The story behind the story: Interbike, missed flights, and first impressions

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There was a time when CyclingTips was just a blog and all the people involved were volunteers. Wade Wallace started the site without any fanfare on September 8, 2008, but I wouldn’t discover CyclingTips for another couple of years. It was a good thing I did, though, because I was there the day Wade celebrated CyclingTips’ third birthday and sought applications for his first tech editor.

I was working as a postdoctoral fellow in medical research at the time, but I immediately recognised this as a rare opportunity. For decades, I had been longing for this role. I remember reading my first bike review in a BMX magazine: it was 1981 and I was 11 years old. The bike was beautiful (a chrome Diamondback) but it was the idea of being a test rider that had the greatest impact. While the monetary rewards were essentially nonexistent in those early days of CyclingTips, I still had no hesitation in giving up my evenings and parts of my weekends to fulfill my dream.

Twelve months later, I was packing my bag to attend my first overseas assignment for CyclingTips. It was also going to be my first visit to Interbike, the annual trade show held in Las Vegas.

Looking back on that time (September 2012), I was electrified with excitement by the opportunity, and since Wade was paying for flights and accommodation, I really wanted to deliver on his faith in me. So it was almost understandable that I’d overlook the dimensions of my carry-on luggage before setting off for the airport.

Everything is larger than life at Interbike, and the product displays are designed to impress, if not overwhelm.

This was not my first trip on a plane by any means, but I wasn’t aware of the increasingly strict manner in which airlines were beginning to enforce carry-on size restrictions. To my eye, my new compact case looked much the same as any other being wheeled by the passengers around me, but to the eyes of vigilant airline staff, it was oversized.

Such an oversight might have been an easy thing to remedy, but I had arrived just as baggage checking was closing. It was early in the morning, and staff had been overwhelmed by an onslaught of fly-in, fly-out workers, so any generosity had been exhausted by then. As far as they were concerned, the flight was closed and I wasn’t allowed to board, even though there were 28 minutes remaining before take-off.

I froze with panic.

I was on the west coast of Australia, in Perth. I still needed to get to the east coast to make the international flight that would take me to Los Angeles and then on to Las Vegas. It was a neatly ordered set of dominoes that were set to fall, regardless of whether I was on that first flight.

More glitz, this time one small corner of SRAM’s massive encampment.

And fall they did. Over the next hour, I was able to get moving again, but I wouldn’t be flying that day. I managed to re-book the flights for the following day and the only thing left to do was to buy a new case while trying to ignore the events of the morning.

From that point on, things started to go smoothly, and while I was a day late to Las Vegas, the only event I missed was the Outdoor Demo. There were still three days of the indoor event to document, and by the time I arrived in Las Vegas, I was excited to get on with the job.

All of that was ahead of me as I made my way along the infamous Las Vegas Strip, towards Treasure Island, the curiously pirate-themed casino and hotel complex that would be hosting my stay.

If you keep your eyes open, you’re bound to spot a famous face or two.

Entering the foyer, it was immediately clear that Treasure Island was going to be home for a lot of industry types that were in town for Interbike. There was no mistaking any of them since they were as heavily branded as any bike on the market. They were all chatting excitedly with one another, but they were poor competition for the poker machines, gaming tables, and myriad lights and sounds that crowded the rest of the building.

None of that concerned me as I checked in for my stay because I had a meeting to look forward to. Once I had my room key I fled the cacophony and in the carpeted high above the strip, I opened the door to find my roommate, Wade Wallace himself.

That first moment we shook hands was significant — even though I had traded dozens of emails and spent hours Skyping with him over the last twelve months — we had never been in the same room before.

Big Mig! Miguel Indurain, in the flesh. In Las Vegas.

Looking back on the bikes, powermeters, wheels, groupsets, and the bits and pieces we featured, it’s obvious the industry has moved on, but not a lot of that gear really looks as if it’s outdated yet. Curiously, I don’t remember taking many of the photos that were published, but what has lingered, and what has continued to colour my every airline trip, was that moment of panic when I wasn’t allowed to board my flight.

For the record, the compact case that was my undoing was just 3cm oversize.

BMX! There was no editorial reason for me to linger over this display of old-school goodies, but I indulged my nostalgia anyway.

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