The annual Seattle International Bike Expo returns to Magnuson Park next weekend at a pivotal juncture in cycling culture.
Bicycle awareness and participation is booming. All you need do is check the city streets — there are more commuters and short-trip riders than ever (the latter category including people who may not have 9 to 5 jobs but use bikes for shopping, groceries, errands, kid transport and otherwise). Commuter friends say bike traffic spiked during last summer’s gas-price bloat. Although it typically tapers off in the winter, more commuters have stayed in the game than in the past. Others are relying on bikes more as well, including students, parents with young children and self-employed or work-at-home types.
Where I notice it most is bike parking. Often racks are full to capacity, forcing riders to lock to a tree or lamp post. My standard comment is, hey, I thought if I rode here I wouldn’t have to search for a parking place!
Ironically, though, all this comes as the economy is sinking faster than the afternoon sun in the west. For bike manufacturers and sellers, it’s a tough time to be thinking about expanding lines, advertising new products and opening new stores.
So far, the recession doesn’t seem to be making much of a dent, and may in fact be drawing ever more newcomers to cycling. Sea Otter Classic, California’s annual seasonal kickoff in mid-April, reports a surge in interest. Bike shops say business is holding steady.
Cascade Bicycle Club’s annual swap meet two weeks ago sold out tables months early and drew its longest opening line in memory. Club officers expect next weekend’s Expo to be similarly popular.
The core venue will be Hangar 30, the same space as the bike swap. Expo is a much bigger event, so huge auxiliary tents are being set up, heated and carpeted, to accommodate exhibits and activities, and there will be outdoor space for at least 20 vendors. (The weather is usually kind to Expo; booth space sold out in January.)
The move back to Magnuson continues Bike Expo’s nomadic search for a consistent home. Oldtimers recall fondly the Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall, which was cramped but lively. Parking (even when many attendees arrived by bike) and vendor access were issues, however.
Expo also tried out Qwest Event Center between the two stadiums. There was plenty of room at Qwest, including a nice staging area for stunts by performers like Jeff Lenosky. But parking wasn’t much fun there either, costing too much, and concessions were pricey too.
Last year’s venue, the Pier 30 cruise-ship terminal on the southern Seattle waterfront, offered generous room and comfortable accouterments that made up for an inconvenient location. But it’s been torn down.
Surprisingly for a convention hub like Seattle, there isn’t a lot of space available for shows the size of Bike Expo (60,000 to 100,000 square feet). So it was back to Magnuson Park, which may not be ideal but will have to do for now. (Even the roomier Hangar 27 is unavailable, having been leased to a private corporation over protests from the public.)
“We’re looking next year at the new cruise ship terminal at Magnolia,” said Pete Verbrugge, Cascade’s event producer for Expo. Till then, the funky hangar-and-tent setup will have to do. At least car parking is plentiful at Magnuson (secure bike parking is available for $2 suggested donation).
Events kick off Friday with a visit from cycling impresario Bob Roll, or Bobke, the gat-toothed former racer whose Tour de France commentaries never fail to entertain. Roll will host an evening fete at the 500-seat Sand Point Theater.
During the Expo itself, global pedaler Willie Weir and Joe “Metal Cowboy” Kurmaskie, both regulars, will give talks. Unfortunately, a usual highlight of Expo — trick riding by (the last two years) Ryan Leech or another celebrity — will be missing this year. Not enough room.
But there will be a test ride area, Thrillz & Skillz events for kids Saturday, the Classic (vintage) Bicycles showroom, photo contest and other goodies. Watch for great deals, especially on winter clothing, from scores of vendors. In all, more than 150 exhibitors will be showing off the latest and greatest kit. Be careful not to drool on anything, it’s sticky and hard to clean up!
Seattle International Bike Expo, 9 to 6 Saturday and 10 to 4 Sunday at Hangar 30 in Magnuson Park at Sand Point. Tickets (cash only) $8 daily or $10 for both days. Tickets to Friday’s Bobke event, $20. Call 206 522-3222 for more info or visit the Web site.
Ryan Leech doing his thing at last year’s Expo