The Handmade Bike Show – I Wasn’t There. Here’s My Report.

What’s that old saw about living somewhere, but never taking advantage of its attractions? That was me this weekend. Austin, Texas hosted the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) and I didn’t go.

However, it was hard to miss, even away from the Convention Center venue. Saturday night, Bicycle Sport Shop hosted a little party (hundreds came) in conjunction with the show. They encouraged people to ride their bikes to the party, and those who owned handmade bikes were allowed to bring them inside the store and exhibit them. I turned out for that event, although I wondered if the big crowd was there for the bikes, or for the free beer and ice cream.

These are just some of the bikes people rode to the party. The 70-degree evening was perfect for a night ride. Only a few cars got to use the shop’s parking lot.

Inside, one attendee puts his own handmade bike on a rack while others travel the aisles to look the bikes over.

Some of the exhibitors at the show were at the store too, displaying some of their bikes. Co-Motion had a nice corner of the store, perhaps because Bicycle Sports Shop carries Co-Motion bikes.

A Co-Motion Nor’Wester touring bike fitted out as a commuter. Note the wooden fenders.

This road bike by Austin-based Alchemy Bicycles attracted a lot of attention.

So, after seeing all these bikes and people, am I sorry I didn’t swing by the Convention Center and take in the real show? Not really. Handmade bikes are beautiful pieces of craftsmanship, but for me, they’re out of my league. I doubt I’ll ever own a handmade bike, both because of their cost (although some seem to be priced in line with the higher-end offerings of the mass production bike companies), and because of what I consider my relative lack of sophistication about bikes. I’m perfectly happy with the Specialized Allez I own, and I see myself making upgrades to it before I pop for a whole new bike, and a custom built one at that. But I guess I can always dream.

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3 thoughts on “The Handmade Bike Show – I Wasn’t There. Here’s My Report.

  1. I was at the show and I have to say, $3k for a full Campy equipped handmade bike from Daltex is a pretty good price. That $3k is a complete bike to ride.

  2. I don’t think handbuilt custom bikes are more expensive than similar store bought bikes. While the NAHBS displays beautiful and high end bikes, most of the builder can produce a bike at the same price as a Trek or Specialized – it depends upon the options.

    This segment of the market generally attracts riders who have had several bikes in their riding careers. By that time, you have a pretty good idea of what you like in a bike in terms of handling, fit, your riding style (climber, masher, spinner) and purpose. Most of these bikes will last a lifetime and can be repaired if necessary. They can also be repainted and options can be added later on, like eyelets for fenders and racks.

    Off-the-shelf bikes are marketed toward racing and only produced in certain sizes. But most folks are not racers nor do they have the build. And if you have fit issues (long torso, short legs, etc), it’s hard to find a bike that fits properly. Material-wise, carbon fiber and aluminum lend themselves to mass production, as they require less expensive labor and materials. A worker laying up carbon doesn’t have to have the same skill and experience as a welder of lugged/filet brazed steel or titanium. Most aluminum bikes are welded by robotic machines (about 15 minutes).

    So many handbuilt customers are drawn to these builders for fit, aesthetics and purpose. Many have bought bikes for purpose, as it is difficult to find a bike that is an all-rounder used for touring, long distance (randoneuring) and off-road (dirt trails) from the major manufacturers. Cross bikes come close but some have high bottom brackets that is for quick handling and not necessarily stable for touring and long distance. Or they have short chainstays which doesn’t lend itself to racks and panniers (heels hit the panniers as you pedal). And many don’t have eyelets for racks or fenders. Very few major brands offer true touring bikes; years ago Cannondale had its T-series and there was the classic Trek 520.

    I have owned Treks, Cannondales, Giants and Bridgestones, and they are all good bikes. But as I rode them, it was a path of discovery to what I liked and wanted. I favor bikes with stable handling over quicker handling – that is, bikes with slacker angles, longer wheelbase and low bottom brackets (bb drop of 7cm or more). I fit almost all 56/57cm bikes but prefer slack seat angles which fit my (slightly) longer femurs (I used to push the saddle all the way back, even with seatposts with setback).

    I’m at the point where the bikes that I own will last the rest of my life and fit all my requirements and desires. I have bought handbuilt bikes for various reasons: Richard Sachs for classic steel beauty, great handling and built by a master (like a fine watch); Kish titanium all-purpose/cross/tourer – lightweight, weather resistant and aesthetic (I had it painted); and Serottas for racing and handling and the high end materials.

    If you can get to NAHBS or the like (there are regional shows sometimes), do yourself a favor and go. Meet and talk with the builders – it’s a great learning experience and eye-opener to what is out there beyond the bike shop.

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