By Greg Ralich
One week back from Austin, TX and I can still just barely wrap my head around the awe-inspiring production that was the 2011 North American Handmade Bicycle Show. NAHBS, for short, is a collection of more than 150 frame builders, bicycle designers, component manufacturers, and their wares; NAHBS is nothing short of a Mecca for bike geeks. The exhibitors are given their choice of a 10×10, 10×20, or for the heavy hitters a 20×20 blank canvas upon which they showcase the pinnacle of their achievement in the medium of the bicycle.
I traveled with my colleagues, Marty Walsh and Bradford Smith, to represent our small Boston shop called Geekhouse Bikes. It was my second year attending the show so I was familiar and prepared for the whiplash and ADD inducing effect of being surrounded by hundreds of the nicest bicycles in the world for three days straight. We brought more bikes, a bigger booth, new t-shirts, some friends, and more in hopes of our best showing yet.
I was most excited to see the work of several builders I regularly follow online. The crew who put on NAHBS, namely Don Walker and his wife Lesley Schommer, pulled together a great website that documented the build up to the show quite well. Builders had the option of posting teasers and past-NAHBS bikes, which, as an Internet-obsessed young man, I loved.
After seeing a handlebar/stem montage by Naked Bicycle from British Columbia I was very excited to see their work and meet them in person. They were incredibly friendly and they won an award for their patina’d single speed that featured no visible bolts. Amazing work on their end and the details really set the bike apart. A very apparent trend at the show, also showcased on this bike, was the “raw” finish of the steel which allows one to really see the process of how the bike is made without covering up things like welds and joints with paint or powder coat.
Another one of my all-time favorites is ANT (Alternative Needs Transportation) Bikes, which are built in Holliston, MA by Mike Flanigan. Mike was one of the original founders of Independent Fabrication and he has been building bikes longer than I have been alive. He now focuses on commuter and transport bikes and they are classic New England born machines. Featuring commuter accoutrements like bells and racks they are a beautiful balance of function and fashion. He displayed six bikes, which is a lot to prepare for the show, so I can appreciate what went into getting down to Texas for him. He is also a Native Texan and had some great t-shirts displaying this proudly.
Serotta brought a beautiful vintage bike from a Coors Classic race that started in Hilo, Hawaii. Hand-painted flowers and a purple and yellow color scheme lead me to ogle this one early and often.
Lastly, The Vanilla Workshop was located directly next to our booth in a stunning 20×20 exhibition of their Portland, OR built frames and complete bikes. Rustic wood and stunning photography decorated their booth along with beautifully colored prints and soft goods for sale. They generate such a clean look with their brazed frames and neutral but eye-catching paint schemes. They also build a select number of dedicated race bikes, which I have learned to appreciate more and more as I develop interest in possibly racing bikes myself. High-end Italian and Japanese components coupled with sleek but strong frames showed that these bikes were built to be ridden fast. I am a sucker for the Speedvagen Track bikes and they had one in a sky blue color scheme that pulled me in and wouldn’t let go. From beefy chain stays to another seamless bar/stem combo this thing was just plain dreamy.
NAHBS is a production to say the least. Not to mention, all of this prep takes place during January and February, which are universally tough months for people who work in a market largely based on nice weather. The build-up can be so intense and stressful that the release that comes from the show becomes so much more than the sum of it’s parts. For us, it marked the transition from slower winter months to spring. Finally. The show generates a fresh buzz, new orders, and a debut from months of being holed up in a shop all winter. The show just really makes you want to fall in love with summer riding again and the weather in Austin wasn’t bad either.
We had a great show. We were very active on the social web, heavily featured and interviewed across a range of outlets. The show is there to showcase bikes, but these engineering masterpieces are the lifeblood of the builders and small businesses making them.
The bikes are fun to admire but realizing and appreciating how many people dedicate so much to these sustainably crafted, carefully curated, and expertly finished dream rides is my favorite part of the show. It’s great to know that behind the beautifully built goods are many personable and creative men and women who love to ride.