Cancelled – The Seattle Bike Expo

By | October 9, 2014

Seattle is home to a thriving bike culture.  The STP (Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic) is one of the largest multi-day organized bike rides in country.  The ride spans between Seattle and Portland, two of the nation’s premier cycling meccas.  Bike commuting is increasing in Seattle.  Seattle is looking to continue to expand bike ridership with its bike master plan.    This month Seattle in unveiling its bike share program.  All of this paints a picture of a vibrant, growing bike movement in the City of Seattle, but I was shocked when I received this e-mail from Cascade Bicycle Club.

“Hi Lance,

I’m writing to let you know that after 24 years, Cascade Bicycle Club has decided to not continue producing the Seattle Bike Expo.

Due to the decline in attendance over the last few years, we made the difficult decision to not continue with Expo as is and reinvest our time and resources in creating new opportunities for people to ride. We may revisit the Expo in a different format in the future.

We’d like to thank all sponsors, exhibitors, presenters and volunteers who have been part of the Bike Expo. We appreciate all of your support over the years and your commitment to the biking community.  We hope to partner with you in the near future and we’re currently looking at new opportunities for you to connect with our club and to promote your organization to our audience.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or would like to discuss this further.

Sincerely…”

Cancelled – The Seattle Bike Expo  

Waiting for the ferry at Chilly Hilly 2010

Waiting for the ferry at Chilly Hilly 2010

I was shocked.  The bike expo is a tradition.  Some say that Chilly Hilly, a Cascade Sponsored Ride marks the beginning of the cycling season.  Chilly Hilly is just another winter ride.  The cycling season begins with the Seattle Bike Expo.  I have been attending for the last 10 years.  At the expo I would:

  • Gather information from local organized rides, mark them on my calendar and plan my cycling season.  Some ride organizers would even offer discounts if you registered for the ride at the expo.
  • Ogle and fall in love with the latest cycling technology.
  • Score great deals on shorts, gloves or other worn out items form my cycling kit.
  • I would drag a friend along to experience the fun.
  • See a lecture or two.
  • Enjoy some tasty food.

Why in the hell in a city with such a thriving bike culture, is a bike expo not financially viable?  Does Cascade not see the the benefit of the expo beyond the bottom line?  What could have been done to improve attendance at the Expo?

There is no denying that attendance is down at the Expo.  In years past it was so crowded you were lucky if you could even see the booths.  The experience was mostly rubbing shoulders with strangers as you slowly moved from open space to open space.  To be honest it is not a pleasant experience, but it was good for the vendors.  It is a sign that more space is required which means more vendors and more money for the organizers.  In recent years, the crowd has thinned dramatically.  Last year was my first year as a vendor at the expo.  Even though I was at a busy spot, there was no constant stream of traffic.  I had to keep myself busy luring people to my booth with free beer flavored jelly bean samples.  What happened to the attendance?

My booth at the 2014 Expo

My booth at the 2014 Expo

I believe that the location of the expo plays a significant factor in the loss of attendance.  In recent years, the Expo was located at the Smith Cove Expo Center.  It is a location that is a pain in the neck to get to whether you are driving or using mass transit.  Cyclists get front row parking, as they should.  However, if you drive, you are stuck parking a considerable distance from the venue and riding a school bus to the front door, where the bus driver will complain about how much he hates cyclists.  GOOD TIMES!  This mass transit nightmare adds at least an hour to your expo experience.  If it is raining, it is damp, miserable and musty.  Bleh!  The best part is that you pay extra for this wonderful parking privilege.  The terminal is not convenient to any mass transit that I am aware of.  Even the Expo’s former location at Sandpoint was better than the ferry terminal.  It was also difficult to get to, but even in the busiest years I was able to find parking.  It was located close to a bike path, like Smith Cove.  In my mind, the obvious location for the bike expo is the Seattle Stadium Exposition Center at the Clink.  It is centrally located near bike routes and mass transit.  I would even be willing to pay more to attend this location.  I could ride the light rail to the Expo Center and not have to pay for parking.  That is well worth it and could offset any increased venue costs.

In years past, I used to head to the expo looking for bargain gear.  I typically bought my jerseys, gloves and legs for the season at the expo.  Unfortunately, in recent years, those bargains have disappeared.  Perhaps this is a sign of an increased cost of having a booth at the expo.  I know that one of the vendors who traditionally offered the best deals went out of business.  In my case the cheap gear at the expo was the draw, but I always ended up making additional purchases at the smaller booths who cannot afford to discount their merchandise, like CYCLEBUTTCRACK.  I believe bargain booths are the anchor of a successful expo.  I wish I knew how to replace them!

What else could boost attendance at a bike festival?  Well just look to Seattle’s other booming industry, BEER.  Why not combine the bike expo with a beer tasting event?  Seattle has a number of successful beer festivals.  Typically they are a summer time affair.  The rainy season is primed for a BEER festival.  Plus, BEER drinkers and bikers certainly mix well 🙂

I will miss The Bike Expo.  I am not a big fan of Cascade.  Their strong arm political tactics alienate a lot of people.  In my mind, Cascade Cycling Club’s events have been reduced to fundraising opportunities rather than bike community events.  Every year, STP gets more expensive.  It it a lot of money for bag transport, soggy sandwiches, bagels and water.  They give away less and less swag and increase the price year after year.  My first STP was $70 and I got a free T-shirt, Tyvek jacket and multi tool.  This last year the cost was $110 and you got a bib number.  Other rides are far better supported with much better food for a fraction of the cost.  RAGBRAI offers a weeks worth of bag transport only for $160!  As a result, I am hesitant to register for Cascade’s events.  The Seattle Bike Expo may not produce an acceptable profit for the Cascade Cycling Club, but the benefits go well beyond monetary for Cascade and the cycling community.  I suspect Cascade will realize that, when it is too late.

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