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2011 NAHBS

Commuter, Concept, Shows & Events 19 884

The 2011 North American Handmade Bicycle Show wrapped up in Austin on Sunday with the announcement of the award winners. There were many beautiful bikes chosen, but my personal favorite bike didn’t make the cut for an award. Shin-Ichi Konno’s Cherubim concept track bike (pictured here from UrbanVelo) may not have been the most practical bike at the show, but it was definitely the one that consistently got my attention as I looked through the various photos. Maybe I just like that retro pursuit bike look with the aggressive rider position and the handlebars welded to the fork (as you might guess from my first post). You can read more about Konno’s concept track bike here and here.

There was certainly no shortage of good NAHBS coverage on the web this year. I still haven’t seen it all, but I want to pass along links to some of the photo galleries and sites that I have been checking out the last couple days. The NAHBS 2011 Flickr pool is a great place to start, with photos from many different show attendees. Photographer Chris Gomez has a great collection of photos from the show posted on his website. Also, Cog Magazine posted some really nice shots as part of their NAHBS coverage. Be sure to check out Prolly is Not Probably as well to see a great collection of nice detail shots from bikes at the show.

As expected, Bike Rumor has done a great job of covering the show this year. Loving the Bike, Urban VeloCommute by Bike, Hipster Nascar, and TwoToneATL (just to name a few) have also been busy getting posts out to show us what they saw over the weekend.  Bike Radar had a few NAHBS posts as did the folks at Slowtwitch. Finally, I will mention a video by Bamboo Cyclist that provided a nice quick overview of the bikes this year.

Update: I forgot to mention Bike Portland’s excellent coverage of the show. Feel free to point out any other sites I may have omitted in the comments.

While browsing through coverage, I noticed a few ‘alternative viewpoint’ posts about the show this year. Go Means Go asked a few questions about exactly which bikes should be considered handmade. “Can a frame be designed in the US, and handmade in Asia by a contractor?” for instance. Warwick at Thylacine Cycles was more directly critical of the show in his post, but he brought up some of the same points. Personally, I am happy to see more and more framebuilders serving different niches in the market, but I wanted to mention these two posts because I thought they might lead to an interesting discussion. So what do you think? Do either of these guys have a point? There is no doubt that big bike companies have been influenced by the renewed interest in custom framebuilding lately, and the lines between bikes from the big players and small companies are going to continue to blur. I think the comparison to the beer industry at Go Means Go is interesting, but I am curious to hear thoughts from all of you on that subject. Share your thoughts in the comments.



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  1. Andy March 1, 2011 at 3:04 pm -  Reply

    I’m surprised there’s leeway in the definition. I didn’t know that was an issue. Before reading more about it, my initial thought is that “handmade” means that someone welded together a frame, installed all the parts on the frame, and finished it (either with paint, polishing metal, or whatever other finishing techniques seem appropriate for the materials used). I would hope at show like this that the person in charge of design and/or fabrication of the bike is there to show it off.

  2. Adam Rice March 1, 2011 at 3:06 pm -  Reply

    I was at the show (it’s a short bike ride from where I live). I was surprised to see Ritchey bikes with a large booth there—I mean, they outsource all their manufacturing to one of the five or so giant (or Giant) bike builders in China and Taiwan, right?

    To my ears, a custom bike suggests that the customer is dealing directly with the shop that builds it, and that the bike is built to the customer’s requests. Part of what should make this special is that the framebuilder is a craftsman with both the knowledge of what makes a good bike and how to make a good bike—that both these skills reside in the same person. That if the customer asks for something that is unadvisable either in terms of the final product or the manufacturing process, the builder will know that it’s a problem.

    If the guy who is putting his name on the downtube is a designer/customer liaison and not a builder, then he’s essentially writing a script for some guy in China to follow. The guy in China may not really know what the customer’s priorities are; if a problem arises, he isn’t necessarily prepared to adapt in a way that is faithful to those priorities. Admittedly, the differences are probably small. But if you’re buying a custom bike, you’re paying for those small differences.

    • James Thomas March 1, 2011 at 3:50 pm -  Reply

      Ritchey is a good example. It is possible that Tom Richey built the new prototype frames himself, but if they go into production the manufacturing will be outsourced. Even though Ritchey is a great framebuilder, the bikes that bear his name these dayss are not handbuilt (by him at least). People have questioned the presence of brands like Cinelli and Tommasini for the same reason. I think your point about being able to react to problems or changes throughout the process is key…and that is what makes a bike custom. Handbuilt though, does not exactly mean the same thing. Just because a bike is built by hand does not mean that it is tailored to a specific individual. It may just be semantics, but I think that is the source of confusion for some.

  3. Rol March 1, 2011 at 9:48 pm -  Reply

    I appreciated the fact that Go Means Go brought up the class issue. A handmade bike (or any expensive bike) has significant socioeconomic class implications. This might be the first time I’ve ever seen anyone bring it up, which makes me realize the issue of class is even more taboo in bike circles than it is in the general population. Must be the gear lust. Anyway, the world certainly doesn’t revolve around $6,000 bikes, or even the $2,000 bikes that author seems to cite as his normal baseline. It revolves around cheap mountain bikes from the 90s, as far as I can tell. Nothing wrong with that. Thrift used to be seen as a virtue, until it started to run counter to the consumerist dogma the overclass bombards us all with.

    • James Thomas March 2, 2011 at 8:38 am -  Reply

      I missed that. Thanks for adding the link.

  4. Nick F March 1, 2011 at 11:13 pm -  Reply

    James, I think you got it right with your pick to win the show.

    It is really a shame that with so many incredibly talented builders in one space the designs wouldn’t be more innovative.

    I’m not saying the bikes aren’t amazing. I just want to see the future, whatever it is… not the past and present, perfected.

    • Nick F March 1, 2011 at 11:20 pm -  Reply

      Not that I think that track bike is the future, btw. It’s interesting though.

  5. Laurence Guttmann March 2, 2011 at 2:32 am -  Reply

    James, I agree that there is confusion between “hand built” and “custom”. Cannondales were, until recently, hand built in the US but were never made custom (except maybe in the early days). On the other hand, you can get yourself a custom frame that is not hand built.
    I think that what the NAHBS represents is not so much “hand built” (despite that term being part of the name) but builders that produce bike porn in low-volume. Some will be welded together in someone’s shed, others will be built in less romantic settings, but all are beautiful and special in a way that a mass-produced bike is not.

  6. Ross Nicholson March 2, 2011 at 4:22 am -  Reply

    I’d like to see electric steering on pedaled machines to eliminate handlebars altogether.

    • James Thomas March 2, 2011 at 8:42 am -  Reply

      Why? What would be the advantage over a simple mechanical system?

  7. Lovely Bicycle! March 2, 2011 at 6:47 am -  Reply

    I posted a mildly critical post about NAHBS, but with a different focus from what you bring up.

    I understand “handmade” to mean designed and built inhouse: a creative endeavour from concept to finished product. If the designer and builder are not the same, then they must work as a team, ideally under the same roof. The process should be collaborative and dynamic. In my view, outsourcing the work to a different continent breaks the handbuilding process apart and robs it of much of what makes it special.

    • James Thomas March 2, 2011 at 8:41 am -  Reply

      Interesting points in your post. Thanks for adding the link.

      “In my view, outsourcing the work to a different continent breaks the handbuilding process apart and robs it of much of what makes it special.”

      I would certainly agree with that, but what about a small company that subcontracts some or all of the framebuilding process domestically? There is always going to be some gray area in deciding who meets the spirit of the show, and I think it is something that the organizers (mainly Don Walker) have to consider on a case by case basis. Calling it the “handmade” show instead of the “custom” show allows for a bit of leeway in deciding who can exhibit…and I think that is the way it should be. You are right that showcasing the “creative endeavor from concept to finished product” is the intent of NAHBS, so that general idea should be the main factor in determining who is allowed to exhibit there. Anytime subjectivity is involved though, someone is going to feel like they were unfairly excluded.

  8. Human_Amplifier March 3, 2011 at 7:37 am -  Reply

    I loved the pix – thanks for sharing the links.
    Bike porn at its best !

    I, like most reading this, am an enthusiast .. (sad, as my wife says) as I drewl over one amazing bit of detail design and precision engineering after another.

    I take issue with Warwick at Thylacine Cycles tho’ …..

    What’s wrong with the riding position of a Dutch bike ? – always upright. Oh and the ability to fold, into long thin rollable ’stick’ so never carry. .. Sales of 15-20,000 a year (plus a further 45,000+ unlicensed versions made in China, 95% of which are for the local market), speak otherwise.

    Would you like to get more people riding bikes ? – or prefer to keep it an elitist, exclusive enthusiast, tribe thang ?? … just for us ?

    More info on Uprights, Folders, posture and why the other 90% of peeps dont ride bikes

    • James Thomas March 3, 2011 at 8:43 am -  Reply

      “Would you like to get more people riding bikes ? – or prefer to keep it an elitist, exclusive enthusiast, tribe thang ?? … just for us ?”

      As ridiculous as that sounds, I know some cyclists really do feel that way. I don’t know if Warwick is one of them, but it does appear that the bikes he makes at Thylacine Cycles are squarely aimed at enthusiasts. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but I am not sure why he feels threatened by non-enthusiast bikes on the market as well. Perhaps his rant was based on his disappointment at not being included in NAHBS, but I agree that his comments about upright designs are way off base.

  9. Loving the Bike March 3, 2011 at 11:28 am -  Reply

    Thanks for including us in your list of blogs that posted coverage of NAHBS. It was a great weekend….I’m still buzzing.


  10. Thylacine Cycles March 5, 2011 at 7:27 pm -  Reply

    Erm, okay we’ve got two topics going on here so it’s gunna get messy.

    From where I’m sitting, the reason 90% of people don’t ride bikes has absolutely nothing to do with bikes – it’s infrastructure – and people themselves. People see travel generally on a day-to-day basis as something that’s undesirable and a necessary evil that should be made as painless as possible. Lack of infrastructure, laziness, lack of ‘convenience’ is why I think more people don’t ride bikes, and no Industrial Designer abomination like Biomega or Strida are going to fix that. Of course I can say that because I am and Industrial Designer :o)

    As for NAHBS, well, the show doesn’t have a mission statement, and it’s ‘Rules’ are aggressive and confrontational, and enforced at the whim of the organisers. From my perspective, the shows’ primary focus should be on small business and artisanship – and it’s not. The problem is, is that there’s a lack of professional rigor in the shows set-up and running. They’ve only just realised – after me arguing with Walker for 5 years now – that there are companies that fall outside what is tradtionally ‘one guy in a shed’. It doesn’t recognise the value of design in custom framebuilding AT ALL, and that it’s completely feasable for handbuilt artisanship to co-exist (a ridiculous way to put it, but anyway) with design.

    I mean, if you subcontract for other companies building handbuilt custom one off bicycles, why can’t you promote that side of your business at NAHBS? If you run a design company and you use artisan builders to build your bikes, why can’t you (according to the flimsily enforced rules) exhibit at NAHBS? And heck, what if you’re a design company with a grand idea and some prototypes – why can’t NAHBS be a showcase for that, too?

    The disparate / duality from my perspective, is that as a Designer I can see, appreciate, and value Artisanship, but the vocal minority within the Artisan Framebuilding community (obviously there are exceptions) is that design is a threat or something to be derided. We’ve really brought that on ourselves in some respects as Industrial Design especially has really lost it’s way and really just become a vacuous, reductionist, ‘value add’ tool.

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