NAHBS 2012 Roundup

by Matt Wikstrom


The North American Handmade Bicycle Show is a unique event that promotes the art of bicycle construction. Forget about industry trends, this show is for purists and connoisseurs.

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.

Where's Wally? NAHBS hosted 172 exhibitors and over 8,000 visitors this year.

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.

Who's laughing now? Peacock Groove's Evil Dead tribute bike and its creator, Erik Noran.

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.

I like the clean lines on this Signal Cycles race bike. Can you spot the silver ring brazed onto the seat tube?
Chris King's Cielo cyclocross racer waiting for the season to start.
Cyfac is well known for its carbon frames but they also had custom steel frames on display.

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.

Moth Attack's custom track bike sports a 44mm head tube in nice proportion with its oversize down tube and fork legs.

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.

After you're finished counting the kegs and pondering hill climbs on this bike, have a look at the steering.
Stunning concept but is this Cherubim track bike UCI legal?
When you visit NAHBS, you'll also get to sample gear offered by some of the more exclusive brands, like Brooks.

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