EXTRA! 2018 NAHBS reveals shocking insights for the future of humanity
Hollywood touring insider, Ultra Romance, investigates behind the scenes of the nation’s #1 hand built bike show. Join Ultra Romeo as he reports beyond the glossy paint jobs and meticulously filed lugs of the bespoke cycling industry. What titillating new revelations did this year hold for the world of adventure cycling? Who wore it best? All these salacious details and more right here in this tell all cyberweb dossier…
Since 2005, NAHBS (North American Handmade Bicycle Show) has represented the fringe contributors to the cycling community at large. There was a time when many, if not most, of the bicycles pedaled in the US were hand made and artisanal, but those days hopped like Hans Rey in Pacific Blue all the way to full corporate conglomerate by the late 90s. Sure, there were the master framebuilders building for pro teams masked under big labels, but the representation of the bespoke builder hunched over their trusty torch in a solitary dark garage was just a faded memory of a romantic past.
Then the internet happened. It’s what many modern framebuilders, most under the age of 35, attribute the rise of their trade. Suddenly, a builder no longer had to rely on mailing out catalogues and soliciting business; they could simply post to their blog or keep showing up on John Prolly’s doorstep until he featured them on his blog. This opened up a whole new world to whoever was savvy enough to appeal to the rapidly changing market… a market the big box brands are too large to keep up with. The nuevo golden age of hand built bikes was upon us, and by 2005 there was enough momentum for the movement to have its own trade show, NAHBS.
Thirteen years later, the idea is the same, but the bikes, and their intended purposes, have changed. One can argue that another golden age, a boundaryless renaissance if you will, has compounded on top of the hand built model. The bicycle as a holistic ideology has never been more en vogue. At the forefront of this spiritual revival are the small brands that supply ideas for the big ones to capitalize on. Fun! Lolz. I personally work for both, and as long as whatever is happening still serves the exalted one, oh LORD BICYCLE, then I can still sleep at night with cucumber slices on my eyes. I’m suggesting that bicycles, small scale production ethos, environmentalism, and all the things that connect in between, have burgeoned into a provocative new culture, completely removed from racing. Pretty cool!
A hand built bike, champion of both the tech startup paycheck and the young urbanites maxing out their student loans. Whatever your background, the choice of a hand built bike comes down to life priorities. If you wanted a bike that already existed, then you would just buy it from your local QBP/Spec concept store. Buuuuuttttt, you have refined tastes… you champion yourself an artist… a designer. That, and you’re willing to drop a heaving deposit only to be placed on a waitlist to receive a bike you might not even want in 1-7 years when it’s finally done. Now that’s art! For real though. It is.
Regardless of all the sociopolitical unease that goes along with prioritizing and buying expensive things for little apparent reason, NAHBS brings discernible innovation to the bicycle industry. If her/history is any indicator, it’s generally the small garage tinkerers who facilitate genuine innovation. What is seen at NAHBS every year could be considered a sneak peek into what the big brands will be releasing 2-3 years from now. That’s reason alone for the bicycle evangelist to pay attention to the thousands of flashy photos that pop up all over our feeds every NAHBS season. That, and they’re downright PORNOGRAPHIC.
So, what was the big takeaway from this year? Welp, for me, it was that a 650b randonneuring bike won “best road bike.” Granted, it was an already decorated bike built by the master of masters, J.P. Weigle, but it nonetheless represents the slow death of the traditional road bike that has dominated global industry since the advent of Lance era 666.
The 650b rando bike, being the O.G. gravel adventure bike, is what initially drew me away from the pain and mental anguish of road racing, including the impractical bikes this application inspires. The idea that a bike could be stylish, comfortable, have all day carrying capacity, yet still be fast, is what blew my mind as I was grasping for faith in the higher power of pedaling. Gleaning from both Rivendell Bicycle Works literature and Weigle’s flickr, I began loading up old fat tire bikes and heading off for days on end, enjoying a new (to me) form of cycling in all of its blissful purity. For the sake of labels, this was adventure cycling.
This year at NAHBS, my above sentiments were reflected in the prevailing offerings. Maybe it was an east coast thing, but it was fabulous to see how many bikes were inspired by French design of prior golden age(s)… a golden age that inspired innovations such as the derailleur, cantilever brakes, aluminum rims, and dynamo lighting, to name a few. Innovations born from real world riding and picnicking, not racing. It often takes seeing these details in person to fully appreciate their distinguished beauty. That’s reason enough to attend the show, and offerings from Brian Chapman and Johnny Coast did not disappoint.
Aside from the flashy fenders and drillium of the rando bikes, most of the “groad” offerings were essentially low BB cross bikes with attractive paint jobs. Kinda felt like builders were shy to evade the safety of the All City Macho Man and Cosmic Stallion build model; a successful model, lack of creativity notwithstanding. I blame the third party cookie cutter carbon forks nearly all these bikes had in common. My personal critiques aside, this is a massive leap forward from the spindly 700 x 23-28 models that have dominated the show in the past. In fact, for the first time ever, a mountain bike took away top honors. Come to think of it, the whole podium was off road dedicated. What a time to be alive!
Speaking of times to be alive, I foresee this as being one of the last NAHBS, or industry things in general, that is entirely white male dominated. Social media reminds me daily that their are amazing women, trans, femme builders out there, and their much needed offerings are tailored to a whole new subset of hand built customers. This is my wishful thinking, and anyone who has swam the pasty testosropatch spiked seas of a bicycle trade show would also be this whimsical.
In closing, if my Dionne Warwick monthly subscription crystal ball visions of the industry future are at all true, then we are in for a tangible sea change in the brands and resulting products offered in the coming years. Being a relaxation adventure product engineer, I couldn’t be more biased and excited.
Now, please enjoy my mediocre photo coverage of NAHBS 2018. Disclaimer: I was very busy doing shellac demos at my personal booth, so I honestly only had skimming opportunities for the rest of the show. The builder names and glossy studio photos of the bikes can be found all over the internet. You are here for the article, not the photos ;)