Don Walker — an amiable, extra-large human being with a knack for epigrammatic refrains — noted that what makes the North American Handbuilt Bike Show so special is that these bikes are made with love. Walker, a 26-year veteran frame builder and the founder and organizer of NAHBS (now in its 13th year), didn’t mean it in any kind of sappy, overplayed narrative of a heritage, craft, artisanal product, but rather that the added value of these added-price bicycles is that you get something that comes with the relationship of a frame builder building a bicycle. And, he noted, you don’t get that coming from Taipei or China. In support of his claim, the floor of the conventional hall in which we stood was packed with 100+ bicycle maker hearts beating, and the proof of their love of bicycles sat on two-wheeled display in front of them.
So love is one thing. The other thing you get with these handbuilt bikes is innovation and the pursuit of a better bicycle-riding experience. Across the floor, the precipice of what’s new and next and fun and cool sat in prototype or newly released glory. Monster cross bikes. Performance gravel bikes. All-road (road plus?) bikes in all shapes and sizes. Curvy, beautiful, beach-cruiser-inspired mountain bikes. Classic road bikes. Retro track bikes with crazy modern tube tech. The whole show shined with bike geekery of the highest order, with the tinkerings and R&D canvassing new ways to explore the world on two wheels. And yet, even with such innovation, the overwhelming feeling at NAHBS isn’t the lure of “the next hot thing.” Instead, NAHBS charms by luring you in, bicycle by bicycle, frame builder by frame builder, sharing a narrative that is, at its core, a simple and beautiful love story.
Brands at NAHBS I Wanted to See/Talk/Hang With: 3T Cycling, Alchemy Bicycles, Argonaut Cycles, Breadwinner Cycles, Campagnolo, CeramicSpeed, Chris King Co., Columbus, David Kirk, Della Santa Cycles, Don Walker Cycles, ENVE Composites, HIA Velo (a.k.a. Allied Cycles), HiFi Sound Cycling Components, Kent Eriksen Cycles, King Cage, Low Bicycles, Mavic, Moots, Mosaic Cycles, No. 22 Bicycle Company, North St. Bags, REEB Cycles, Renovo Design, Retrotec / Inglis Cycles, Reynolds Cycling, Rolf Prima, Selle Anatomica, Silca, SRAM, Steve Potts Bicycles, Stinner Frameworks, Strong Frames, Ti Cycles, Vlad Cycles, White Industries.
Official Time Doing NAHBS Things: 21 hours, including pre-parties, during-parties and afterparties.
Approx. Number of Laps Taken Around Show Floor: 9
Other Concurrent Events at the Salt Palace: The American Celebration Cheer National Competition and the SLC Tattoo Convention 2017
Nutrition Consumed During Show: Breakfast: Croissant Sandwich (Friday) & Brunch Flatbread (Saturday) at Eva’s Boulangerie (B+) | Lunch: Rueben Sandwich & Cold Potato Salad (Friday & Saturday) at Siegfried’s Delicatessen (A+), Dinner: Verde Mole con Pollo at Chile-Tepin (A-), Blue Cheese Burger at From Scratch (A-), multiple varieties of 4% ABV beer (F-).
Notable Caveats: 1) I didn’t see all the brands above, but I talked to most of them and I bring this coverage to you knowing that I saw relevant things for which this audience (you, GP reader) will be of interest. Mostly. 2) If I missed something, there’s a lot of other good coverage out there, most notably Mr. John Watson’s photography, for which I witnessed him working hard, lying on the ground, taking flash photographs. 3) I will be doing a disservice to these builders by this short, pithy article. If you have any conviction in your heart to ride a bicycle built with amor, please seek out your builder of choice (or a few!) and talk to them. Have a conversation. Fall in love.
Trends to Know
No one is riding their bike on the road. I mean, some people are, but the number is shrinking, and if anything was a trend here, it was that people are building bikes to take on the dirt. A lot of innovation is going into this, including crazy stuff like 3D printed titanium dropouts for better flat mount brake and through-axel alignment (Moots) to a dropper post integrated into a shifter handle (Stinner) and a brand new, yet-to-be-released Fox fork on a gravel bike frame (Alchemy, pictured in lead). Just know this: people think it’s really fun to ride on non-asphalt, and they’re building lots of cool bikes to do just that.
Disc brakes are king. For the on-road and off-road types, the disc brakes are everywhere. In this world of the custom bicycle, caliper brakes are still available, obviously, but literally everyone I talked to also makes a disc brake version of their bike. And, the flat mount brakes are really looking schmanzy these days.
Big tires are also king. Perhaps you’re noticing a trend among these first few trends. You ride your bike on non-roads, you want more stopping power and you want more surface area to be in touch with Mother Nature. Wheel makers — from American brands like ENVE, Reynolds, HiFi, Rolf, and Jones to internationals like Mavic — are expanding the internal rim width, meaning your basic rim can accommodate wider and wider tires (36c, 650b, etc.). This also means that seat stays are widening to fit the tire girth. Like cell phones and television screens, this movement is only looking to add size.
Tubeless is the future. From both wheel makers and tire makers, it’s evident that tubeless is the future, including road bikes. The technology has caught up, the perks are convincing (lower pressure for a more comfortable ride, lower chance of puncture) and the big tires also look super cool.
Color is hot. There were lots of bicycles showcasing beautiful, unpainted weld lines and raw materials — titanium and carbon fiber bike porn. And then, there were even more bicycles that showcased what the color artists can do in the paint booth. One of the best parts of buying a handbuilt bike is that you can customize your color — and you’re encouraged to do so. And so from the wheels to the seat tube and the fenders, you can go pursue your color inspiration (perhaps it’s donuts) on every surface.