It’s disconcerting to see what a huge role phones play in these days. I’ve been arrested, interrogated in airports, and inside some pretty dodgy clubs in Amsterdam where there hasn’t been this much security. The brief is pretty straightforward, no phones, no photos, no talking about what we are about to see. Multiple signs reiterating the crucial date are in evidence to remind us that the first rule of launch day is you don’t talk about launch day. Until launch day.
Ever since my phone went into one of these bags, I’ve been getting constant texts telling me to say nothing to anyone about anything.
Still separated from our 4G lifelines after the first of two revelations, we are led like animals to the slaughter into a pitch black room with precise instructions; hug the wall, keep moving, until you stop or awkwardly bump into the person in front of you. This is more like those clubs in the Netherlands than the other room even. Especially when the unmistakable riffs of Rage Against The Machine fire from the PA accompanied by staccato bursts of psychedelic strobes. I quietly hope there are no epilepsy sufferers in here, or we could have a situation on our hands.
Coffee does this.
Then, like a biblical vision, it appears. The thing. A bright and flashy and exciting thing, like other things but not really like them at all. This thing has got new and good things in abundance. We can look at the thing, but not for long, we can get close and point and prod at it, but we definitely can’t talk about the thing… or can we? Is this a tactic, to test the resolve and the loyalty of the messengers, or is it to lure them into a “I’ll tell you, but you can’t tell anyone” situation? Whatever it is, it seems to have worked. People are excited or very good at feigning excitement. There’s talk, there’s chatter, there’s questions. I’m not saying a fucking word.
Obligatory radness on a screen.
Head of Specialized NZ Tony Smith kicks off proceedings.
Bike shows and brand launches are a strange beast. When you’ve survived a couple hundred of them, thoughts are always concerned with things mostly unrelated to whatever product you’re being introduced to this time; will there be decent coffee, is it lunch time yet, how long is this guy going to talk for, will there be beer? Specialized’s Go to Market event answered all these questions with exactly the right responses: a welcoming espresso machine on entry, precise, informative and brief diatribe from each speaker, a good amount of piss-taking and banter between audience and presenters, actual good food, and beer. There was none of the usual looking at the watch and lamenting that it’s still only 1pm. We didn’t want to leave, mainly because there was still beer to be consumed.
The art of hosting such an event has been appropriated well by the big S. Pick a venue that doesn’t require an hour’s drive from the airport, preferably in a vineyard, keep numbers low so everyone gets a decent sense of involvement in proceedings, and ply them with money. A genius move this one; everyone gets a voucher to spend on product, meaning actual stuff that we pick ourselves and that will see some use, not just another bottle or hat or t-shirt that becomes rags or a receptacle for old fork oil within weeks, but you can still buy them anyway. Call it guerrilla tactics, or call it what it is, a clever bit of marketing nestled within the framework of a good deal for the faithful. A $5 pair of shoes later, there’s at least one person stoked on it.
Besides the things that are really cool and we can’t talk about, the highlights, or more accurately the highlights promoted by the home team, were those that also excited us; the Seqouia adventure/gravel bike and the Turbo Levo electric mountain bike. Yes, an electric mountain bike… probably one of the most divisive developments in mtb of the last year or two, there’s a stigma attached to these pedal assist machines that is, on the whole, overstated. They are not going to take over the trails, they won’t destroy said trails, and they definitely aren’t motorcycles. What they do offer is a way for people who may not be able to ride a conventional bike to get out and get some exercise and still be able to ride a machine that isn’t restricted by excessive weight and underperforming suspension. Like me in about ten years. There is a place for these bikes, and you can be sure that a company as big and influential as Specialized isn’t investing so much time, money and resources into something that isn’t going to be a legitimate player. From the reactions of those who rode the bikes (read: the majority) they aren’t the three-headed beast that they have largely been portrayed as in the cycling media, or more precisely, by the forum experts who seem to oppose every new development in the sport before finally accepting and ultimately adopting it. Time will tell.
Something missing in your life? A battery maybe? The formwork on the carbon frame of the Levo is impressive, and it feels like a ‘real’ mountain bike in its geometry, fit and suspension. Just a tonne heavier.
The Sequoia represents one of the fastest growing segments of cycling, adventure riding. This bike and its ilk are redefining the answer to the age-old question “what’s the one bike to do it all?” Basically a beefed-up road bike or a mountain bike lite, they are a perfect tool for just going for a ride. No more picking between dirt or tarmac, these machines should appeal to mountain bikers who aren’t quite prepared to go ‘full roadie’ or for roadies who want to taste some dirt while still able to get in their kms on fireroads and singletrack. Steel frame, drop bars, discs, big rubber, and a full range of bags makes it a versatile tool for just about anything you could think of to do on a bicycle. Big fans of these bikes we are.
Remember the name, because it’s hard to spell.
There may or may not be new things in there. Hard to say.
Groups were formed and we got to try some of the things that we can’t talk about, except to say those things are pretty good. The consensus was that while not everyone will want or need these things, those who are into such things will likely think that they are very good things indeed. We couldn’t agree more.
It’s where it’s at.
Our time unceremoniously cut short by the need to catch a plane, we left a room still abuzz with chatter from a bunch of retailers who were genuinely engaged in the process and excited by what they saw and heard. The things we can’t tell you about were definitely being talked about, and might be hard not to talk about for the duration of the embargo for some. But you didn’t hear it from us, our lips are sealed like bearings in a thing that may or may not have bearings. And seals.
The art of the bike launch is one that is difficult to master and is rarely achieved. It can be hard for attendees to feign enthusiasm for hours on end when there’s not much new in a line-up except a paint job and a different derailleur, but by turning this day into a secret squirrel mystery thriller with a bit of sideshow haunted house action thrown in, Specialized breathed at least some new life into a format that’s been crying out for a lifeline for way too long. But what of those new flashy things? Well, I guess you had to be there…
They had berms?! No, just some dirt in a room, but we all get the idea.
Heads or tails? There’s not much that Specialized hasn’t got covered.
We thought maybe this had something to do with whatever was hiding behind the wall. It wasn’t. Or was it? No, it really wasn’t.
Knee protection is getting weird next season.
“Has anyone seen my glass of wine?”
Now that’s a riding jacket.
Our favourite bike of the day, and not just because we can show it to you. The Sequoia is whatever you want it to be, and we want it.
Don’t mind if I do.
Ok, maybe this whole electric thing is getting out of hand…
Kids love metal.
The hand-drawn Allez Sprint of Red Hook Crit winner Colin Strickland was on display and looked rad.
Lots of Ohlins suspension specced for next season, including this new air shock for the Stumpjumper…
…and some hot forks including this slick looking 150mm unit on the S Works Stumpy.