Traditional double-diamond bicycle frames naturally lend themselves to custom construction, which is perhaps why the hand-built industry has typically focused on hardtails when it comes to mountain bikes. Complex suspension designs require increasingly complicated (and expensive) R&D work, not to mention highly specialized parts, and that sort of thing just isn’t in the cards for most bespoke fabricators.
That doesn’t mean that this year’s NAHBS was devoid of bikes meant for trail duty, especially when that definition has grown increasingly amorphous in recent years. Standard hardtails were present as always, but also an expanding population of adventure bikes that are challenging notions for where drop bars can go.
Perhaps one of the best stories to come out of NAHBS was from veteran builder Mike DeSalvo. Instead of bringing a collection of bikes to this year’s show, he decided that he would bring just one — and he not only let his fans choose which bike that would be through an online contest, but he declared that whoever came up with the best idea would get to take that bike home with them.
The winning idea was a modern interpretation of the drop-bar mountain bikes that legendary racer John Tomac used on the NORBA and World Cup circuits in the 1990s. Whether you loved the concept or hated it, few could argue with how well it was executed.
This photo gallery also features the work of Altruiste Bikes, Appleman Bicycles, Bingham Built, Fat Chance Bikes, Groovy Cycleworks, Independent Fabrication, Moots, Mosaic Bespoke Bicycles, No. 22 Bicycle Company, Northern Frameworks, Olivetti Bicycles, Porter Cycles, Sklar Bikes, Stinner Frameworks, T-Red, and Vlad Cycles.
Rody Walter of Groovy Cycleworks built this 27.5+ hardtail for a client who collects vintage mountain bikes. The paint is meant to pay tribute to a time gone by, and despite what you may think, it was far from the only splatter scheme at the show. Splatter is clearly back in a big way.
The welded chromoly crankarms are not only stiff, but provide another opportunity for paint.
Industry Nine’s “Ano Lab” program allows people to choose their own anodized colors for the aluminum spokes.
Three-piece bars are a bit of a signature feature on Groovy Cycleworks mountain bikes.
Even the MRP suspension fork is painted to match. Getting proper coverage on the webbed arch couldn’t have been easy.
The baby blue finish on this Groovy Cycleworks titanium hardtail isn’t paint; it’s an ultra-durable ceramic coating called Cerakote.
Rody Walter of Groovy Cycleworks left some parts of the titanium frame polished, but blasted other sections. The two textures make for extra visual effect with the masked Cerakote finish.
The machined titanium chainstay yoke comes courtesy of Paragon Machine Works.
In theory, the curved seatstays should make for a somewhat smoother ride than you might get from straight stays. But mostly, it just looks really cool.
The T47 oversized and threaded bottom bracket format has yet to gain favor in the mainstream market, but it’s been widely embraced by the custom world.
Fat Chance made yet another appearance at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, showing off a few throwback paint jobs that harken back to the brand’s original glory days in the mid-1990s.
Chris Chance may be back in the framebuilding business after a long hiatus, but I took more interest in this old Team Fat Chance that was hiding behind the booth. I positively lusted after one of these 25 years ago, and the added S&S couplers make it much easier to transport.
Mike DeSalvo brought just one bike to this year’s NAHBS, but there was quite a story behind it. Long-time fans of mountain bike racing will note the John Tomac inspiration.
It wasn’t long ago that these tires would have been considered unusually wide. These days, however, they’re barely adequate for modern trail riding.
The blue-anodized bits from Paul Components and White Industries constrasted against the raw titanium nicely.
Lead builder Brad Bingham took over the reins at Kent Eriksen Cycles not long ago. Knowing full well that he won’t be able to head a company named after someone who isn’t building bikes there anymore, he’s gradually been trickling out the “Bingham Built” brand.
The chainstays are admirably short for a titanium 29er hardtail, and the large-diameter tubing promises a snappy feel under power, too.
The subtly kinked seat tube allows the rear wheel to be tucked in just a bit closer to the bottom bracket without compromising tire clearance.
Welded flat-mount brake tabs can wreak havoc on frame alignment since the localized heat frequently distorts the tube to which they’re welded. To help combat the issue, Brad Bingham welds the tabs on to the chainstay first, and then bends and miters the tube afterward before it’s welded into the rest of the frame. The posts are machined afterward to ensure a proper fit.
Custom carbon fiber builder Matt Appleman has come a long way since first displaying at NAHBS in 2011. This adventure bike looks supremely capable, but also quite packable thanks to integrated S&S couplers on the top tube and down tube.
The tube-to-tube construction is left exposed to the world, leaving little to hide (at least on the surface layers).
The split seatstay allows the toothed Gates belt to slip inside the rear triangle.
The Rohloff 14-speed internally geared rear hub normally only works with a twist shifter and flat handlebars. But this adapter from Gebla allows the hub to work with modified road shifters.
Appleman says this bike has room for tires up to 4″-wide. Rack mounts are built into the seatstays, too.
Altruiste’s 29er full-suspension trail bike not only garnered a lot of long stares, but won the “best in show” award.
The rear end features a concentric bottom bracket pivot and an offset shock location.
Independent Fabrication finished this Titanium Deluxe 29er hardtail in one of its earliest paint schemes.
The bare titanium rear end and bottom bracket area provide practicality in areas that are commonly subjected to extra abuse.
The Shimano XTR Di2 electronic drivetrain works superbly, and also makes for a cleaner look on account of the internal wire routing. From the shifter, the wire loops back and feeds into the handlebar, through the stem, and then into the frame.
Post mount brake interfaces are much more common in the mountain-bike world these days, but that doesn’t mean these IS tabs are any less pretty to look at. The dropouts are machined by Paragon Machine Works using Independent Fabrication’s own design, with one key benefit being that owners will have a much easier time sourcing replacement derailleur hangers as needed.
The Moots Farwell 27.5+ hardtail has room for tires up to 2.8″-wide. Riders can also swap with more conventional 29er wheels and tires for more of a cross-country setup.
The “Birch” finish features a brushed logo with brown-anodized outlines.
Peter Olivetti built for himself this 29+ singlespeed, outfitted for long rides in the foothills surrounding his workshop in Boulder, Colorado. The double curved top tubes provide a perfect place for the custom frame bag.
Boulder, Colorado’s iconic flatirons are depicted in Olivetti’s head tube badge.
Olivetti calls his 29+ hardtail the “Thunder Pig,” making this one of the greatest bike logos of all time.
Porter Cycles showed off this TIG-welded steel machine, which looked to be well-suited for everything from commuting, errands around town, all-day adventuring, and overnight bikepacking.
Porter Cycles crafted the custom front and rear racks, too.
There is almost always a predominant theme at each NAHBS. This year, however, the prevailing theme was that there wasn’t one. There was a huge variety of bikes on display, such as this Northern adventure machine, which reflects the increasingly diverse tastes of discerning cycles.
It wasn’t long ago that tires like this would be solely restricted to serious trail use. But now, they’re commonly found on adventure machines with drop bars.
Bigger tires, hub dynamos, lights, versatile geometries, wide-range gearing, you name it. Riders these days want to do it all, and often on the same bike.
This Mosaic GT-2 adventure machine looks ready for anything with its meaty 650b wheels and tires, extended rear end, and full accoutrement of cargo bags from Denver-based company JPaks.
Another favorite among the handbuilt crowd is just about any tire from Compass, thanks to ultra-flexible casings that lend a smooth and supple ride.
Looking to add a bit of class for trail riding? No. 22’s Old King 29er is about as classy as it gets with its welded titanium frame and anodized finish.
Stinner Frameworks had this hardtail in the FSA booth – and this particular bike just happened to be for Aaron Stinner himself.
T-Red showed off this intriguing Hedera 29er hardtail at NAHBS. While it looks fairly normal, there are secrets hiding inside the seatstays and seat tube.
One hint at what T-Red is trying to achieve is the flat-mount rear brake, which is highly unusual for a mountain bike. T-Red says the more compact footprint allows the rear end to flex more readily on rough trails.
T-Red says the spindly seatstays offer plenty of flex on bumps, but it’s the nickel-titanium inserts inside the titanium tubes that supposedly lend some damping effect for a more controlled feel.
Sklar Bikes hails from Bozeman, Montana, and the spirit of adventure is alive and well here.
This Vlad Cycles looks ready for serious exploring with its 650b Road Plus wheels, MRP suspension fork, and custom frame bag.