The North American Handmade Bicycle Show is taking place in Louisville Kentucky this year. Eli pointed out that it was less then 3 hours away and we decided to go with Luke. Here’s a blurb about the NAHBS from the website.
Showcase the talents and share ideas among the best builders of handmade bicycle frames in the world. The show was all about handmade bicycles and the people who make them. The industry contains a wide variety of builders from all walks of life, but they all have one thing in common: they all make bicycle frames by hand.
We made the trip on Friday, but the event is all weekend. A round of snow had recently fallen a couple days before the event which may have cut down attendance, we had no trouble with the drive, but I heard several people talking about low attendance. I’ve been to enough bike events to get the overall vibe of what I was seeing. Industry professionals set up booths ranging from elaborate stage productions to a folding table and tell how cool their products are. Almost nothing was actually for sale at this event though, the point is promoting your brand and hoping to get some exposure.
Walking around and eavesdropping revealed the true nature of the event. Magazine journalists and prominent bloggers were being described, hunted even by nervous start-up guys hoping to drag them over and check out their latest hand made innovation. Hair color, beard styles, number of ear holes, and sometimes nametag information was traded by the exhibitors. “There’s Zapp, you got to get him over here,” “That chick with the platinum hair is here, she works for some mag, go up and say hello.” Think about it, these guys mentioning your product in their article might make you a star next year.
Walking around and looking at the event took a few hours, but actually participating in the event, gleening knowledge from the gurus in attendance, that could take all weekend. There were so many talented frame builders, master welders, master machinists, and just general awesome people that a person could lose themselves in a world of mitered tubes, custom drawn tubes, and tig welded titanium.
Don’t get me wrong, I love bikes, but I was hopefully out of place here. I operate on the principal of “BANG FOR THE BUCK.” I’m like, I want the cheapest bike that is good enough for me to do the kind of riding I want to do. Beyond price and performance everything else is secondary. I really don’t care who welded my frame, I don’t care if there are a million more like mine and I don’t really care how it looks, I bought it to ride.
The handmade bike scene is exactly the opposite. Everything is custom, you develop a “personal relationship” with your frame builder since you call them once a month to see if they’ve started your bike. You may have the only specimen of a particular bike brand in your state, hell even the country. You have something very cool, and very expensive. This is one of the few places on Earth where a 400 dollar hand pump that works a bit better then 29 dollar one can be celebrated as a monumental achievement. It’s one damn fine pump!
I was really smitten with Calfee’s Manta, a road bike with maybe an inch of suspension. I talked to a guy who had helped design the system, spec’d the spring used to make it work. He was super cool. The frame cost like 5000 bucks. It was the maybe the best looking bike there, or one of the best, but 5 grand?
The show wasn’t just about bikes, there were several component manufacturers present, Mavic, Campagnolo, Shimano just to name some big ones. Tires were well represented with Continental, Schwalbe, and Challenge.
If you are a bike nerd then you will undoubtedly find something at the North American Handmade Bike Show to get excited about. Next year if the show is in your neck of the woods than I would recommend checking it out.