As the cycling world turns its eyes to Hartford this weekend to see all the new and engaging product coming out of the independent framebuilder facet of the industry, I’m sad to say I’ll be missing the show this year. Rather than mope around Minneapolis feeling some pretty serious FOMO, I thought I would give you kids my personal guide to the show.
What follows is a list of what I, as someone who follows framebuilders year round, would be making a B-line for, were I attending. (You’ll notice that a lot of the builders listed here correspond with our Road to NAHBS coverage this year… that was done deliberately.)
Theme: Deep Custom Carbon
This year has brought a surge of players in custom carbon attending the show. With existing carbon infrastructure being limited, and with several significant standard changes in tire clearance requirements and dropout & brake interfaces in a very short amount of time, the independent carbon market has made a big leap in proprietary processes and tooling to accommodate. The opportunity of the material as a medium for truly custom construction is being realized more deeply than ever – you can now get a custom geometry bike tailored to your unique user case (weight, riding style, personal needs) from a variety of builders who are going deep in terms of what they can accomplish in a non-production, individualized building scenario.
This sophisticated group out of Dublin, Ireland has more up its sleeve aside from their truly stand-out styling (check out our interview with Aiden Duff and some images of the epic bike FiftyOne built for Conor McGregor here). At NAHBS, they will be debuting bikes constructed using a new, patented process for preparing & bonding carbon.
Developed originally for aerospace applications, this process is first being applied commercially on FiftyOne bikes, as the significantly shorter development cycle allows the process to be tested in the real world more quickly (and because the person developing the process happens to be a massive bike aficionado). In operation, this plasma treatment process at the area of bonding goes beyond cleaning the tubes (as plasma treatment is currently used) to remove the top layer of epoxy from pre-preg carbon so that joints are bonded carbon-to-carbon rather than carbon to epoxy. In testing, the frames made via this process are seeing a significant strength increase over traditional methods.
Corey Lowe will be found in new builder row. With a pedigree consisting of Parlee, Specialized, Cannondale, and development with HIA, we’re interested to see what this new player is coming up with. Even now from what we’ve seen, the design looks fully cooked, well-conceived, clean, and the styling is fresh. Definitely make this builder one of your stops this year.
A perennial favorite, Chris McGovern has spent the last few years cooking up a slew of proprietary parts to allow him to realize his vision of a carbon, high performance cyclocross and gravel frameset. He’s been leaking parts through social media (such as a clever dropout system) to show just how serious his new direction is. He would definitely be in my top five stops to make at the show, were I there.
The always evolving and improving Matt Appleman totally blew the doors off the place in Salt Lake with his iconic donut bike last year – complete with sprinkles – showing that carbon can be high tech AND maintain a sense of humor.
Craig Gaulzetti is finally back at NAHBS, and he’s brought his long-awaited (by those in the know) highest performance Aerotack frame for its international debut. It’s his vision of a Formula 1 race bike. And given Craig’s unyielding dedication to racing in its purest form, it’s sure to be a doozie. Plus, as a skinny tire roadie at heart, this is the bike that I’m probably most sad to miss. Plus, Craig all on his own, is something to be experienced live.
Theme: Real Deal Steel
As always, there are a slew of fabulous steel builders at the show. With plenty of familiar faces on the docket, it is exciting to see some East Coast players that typically only show in regional shows.
Adam Sklar is really coming into his own. This year, in addition to the typical Sklarian curvy fare, showgoers will be treated to a couple of bikes out of the builder’s wheelhouse. Be sure to check out the Ultraromance Nutmegger, a truss forked long-wheelbase construction (sources say that it should be nice and dusty for the show after a good tour of the winding gravel roads of beautiful rural Connecticut).
Bryan Hollingsworth’s bikes are always an experience, making his booth a favorite destination at the Philadelphia Bike Expo. A great stop for people who are general classification steel bike nerds, he likes to mash up modern and vintage themes in a single bike. The resulting builds are highly functional and full of nostalgia.
This builder out of Brooklyn, who is also making a name for himself in the area of handmade knives and accessories, will also be making a show. From the one or two Horses we’ve seen in the wild, this will be a booth not to miss.
Chris Bishop took home a well-deserved Best in Show at the Philadelphia Bike Expo in November for his chameleon laser bike. It’s worth saying, however, that any of his bikes from the booth would have been worthy of that title. He’s meticulous. He gets deep into detail. He pushes shorelines and thins lugs to a point where everyone else looks clunky and heavy. Make sure you carve out time to spend taking in every joint of his frames.
Theme: The Bigger Show
Women’s Seminar Series
While the show is typically nearly absent of women bike builders (they exist, they just don’t often attend), this year NAHBS has introduced a slew of seminars by women to the docket. While I didn’t immediately respond to the names of the individual seminars, I was extremely excited to see who was speaking. “Cycling as a Sport: How to prepare for your first competition” and “Adding more Miles!” seminars, for example, features a panel of such personal heroes of mine (and all around amazing people) as Ellen Noble, Lauren LeClair, and Emily Kachorek. “Careers in the Cycling Industry” features among the panel Anne Hed, CEO of HED Cycling & completely impressive person in every way, as well as Cait Dooley, Product Manager for GT Bicycles. If I were there, I would be attending at least a few of these… probably with something to have autographed in hand.
The Russian Invasion
Building on the presence from last year, there will again be several builders from Russia’s emerging independent cycling industry. Be sure to stop by Triton to see what new proprietary Titanium bits they’ve come up with for this year. And maybe to buy a furry military surplus hat. Then, be sure to stop by Bjorn Cycles, a Russian made carbon component brand, to see a new bike built by Tores Velo.
Back to School
Three universities have booths this year for the show: Cal Poly, University of Kansas, and University of Iowa. While it’s always interesting to see what the students have had cooking, you have to ask if this trend in schools teaching frame building and design is going to continue to grow? We surely want to know!
The North American Handmade Bike Show will take place from February 16th to 18th in Hartford, CT. For more information, visit the NAHBS website to get the details on scheduling and tickets.