Paul Andrews

How to “Do the Expo”!

In Bicycling, Mountain Biking on March 12, 2009 at 11:22 am

Bike Expo, coming up this weekend, is a great place to see the latest gear, check out the bling factor, run into old friends and take in fascinating workshops and talks.

But it’s also a good place to shop. Here’s how to “Do the Expo,” based on my experiences over the years.

Although it’s tempting to go to the exhibitor booths, I head straight for the vendor stands with actual stuff to sell. The reason: Great bargains. And the good stuff goes fast.

That’s why I usually show up at least half an hour before opening. Yeah you have to stand in line, and it’s supposed to be cold and wet this weekend. But hey, you get to chat with pals, see familiar faces and just plain hang.

My preferred way to go is by bike, of course, but full disclosure: Recent years I’ve carpooled with my buddy Jim. The reason is I never know how much stuff I’m coming back with. If I buy a wheel, for instance, I’m pretty much out of luck carrying it home on my bike. (I understand this is possible. It’s just not convenient, especially with the hills and mileage I have to do.)

Car parking is plentiful at Magnuson Park. Bike parking is more convenient, of course. There’s a big supervised area set up (a $2 donation is much appreciated).

Before leaving for Expo I take time to make up a list of stuff I’d like to buy. Maybe I need a seat post for a new frame on order. Maybe some jersey or layer garment needs replacing. Or I’m looking for a lightweight wheelset. (Going through the list of exhibitors ahead of time can be helpful here.)

A list is necessary because in the heat of the moment at Expo, it’s easy to forget an item or two. And if you aren’t looking for specific things, you have two downsides: 1) It’s easy in the crush to miss something. 2) You might end up buying something you don’t really need. This last point is critical: Cycling tends to be an addiction, and addicts will buy stuff they don’t need, just because they get a great price. In these times of economic hardship, that impulse can mean trouble!

Once inside, I make a beeline for the vendor stalls, where I’m guessing there will be killer deals this year because of shops having to draw down ’08 inventory. Last year top-of-the-line $120 wool jerseys, for instance, were going for $20 to $40. (Jim’s observation: “That’s about what they should cost anyway.” Deflation is proving his point!) One year I got three pairs of Sugoi tights for $15 apiece, a price I never expect to see again (the tights are good as new despite four seasons of heavy use).

Clothing, including shoes, helmets, gloves and whatnot, definitely has the fattest margins to vendors to play with. But other gear gets discounted as well, especially if new ’09 stuff has made it obsolescent.

That’s one reason to go to smaller, high-end shops with stalls specializing in pro gear. They’re eager to move out the out-of-date stuff and have mark-downs that can stagger the imagination.

You can also bargain at Expo. My policy is not to bother if it’s just a few bucks. Vendors have to make something out of the deal, you’re supporting local businesses, and haggling over a small amount takes time from tracking down other bargains. If you do a volume purchase, though, or sense there’s wiggle room on something priced a bit too high, then by all means go for it.

Once the shopping is done, I’m free to roam the exhibitor booths. Some of them have stuff for sale, but most don’t. The booths are where you network, check out new stuff and grill for more information.

Again, the list of exhibitors provides a nice map. I even take a Web site printout with the exhibitors I most want to see marked with a highlighter. This also helps you from missing a booth you want to check out.

As with everything in life, preparation is essential for Expo. If you plan out your adventure, you’re guaranteed to have more fun!

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