I’m starting the coverage this year with what seemed to be the most talked about builder at this year’s NAHBS:
Rob English of English Cycles
While the frame builder crowd can be a mixed bag of personality / countenance ranging from the grumpy “I wish I didn’t have to be here” and the retro-prima donna telling you all the reasons you should disregard proven physics and order a bike built to race in 1980, for the most part today’s NAHBS builders are much more the other end of the stick.
By and large, this is group of people that genuinely love seeing their customers, talking shop and praising their fellow builders. Rob English is on that positive energy end.
As I’ve never spoken to him ahead of NAHBS, I have no idea what he’s like when not surrounded by dozens of people falling all over themselves (justifiably) to praise his work, but I don’t think it matters now. His product is getting the recognition it deserves as some of the most innovative and detailed use of metal in cycling today.
The bike voted NAHBS “Best in Show” is actually no “show pony”. Instead it’s an actual race proven unit (Oregon doesn’t follow the same tt rules).
It is a steel TT rig that weighs less than 17 pounds and virtually everything is custom. The cranks are one off, the chromo tubing is roughly 18mm wide and custom shaped. And you’ll note virtually no exposed cables.
The front end is fully custom and accessed by removing the front wheel.
The shifters are custom DI integration, as is the battery… It’s almost complete integration.
Most of the same can be said for the Road bike that was actually in a dead heat for the Best Road prize (won by another fantastic bike).
Both the TT and road bikes had details right down to custom hub sets made to cheat the wind.
The Di2 was also well integrated with no battery pack showing and the brain tucked neatly in a custom stem.
Both the TT and road bikes were stellar examples of minimalist appearance created through a maximal design and build execution.
Nick Crumpton of Crumpton Cycles has been at every NAHBS show and it’s been very interesting to see the quality and craft of his work progress from the beginning.
Nick’s not one to “spike the ball” as it were and chose not to enter a bike in the carbon category.
After multiple wins, he decided not to enter for judging and that was frankly good news for the rest of the entrants.
The detail and cleanliness of the latest version are simply better than anything else displayed at NAHBS.
Of course with sand paper and paint (and possibly some filler) can make anything look good. Nick was the only builder at NAHBS to display a bike straight out of the joint molding process and the results were extremely good.
This head tube is untouched / unfinished.
As is this seat stay, brake bridge, seat tube joint.
There is less residual material on this frame than on most of the fully finished frames entered as “best carbon construction” for the show.
Joining Nick for a quick conversation was Brian Bayliss.
I didn’t get the chance to ask him if he was formally retired or not. But for the purposes of posting this article, I guess I don’t care either. The bikes he brought for display were fantastic…
The first noted was a pretty classic looking lugged steel unit…
Well executed with the appropriate amount of chrome…
Then my eyes dropped to a tandem.
Generally speaking, tandems hold my attention for no more than a split second, but this one had a few features… I would say this one had the best Head Badge in the building…
And I guess the number 2 person that rides this bike has a bit of a dark side, as this pleasant fellow was peeking out of the top tube.
The last post on Brian’s Blog is an announcement that the last bike he’ll build will be on 11-12-13 and it’s already sold, so a tip of the cap to Brian. I won’t make the bet that he won’t stay retired either.
Speaking of retirement and rumors and fairly silly guesses at lead times ranging out as long as a decade, Richard Sachs was on hand and basically rekindling my belief in vampires, as I don’t think he’s aged a day in the 15 years since the first time I shook his hand…
To try and add a little level headed explanation as to how long the line at the door is for a frame, the official word is the lead time is really a floating number. In the case that extenuating circumstances didn’t exist and he just worked his way through orders, the wait would be some place around 7 years. To some folks that would sound silly, but for a lot of people (including me), it sounds fine. Neither Richard nor his typical customer will be confused with “here today – gone tomorrow” people looking for instant gratification.
Richard hasn’t wavered in build priority much over the past few years. You’re getting solid construction, built to perform well and accommodate tried and true component standards.
The formula obviously works so I was a little surprised to see that he’s running a few different finish options allowing for a bit more tint to the traditional red (now a light, medium and dark)…
There’s no surprise in the craftsmanship, detail and consistency across the range though. That’s exactly as expected.
Among the unexpected is a “beam bike” from Michigan builder Ken Stolpmann.
Ken is a boat man and he’s applied his skills well to his daily driver. This bike is fully functioning with a few thousand miles on the clock and no issues. It wasn’t an instant hit, as he did run a few prototypes to make sure it would properly hold together.
The bike is actually several varieties of wood.
Mahogany for the down tube (it serves as a spine for Beam bikes). The beam is hickory. The bars are Douglas fir. The chain stays are Ash with walnut accents.
Ken’s bike was also very close to being the best alternative material bike for the show.
Another alternative material bike that was a home run for me was one of the early adopters for using fibers other than carbon, Craig Calfee and Calfee design.
This is a fantastic execution regardless of the group set integration, but once you consider the Campy Electronic integration the rig really stands out.
Someone finally found a way to hide the campy battery pack, which is no small task. But the down side may be that some of the people buying Campy electronic simply as a status symbol will hate not having the gigantic afterthought in design mounted in full view to confirm the expense.
While kudos should go to Calfee for the forethought that using Look’s massive BB/Crank combo would allow them the space to mount the campy power unit, even more praise should go to how much they’re refined the use of materials to create such a clean alternative frame.
More praise still should go to Calfee’s creation / participation in one of my show floor favorites. The Bamboosero project and the frames badged Booganda in particular.
Both the materials and the people making the bikes are special…
The story behind these bikes and in how far they’ve come in terms of quality is fantastic. You should have a look here : The Bamboosero site. Make sure you click on “Timeline History” and “Follow the Money” tabs in the upper right.
There are very few bikes on the market with such a fantastic back story as these…
And the quality that’s now landing is very good. It makes complete sense that product quality will get MUCH better when you make the builders a partner, rather than simply using them as labor.
The units on display this year are not only better than their first visit to NAHBS, they’re rivaling a lot of the other Bamboo builders…
And they’re doing it at an incredible price point…
There were fantastic bikes on offer all over the show floor, but nothing else will come close to making you feel good about what you’re riding.
For the more adventurous they’re also going to offer a Do It Yourself kit.
It may not look like much, but a brief gave me the hair brained IDEA that I might actually build one of these.
Gokiso of Japan’s Kondo Machine Corp were on hand to display hub sets that no Geek can resist.
They’re making arguably the most complex hub set in the business and testing it to incredible lengths.
Above is their 6/4 Ti Bodied “super climber” built to resemble a jet engine and it’s a very pretty thing to hold in your hand, but it’s all of the tweaks built into this unit that make it stand out in a crowd.
This hub is actually designed to flex a bit and allow for impact absorbing movement of the flanges.
Another feature is an end cap that rotates slightly so that clamping forces at the fork and rear drops are applied evenly to the hub.
Both the impact flex and the floating end cap are designed to keep the bearing and axel interface in constant alignment to reduce friction.
They’re NOT light, but the design makes a lot of sense given that hubs are the fulcrum point and not nearly as much a negative impact weight wise as rim / tire and spoke weight. It’s the neatest design path in hubs I’ve seen in a long time.
While not in the same hardware category as Gokiso’s hubs, Club Ride Apparel also had a welcome new twist to design standards.
Founded in 2008, Club Ride Apparel have a pretty broad line of bicycle gear that is fully functional on the bike while thankfully filling the gaping hole between race badged lycra and Hipster skinny low-rise.
It’s simply clothes that don’t scream “Cyclist” but a lot of the gear is at home screaming down single track or bombing a work commute.
The lineup runs a full technical range from hot weather wicking to wind and water repellant, just like a lot of your current gear, but it’s also very low key comfort kit that works in places that a lot of other bike focused kit simply doesn’t.
And it’s not incredibly overpriced.
Another brand with a low key presence at NAHBS was Italy’s custom builder Sarto Cycles.
They didn’t go with a full blown booth and I actually didn’t notice it at first, but on display with Fizik Saddles was their Futura Model.
We covered Sarto a bit at Interbike this past year and they’re working their way into a select group of dealers in North America as we speak.
The Futura is a single example but Sarto are one of the few shops that also have an autoclave and have the skill set to run lots of combinations of shaped tube sets (you’ve seen Sarto bikes in the pro peloton with other names attached).
Sarto have a very large capacity and already build a few bikes for smaller boutique European brands that you’re already familiar with. This is still a family run shop with a lot of history and the fact that they’re gearing up to support the North American market is a good thing.
The 2013 NAHBS show was another mixed bag of materials and virtually all of it was done to a very high standard. It’s been a blast watching this go from very small to large over the past 9 years. Big thanks again to all the builders for the time!