When Beverly Lucas and her family returned from the Sea Otter Classic bike show in California this April, she sat her four teenagers down for a mini focus group. "Besides biking, what else do we like to do as a family?" she asked them. At the time, she was in the middle of organizing the inaugural Outdoor City USA in her home of Bend, Oregon.
"I’m a product gal," Lucas said. "I’ve never put on an event before, but I’ve been to bike festivals, trade shows, and ton of other events and I know what’s missing."
Lucas founded the event after a conversation earlier this year between her, Mt. Bachelor mountain resort, the Oregon Office of Outdoor Recreation, and the region's visitor and economic development centers. She saw an untapped opportunity to create a premier experiential outdoor sports festival, one that was outside, family-friendly, equally consumer-facing and trade-facing, and inclusive of all abilities, identities, and sports.
Her kids' answers—climbing, running, hiking, and watersports—informed her planning for the shakeup of the traditional trade show format. But in recent years the outdoor and bike industries have been spread thin over events and trade shows across the country.
With the first show wrapped up, the question lingers: Will Outdoor City USA end up being just one more show on the calendar or will it turn into something bigger?
Tour the Vendor Village at Outdoor City USA
Consumers, dealers, and vendors in one place
On the second weekend in September, nearly 4,000 attendees—the majority locals, but some visitors—showed up to the first-ever, three-day event on Mt. Bachelor. Biking was definitely the most prominent sport, with Santa Cruz, Shimano, Trek, Fox, and others demoing bikes, helmets, and pads. Cyclists crowded the mountain, taking laps on the chairlifts and black, blue, and green courses, and competing in the downhill, cyclocross, and gravel races. On Saturday, women came together for a women's-only clinic and ride.
While The Gear Fix, Nuun, Thule, Tentsile, Picky Bars, and a handful of other outdoor brands also had booths, the multi-sport effect Lucas had hoped for wasn't as apparent. That's because the planned running and climbing events—a 5k, 10k, and climbing demos and clinics—were cancelled last-minute due to permitting snafus with the U.S. Forest Service. Instead, Lucas worked with Bend's local climbing gym to supply day passes. And plenty of people hiked the trails on their own.
"For a couple things falling through, it’s turned out pretty well so far," said AJ Flores, of Cascade Rack, a car, bike, and cargo rack dealer in Bend.
To ensure climbing, running, hiking, and watersports are equally represented in 2020, Lucas is already planning ahead, is working on locking down an East Coast venue, and is adjusting dates. She's set on making Outdoor City USA bigger and better next year.
Outdoor City USA 2019 by the numbers
Attendees: Nearly, 4,000
Vendors, sponsors, and manufacturers: 50
Retailers: 4 based in Bend
"Trade shows around the world are falling through the cracks," she said, citing Interbike and Outdoor Retailer's November cancellation. "We need more women and more families and we need to be outside. That’s what’s going to bring these shows up in mass participation."
In the bike industry alone, there's Sea Otter, four CABDA shows, Eurobike, PlacesForBikes—and that doesn't even include Interbike, which was cancelled in 2019. Marc Sani, publisher of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, said the breakdown of trade show participation revolves around the cost—both money and time. He describes the current show landscape as "balkanized" and "piecemeal."
"The industry definitely needs a national trade show," Sani said. He said seminars, and trend and forecast talks are an important compass for the industry. "The industry is changing so rapidly. We’re no longer in the bicycle business; we’re in the mobility business."
Sani, a veteran in the outdoor and bike industries, said he doesn't mean smaller shows aren't nonessential, although he hadn't heard much about Outdoor City USA.
However, vendors think Outdoor City USA has legs. "Events like this have to start somewhere," said Serena Dietrich, operations director at Oregon Outdoor Alliance, the authority for outdoor businesses in the state. "Everyone I’ve talked to between vendors and participants just loved it. Customers get to use the bikes and vendors get to engage directly with the customers."
Dan McGarigle, owner of Pine Mountain Sports, which rents mountain bikes and skis, said he's returning in 2020. “I don't know of another opportunity in the country to get out in front of vendors, dealers and consumers like Outdoor City USA at Mt. Bachelor," he said.
After the show, Lucas reported that the number one piece of feedback she received was that the family aspect was appreciated. She also said the female demographic was around 40 to 50 percent, which is what she aimed to attract.
Bend as an outdoor hub
At LOGE Camps, the trendy hotel just 20 minutes from Mt. Bachelor, mountain bikers of all ages and skill levels gathered. They were seen suited up in gear on their bikes in the mornings and enjoying live music, beverages, the fire pits, and the hot tub in the evenings. But not everyone had heard of the festival—in fact, some had planned to ride at Mt. Bachelor anyway and got lucky with the free bike demos.
Alex Gardner, a Northwest regional rep for Shimano America, said it worked in his favor. “We came with high hopes to connect with our end users, share some product with raffle prizes, and demo bicycles to give an experience that showcases Shimano technologiesm" he said. "Outdoor City USA delivered with a great venue, great weather, and good foot traffic. Bend is a great place to recreate and connect with consumers, enthusiasts and competitors."
"Everybody I talked to aren’t all new cyclists, but people who are interested in mountain biking," said Darren Lupher, founder of Northwest Velo Sales, which reps Fox. "I don't know how many conversations I’ve had with people who are like, 'I’m kind of thinking about getting into this thing, but haven’t really done it.'"
There's no doubt that Bend is a mountain biking and outdoor destination. But with the closest international airports more than three hours away in Portland and Medford, Sani is skeptical that Bend can handle thousands of visitors, plus Sea Otter in California already attracts the West Coast crowds. What's missing, he said, is an event on the East Coast.
Lucas isn't ready to formally announce the second location—it's happening again in Bend Sept. 11-13, 2020—and she's currently talking to investors to grow the show beyond 2020. But with more time to plan and promote, and invest in marketing and rally sponsors, she's expecting her new event to be sought after by both brands and consumers.