Monday, March 2, 2009

North American Handmade Bicycle Show Recap

Wow, where do I begin? The North American Handmade Bicycle Show is like a kid in a candy store for any cyclist. While other shows are very focused on the latest trends in technology, this one is really mostly about the art. My girlfriend summed it up best when she remarked, "I'm beginning to understand why you always feel like you need more bikes."

Let me just start by showing some pictures, then see below for my thoughts on the exhibitors and trends.

Our experiment with using Twitter to give you photo updates didn't quite work out as well as I had hoped. It seemed like only about half of the photos I sent got posted, and those all seemed to get posted around the same time (about 3pm), rather than as I sent them, and were in random order. Oh, well, I guess this technology is not quite ready for prime time. To be fair, this was using a service called TwitPic to post the pictures, which is a separate web site not affiliated with the main Twitter site. Here are all of the pictures that I had intended for you to see, in order:

This was the best-attended NAHBS in its 5-year history, so that bodes well for the show returning to the Midwest. In fact, I even heard a rumor that they may come back to Indianapolis next year!


Racing-oriented bikes, both road and mountain, are still big, but there were lots of commuter-oriented bikes and cruisers. I had hoped to see a lot of cargo bikes, such as Surly Big Dummy-style bikes or other Xtracycle-compatible bikes, and while there was not anything like that specifically, there was a lot of emphasis on delivery bikes and commuter bikes with integrated custom racks and baskets, usually lushly painted to match the bike frame.

A lot of the builders are also featuring more cyclocross bikes. Track bikes, of course, are still very big.

The 650B wheel size on mountain bikes is getting more attention from the custom builders compared to the large manufacturers. I spoke to Rody Walter, who builds the bikes for Groovy Cycleworks out of our backyard down in Wooster, Ohio. He said that of the last 10 bikes he's made, 5 were 650B's and 5 were 29ers. (See this previous TechTalk post for an explanation of these wheel sizes.)

Another trend starting to take hold in the bike industry is the carbon belt drive. These had a couple of incarnations in the past, but never took off, allegedly because the technology didn't yet work quite right. From what I've heard and read, they got it right this time, and a lot of the custom builders are trying it out. Basically, you replace the chain with a fan-belt type thing, which provides an extremely smooth, quiet, and grease-free drive train. The downside is that frames have to be redesigned or retrofitted, because you can't take the belt apart like a chain, so the frame has to have an opening to install the belt. Rody Walter solved this problem innovatively by putting a small S&S coupler on the drive side chainstay, which he says is much stronger than any of the other solutions. You have to either run the bike as a singlespeed, or use an internally-geared rear hub, to use the carbon belt drive.

There were a lot of bikes using small, 20-inch wheels. I get how this makes sense for folding commuter bikes, but these were all non-folding bikes. I asked one of the representatives from Sillgey Cycles about this. She said that a lot of commuters are liking them, because it makes for a more compact bike that is easier to take on buses and trains, and carry through office hallways, stairwells, and dorm rooms. Also, they are popular with many bike polo players for the quick handling and maneuverability.

The big news for Cleveland is that another custom frame builder right in our own backyard took home the Best of Show award! Congratulations to Dan Politi of Ciclo Politi of Cleveland!

The one major technology-oriented exhibitor at the show was probably also the busiest. Everyone wanted to stop by the Shimano booth the try out the new Di2 Dura-Ace electronic shifting system. They had the Giant TCR Advanced SL bike set up with the new group on a trainer. For those of you who have not read the announcements closely enough, remember that this is NOT an automatic shifting system. You still decide when you want to shift, and when you do, you press the appropriate button, located on the brake levers just like standard integrated shifters. Then, a battery-powered motor handles moving the front or rear derailleur to the correct position. Say what you want about how this concept violates the very notion of non-motorized bicycle technology, but take it from me, this thing works, and it works exceptionally fast and good. I was able to stand up on the pedals out of the saddle, and really torque the cranks, while the shifting the system from the small to big chainring without skipping a beat.

After the show, we enjoyed the hospitality of downtown Indianapolis. Getting around in the winter is made easier by the fact that many buildings are connected by a series of elevated walkways, or skywalks. We went from our hotel, to the show at the Convention Center, to two microbreweries, and a shopping mall, all without ever stepping outside!

A few other familiar faces were present: some of our colleagues from other Northeast Ohio bike shops, and a few folks from CAMBA. I met Doriano DeRosa, the latest generation of the De Rosa family of bike builders. I chatted with Maurice Tierney from Dirt Rag Magazine, Jeff Guerrero from Urban Velo magazine, and THE Paul from Paul Components Engineering.

While waiting for a table to get dinner at the RAM Brewing Company, I noticed a woman wearing a distinctive cycling jacket that I recognized from the Sheila Moon Athletic Apparel booth at the show. I asked her, "Do you work for Sheila Moon?" and she replied "I AM Sheila Moon!"

See the show's own photo gallery, as well as information about the winners and all exhibitors, at Also check out for great photo galleries; their pics are all real perfessional lookin' n'at compared to mine.

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