NAHBS pick ‘n mix.

I’m recently back from the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. It’s the third time I’ve attended this gathering of artisan framebuilders – first Portland, then Sacramento and now Denver, Colorado.

This is by no means any attempt at a comprehensive show report – Big Dummy Daddy has done a great job at that. Instead, these are just a few of my favourite bikes, drawn from the many, many on show. Cargo bikes, randonneurs, time trial machines, gravel grinders, fixies… All crafted with unmistakeable obsession and bike love. I’ve written a more in depth mountain biking viewpoint for Singletrack in the UK, which should be up on their website soon.

Following NAHBS has given me the opportunity to skip around the US. As metropolises go, I felt an immediate connection with Denver. Although just a fleeting visit, it’s potential as a liveable, car-free city is clear to see. I look forward to returning when the snow melts for a more thorough exploration of its bike paths, perhaps when its bike sharing program is back up and running in the spring.

Purposeful bikes don’t come much more elegant than this. If I was to attempt Australia’s Canning Stock Route – involving 30 days of and up to four days of water hauling – this would be the machine I’d choose. As it is, Scott, of Porcelain Rocket, is undertaking just such a journey this summer. And this is his bike… A Rick Hunter built fat longtail – with custom bags, of course.

The supercrown-style fork gulps down 3.8in tyres of more. Both front and rear hubs use 170mm spacing, making for a universal wheelset – just in case. The upside down Chris King headset cup is Hunter’s trademark finishing touch.

I was also taken by Rob English’s slealth black, separable bikepacking steed. A Shimano hub provides the gears, along with a Gates carbon belt drive. I’m not into aero man myself, but if I was, this is the way I’d like them. A gently curved front rack, mounted to the upturned headset, cups a roll bag. Two water bottle/Anything cages are afixed to each fork leg, à la Joe Cruz. The bike was built for a British rider planning to race the Divide, who sewed the bags under the aptly named Black Rainbow Project.

Curtis Inglis picked up Best Mountain Bike for this clasic triple. Like several bikes on show, drawn around Surly’s 29+ wheels – the voluminous 29x3in Knards. Building it non-suspension corrected means the fork’s less gappy than that of the Krampus.

The hollow yoke is made by Paragon Machineworks, providing breathing space for this new size of tyre.

Del Norte based Andy Peirce’s swoopy-tubed tandem. A truss-style fork, custom ti seat posts/stems and clearance for Knard tyres complete the look, while a 36 hole Rohloff hub provides the drivetrain. Lots of scope for framebags too… It didn’t pick up best Newcomer award, but we all felt it was certainly one of the highlights of the show.

Bending ovalised, butted tubing this long is a remarkable feat in itself…

Although my riding style probably wouldn’t do it justice, I’m sure I’d have enjoyed trying out this stout, 140mm hardcore hardtail from Engin Cycles, of Philadelphia. Apparently it was designed with rocks and roots in mind, just as its 50mm stem, wide bars, dropper post and slack head angle would suggest.

Pretty dropouts. 650bs – the tweener wheelset that graced many of the mountain bikes at the show – should keep things lively too.

I’ve long admired the ti fanciness that characterises Black Sheep Bikes. Their aesthetic creativity, however, seems in no way in place of engineering knowhow. This full suspension fat bike is still in the prototype stages – built around a 5lb frame, eventual weight should be close to 32lbs.

As if the passive suspension from 5-10psi fat tyres wasn’t enough, there’s a 90mm Fox shock within its suspension linkage and a flex plate at the stays – catering for both small chatter and big hits.

I’m a big fan of the Craig Calfee’s African-based Bamboosero project, which I wrote about on the Worldwide Cycling Atlas site. Unlike many of the show bikes, it’s a bike built with utility in mind over aesthetics, with a NuVinci hub, an inexpensive BMX crankset, a cheap fat fork and affordable Vee Rubber fat tyres. Although costing has yet to be finalised, it’s hoped that a rent-to-own program will ensure it’s a viable proposition for those it’s aimed at, subsidised by grassroots tourism-based projects.

Nick and I have talked about trying to get hold of this Calfee kit and having a crack at building one… Two kits are planned – a basic one for up to $150 and a more advanced one for around $400. The likes of dropouts, bottom bracket shell and headset cups are included, leaving you the task of chopping down some wood or bamboo.

And, just to remind you that these bikes aren’t solely to be ogled and coveted, here’s Scott dirtying up his Hunter in Santa Fe…

Camera: Canon 5dMk2 with 24-105mm f/4 and 70-200mm lenses.

Thanks to Dave of Mellow Velo for the ride up, and Scott and Nick for deftly driving us back mid storm…

21 thoughts on “NAHBS pick ‘n mix.

  1. Gary

    Nice report! I had a soft spot for that Retrotec. One point on Andy’s tandem (AMPeirce.com), not only are the main frame tubes manipulated to be oval and arced- they are also butted tubes. A frame builder at the show was overheard saying that it couldn’t be done with butted tubes- now it has.

    Reply
    1. Andy D. (Big Dummy Daddy)

      Nice to meet you at the show, Gary. Any time you’re in Denver, let me know.

      Andy’s tandem was amazing, and when I later heard that there was no award given for best steel build (or however they termed it), I was surprised that he hadn’t won. Perhaps he didn’t enter the bike in that category; I don’t know how it all works. In any case, the design and the technical skill integral to Andy’s tandem are second to none.

      Reply
      1. Gary

        Andy, it was great to finally meet you too! We will get together again. Likewise, if you get down south look us up.

        Surprisingly, Andy P. found out after the show that he actually had to enter into the ‘new builders award’ to be included, that’s the only award he could have won. We all assumed since he paid to be in the show he’d automatically be entered. Odd, huh? If you have time check out his blog on his website- ampeircecycles.com

        Reply
        1. Andy D. (Big Dummy Daddy)

          I just added Andy’s blog to my blog roll, so I can follow along. I’m now thinking of justification to sneak out of town for a few days to get to Del Norte sometime this Spring. Southern Colorado is one of my favorite places.

          It’s strange that he wasn’t entered into the new builders category. From the quality of his bike, I would never have guessed that he was new to the game. In any case, I think the bike said a lot about his talents, award or not. Can’t wait to see more.

          Reply
        2. Cass Post author

          I know framebuilders have to enter themselves into different categories, if they so wish. But I’d also kind of assumed first timers would be automatically entered into the best newcomer section, seeing as that’s the only award they can win.

          At the end of the day, it’s not about the winning of course, but seeing as you’re there, you might as well at least give it a whirl…

          Reply
  2. Andy D. (Big Dummy Daddy)

    Thanks for the shout out. You selected to feature some of the bikes that I also thought were among the finest at the show, both for form and function. I continue to be in awe of just how great of design and refinement there was to be seen.

    I’d be interested in seeing how one of those Calfee kits turns out. It could be a game changer in the developing world, and a whole lot of fun.

    Reply
  3. Cass Post author

    I believe first timers can only be entered in the new builders award.

    It’s hard to cherry pick from such an impressive line-up, but certainly Andy’s creation was up there with the finest.

    Reply
  4. samh

    Interesting to see that “Black Rainbow Project” has a custom bicycle built up for the Tour. I know only a little about BRP but had incorrectly assumed the owner/creator was more of a urban/hipster type and it’s cool to see they’re into offroad touring.

    Reply
    1. Cass Post author

      BRP’s site isn’t active at the moment – just a holding page. I too don’t know too much about him, just that he makes messenger packs. His bikepacking gear looked really good – and very individually styled.

      Reply
      1. Black Rainbow Project

        Haha…’Urban/hipster type’ ?

        Can a 38 year old guy be a hipster?
        I’ve been cycling my whole life and riding mtb’s for 27 of those 38 years so hopefully i’ve earned my dirt wings by now? :]
        Let’s not forget that messenger bags have been around a lot longer than hipsters…and I’ve been making bags for about 15 years now on and off.
        I’m glad you both like the bike and the bags though…It just arrived today, so I can’t wait to test it out….probably just to pop out to the coffee shop to sip frothy coffees with my hipster friends though…I wouldn’t want the bike to get dirty after all. ;]

        Great blog btw Cass!

        Reply
          1. Black Rainbow Project

            I relocated just over a year ago and had to build a whole new workshop which took months,so I’ve been playing catch up ever since.
            That’s why there’s very little information out there just now…but I’ll be sorting the business out properly over the next few months so I’ll keep you updated.
            I don’t actually make the bikepacking stuff as a rule though tbh…just for myself and the odd friend here and there.
            The saddlebags are the only thing i’ve made a few batches of.

            People like Scott and Eric really deserve the business on that side of things.

  5. Joe Cruz

    Thanks for these photos, Cass. Super bummed that I couldn’t make it out to Denver to meet up with you guys, and these images certainly aren’t helping!

    Reply
  6. Peter Mac

    Hello mate,
    sorry to be nit pickee…..ah, your reference to Australia’s defo piont of torture is actually called “The Canning Stock Route”. Not the reverse. ie Stock Canning.
    It is a torrid track that several decades ago was the main thoroughfare for early cattle transport from the upper reaches of Western Australia way down to the markets prior to sale. (Long before the monster road trains of today and dust storms).
    Anyhow, best wishes with the continued charm of your site…..it’s lubblee.
    Ciao
    Peter

    Reply
  7. wunnspeed

    Nice job. I have to say, Curtis’s is my favorite, but I own a new Retrotec Triple from Curtis and it has to be my favorite bike ever! The English and Hunter bikes really trip my trigger too though. Very nicely done. Like you, I’m not a fan of the aero bar thing on mountain bikes and I’m lucky enough not to need them for long hauls in the saddle. However, if I did…

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  8. Brian

    Nice report! Really enjoyed seeing all the fat bikes out in Denver this year, especially after buying my own a couple months prior to the event.

    Reply
  9. Jason Evans

    Gday Cass, thanks for making us all jealous once again. If only we had an awesome bike show down here in Australia, that us ozzies could attend.
    Good to see your Ogre is still going well, albeit with the knard tyres.
    Take care

    Reply

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