North American Handbuilt Bike Show

(below) One of my personal favourites. This Jeff Jones-inspired ti 29er is the handywork of Black Sheep Bikes from Colorado, and picked up best ti bike of the show.

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The blog has fallen into a state of neglect over the last week, as I’ve been consumed with bikes, bikes and yet more bikes at the North American Handbuilt Bike Show, held in Portland, Oregon. (note that you can find all the web links to the builders below on the official site)

Now in its fourth year, it proved to be an incredible, inspiring show, host to 152 exhibitors and 7000 attendees. Perhaps it’s better to describe it as a lavish gallery of bicycle artwork. I spent the first of three days simply ricocheting round in semi-dazed confusion, eyes flitting from one fillet brazed frame to another, diverted by a fancy lug, or elaborate paintwork, or a custom rack.

The US frambuilding scene is experiencing a real renaissance. Thanks to a variety of seminars, the show’s a place where framebuilders can gather to hang out, drawing inspiration from one another, and raising the ‘fully custom’ bar yet further. Because we’re not just talking about custom tubesets and sizes here. This is taking the word custom to a completely new level, with mind boggling individuality and obsessive attention to detail. With standards so high, there’s a lot of attention grabbing antics to stand out from the ‘crowd’. Inevitably, not all bikes are to everyone’s tastes (just like art, I guess), but no denying the skill and sweat that’s gone into them.

Here’s just a few pictures of bits that caught my eye, though they’re only a snapshot of what was there.

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(above) I was at the show with one of the UK’s premier bespoke builders, Robin Mather, who’s a big fan of JR Weigle (of Framesave fame). I can see why. Exquisite bikes.

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(top left) The show was also rich with ‘Randonneur’ style machines, harking back to the golden era of the 1930s, when these bikes were built for unsupported long distance riders covering distances of up to 1200km. This one, by Ahearne, was amongst my favourites, with individual touches like stem mounted shifters and double chainstays. (top right) Custom racks were racks were aplenty, like the lovely ones on the Vanilla stand, which included stainless steel guides to protect paintwork. (top left) In the wake of the 29er’s acceptance by mainstream manufacturers, there were a dozen 650B wheeled bikes (roughly half way between a 29er and a 26in tyre), championed by Kirk Pacenti, they included this gorgeous singlespeed from Sycip. (bottom right) What do you get when you gene splice a ‘cyclocross frame with Panaracer’s 700x45c knobblies? Not a 29er, but a Monster ‘Cross, as these bikes are being called. This one was built by Black Cat with plain gauge tubes for serious abuse.

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Just like Crufts, someone’s destined to come away with Best of Show. Canadian Naked Cycles scooped up the award, as well as a slew of other trophies, with their modern take on a late 1800s track bike. In fact, there was rarely less than a mob of camera-snapping enthusiasts around it. Note the wooden rims, disc brake and integrated though-the-frame lock. Apparently, it was sold to Lance Armstrong… Bike fanatic Robin Williams also attended the show.

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(above left) Another theme was the profusion of integrated cable runs; snaking up fork legs, through top tubes or worming through stems. This one is from a Courage bike, who won best newcomer. (above right) Custom head badges really stood out too, like those on A.N.T. Bikes. (bottom left) Integrated stems and handlebars put the finishing touch to a custom cockpit, as with this Sycip fixie. (bottom right) Or how about some faux rust irony, for that ‘I just found this in grandpa’s barn’ look…

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I love my utility bikes so was pleased to see a few ‘longtails’ too, like this cool cat from Hunter. Unlike Surly’s impending Big Dummy, it doesn’t use the Xtracycle Freeradical system – so it’s just lash and go.

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Made by Engin, this 29er features a Pacenti crown both on the fork and at the chainstays: the rear BB7 disc cable runs directly through it. The builder, Drew Guldarian, used to be a chef…

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Aside from a resurgence of wooden rims, was this wood and carbon frame from Renovo – the whole bike weighed around 18lbs. As well as showcasing new ideas, the show’s a chance for fans and prospective buyers to talk to builders.

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Bruce Gordon’s ti road bike picked up a couple of awards, including best road bike. But I really liked his little purple BMXer, fitted with his hallmark ti cantilever brakes and a Ritchey-style double crown fork – it’s that Pacenti again.

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Rohloff were also displaying their new belt driven hubs, and accompanying sprockets. Belts are good for 10 000 miles and knock half a pound off a frames weight. But you’ll need a custom frame, or an S&S coupling in the chainstay to fit them. Due out very soon, they’re recommended for city use initially. Next to it is a Paragon sliding dropout, on an Igleheart. Framebuilder Chris seems an incredibly kind soul and a keen cycle tourer; we’ve made tentative plans to ride over the Khyber Pass one day.

I’m writing up a feature for What Mountain Bike, and had a fantastic few days ferreting around in the name of research, meeting some immensely talented people, and having the opportunity to hang out with framebuilders. I even squeezed in a couple of lovely rides in the foresty, hilly outskirts of this bike-friendly city.

Which at the end of the day – no matter how beautiful your bike looks – is what it’s all about….

Thanks to Robin Mather and Gary Boulanger (of Gaansari fame) from Bikeradar for helping out.

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12 Responses to “North American Handbuilt Bike Show”


  1. 1 Tegid February 19, 2008 at 8:59 am

    Bike porn of the highest quality!!! I like the look of the Black Cat monster ‘cross. Is it legal to have so many sparkly bits in one show??

  2. 2 otbiking February 19, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    That Black Cat would have been perfect for you Tegid. Built up real strong, perfect for a Welsh riding machine like you!

  3. 3 Bruce Gordon February 19, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Just a clarification – the Bruce Gordon road frame and stem are
    ALL Titanium – NO steel. The fork is carbon fiber.
    Regards,
    Bruce Gordon

  4. 4 otbiking February 19, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Sorry! Thanks for that. Have updated it.

  5. 5 OnAnInbred February 20, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    Hey Cass, great reportback – Looks like it was a brilliant show. So nice to see there are so many little companies doing so well.

    That Rohloff belt driven hub looks intriguing – but I don’t understand why it saves so much weight?

    I just sent my deposit to Robin Mather…. a mere 14 month wait! Plenty of time to think about what i want I guess.

    regards,
    Philip D

  6. 6 otbiking February 21, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Nice one Phil. Well, we have plenty of time to discuss the final form it will take!

    Almost .5 lbs was the number the guys at the stand were quoting. Apparently, the belts themselves are incredibly light (so carrying a spare is no problem), though I’m not sure if there will be a difference in sprocket weight.

    I think Rohloff are keen to get it into the commuting market (where it would be extremely practical) for some real world riding, before deciding on how suitable it is for touring, or mountain biking.

  7. 7 Mark from Canada February 22, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    Hey Cass, too bad I missed the show, it looks great. I’ll have to head over next year. Interestingly, I’m in the process of ordering a new bike from Naked Cycles, whihc happens to be just up the Island from me. It’ll be my new tourer which will have S&S couplings and BB7’s. Finally time to upgrade!

    If you make it up here let me know and I’ll take you on some great North Shore trails.

    later

  8. 8 otbiking February 23, 2008 at 11:51 am

    wow Mark. any idea when it will be finished? Look forward to seeing it.

  9. 9 Mark February 23, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    he says 5-6 months which should be just in time for this week-long backcountry trip through the Chilcotins I’d like to plan for August. It’ll have the Booomerang dropouts which allow for a disc brake to be mounted inside the rear triangle, which means standard racks will fit.

    BTW, as always the photos are great, good composition.

  10. 10 Yogi Nasser May 2, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    Just a clarification – The Eon bicycle from Black Sheep was not based on or influenced by Jeff Jones,James Bleakley has been making two piece truss forks since 2003 and before was Jeff Jones known to him.Merlin was the first to make such a fork in the early nineties.

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