 43 different states, it’s likely she’ll get all the bikes she wants next year.

“The bike industry has such a camaraderie, such friendship, and such real connections, and sometimes we don’t share that with the consumers directly,” said Korenblat. “We’re so focused on the dealers; it’s time to let the people ride the bikes.”