As I alluded to before
, I don't like trade shows and expos. Andy loves them, I pretty much hate them. I'll go to them, but more to discuss things with Andy and our industry partners than to stand in the booth. So we complement each other well in that regard.
Unless of course Andy has surgery and can't go. In a company of two, there's not a lot of looking around the room before it's clear that I'm the lucky one. That was the case for SeaOtter this year. Not that I have to do it all by myself, we always have our SeaOtter booth together with Mark Cohen from Pro Bike Supply, our retailer in Newport Beach, and this year Karim Pine also came on board to strengthen our OPEN presence in the USA.
Still it was with trepidation that I packed my bags for California. Turns out, the expo was wonderful! After thinking about it for a few weeks, I have come to the conclusion that I liked it much better for two reasons; Firstly because we got to introduce the U.P., my favorite bike of all-time and one about which I can talk for hours; and secondly because with OPEN, I'm in a much different position than in the past with Cervélo.
In the "old days", expos and tradeshows were events where somebody could show a new bike that would make all our stuff obsolete. Of course, that never happened, but the fear was so ingrained that it made me grumpy and obnoxious not just for the duration of the show, but also the month of anticipation before it (I imagine many people who know me to mutter "he's not much better the other 11 months" at this point). It was just stressful, especially as we became more and more successful and many other companies started to openly talk about us as their reference. It's hard to relax and enjoy an event with a big target on your back.
With OPEN, I have no such fears. First of all, it doesn't matter what others do. We're small, we have our customers, we don't need to grow too much, life is good. And the same is true in reverse; other bike companies may still see us as a reference, but given our size they don't see us as competition.
So where in the old days we had a half dozen Specialized people hiding in the audience during the launch of the P4, now at SeaOtter we had probably the same number of Big-S employees stopping by for our U.P. launch but for a friendly chat, to debate the merits of the new U.P. frame and the challenges they encountered while designing their latest frames for gravel/adventure. In fact, so many dropped by that after setting up the booth for the final day, we considered going over to the Specialized booth to let them know we were ready to receive them.
And it wasn't just Specialized; we had people from Intense, Santa Cruz, Ibis, Campagnolo, SRAM, Shimano, Lightweight, 3T, Magic, BMC (and Cervélo of course) stop by to take a closer look at our stuff and talk shop, and I enjoyed speaking with them. With some of these people, I have always had a good relationship, we stay in touch as they move through the industry from one company to the next. But the majority were always competitors more than colleagues.
What has changed now is probably more me than them. Especially with the outlook I have for this new GravelPlus frame. I'm not trying to protect the idea, I hope many other manufacturers will make a GravelPlus frame as well, because it is the most fun you can have on a bike - in my humble opinion.
In fact, whenever these people came over and asked questions, I tried to give them as much information as possible so they could make a very nice GravelPlus bike or parts for it. We know we will not be the Volkswagen of GravelPlus bikes, we'll be the Ferrari or Porsche. In 12 months, let's see who is the Volkswagen.
However, the best part of SeaOtter is still not the expo, but the end of the day. Helmet on, cycling shoes on and hop on one of the demo bikes to ride back to the hotel. And no better bike to do that with than the U.P., even if you get hopelessly lost, as Karim and I did shortly after this photo was taken (then again, getting lost is part of the U.P.'s DNA).