Can Bike Shows Become the New Auto Shows?

Posted by Sarah Laskow

bike show
Valet parking at the New Amsterdam Bicycle Show is free, and less than two hours after the show has opened, the lot is filling up with all varieties of bikes—stylish bikes, utilitarian bikes, bikes with fat tires, and one bike so lightweight it draws the members of the valet team like a beacon. An arriving cyclist announces he’s ridden 22 miles from New Jersey to attend the show. A family of four shows up on two bikes: one sleek with a leather seat, the other red and tricked out with a cabin in front, from which two excited children emerge.

“Do I need to lock it up with you?” a cyclist asks.

“We’re your lock,” one of the valet workers reassures him.

Like valet parking for bikes, the idea of a consumer bike show is still a novel idea. For decades, auto shows hyping the latest in car culture have occupied cavernous convention centers each year, and as bikes become a more popular form of transportation, showcases displaying the shiniest, newest models have started popping up around the country in places like Portland and New York City. While an auto show puts the car, qua car, on a pedestal, the New Amsterdam Bicycle Show offers an entrée into New York’s bike culture, a jumble of hip geekery, style, and local politics. 

Although it’s possible to check out bikes featuring ultra-light wheels that cost thousands of dollars, many of the bike companies chose to trot out models meant to be ridden by people wearing “normal clothes” or maybe outfits “halfway to Lycra,” as one marketing rep put it. These bikes come in pastel colors, have gracefully curved frames, and cost a few hundred dollars. They weren't the only attraction, either: among the bike booths were vendors hawking helmets covered in cute patterns, handmade messenger bags, and t-shirts printed with a mass of bicycles. The show sold cycling as a lifestyle: At 2 p.m., a crowd squeezed into the stage space for a bicycle fashion show, in which pairs of lithe young men and women clad in vintage clothes rolled beautiful bikes up a ramp that doubles as a catwalk. The main food option at the show might have been hot dogs, but these sausages came in homemade potato rolls with basil and pickled onions sprinkled on top. 

But in New York right now, choosing to get around on a bike is less a fashion statement than a political one, and the show had an element of movement-building to it. New York cyclists have seen hundreds of miles of bike lanes installed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, yet they have come under attack from bike infrastructure opponents who assume cyclists are rude and bike lanes are unnecessary. The bike show was run by Manhattan Media, which publishes community newspapers and magazines with names like New York Family, in partnership with Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy organization that’s been supporting transit, bicycling, and walking since 1973, and can claim a large share of the credit for all existing bike infrastructure in New York City.

The workers at the valet stand are all employees or volunteers for T.A., which regularly provides valet parking for big events around the city. Event coordinators “are realizing people come to events on their bikes,” says Alanna Feinsod, the group’s volunteer coordinator. And on a sunny Saturday, riding a bike seemed like the best possible choice of transportation. Heading east on Spring Street away from the bike show, cars were backed up in traffic for blocks—even without the benefit of a bike lane, cyclists sped past them.