I recently went to Austin for the sixth annual NAHBS, the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. It was a hyper-sensory experience that no blog post, video, or photo gallery could synthesize. The handshakes and conversations seemed like a delight for the builders who spend much of their time working in solitude.
The show has grown steadily, with with 6 builders in 2005 and 126 builders in 2011. You won’t see Trek, Specialized, or Giant there, but you’ll see innovation and exquisite detail from backyard builders and established companies alike. There are competitive awards, but there’s a spirt that everyone wants everyone to win.
I rode around Austin with the folks from Path Less Pedaled and EcoVelo. We explored Austin together: food trailers, coffee shops, bars, markets. Woven into the conference were group rides, free barbecue, free beer, seminars, and hundreds of new faces to remember. I asked many framebuilders how they got into the craft, and I heard a range of inspiring stories. Some went to school for it, some figured it out on their own, and some apprenticed with masters. My favorite experiences from the show were spontaneous conversations with the builders. They want you to ask questions.
For the full-body immersion via hundreds of photos, look to coverage from Prolly, BikePortland, and Urban Velo. Denton micro-tourer Pondero wrote a thoughtful summary of the sensory overload experience.
I took 1200 photos, but I filtered examples from these down to three topics: detail, people, favorites.
Detail is everything at NAHBS. You have full access to scrutinize detail from inches away. You can reach out and feel the craftsmanship. I left thousands of fingerprints. I saw amazing welds and brazed lugs, wooden wheels, a light mounted by a bent spoke, clever cable routing through frames, and some amazing paint jobs.
Click on the mural below for the flickr set of detail examples:
I loved the human experience of NAHBS. I talked to builders, racers, fans, and writers. We rode together, ate together, and I was impressed how many builders brought family, including kids (who didn’t look bored). ANT and Bilenky come to mind. Here’s Betsy Scola of ANT.
I met all the folks in the below mural, so you can click through if you’d like to know who they are. They are builders, friends, volunteers, cooks, journalists, advocates, and a Tour Divide 2011 contender.
Click on the mural below for the flickr set of people:
Picking overall show favorites is hard, so I forced myself to choose 3, and I posted 6 photos of each.
In the top row of photos below are Philosophy Bags, an Oregon small business that makes timeless and simple bags. They sandwiched a waterproof layer between the cotton layers, so these bags don’t look as adventure-bikey as an Ortlieb or similar brands. At $100+, they’re not cheap, but they’re American made and classy.
The middle row of photos features Shamrock Cycles‘ Celtic-Cross bike, which at first glance looks like a touring rig. As the builder explained, the integrated fenders and racks come off quickly (via beautiful knobs and leather washers) and the bike quickly becomes a cyclocross race machine.
The bottom row of photos shows off the Yipsan Bicycles city bike. Renold Yip really blew some retro-grouch minds with the convertible porteur and pannier rack. In porteur mode, it’s flat and wide and you can carry a big heavy load of newspaper and books. In pannier mode, it’s narrow, but it has side supports for low-slung touring baggage.
Click on the mural below for the flickr set of my favorites:
There’s more, but I’ll take a break and wait before posting other content from the show. I managed to get photos of some tasty bikes in the free valet, which was popular and free for all the attendees.