Freidrichshafen: the gleaming temple of outdoor consumerismby Jim Titt Aug/2010
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Jim Titt is a buccaneer of the high seas and even higher rocks, famous for establishing Swanage's worst route, he lives an interesting life (check out his bio below).
He won a OutDoor Industry Award in 2008 for his twisted leg bolt (UKC article: OutDoor INDUSTRY AWARDS 2008 ) and is involved in the design of the new DMM Chicane: see his account An Insight In To Climbing Equipment Design, and he has been pivotal in the development of an emerging and major sport climbing area in Italy.
I caught him over on another website saying naughty things, so asked him to expand on his no punches pulled account of the Friedrichshafen OutDoor Show that he'd started to write.
Being a nice man he obliged.
The entrance to the exhibition centre in Friedrichshafen should be a salutory lesson to those launching a new product, but seldom are they aware of the significance of the large, modern hanger they pass. Built to develop a new range of heavy cargo-lifting Zeppelins (airships) to export yet more German machinery all over the world, it is your everyday defunct aerospace project; a high-tech monument to wild optimism, mis-management, poor market research and a lot of bucks! A pause here for some of the companies might spare us a few of the excesses of the outdoor industry.
Behind their stand is the Asian Ghetto. If you want to know where half the gear on the market is made, then check out these guys (in management speak the sweat shop employing babies and poisoning the local eco system is called a `manufacturing partnerī).
Dodging a giant inflatable Meindl boot (incidentally a favourite with German building workers, which is a good recommendation) one gains access to the gleaming temple of consumerism and the innovation award exhibits. To be truthful this takes milliseconds to appreciate. The sleeping bag didnīt have a built-in inflatable Playmate of the month and the rest Iīve forgotten, though there is always a rucksack or two and some gadget to find dead avalanche victims. The 500g tent looked like something a model airplane freak would make.
Into the first hall, and the giant silhouette of a human with the exortation to `Step into a New Bodyī sets a train of thought rolling. There are a lot of bodies wandering around that it would be a pleasure to get intimate with in one way or another (note to myself: get a decent product ambassador for next year). Iīve since discovered from another forum that this is a `synergistic implementation of a lifestyle offeringī.
At last, some anodised aluminium! My pulse races.
As luck would have it, my attention is distracted by someone selling a new mouthpiece which allows 20% more fluid to be taken, but their ideas of re-hydration are not in tune with German culture and they are unable to tell me how long the bottle will maintain the head on my beer; fundamentally a useless item but I guess the lycra-shorts guys like that sort of thing. Thereīs more isotonic stuff to put in your hydration system (thatīs a bottle to you and me) than you can poke a stick at but curiously the best recovery drink, according to the German equivalent of Which?, is not featured. Lager beer if you're interested.
In need of a nicotine fix, I take refuge in the central area between the rows of halls. This is the low-end territory of boom boxes, scrawny youths on peculiar wheeled things, flat-pack cardboard camping furniture and, at the bottom of the evolutionary tree, the slack-liners. It is also home to about 10,000 tons of rock and earth which is the Adidas Trail Running course. It would make a great freestyle MX track but the guys in singlets look stupid.
In previous years you could see cool things like a tent you hang up in a tree (which broke) and Reinhold Messner touting the benefits of fibreglass rocks, which seems a bit at odds for such an ethically driven mountaineer. Then again money always talks loudest. This year you could see one of last years stars of the innovation awards: a bicycle without pedals that you carry up mountains. Iīm sure you want one as much as I do.
...an industry that can make customers feel good paying 400 bucks for something made from 8 old Tesco bags certainly deserves respect
A fatal error: Iīm in the Hall A, which is clothing so it stinks like hell, is bright and shows where the real money is. On the upside is the astounding designer totty. Thereīs an old friend at an Italian womens' brand. Watching the models changing while guzzling chilled Chianti seems a reasonable way to breakfast.
Leaving the Merino wool running tops to others (think chasing damp sheep over Welsh mountains), it's time for a quick look around to see what next year's colours are going to be (which is decided by a working group several years before so the dye and textile guys have time to make the stuff) and see what new trend sport is going to be 'discovered' by the punters next year (another working group decides this a few years in advance).
Nice to see mosquito-proof shorts are to be had. Thatīs saved the old wedding tackle then. Credit where credit is due though, one theme (as every year) is recycling and sustainability, and an industry that can make customers feel good paying 400 bucks for something made from 8 old Tesco bags certainly deserves respect.
I move back over to row B and Iīm in the footwear halls. There are a lot of boots here, none of which will fit, all of which will smell, leak and fall apart. They are all eco friendly, human rights, recyclable, Free Tibet and all that. But apparently I will spring over rock and river like a gazelle in them so thatīs great then.
Rock boots are in with the climbing gear and are best ignored. They still donīt fit and still donīt live up to their claims of instant 9aīs: perfect feel, controlled power and all that.
Market at 8,000 metres, Sell at Sea Level
The outdoor look has long been a feature of urban living. In fact, it's part of the lifestyle of many city dwellers. Whether at work or at play, more and more people are wearing practical outdoor jackets, comfortable trousers and sporty shoes. After all, outdoor clothing products are both highly fashionable and superbly functional and their labels are hot!
OutDoor Press Release
At last, some anodised aluminium! My pulse races. Jeez, itīs Simond who make spiky things. And the Toucan! The new Toucan, which was a bit strange. (You really donīt want to know, believe me). Ha! Thereīs Red Chili. I enquire whether they are bothering to vulcanise the rubber this year so that the boots last more than one day. I'm referred to Mad Rock (the Vietnamese one) but canīt get to their stand as there is some sort of force field around it emanating from Climb X (the previous Chinese Mad Rock).
A shortcut through Black Diamond to ogle their climbing gear; nice lifestyle apparel and bags I guess but the hardware was forgettable except for the krab which is cool. Iīd buy one. Their belay device has obviously been the subject of thousands of hours work by talented designers; it's got holes in it. Finger sized holes, nut-key sized holes, cam trigger sized holes. And the build quality appears to get even worse.
Locally sourced German beer and Welsh ale is the sign of a company that takes marketing seriously.
The hospitality of Singing Rock beckons. The centrepoint of their stand is the bar. A company whose products I can unreservedly recommend.
I visit a few more hardware companies, but a bar, nice girls and free food seem missing from their inventories, so I head off to my friends at DMM. Locally sourced German beer and Welsh ale is the sign of a company that takes marketing seriously. A few hours of brain-storming some new ideas exhausts our powers and the cold brews, so their designer and I go on a tour to steal ideas and take the piss out of the competition (called 'technology exchange' in management speak).
Singing Rock are still in business and after refreshment we check out Edelrid, still that vile green coloured stuff (not the drinks, the hardware). Their old belay device (the plastic thing called Jul) is still there probably because no one bought any and the new one is, well to be honest, crude. The Zap-o-Mat appears flimsier than ever.
Climb Tech have loads of orange stuff including the legendary `Click-Upī, which now comes packaged with a special krab because with the wrong one it either jams up or drops you and it still clicks so your buddy knows youīve fallen off: useful right? Camp have loads of spiky things and their belay device, the Lotus, is still huge and confuses me.
Mad Rock (the Czech hardware one not the Vietnamese rock boot company), have a couple of interesting belay devices, as usual with springs, horns and stuff which no doubt perform useful functions. We drop by Petzl to get the low down on how you can remove metal from a karabiner so it gets higher cross-loading numbers, look at the new Grigri and a funny plastic clip, then decide we may have missed something innovative on the Singing Rock stand so head back there for a more in-depth product review.
All that coloured anodising is a bit much for the system so I beat a hasty retreat to the EOG lounge, an exclusive spot for members of an industry group that Iīm not in but who cares. The Reisling is nicely chilled and the hospitality girl a stunner. Idling through a leaflet about an inter-university project on `embedded active-fibre technology in clothing for enhanced lifestyle outdoor seniorsī (or something like that) I suddenly get a cold chill down my back: they are talking about me!
Back in the exibition halls, things are slowing down. The captains of industry and their sales teams are reviewing the days progress. The modern trend seems to involve some kind of transcendental, out-of body experience interrupted every ten minutes by jerking upright and re-arranging the positions of beer bottles. I guess this is some sort of management game-theory exercise, where perhaps the level in the bottles represent the optimisation of the profit/lifespan of a product.
We went for a meal and beer. It rained torrentially. The expensive tents are exhibited indoors, the cheap ones outside. Cheap tents leak, expensive tents stay dry. Interesting that.
You are supposed to go Power Hiking next year, last year was Trail Running, the year before they had no idea so it was Enabling Your Outdoor Lifestyle, the year before Nordic Walking.
Colours are pale base fabrics with pastel tones unless itīs climbing hardware when vile LSD flashback fluorescent seems popular.
Pick of the Products
Jim Titt onsights 7a on a good day, and climbed 700 metres of Frankenjura limestone a few weekends ago. Jim is 58 and has a liking for good beer proving that a bit old, climbing and ale do mix. He is married, the misses is a doctor and he looks after their two children (aged 5 and 6) whilst making bolts and developing climbing gear - he designed the new belay plate from DMM. He is also restoring an old farmhouse.
Jim was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire and has an older brother, Scott Titt, who is an active climber and on the BMC's National Council. Jim started climbing at 14 spending his formative years at the Avon Gorge and Swanage, whilst studying engineering at university. The new route bug bit early and he specialised in onsights of shockingly loose routes which are mostly considered unjustifiable by modern guide book authors. His most notable first ascent is The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde at Swanage which made a two page article by Mick Fowler in Climber some years later - it gave Mick a severe migraine attack. The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde is described in the UKClimbing.com logbooks as 'one of the worst single pitches at Swanage - loose and unpleasant' and was the first route at Swanage that got out of the corners and grooves and attacked the overhanging walls direct. Previously an A2 aid route, nowadays it's E3 or something.
Jim dropped out of climbing in the 80īs to become a motocross and enduro rider, struggling to a best of 5th in the European championship, then retired through age and decrepitude and set off to sail around the world but ended up in the Med. He moved to Bavaria in 1991 to build luxury motor yachts and started climbing again with his brother Scott. Then he moved again, first to Belgium to build yachts, then to Greece to run a boatyard where he also helped develop the largest sport climbing area on mainland Greece - the Argolis - as good as Kalymnos according to some.
He moved back to Germany in 2004 and started making bolting gear and is currently living near Munich but for the last 5 years he has been developing a climbing area in Sicily which he says is going to be the top spot in Europe. He has a somewhat more pragmatic view on the trad/bolt argument and climbing in general than some.
He prefers well thought out ideas and a more analytical approach to things than to dogma and has little time for cordalettes and guide plates, but loves his Grigri.
He still has a Moac on his rack!