NAHBS… North American Handmade Bike Show…
The Mecca of the custom and handbuilt bicycle world in America.
I’ve watched it happen for several years, wanted to go. The timing and location have always made it between difficult and impossible. It travels from year to year. Houston, San Jose, Portland (OR), Indianapolis, Richmond (VA), Austin, Sacramento, Denver… This year it landed in Salt Lake City, a mere 14 hour drive away. Close enough. And since my wife had never been to Utah before, and I have friends that live there (and graciously hosted us to make the trip even cheaper), it was a go.
After having participated in the Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Festival in Portland twice, I was curious as to whether my skills measured up to the premier event for handmade bikes in the country, and whether this might be an event into which I would throw my hat in the future.
I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer size of NAHBS. And after three hours of walking and looking, I still hadn’t gone through it all. And then there was a list of things I wanted to go back and take a second look…
Highlights of the show for me:
* Seeing a wide range of product (and builder skill) at the new builder’s tables.
* Meeting and catching up with Matt Haldeman, who raced on the same team as I did back in the 90’s. He was manning Don Walker’s booth.
* Having extensive conversations with Steve Hampsten, Peter Graham, and Dave Levy regarding the Oregon show, and potentials for a Seattle handmade show.
* Meeting Andy Hampsten, Steve’s brother and winner of the 1988 Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy). His win is cycling legend, earning the lead in a snowy stage over the Gavia Pass.
* Meeting and talking extensively with Mike and Joni Taylor at the TexMarket booth. We talked riding shorts (not bibs), weather, and Reno. They were as enthusiastic about their home town as they were their products.
* A boatload of really, really cool bikes.
In some ways, though, I was surprised. There were some booths that contained examples that had me scratching my head wondering why the purveyor had chosen that particular item to display. Quality seemed to be lacking – things like tube joints which were not completely welded or brazed, mismatches, file marks. I can deal with looking at bikes that display the patina of use. To me, that shows the proof in the pudding, so to speak, that the design and fabrication stand up to the rigors of actual riding, and isn’t just a pretty face. But when one is supposedly displaying their best work…
I had, in part, come to answer the question of whether showing at NAHBS was something that I felt I could do, and if it would benefit me. I came to the conclusion that, yes, I think I measure up, I could put together a booth of bike-like-objects that wouldn't be out of place or put to shame. But also, and especially with the location of next year's show, I don't think I'm really after a national or international market at this point. My efforts would be better spent elevating the hand-made market in the Pacific Northwest, and especially locally in Seattle/Tacoma.
That effort is already under way, rallying the Washington builders to the Pedaler’s Fair in Seattle on July 2nd.