Eurobike 2016

The Eurobike is a fairly big trade show for, well, bikes. Held at the beginning of September in Friedrichshafen at Lake Constance it presented the perfect destination for a relaxed bike trip to enjoy the late summer. During the week its doors are open only for business people, but on the weekend the public can check out the latest and greatest in bike tech, and new this year, even test ride on a fairly big test area outside.

I had thrown around the idea of riding a tandem together with my dad for a while after seeing people complete Paris-Brest-Paris on them. Once I had found out that a bike shop close to my university actually rents one out, there were no excuses left. Relatives living fairly close to the convention were asked for lodging, the tandem booked and my mum offered herself as our personal support car and would join us on some legs of the trip on an E-Bike, which is rented out by their municipality.

On Friday morning we picked up the tandem in Augsburg and started the first part: Cycling for two hours along the flatlands to a train station along the way, just to get used to the ride and maybe fix any occurring problems. Since the pedals are synchronized, just starting to ride takes a certain level of skill. But my dad and I quickly developed the necessary routine to get moving, and once we were on our way, it wasn’t that hard anymore.

The advantages of a tandem became apparent quite quickly. Whenever I had been out cycling with my family, none of whom are avid bikers, it was usually me chasing ahead and then waiting. Even when I was trying to match their pace, it was an unfair game just because of the different bikes we were riding. A tandem removed this whole process of trying to match someones pace, you were always close enough to have a chat without worrying about riding next to each other, and you had a much more immediate impression of how exhausted the other person is. But even in the case of one getting tired, the weaker party could just stop pushing as hard without a gap opening immediately (to be fair though, as far as I could tell my dad never stopped pushing hard).

The tandem itself though could have had a better configuration and in better shape. Coaster brakes make it hard to put the pedals in an efficient position when starting from a traffic light, an internally geared hub forced both riders to stop pedaling in order to shift and overall the saddles and handles were made for a short tour to the park and not a longer ride. Also, the synchronization of the pedals made different styles in pedaling really obvious. I was used to pedal through turns, and so was sometimes startled when suddenly my feet stopped moving, which led to some shouting on my part 😉

Nonetheless we reached our intermediate goal in the expected time and after a quick shock, since I had accidentally configured a different code on the lock than intended, we hopped on the train to skip the lumpy bits between us and Lake Constance.

In Lindau, our personal support crew was already waiting at the shore of the lake and had prepared lunch. Sometimes it has advantages to leave the whole “unsupported bikepacking” thing behind 😀

For the rest of the afternoon the route dictated twice the already accomplished distance, following the very touristy bike route along the shore, with lots of other bicyclists, mostly on their E-Bikes. I had put bluetooth speakers on my backpack and was blasting some music out, interrupted with short beeps from the RideWithGPS App telling us which of the myriad of bike lanes and little roads to take. We settled in a rhythm pretty quick and the advantage of having two people putting power into the same bike made us basically overtake everyone (the roadies probably avoided the crowded bike path completely, so we were pretty much uncontested in our speed). At one point two guys took advantage of the glorious drafting opportunity we were presenting and followed us for a while. We had taken the same route together with my brother over 10 years ago back when we had been kids, so this trip was a perfect “coming back to the roots”-event, interlaced with memories about punctures and horrible weather

This time though the weather was pretty warm, but we still only took two smaller breaks, one for ice cream and one for water. Whether that was because we were both feeling pretty good or whether my dad didn’t want to ask for more breaks, I don’t know. He’s at least smiling in the pictures 😉

Later in the evening we arrived at our relatives, where we met up with my mum again. Together we shared the dinner and hatched the plan for Saturday, the first public day of the trade show. Since I wanted to be there early to make use of most of the available time for testing bikes, cycling around the lake again to the trade show was out of the question. Instead, we planned on taking the catamaran across the lake from Konstanz, which was only around an hour by bike away. Since it was still an early rise, we said our goodnights and went to bed fairly soon. Funnily enough, once I was in bed it felt like I had spent the day on a ship, falling asleep to a slight rocking sensation. Could you get seasick from riding a tandem?

Early the next morning we rose and after a quick coffee unloaded my mum’s E-bike and set off together. It was the perfect weather, with some mist still hanging over the fields and the lake, and a nice sunrise. Speeding along we made it to the ferry in what we thought was more than enough time. But there was already a host of people waiting, most of them with the same destination as we, judging by their clothes, and there was suddenly a rush to whether everyone would find room on the catamaran or not. In the end though we made it, got onto the shuttle bus on the other side and then entered the overwhelming world of Eurobike.

I had been there a couple of years before, but it had gotten even bigger. The last time I had just mindlessly browsed around, not having much of a clue of anything about bikes. This time though I had a mission: Find out as much about mountain bikes suitable for bikepacking trips as possible and test ride as many of them as I could. So I darted off towards the outside area to the Surly stand, since they were the only bike manufacturer with designated bike-packing bikes I recognized. The guy there was most helpful and presented the whole range, from which he recommended two bikes for off-road touring: The Karate Monkey and the Krampus. I had read lots about the differences of wheel diameters and widths, Hard Tail vs Full Suspension or even no suspension at all, but since I had never actually ridden a mountain bike off-road, I was keen to see the differences myself.

It took a while until the trails were opened for public usage, so I first spun some laps on the pavement with the Krampus, their 29er bike with 3” wide tires. Surprisingly enough, once I got it up to speed it was pretty easy to keep it there. I expected something a lot more sluggish. But once I hit the dirt it became obvious that the tire pressure wasn’t suitable for anything besides pavement. So I deflated them quite a bit and headed off into my first section of trail ever. Since there was quite a lot of traffic, I was worried of crashing and making a fool of myself, but those huge tires gripped the dirt really well, so I immediately made myself on the way up again to hit the trail some more times. For any experienced mountainbiker this section probably wasn’t even suitable for a warm-up, but for me it was perfect. I started bouncing over little rocks on purpose and gained more confidence on the turns. Soon I headed back down to the convention halls and traded the bike for the Karate Monkey, equipped with 27.5 Wheels which were just as wide.

To be honest, I wasn’t noticing that much of a difference. But that was probably because my reference point was a road bike, so everything with wide tires that could ride those turns would feel pretty similar to me. Nonetheless I was keen on trying out more bikes. Just, that none of the brands in the list stood out to me and the few brands I knew at all didn’t seem to be present. Sure, there were all the big brands like Scott and Ghost and whatnot, but I was under the impression that their targeted customer had different goals on the bike than I did. So, with my parents in tow, I started to zig zag through the halls, trying to find an appealing bike. Pretty soon it became clear that pretty much half of the products being on display here had to have an electric motor. Almost half of each stand was devoted to E-Bikes, and the manufacturers seemed to have entered into a contest of who can screw on the motor in the funkiest of places on the (in my opinion) most unnecessary of bikes.

Soon everyone got exhausted from all the walking and impressions and my enthusiasm had dampened a little. I tested out another smaller bike brand, but somehow was reluctant to check out the bigger tents. They just had a different crowd, talking about slack angles, how to set up your suspension and so on. And basically everyone could do a wheelie. But pretty soon I found a couple of tandems and dragged my dad around to test drive those with me. Boy was there a difference to the thing we had ridden the day before. With the mountain bike version we even made it through parts of the off-road trail. And the roadbike tandem even took some uphill sections, for which we would have taken endlessly on the cruiser, in a fairly speedy manner.

At the end of the day we got on our way back to the ferry and across the lake. By now, the exhaustion had taken the toll on all of us, so ride back was filled with some cranky snarling about petty issues. To let everyone relax and get more company with our hosts, it was decided to have a later start tomorrow, before my dad and I would head out to the convention again.

On Sunday then I decided to just stick to one brand and try out their range of mountain bikes. My reasoning was, that any differences I felt between these bikes was mostly due to the different wheel and frame configurations and not to the manufacturer, hoping that I could maybe feel more of a difference there. The brand “Ghost” had stood out to me, since I had learned yesterday that they were actually a german brand and since they had a pretty nice rig on display with Pinion gears, which is a special gearbox mounted in the bottom bracket intended to be very durable in bike packing scenarios. Since the gearbox alone costs about as much as I want to spend on the whole bike, I settled on its sister model with conventional gearing. Just that when I got outside to test it, all of them were already in use. They only were able to offer me their fully suspended bike. And that’s how I suddenly ended up with a bike close to 4000€ under my ass. The thing that impressed me the most? A dropper seatpost. It’s like an office chair, you switch a lever on the handlebars and the saddle slides in or extends. I played around with it a lot. Once on the trail, the suspension was nice too 😀 I managed to try out another of their bikes until their supposed bike-packing machine was available, and took them all through the trail. 

During my test rides I had seen a weird tandem, where the front person was basically sitting on a recumbent bike, whereas the rear rider was sitting upright. Just because of those funky looks it just had to be test ridden by us, so my dad and I headed over to the stand. Holy crap was this thing fun to ride. At first, I almost crashed us a couple of times, since it’s really awkward to steer when you can’t see your front wheel. But once we were away from the crowds and moving, this thing was the source of a lot of positive emotions. My dad liked it as well, the recumbent position being much more comfortable than just having my smelly back in his face all the time. And it also felt much more aerodynamic than the cruiser we had started the trip on. The biggest advantage though? The pedals weren’t force synced anymore, the recumbent rider can coast. So I could pedal through the turns without getting thrown off-balance every time my dad stopped moving. We took it out on the biggest loop that was marked off and had a blast.

With this sweet ride our visit to Eurobike came to an end. The only thing left was a comparatively short ride back to the train station in Lindau, during which we got caught in the only shower of rain during the whole weekend. Although I hadn’t been able to ride exactly the bikes I had intended to, the trip to the convention had proven very worthwhile. There’s probably no other place where you can test such many different bikes from that many different brands, not to speak of all the unconventional bikes. And even without the convention, the whole weekend was a perfect opportunity to spend time with my parents and share they joy I have in cycling.

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