Every year, coverage of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show is dominated by beautiful photography of show-stoppers and observational commentary. While that’s great for folks who love flipping through galleries, for me it’s an opportunity to go deeper.

So this year, rather than walk the show with the purpose of telling individual customer and builder stories as I typically love to do, I set out to answer a question:

What is the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in 2019?

To answer this question I designed a meaningful and attainable data set given the show environment, a system with which to capture the data, and then I hit the show floor with the goal of documenting every complete bike at the show.

Why?!

Why would one elect to spend all of NAHBS moving bike to bike like a frowny hummingbird, isolated from the world with headphones and a killer playlist, taking furious notes rather than engaging with the many fascinating personalities at the event? The builders are the best part!

A few reasons.

While a data profile on a single bike isn’t as romantic as, say, a good origin story or a knock out photo (Tyler’s ongoing coverage handled that), a collection of data profiles from a show can tell all sorts of interesting stories. Series of collections can show you trends through time and space, because once you’ve created a data set, you can compare it against others (in this case, we’ll be able track NAHBS from year to year, or compare NAHBS to other handmade bicycle shows internationally).

But this information isn’t just interesting for enthusiasts within the independent segment of the cycling industry – it is incredibly helpful for anticipating future trends in mainstream industry.

The independent frame builder community is able to exist and thrive because it meets needs of consumers that aren’t being met by the mainstream cycling industry, whether those needs are around styling, technology, fit, purpose, materiality, etc. Folks will pay more, wait longer, and be happily inconvenienced for product from independent frame builders because they address these unmet needs. The North American Handmade Bicycle Show is the biggest exhibition of this unique needs-meeting product in the world.

As a result, NAHBS is a popular event for members of product departments of the mainstream cycling industry, who walk the show and openly take pictures and notes – and themes in product solutions from a given NAHBS are often echoed in more mainstream product a year or so down the line. You can also watch as new segments seem to hatch within the independent builder community, are refined and developed there, and then, when proven viable, are adopted and pulled through to mainstream industry product lines. Fat bikes and gravel bikes are notable recent segments to have developed in this way.

But outside of wanting to observe trends over time and to see into the future, I wanted to test my own preconceived notions of what the event actually is. Because there are so many exceptional machines and gifted marketing and public relations consultancies vying for attention at the event, it is very easy to miss most of the show for a few exciting bicycles.

Process

If you’re not into this stuff, I won’t be offended if you skip ahead. I just want to make sure folks know where I’m coming from before we dig in.

As I wanted to cover as much of the show as possible, and because no one could give me a real number as far as how many bikes were actually at the show (I was quoted 220 complete bicycles, tops… I estimate that that number was closer to 330 this year), I kept the data set pretty modest in scale and prioritized complete bicycles by established builders displayed in those builders’ booths (rather than in component company booths). Sorry, new builders, I’ll catch you next time.

While there was a temptation to gather all the data so that I could swim around in a pool of it after the event like Scrooge McDuck, I had to make some tough decisions. What’s interesting to me isn’t necessarily interesting to anyone else (example: I talk about steel chainstay evolution at parties – ask my very bored friends). I prioritized data that is meaningful for a wide range of readers, that comprehensively translates across genres and materiality.

Also, knowing that I could move quickest if I could keep questions to the builder to a minimum (because builders are usually busy talking to show attendees at these events), I designed the data to be able to be captured by “expert” observation alone. Though I managed to get my data entry time for a single bike under two minutes, I ended up spending more time both out of interest of the bikes and because taking data at a sprint is mentally taxing and unsustainable, as it turns out.

In all, I was able to document a total of 265 bicycles. I can say without question that I saw more of the show this year than anyone else – and it was the hardest NAHBS I’ve ever had. But boy howdy, did I learn a lot… and I am so stoked to show you all what I see.

“The Overalls”

For best results, pause a moment to meditate on your pre-conceived notions of this event, either from your personal experience or from what you’ve gleaned from existing coverage. What standards are prominent? What types of bikes are dominant? What materials are most common? What is a typical NAHBS bike in your mind?

Do you have the idea in your head? Good.

In this first installment of NAHBS by the NUMBERS 2019, I’ll introduce the high-level data and its context so you can have an understanding of what it is for when we dig deeper into trends on use case, technology, styling, etc. in future days.

NAHBS By The Numbers 2019, The Overalls, Material and Purpose

Primary frame material refers to the main material of each frame. In cases of multi-materiality, the main material of the front triangle was documented.

Primary discipline relies on NAHBS event terminology for classification. The line between Road and Gravel/All-Road was determined by whether or not a road bike was designed with intent for mixed surface usage.

Interesting notes on this graph: since the Gravel/All-Road-specific segment has grown in prominence, cyclocross-specific bikes at the event have dropped. This could be partially due to the technological advances within gravel-specific tires and components that addressed the use case of gravel more effectively than cyclocross bikes (which were common at gravel events five to ten year ago)… and partially due to the fact that builders often bring recently built bikes. Gravel season is just about to jump off and bikes for cyclocross season won’t start for months.

NAHBS By The Numbers 2019, The Overalls, Tire Width and Wheel Size

Tire standards are all over the place. If I were doing this the way I wanted to, I’d be measuring tires and rims, documenting both specifications, and talking about tire/rim system trends. But this wasn’t a tire and rim project and time was limited. Again, compromises were made.

To expedite record-taking of tire widths on the show floor, data such as tires sizes were divided among size ranges aligned with riding use case. I used ‘C’ designations rather than millimeter on the road tires (sorry, Brad, I can actually feeling you crinkling up like a can reading this); when tire tags are all consistent, I will be as well.

Also, yes, I am aware that there is overlap between 48C-60C and the 2.0in-2.35in tires. This was done intentionally, after several days of debate among expert friends, to reflect how the tire was labeled by the tire company as well as the purpose of the tire.

The big surprise for me was that there were more 23mm and under tire bikes than there were 4.5in+ fat bikes. Just saying. Fat bikes were pretty rare on the show floor.

As far as wheel sizes, the surprises were in the small end. There were two mini-fat bikes in attendance in 20in, at Hunter Cycles and Dear Susan.

NAHBS By The Numbers 2019, The Overalls, Frame Interfaces

For this portion, I wanted to focus on the standards of frame-brake interfaces themselves, rather than the standard of the brake installed. It’s from this chunk of data that you can determine that disc brakes appeared on 76% of bikes examined from the event.

Thru axles appeared on 64% of the frames examined – and felt like an invasive species if your terminal axle technology is the quick release, which made up a measly 28% of documented bikes.

A delightful surprise both at the event and in the data is the strong presence of proper, no brake, competition track bikes thanks to a recent surge in popularity in both velodrome track and high-profile fixie crits.

NAHBS By The Numbers 2019, The Overalls, Brakes

Because who doesn’t love seeing a brand split? It should be said that The Other category of Brand, Braking Mechanism consists primarily of Magura calipers, and one set of Promax brakes.

Hydraulic brakes surpassed mechanical brakes, 58% to 36% – this is definitely a case where I would have loved to see the numbers from the last five or so shows and how this particular technology has evolved.

NAHBS By The Numbers 2019, The Overalls, Shifting Gear

Last but not least: changing gear. As in brakes, Shimano is dominant in this arena making up nearly 39% of shifting mechanisms counted.

Electric wireless or by wire systems came in at 34% of bikes examined, with cable actuated systems making up 54% of bikes counted.

Having Said All This – A Disclaimer

It’s important to say at this point that the North American Handmade Bicycle Show is a very different show from year to year due to location and trends. A show in California, for example, is more physically and financially accessible to west coast builders than it is to, say, builders in the upper midwest or east coast (and we’ll get into regional trends more later). As a result, data acquired this show is heavily influenced by geography, local infrastructure and frame building lineage, and use case emphasis.

Also, NAHBS features very different bikes and trends than shows such as the Philadelphia Bike Expo or Bespoked on any given year.

So while this is the largest exhibition of independent frame builders on the planet, it is far from representative of the whole of this segment. Be conscious of that as you read forward.

With that out of the way: I can’t wait to show you how this all breaks down in the coming posts. This is the kind of thing I’d love to read and see, so I really hope you enjoy it.

Part 2: NAHBS by the NUMBERS: Summaries by Discipline

Part 3: NAHBS by the NUMBERS: Fashion and Style

Part 4: NAHBS by the NUMBERS 2019: Regional Themes, Steel Construction

41 COMMENTS

  1. This data is A+++! Analysis of this sort is seriously lacking in the industry. So much of “data analysis” has been at the micro level, examining one particular feature or genre in depth (29 vs everything else, disc vs rim, what is a gravel bike and why is it different than cx). The sort of macro level data Anna collected helps us learn what builders and riders really enjoy. Several years of this data will be important to analyze WHY each change to the bicycle happens, and differentiate marketing lingo from actually performance boosting features. MORE OF THIS PLEASE!

  2. Love it! Always interesting to see (from the other side of the world) how things represented in real numbers and not just how many times you saw them on the internet, and also intrigued by what other data there could have been from years past!

  3. Wonderful data representing all builds and what is really going on within the market. Anna did a wonderful job here. More of this!

  4. Anna, this was really cool. You speak as if you are going to bore us to death, yet you present a lot of information in a very brief format, and you contextualize it with many “to be fair” type of statements. Ya did a really great job on this one, my eyebrows are aching on the effort it must have involved.

  5. Was so stoked to hear your vision for this a few weeks ago, and now so happy to see it coming to life!! Beautiful data and can’t wait to see what else is yet to come!

  6. Yes, great job gathering and presenting this information. And I love the colorful graphs. But really, Anna, “materiality”?

  7. This data only tells us what builders think the market wants, not very much about what is actually being built and sold.

    I wouldn’t watch TV ads to tell me the data on car sales, for example. It’s not uncommon for businesses that are doing the worst to try to market themselves out of a hole, instead of improving their product.

    • Do you think independent framebuilders are all spending their precious time building marketing projects for these shows, Alex? The majority of these are likely customer bikes briefly borrowed for the show.

    • This. Like she mentions about gravel bikes over cyclocross…builders bring recent builds, not necessarily what is their bread and butter production.

    • @ Cheese Thank you, I was circling back to just say this.

      @Alex V The vast majority of the bikes at the show were designed, styled, and built for a specific, paying customer – even the very flashy ones. Sure, there are bikes that are only show bikes, but they tend to be restrictively expensive to build and far rarer.

      Writing off the show as a collection of flashy bikes made for the hell of it isn’t productive… it undermines the impressive and creative work that these builders do to go deep to meet the needs of their customers. It also perpetuates a patently incorrect narrative about what this show actually is.

      The purpose of this whole piece was to zoom out to the whole show, even the relatively plain bikes that builders create day to day that are typically missed by show coverage. You are literally looking at a data set of customer-derived bikes.

      And if we are being sticklers here, technically no production bike is made for an individual end user – they are designed for a crowd. I would even argue that mid to high production bikes are designed to serve market segments and strict product categories before they serve the actual end user. But that’s an op-ed for another time.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Wouldn’t builders like Seven, Speedvagen or Moots that are building at least a few hundred bikes per year distort this survey as representative of the market? Most small builders tend to build around 50 bikes a year, but they’re the majority of exhibitors at NAHBS. Were the results weighted to account for this? Or am I completely misunderstanding the purpose of this exercise?

        • As articulated in this installment, this was an exercise to describe the event in an information way.

          Also, reiterating from the disclaimer at the end of this piece: “While this is the largest exhibition of independent frame builders on the planet, it is far from representative of the whole of this segment.”

          I’m representing the show, not all of the independent segment.

          Thanks for reading!

  8. Data presented be what it may, this is the gem and insight of this article:

    The independent frame builder community is able to exist and thrive because it meets needs of consumers that aren’t being met by the mainstream cycling industry, whether those needs are around styling, technology, fit, purpose, materiality, etc. Folks will pay more, wait longer, and be happily inconvenienced for product from independent frame builders because they address these unmet needs.

    Whatever becomes a lead statistic, preference or trend, it is the agility of these builders and makers to respond to the wants and desires of the commissioning patrons of this minority realm.

    NAHBS is where my tastes, interests and preferences are. This is what I want my money to represent with my bikes and the parts for them.

    As lifelong cyclist I have spent much time and money being less than fully satisfied by mainstream manufacturer’s products because my cycling needs have evolved and become better defined by these sources of innovation, design and products.

  9. Ha, nice! Love Data like this! Great Job. Alway interesting to see how things evolve and trends come (and go) I did the same thing back in 2016 when i was travelling across central americe with every cyclotourist i met! lot of similar criterias, but aswell few other criterias like handlebar shape…

  10. I love this kind of thing. I’m looking forward to the analysis.
    I’m glad 47-60 and 2.0-2.35 were next to each other, since in my experience they end up on the same bikes. I also think that segment will be 65% larger at NAHBS20.
    \Leaving off the C and IN might make that chart easier to read.

  11. This is awesome but please change the tire sizes to mm. I know there was a disclaimer but it’s 700C x 24/38/42/whatever mm! If you want to stick with your way maybe call the “road plus tires” 47B. Sorry, but I never realized how much I hate that until I had to see it here.

    • Hate is such a strong word.

      Perhaps in a future data set you will be able to enjoy that ancient designation being put to bed, and you and my friend Brad can breathe a sigh of relief. For consistency in these pieces, however, we’ll be using C – it was a designation that was still common enough on tires at the show that it is relevant.

      I fear you’ll have to avert your eyes for now.

  12. Really cool piece. Enjoyed reading and appreciated the data being collected in a way that’s easy to decipher.

  13. Love this article. So much work put into it, I could look at those numbers all day. I had to look up the difference between steel and stainless steel. I thought they were the same thing.

    • That particular data point was on my wish list. Alas, it was not a data point I could capture quickly or reliably in practice (especially when you throw carbon in the mix). As a result, it fell off the list.

  14. This is excellent work. My one request, could you please make things that are sequential, sequential. The tyre size is the big one for this – the most common size is the first segment from 12 o’clock, then they go in order by frequency anti-clockwise. I would propose for future articles (which I will read!) that this go in order from smallest to largest size tyre.

    • High praise, buddy!

      You know how much I love shiny stuff – it’s one of my best attributes – so you know exactly how tough it was to focus in hard enough to produce this laser content.

  15. I love this! It’s a great idea to document the trends that NAHBS exhibits/reflects, and Anna Schwinn has done an awesome job seeing that idea to fruition both collecting and presenting that data. Kudos! I’m looking forward to more installments from NAHBS and would love to see this type of story on other shows as well!

  16. I love this!!! Such a usually-uncaptured wealth of knowledge presented in such an engaging and useable manner. Would absolutely love to see more events and topics presented in this way on BR. Well done Anna!

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