Shamrock NAHBS

What Tim O’Donnell Happened To Have Cooking Before NAHBS 2012

Recently, as I was having coffee in a favorite local bike shop, I overheard a mechanic saying, “I’m not going to NAHBS. It’s all just show bikes. There aren’t any ‘real’ bikes.” I rudely inserted myself in their conversation from across the room to disagree, saying that there are quite a few builders that only bring bikes that just happen to be done at the time, he replied, “yeah, well, those aren’t the bikes that show up in, like, VeloNews.”

It saddens me that this perception exists. Firstly because it’s blatantly untrue if for no other reason that Richard Sachs has been covered by VeloNews at least once.

But seriously, there are many builders that bring to NAHBS just what they’ve got coming out of paint. Some go so far as to call back an especially interesting or beautiful bike from the year before. It’s a point of pride for these builders that this is the fantastic functional art they produce every day- that they don’t need to build special bikes just for a show. This is the tradition of their craft.

Sometimes, they might even splurge and build themselves a bike for once because, among small bike builders, the cobbler rarely has new, shiny shoes.


Shamrock NAHBSShamrock_NAHBS_4Shamrock NAHBS

Ventus NAHBS 2015 Rendering

Rendered Sneak Peak of Ventus “High Concept” Frame

But it also saddens me because the “high concept” bikes at the show that the mechanic was referring to also deserve insane respect. In an industry where the product is so highly regulated and defined, NAHBS is one of those increasingly rare formats where you can actually still see and touch (and, if you’re so inclined, place an order for) bikes that challenge and defy “legal” (UCI/ISO) definition. Small builders are absolutely fearless in their interpretation and application of technology and style. It is noble and it is critical to the evolution of product in our industry.

The small builder community establishes new technology and segments and standards all the time. Without small builders pushing the envelope, mountain bikes wouldn’t exist. Fat bikes certainly wouldn’t exist (I was ironically surrounded by them in the shop where the interaction with the mechanic took place). Carbon fiber and titanium and fiberglass were explored by small builders way before larger industry even joked about adopting them as a production component or frame material.

Ventus NAHBS 2015 Process

Ventus Customs’ Mad Scientist Applies Cutting Edge Processes to Frame Building

And what’s exciting is that the list of new technology coming out of small builders is not just long but it will continue to grow because of the unique nature of the community. These builders are scrappy. They are extremely innovative. They are nerds. And they love bicycles on a deep, obsessive level.

So when you walk the show, and I hope you do, don’t immediately write off something because you don’t understand it. And don’t write off the whole show because you can’t appreciate some of the vehicles within it. Put aside the hate for a weekend, take it all in, and appreciate how fortunate we all are that this vital community of mad scientists and master craftsmen exists and thrives, and that shows like NAHBS bring them and their work together in a single place so that we can enjoy it.

See you at the show.

xoxo Anna


  1. Andrew on

    Well on, and nice call on Ventus! The one that sticks in my mind is Rob English’s personal time trial bike. So many nice touches, and satisfyingly out-of-the-box.

  2. il Bruce on

    I agree and disagree. Fun!

    These bikes and builders do matter but after 30 plus years of riding and on and off again employment in the bike business I have lost a good amount of interest in them. Some of the work is stunning but just as much of it is superfluous.

    Unlike concept cars and show cars where some of the technology featured is going to make its way into production vehicles it seems more and more small builders are emulating the the big brands just with jewelled embellishments. Many of these embellishments are gorgeous and expensive but not terribly useful.

    I am not interested in the latest Venge and Madone arms race machines either. I love bicycles but have fallen out of love with the technology fatigue.

    Many cyclist opine on the simplicity of the bike and the freedom of riding then confound themselves with technology and debt.

    Love you too, Anna,

    Uncle Brucie

  3. Dinger on

    NAHBS and the builders that exhibit there every years are very valuable. These custom builders have an undeniable influence on the bikes that the big brands make (Cargo bikes, urban commuters, rack and fender solutions, etc.). They also spawn “tweener” brands like Shinola, Spot, and others. I think this influence is pretty easy to see.

    Renold Yip (YIPsan) goes to the trouble of only exhibiting bikes he has built for his customers, even going so far as to borrow their in-use bike for the show and returning it to them afterward.

  4. Pistolero on

    I love all these bikes, but there is no real innovation, they have no resources to really innovate, like Gary Klein or Paul Turner or other guys used to do, could do, back in the day. Custom geometry is great, but these guys sell uber expensive and heavy steel frames basically.

    I would rather see a trade show of only asian producers, with their latest stuff and pricing, that’s the reality of cycling nowadays. I don’t like the cycling as new golf trend, or the john prolly kinda products, I´m sick of that actually.

  5. Roy on

    The world is FULL of art, paintings, statues etc and for the most part it is all worthless. Right?! who cares about some bronze horse in the park or a musty old building full of scribblings of madmen and women from centuries ago, but it does matter to a great many people and as much as I don’t appreciate THAT art, I do appreciate bicycle art, and I look at most NAHBS exhibitors work as art . I have no desire to actually own 99.9% of the bikes I see photos of, I would rather pay for and ride a chinese made Focus Max, but I don’t ‘look’ at it as art, it is just a light bike and looking at the slew of chinese built carbon bike that some race team rides is a total waste of time, but I love to look at NAHBS art, and some amazing artist show up for it. I look forward to hundreds of photos from the show of bicycle based art for the pure enjoyment of looking at it.

  6. onion on

    Do we really need to argue whether it matters or not? It’s an art show, full of art that some people will appreciate and others will think is irrelevant. The pieces also happen to be functional bicycles, but some wouldn’t consider them ‘real’ bikes because they are inaccessibly priced for a majority of the public. Whether you could ever own one yourself or not, you get to see absolutely gorgeous (well, most of them) testaments to skill and craftsmanship. I love it, and I eagerly await the photos.

  7. Mr. P on

    I’d love to go to the show to see how the builders express their passion for bikes in their builds.

    All these custom bikes were not my thing a few years ago. But then I started to see how the bike reflects the culture and am now wanting to trade out my carbon road bike for a US made steel bike. A stiff, hammerfest, rip your legs off with some class, steel bike.


  8. pmurf on

    @Pistolero It’s called the Taipei International Cycle Show. Very cool in it’s own right (so I hear, I have never been personally).

    But I’d have to disagree with you that there’s no innovation present among custom builders. The first internal di2 builds were done by them, a lot of dropout systems have been developed and optimized by them (and feeder companies), and their persistence to excellence has made possible the resurgence of steel and Ti as viable options for top level race bikes – some of which easily come in under 15lbs. Now, probably 90% of custom builds aren’t intended to be raced competitively, but in this mass of customized endurance, commuter, trail, etc. is where you’ll find some of the most breathtaking innovation. Fully integrated rack/light systems, unique folding designs, and construction methods that pit ride characteristics together in seemingly impossible ways.

    Perhaps that’s all beside the point though – as a cyclist, your bike is an extension of you. The real reason why custom builders “matter” is that they can create a bike that is the BEST extension of you. No stock size mass-produced carbon wonderbike can do that.

  9. Bill on

    It’s a SHOW. As in, a place to show things. Who cares if it’s vaporware, ridable, a clone of something else, a bedazzled disco stu version of a CAAD10, whatever. It doesn’t need to be about anything but showing what you can make. We should have more of this, not less. Reduce the barrier to entry. Hell, take the whole bike race series model and have a show in every major area sponsored (i.e., put on by – not paid for by) a local builder of note.

  10. AsiansAlsoHaveHands on

    Doesn’t the name of the show seem weird to anybody? Other than the BMC Impec, I’m pretty sure most mass-production bikes are made by hand, albeit Asian hands. Just because its not made in your neighbor’s garage doesn’t mean that the person making the bike has any less passion or talent for frame building.

  11. ScooterCX on

    I’ve had the privilege to work the show for the past 3 years, and will be working it again this year. I’m friends with a few of the builders, and own two Don Walker frames. The road bike is sublime, and I ride it much more than my carbon Trek Madone. I also own a CX bike by Don, Reynolds 853 steel, and it’s a fantastic ride. Once you get past the “how much does it weigh?” line of thinking, and move on to the “how does it ride?” mode of thought instead, you’ll be able to appreciate the value these builders and innovators bring to the bicycling world.

  12. jm on

    We sell custom bikes at or below the MSRP of off the shelf big brand bikes. In doing so we sell sustainable, creative product that supports craftspeople and artists. The importance of having a bike made to fit you versus you being made to fit your bike is probably lost on a lot of the people who posted negatively about NAHBS. When you work with the builder, you not only get a bike that fits, you get one that is tailored to your needs and wants. You are part of the process far beyond the $$$$. A custom bike doesn’t have to be priced out of the realm of attainability. Ti or steel can weigh in very close to carbon, and weight isn’t everything to everyone. Ride quality and fit SHOULD be important to everyone. A custom handmade bike will deliver those qualities.

  13. Marklin on

    Occasionally I find the guys that built the most innovative stuff in the sport, and find they never stopped building, but, only for themselves and their friends, because of the same story, the cycling business is so litigious and saturated with cheap disposable Chinese junk that it makes no sense to participate in it. These guys make frames, or forks, or stems, or some other component, and continually refine them for years, simply because they have the passion for the machine and the ride, but the only place you’ll see one is covered in mud out in the woods, because spending thousands of dollars and taking a week off work to go to bloody Kentucky or Las Vegas or wherever just to show off and pretend there’s a business to be made out of it, and then find everyone building copies of their stuff the next month… it makes no sense. The bike industry is an industry. These are artists at an art show.

  14. Dominic on

    Sounds like most of the commenters don’t even know what people bring, or what builders are building.
    Maybe you picked the wrong lead picture Anna?
    Maybe pointing out that it weren’t for NAHBS, nobody would be riding 650B, is a double edged sword?
    Maybe, the bikenerds of bikerumour are only interested in the latest outsourced commercial looks?
    Maybe, it’s worth pointing out that NAHBS was the platform that launched Edge cum Enve; that the bikes that people build for NAHBS are the reason we have 44mm headtubes for tapered road forks.
    Maybe it doesn’t matter that some people think it doesn’t matter?

    But maybe it does.

  15. Jim on

    “Maybe pointing out that it weren’t for NAHBS, nobody would be riding 650B, is a double edged sword?
    Maybe, the bikenerds of bikerumour are only interested in the latest outsourced commercial looks?
    Maybe, it’s worth pointing out that NAHBS was the platform that launched Edge cum Enve; that the bikes that people build for NAHBS are the reason we have 44mm headtubes for tapered road forks.”
    “just ask your self why a lot of product managers from big bike brands are always attending NAHBS.”

    Exactly. Most of the detailed innovation (rather than big-bucks manufacturing process innovation) comes from small builders, always has done.

  16. Psi Squared on

    Marklin, are you saying that the manufacturers showing at NAHBS aren’t making a business of building their bikes, parts, and etc? Judging by how busy many custom bike builders are, you are likely wrong.

  17. John Caletti on

    There is a lot more at NAHBS than concept bikes, but they get very little media coverage. This is unfortunate – there are a lot of great builders there who make their living building really great bikes that get ridden day in and day out.

  18. SEAHBS on

    I plan on attending SEAHBS this year for sure. Way more innovation, commercialization and affordable products. Its going to be a long flight but I am sure it will be worth it. Also, 70% less beards.

  19. Kenji on

    I ride the snot out of my 2 Retrotec NAHBS bikes… 2009 Road bike and a 2013 Funduro mountain bike. As a matter of fact, most of the builders I know that go there ride, or sold the bikes to folks that ride them all just as much. It would be a shame to see this show go the way of the dinosaurs—I mean who would Specialized and Trek copy? There’s always Interbike if you want to go look at a room of the same plastic bike with different sticker kits.


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