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As part of my job I get invited to quite a few bike launches. I love going. It gives me a chance to see the bikes in person and talk to the companies that make them to get a fuller understanding of the bike. Better still, it often involves getting a chance to ride the bike, not just hear about the specs. It’s a visceral experience, one that allows me to accurately talk and write about the new products that fill these pages.

I was invited to one recently, a brand I know pretty well, and they were launching a new flagship bike and a few similar variants, all chock-full of new technology. We do live in an exciting time, where e-bikes can easily be enhanced with connectivity that allows for over-the-air firmware updates, rider customization, tracking of both rides and the bike if it’s stolen, and heart-rate monitor integration—you name it. Because they have their own power source, adding this level of connectivity is somewhat easier than it would be on a traditional bike.

NOBODY LOOKED FAMILIAR

At most launches, normally there’s a handful of familiar journalists to be found mulling around looking for free food. When I arrived at the venue for the launch and watched the presentation, I was surrounded by almost nobody I knew. Not only that, but as I looked around, it was pretty clear that I was nearly twice the age of most of the other journos in the room. In talking to one of the company principals, I found out why.

Instead of inviting the more regular industry people and journalists from within the cycling world, they had instead mostly invited “influencers.” That is to say, people that have a large following on platforms like Instagram or YouTube. I was told that the people in the room collectively had “millions of followers.”

On one hand, that’s a pretty brilliant strategy to get your product seen by a massive amount of people. But what level of expertise do social media influencers have about the products they mention in their posts and videos? These people definitely have a knack for getting a lot of people to follow them, which tends to be the limit of the expertise they have in this area. 

A great case in point is the ruse recently popularized by Payless Shoes, the discount shoe store chain. They wanted to point out the folly of depending on influencers to make buying decisions, so they set up a fake shoe store in trendy Santa Monica Place, filling the store with shoes from a regular Payless store. But, they didn’t call it Payless, instead calling it “Palessi,” which sounds like it could be a fancy Italian designer store.