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.
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.
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.