For the second year running, winter weather played havoc with the North American Handmade Bike Show when an unexpectedly extreme snow storm moved in paralyzing much of the south east region and causing havoc with the airlines. For some people it was a hellish effort to make it, but as usual, the level of two-wheeled artistry and passion found inside more than made up for the rigors of getting there.
And so after a few frigid days in Louisville, KY, the tenth annual NAHBS was relegated to the history books. This year’s show was not as big as previous editions, and hopefully the move to Sacramento in 2016 will do much to minimize the chance of weather affecting attendance…as well as increase the riding opportunities.
If this year’s show proved anything, it was that nothing has changed here – with its collection of small-time, custom frame builders present, NAHBS is still the greatest little bike show in the world. Unlike the big shows, there is no glossing over the individual bike booths because each booth represents such a varied array of design principles and vision. Here’s the first installment of some of what we saw…
THE BAMBOO WONDER
There were definitely fewer bamboo bikes on display at the show, but bamboo stalwart Boo Bikes was there in force with a stable of both carbon/bamboo and aluminum/bamboo cross, road and fat bikes. Construction on the frames are all first rate. Boo founder Nick Frey was wholly bullish on the natural frame material as ever, “I mean how cool is that I was cutting these tubes in a bamboo forest about six weeks ago?! You can actually hear the bamboo creaking as it grows.”
As big a proponent of bamboo tubing as Nick is, the former pro road racer is equally big on all things gravel and plans to go up against RBA’s own Neil Shirley in a string of upcoming events…and since we’re working on getting our hands on a test bike, Nick just might be racing Neil on a Boo himself.
THE ROOKIE WINNER
Each year show founder Don Walker not only sets aside a full aisle for first-time exhibitors, but also includes them in the judging contest. There were some great looking bikes in Rookie Row, but of them all, one bike in particular stood-out – the LoveBaum.
The LoveBaum brand is actually made up of two partners; Chad Lovings and Bryce Baumann, who met at a frame building class and decided to join forces with their respective talents and interests (Bryce had a beautiful track bike on display). Chad and Ryan have only been at it for the last year and this was the fourth bike that Chad built. Amazing.
RBA: How did it feel to win Best New Builder?
Chad: It was so exciting, really more than anything I could expect. Best of all, it provided the type of justification and assurance that all the time and money we’ve invested in the business was worthwhile. I actually had some people call and order some frames since the awards and of course that’s what it’s all about for a frame builder.
RBA: What did you think about some of the other bikes in Rookie Row?
Chad: You know, it was tough because I think it was like the SuperBowl where everybody brought their best talent to the show in hopes of winning. The fat bike from WiseMan was really well done and on point. My goal was to just be as cohesive as possible and use all my skill sets with the stem, fork and topper. I wanted the bike to exude a sense of subtlety, class and performance. The best part is that this Sunday I’m going on a long ride with the owner who hasn’t ridden it yet – that’s really what makes this whole endeavor so worthwhile.
GABRIELS’S LONG HAUL
What his bike may have been lacking in finish details, builder Gabriel Lang more than made-up for with his personality and brand philosophy for his Altruiste Bikes. His Reynolds steel frame stood out with a small diameter wishbone seatstay piercing the seat tube. “It took a lot of math to get the angles correct,” Gabriel said, “but that’s one part of the build that I really enjoy – it’s gotta be done right!”
This was Gabriel’s first NAHBS show and he was stoked to see his bike garnering so much attention. From the re-positioned rear brake and the lathed down head tube to the hand painted logo, the Altruiste had plenty of features for the defining eye to behold.
Gabriel made the 23 hour drive from New Brunswick to Kentucky with a refreshing wealth of good spirit and enthusiasm – a level that was only matched (ironically) by Chris Chance who has returned to the fold after a two decade-plus absence. And yes, while Chris was only showing-off two mountain bikes, there was talk of a revived Slim Chance road bike.
SPEAKING OF CHRIS CHANCE…
It was three years ago that I ran into him at the Sea Otter Classic after not having seen him in over a decade. It was Chris’ first bike event in ages, he was stoked to be there, stoked to be recognized, and to stoked be among so many bicycles and bicycle people again.
Fast forward to the NAHBS show and lo & behold there’s Chris with his re-born Fat Chance Bicycles. For all the kids out there, that fact will probably elicit a shoulder shrug, but Fat bikes were once among the cream of the steel mountain bike crop. Although the new bikes are now made on the west coast (versus the old home in Sommerville, MA), they retain the look and feel of a classic even with your choice of front suspension and either 27.5 or 29 inch wheels. Welcome back Chris…now don’t forget the Slim Chance road bike!
Silca thought to offer individual frame builders the chance to paint their own floor pumps to go with their bikes and the program proved so successful that Silca decided to offer their own version. The custom painted Silca pump has a Gulf Trans-Am car motif (foreground) and is joined by three pumps hand-painted by master builder Dario Pegoretti. Of course, even without the paint, the Silca pumps are beautiful to look at.
Look for Part 2 coverage any day now.