Almost by definition, buyers turn to custom builders when what they want simply isn’t offered by the big brands. As a result, the North American Handmade Bicycle Show has been a consistent bellwether for the cycling industry, regularly preceding emerging trends in the mainstream by several years. This was definitely the case for the burgeoning gravel trend, but also for higher-end townies, fat bikes, the adventure scene, fixies, and so on.
That said, this year’s NAHBS was still awash in traditional road and track bikes, which, at least in theory could be easily purchased at your local brick-and-mortar shop — and with no waiting and a much smaller price tag to boot. But just because something is comparable on paper doesn’t make it so in reality, and all of these bikes at NAHBS nevertheless bring something special to the table.
That deciding factor could be as simple as a stunning paint job, or perhaps unique geometry. Other times, clients just want something different. Either way, the general cycling public might be growing soft on traditional road bikes in the mainstream market, but that segment of the industry is still very much alive and well in the custom world.
This photo gallery features the work of Chris Bishop, Bixxis, Cal Poly Bike Builders, Cherubim, Don Walker Cycles, Enigma, Eyewater, FiftyOne, Craig Gaulzetti, Horse Brand, Hot Tubes, Independent Fabrication, Moots, No. 22, T-Red, and Triton.
Enigma Bicycles took home the “Best Finish” prize at this year’s NAHBS for this gorgeous candy red road bike.
It’s difficult enough just to match the hue exactly of anodized aluminum components, but for Enigma to do it this well is truly an art form. Check out the subtle honeycomb pattern ghosted into the top tube, too.
The Campagnolo Record components were treated to the same pattern as the frame.
Your eyes are drawn to the custom-painted Campagnolo Record crankset. But don’t forget to spot the matching front derailleur cage as well.
Enigma stripped the carbon fiber hub shells of their original finish and painted them to match the rest of the bike.
Campagnolo normally affixes a simple decal to these rims, but that wouldn’t do for Enigma. Those decals were peeled off, and the logo was instead blasted directly on to the anodized surface.
Not many people would typically think to combine cream, brown, and black together, but it definitely works on this Enigma Echelon.
There’s not enough polished aluminum in the modern bicycle world.
The polishing and pantographing work on this Campagnolo Potenza crankset was done by CycloRetro in Melbourne, Australia.
The paint job on this FiftyOne carbon road racer is a modern interpretation of the old Team Z livery.
The paint scheme may not be the same as what Greg LeMond rode back in the day, but there’s no mistaking the colors used. The graphic on the top tube is an easy giveaway, too.
As is often the case with custom bikes, this FiftyOne paint scheme was inspired by a vintage Formula One car.
Cherubim created this amazing steel disc-brake all-road machine. The paint job was tagged “Care Bear Camo” by some.
As usual, Chris Bishop brought his A-game to NAHBS. This steel road bike presented an interesting combination of old and new.
Chris Bishop’s lugwork is exceptional, particularly in the way the points taper to virtually nothing.
This fastback seat cluster is a hallmark of Chris Bishop’s steel frames. Solid chromoly slugs are brazed into the ends of the seatstays, which are then brazed to the seat lug. It’s only after the entire frame is fully assembled that he drills and taps the binder bolt hole (which is blind on the non-driveside), and slots the seat tube.
The internally routed rear brake cable on this Chris Bishop’s frame is fully guided with a stainless steel tube. The polished ends are a very nice touch.
Another Chris Bishop signature feature is a the cutout in the lower head tube lug. According to Bishop, each one takes about an hour to carve.
The Bishop logo can be found on the brake bridge.
A subtle hit of color.
This bit started out as an old Campagnolo Nuovo Record seatpost. But then it fell into the hands of Jon Williams at Drillium Revival, and it turned into this.
This Cinelli 1/A stem met a similar fate as the seatpost.
It’s not uncommon for customers to become superfans of their favorite builder. This Chris Bishop track bike is destined for someone who already has several Bishops in his collection.
The raw finish leaves Chris Bishop’s brazing work in plain view.
The steel tubing is subtly shaped — presumably for aerodynamic reasons — and requires similarly shaped lugs to match.
Gorgeous Nagasawa rear-entry track dropouts on this Chris Bishop fixed-gear.
Chris Bishop is certainly cutting it close here.
NAHBS show organizer Don Walker is a builder himself, specializing in steel track bikes.
Walker’s material of choice is steel, and his preferred construction method is fillet brazing.
This Don Walker pursuit bike has been making the rounds for over a year now, but it’s still worth showing off again, if only for the ultra-extreme bar position.
Don Walker built this frame for horror artist Dick Starr.
The bones are meant to pay homage to Dick Starr’s work in the horror world, but mountain-bike fans who have been around for a while will undoubtedly be reminded of the Grateful Dead limited-edition Gary Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo from the mid-1990s.
Craig Gaulzetti is back at it. This aluminum frame is an unapologetic race machine, complete with a stiff ride, quick handling, and a stout integrated seatmast.
Gaulzetti is also working in carbon fiber these days.
Independent Fabrications built this stunning Ti Factory Lightweight for a magazine test soon to be conducted by Top Velo in France.
The custom painted frame is stunning on its own, but the matching headset and stem really bring the whole thing together.
The banded transition on this custom painted Independent Fabrications Ti Factory Lightweight adds some pop to what would otherwise be a bland white-to-titanium edge.
Painters have been using the inside of the fork legs more prominently in recent years.
Reynolds announced in 2016 that it was working on 3D-printed dropouts in both titanium and steel. Two years later, the company is still finalizing details before heading into production, working closely with custom builders such as Independent Fabrications.
Independent Fabrications is yet another custom builder that has embraced the T47 threaded bottom bracket standard. Might we see it eventually make its way into the mainstream market?
Moots has been busy expanding its repertoire in recent years, but it’s still tough to beat one of its standard road bikes.
This polished panel treatment looks especially classy.
Moots is diving more heavily into anodized finishes.
Moots has successfully implemented the use of 3D-printed titanium dropouts on its disc-brake road and gravel models. By integrating the flat-mount interface into the 3D-printed part, Moots avoids the distortion issues that often come with welding the mounts on separately.
Like it or not, splatter paint jobs are back in a big way.
Even the bar and stem are painted to match on this Mosaic. This bike belongs to Shimano territory sales manager Sam Johnson, with colors chosen to match official company branding.
The No. 22 Great Divide is aimed at the all-road crowd with clearance for tires up to 28mm and butted titanium tubing for a smooth ride.
The Aurora is No. 22’s most race-worthy design, with an integrated carbon fiber seatmast and oversized tubing throughout for a snappy ride.
This polished finish is particularly striking.
The cast titanium seatmast topper is of No. 22’s own design.
Various “Easter eggs” are littered throughout each No. 22 frame.
No.22 can finish King titanium cages to match, too.
A beautiful seatstay bridge on this No. 22.
Anodizing titanium can be very tricky, but No. 22 seems to have mastered the process.
The best part about anodized finishes? They’re far more durable than paint.
T-Red first gained recognition with the Manaia aluminum road racer.
T-Red has started using raised graphics made of 3D-printed plastic. They’re bonded to the tube and then painted for a dramatic effect.
Triton made the trip to NAHBS from Russia.
Triton certainly doesn’t downplay its Russian origins.
A neat Triton logo laser etched into the brake bridge on this titanium road bike.
Paragon Machine Works titanium dropouts on this Triton road bike.
New builder Eyewater showed off this sleek carbon-fiber road bike.
The tubes are mitered and wrapped as in conventional tube-to-tube construction, but then compressed and cured in a mold for better structural properties.
Dropouts are carbon on Eyewater’s custom frame, too. Claimed frame weight for a 56cm size is 950g.
Hallelujah! Eyewater may be a new builder, but already has the wisdom to fit a threaded bottom bracket to its carbon-fiber frame.
Cutaways of Eyewater’s handiwork.
Favaloro is a one-man shop in Italy, building a wide variety of aluminum and carbon frames. Look closer at this one; it’s got a motor!
Felt was first to push the idea of left-hand drive for track bikes, but other companies have since followed suit.
Straight tubes, curved tubes, or whatever else you can imagine; Favaloro seems to be able to supply anything and everything.
The shaping on these chainstays seem more for show than function, but they look neat regardless.
Custom paint shop Hot Tubes had two incredible frames on display in its booth. Firefly Bicycles wasn’t technically at NAHBS, but its presence was obviously noticed.
The frame finish was a collaboration between Hot Tubes and designer Eric Bones.
This Horse track bike is a model of visual sublety.
The topo pattern on this Horse track bike is very nicely done.