Being There: The Handmade Bike Show, Pt. 1

March 20, 2014
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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the North American Handmade Bike Show is the greatest bike show around. Far from the glitziest and even further from the biggest, it is a show that despite being embroiled in silly, contrived scandals (no hand-built wheels!!!) and trumped up antagonism (what’s a motorcycle doing in a  booth!?!?!?!?), remains the quintessential reason we all exist. Passion. Yeah, it’s an entirely over-used word, but one journey down the row dedicated to first-time exhibitors like Jeff Gerhardt and his one man, stay at home dad frame building operation for his FE Cycles brand will quickly dispel any notion that A. being a frame builder is a cush job, and B. that frame builders are only in for the money. Rubbish.
Due to show founder Don Walker’s idea of moving the show around the country so that in one year or another it will always be close to some region of builders, the 2014 show was held in Charlotte, North Carolina. And just as in years past, the exhibition hall was chock full of thoughtful designs, mind-blowing fabrication, beautiful paint, and even some stupid bikes. But bikes they all were and with each came someone who believed in its final guise and put a lot of heart into creating it.

The 2015 NAHBS will be held next march in Louisville, Kentucky (scandal – that’s Don Walker’s hometown!!!!), if you truly love bikes and want to fall in love with the people who make them with their own hands, you’ll find a way to show-up. See you there.

Dean Bicycles opened the show with a selection of their handcrafted pedal bikes, but then rolled out this concept e-bike that truly showcased their frame building talent. The Bosch powered mid-mount bike ran with a Gates Carbon belt drive and a set of beautifully curved tubes, integrated rack, and their own Ti bladed fork all capped off with plenty of bullets.

Although the brightly colored Cielo Road Racers were themselves a sight to behold, this Chris King Cielo Cross Disc Racer was sublime in its simple silver finish offset with the pink ano’d Chris King hubs and headset. The Cielo ‘crosser is available with cantilever brakes as well. $2495 and your choice of six colors which can be color matched with the new line of stems and pre-built wheels. 

Hey, here’s what the new Chris King touring stem looks like.

And here’s what the new racer stem looks like.

Chris King’s pre-built wheels offer a choice of Hed or Enve road rims and of course, a choice of  nine colors for their hubs. Prices range from $1175-$3150.

And what better way to close out a long day than with ample reserves of Girl Scout cookies.

Mathew Amonson is the man behind the Brooklyn based AirTight Cycles. This Campy equipped triple-triangle frame exhibited magnificent craftsmanship and cool asymmetrical seatstays.  

You remember English Cycles don’t you? At last years NAHBS Robert English and his fabulous steel TT bike stole the Best In Show Award. Robert wasn’t at the show this year, but he sent on two bikes just to further exhibit his role as a truly imaginative & prolific frame builder. While his road bike took the People’s Choice Award for the best Campagnolo built bike, this Bosch powered cargo bike featured a Nuvinci rear hub, a titanium seat tube for added ride compliance, 24 inch wheels for a low CG and a height adjustable parallelogram stem. Wild.

One of the true Godfathers of titanium bikes, perennial award winner Kent Eriksen took two show awards with him back his factory in the Colorado highlands. Not only did he win an award for the best welding, but also the best road bike – a huge award. Eriksen bikes aren’t about flash, but they wreak of substance, quality and purposeful design.

Old school mountain bikers might recognize the RetroTec name and signature cruiser frame design from the early 90’s when off-road lunatic Bob Seals started the brand. Bob’s not running the brand anymore, but it’s as alive as ever. Although it’s a super cool bike, personally I’m not sure how the RetroTec won the award for Best Cyclocross Bike.

Hardly a NAHBS show goes by without Craig Calfee blowing my mind with some other world level bike design. Last year it was the bike made from a fallen tree limb. This year it was his two-in-one tandem/solo carbon bike. Depending on how you look at it, here’s the front end of the tandem, or the complete solo bike (note the non-drive side chainring). The protrusion off the seat tube is where the rear triangle attaches.

Here’s a version of the tandem side of things – S&S couplers to the rescue! Crazy huh? This bike is valued at around $25,000.

And here’s the Calfee crew trying to remember how the bike broke apart and fit into the travel case. Like I said, Calfee is off on another planet….and thankfully so.

One of the best parts about the handmade show is that with so much less reliance on the plethora of  black plastic frames found at the contemporary bike shows, there’s plenty of room for frame painters to show-case their talents. Winning the award for the best finish was this sweet root beerish brown titanium single-speed 29’er from Independent Fabrications. Indy Fab is lucky to have a great partnership with the PPG paint company who help provide access to hard to find and otherwise too expensive colors.  

Runner up for the best finish (for me) would have to have been the sweet Lucky Charms motiff found on the Shamrock Cycles cross bike. The frame was built and painted by company founder Tim O’Donnell and he said 167 individual shamrocks applied to the frame. Now this is the bike that should’ve won the Best Cyclocross Bike award.

Then again this classic looking lugged steel cross bike would also be a contender for the best ‘crosser – simply another work of Irish art. Each letter on the top tube was individually welded to the frame. Wow. The Campagnolo cyclocross crank and brakes were a classy touch. The Shamrock Cycles booth was one of the most impressive when the abundance and caliber of beautiful bikes was considered.

However, also tugging on my heartstrings was this simple, but gorgeous Bread Winner gravel bike from Ira Ryan. The downtube shifters offer up a full menu of 22 gears thanks to Ira’s prowess with a mill and make room for the nicely drilled out TRP brake levers. The third water bottle mount surely indicates that this bike means business for long distances.  Beautiful.

Check out  Alchemy’s killer, purpose-built Aithon carbon gravel race bike. Shapely tubes used throughout with guaranteed wheel clearance for up to a 40c tire. This is a lot of bike coming out of a small frame shop that is home to 10 people and where they do all their own molds, lay-up and paint. A production version of this bike sells for $5500.

As many of you know, I am a complete knucklehead for red so it was hard to avoid falling hard for this titanium gravel cyclocross bike from Alchemy Bicycles. Lot’s of red, an ENVE fork & wheel combo, disc brakes (set up moto style) and SRAM’s new CX-1 one-by drivetrain. As simple as it is beautiful, the bike necessitated a ISP to allow for the internal ti guide tube for the internal cable routing.  Okay, I would need some bottle mounts, but other than that, this bike is as close to my Best In Show winner as they come. Production versions of this Chiron ‘cross bike start at $3900 – all hand-built and painted at the Alchemy factory in Denver, CO.

Look for an equally belated Part Two NAHBS review soon.


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