I have a distinct bias for handbuilt bikes because in their creation, the craftsmen that labour over them instill their bikes with a soul. Most frame builders work in isolation so it wasn’t until Don Walker created NAHBS that the public could admire their talents en masse. Now every show seems to drive the level craftsmanship up a notch, so NAHBS may also doing wonders for the future of the craft.
The 8th edition of NAHBS opened in Sacramento on Friday March 2 and attracted thousands of visitors. 172 exhibitors made for the second largest show in the history of NAHBS. In many ways, NAHBS is an exhibition, and as such, deserves to be taken in at a leisurely pace. The reward is in the details. Sadly, CT’s private jet was in the hanger for a service so I had to spectate from a distance. Regardless, I’ve gathered together some of the highlights for you to enjoy.
Steel frames crafted by angels
This year, the organisers required builders competing in the steel frame category to enter unpainted frames. An unpainted frame tells no lies and has no secrets, so the frames entered by Chris Bishop and Mark Dinucci defied all expectations. They were flawless, as if crafted by angels with tools that leave no marks. Bishop took home prizes in three categories this year, including best steel bike.
Custom beer cans
While handbuilt bikes may seem to some like a throwback to yesteryear, the low volume of production and flexibility in design allows builders to quickly adopt new standards. Thus, in recent years, NAHBS has featured bikes with belt drives, disc brakes, and new bottom bracket and head tube standards well before the rest of the industry. 44mm head tubes were found on numerous bikes this year, including road bikes, allowing 1.5”-1.125” tapered forks to be used, but to my eye, the larger head tube can look like a beer can unless larger main tubes are used. Rob English threw away all standards in creating his project right bike, which lacks a fork leg and frame stays on the left side of the bike. English also had the lightest bike on display, a 4.9kg steel bike.
The other aspect that is unique to handbuilt bikes is the degree of customisation that can be achieved, and there were plenty of examples on display at NAHBS this year such as town bikes with custom racks, fenders and chainguards. Some builders devise elegant solutions for common problems such as cable routing and light mounts, while others refine the use of alternative materials such as wood and bamboo. Then there is the creation of purpose-built bikes, such as a cargo bike to carry beer kegs, snow bikes, a tandem that can be steered from the stoker’s seat, and a spectacular tribute to the Evil Dead films. For more detail on NAHBS, you can view a list of the award winners here and all the exhibitors here. Denver is set to host the 9th edition of NAHBS in 2013.