Given the way coverage of NAHBS has exploded in the last few years, I came to the conclusion that there’s really no reason for RKP to be an also-ran in the custom-bike blogosphere. To that end, I’m going to continue to slice the coverage into more interesting chunks, rather than just another image dump.
I heard many people compare NAHBS to what Interbike either was or should be. It’s an interesting thought, though one that is unrealistically idealistic in my opinion. Interbike is an always has been a mission to introduce retailers to lines that would like to be on the floor of respected bike shops. The NAHBS mission is entirely different. Sure, every builder in there would like to write at least enough orders to make their trip pay for itself, if not run solidly black in both ink and bottom line. However, the real point of the show is to get visitors excited about handmade bicycles. You can only read so much about handmade bikes before you reach a certain point of critical lust at which point you either tune out because of insubstantial capital infrastructure, or you get serious about your lust and begin shopping for your next bike. NAHBS is the tide on which all these guys are rising.
I spend a lot of time riding, reviewing and inspecting handmade frames in the mid-1990s. At the 1996 Interbike, both Nova Cycle Supply and Reynolds (two of the biggest tubing suppliers in the U.S.) bought booth space enough to allow many of their builder customers to display bikes. I spent entirely more time in those two booths than was justifiable given my journalistic duties. Any time I had five minutes to kill between appointments, I could be found in one of the two booths.
Later, Hank Folson of Henry James bought booth space at the Los Angeles Bike Show consumer event, in which a dozen or so builders showed off their frames.
What I can tell you about the 15 or so years that have passed is this: handmade bicycle frame building is enjoying a renaissance of outsized proportion. We will look back on the 1970s and ’80s as the Golden Age, a time when craft was high and handmade frames dominated the very top of the market. Today, carbon fiber is clearly the dominant material, but the quality of work today—when viewed as a whole—is significantly greater. The least interesting frame I saw at NAHBS (and I honestly couldn’t name anything I saw as uninteresting) was easily as good as the best stuff I was seeing in the 1990s.
Bicycle Guide’s “Hot Tubes” column was criticized by two prominent builders on one occasion in which they noted to me how two consecutive builders we had featured were recent graduates of a popular frame building class and the frames we had featured showed only the most minimal lug work (i.e. the casting seams had been filed down, but no more than that). What was on display at NAHBS showed a great deal more creativity and work.
What follows are some shots of lug work on some of my favorite frames from the show.
This pantographed, investment cast seat lug is a hallmark of Della Santa’s work.
Michigan builder Herbie Helm came to our attention last year thanks to his ultra-ornate lug work.
The tail light integrated into the seat lug becomes extra cool when you notice the cable exit.
The curls in the head tube lugs recall those of Nervex—theme and variation; Glenn Gould for frame builders.
These wrap-around seatstay points are courtesy of Dave Kirk.
Bronzing is unusual for frame finishing; the thinned point and diamond cut-out on this Cielo are beautiful.
Sometimes the simplest touches, such as the stainless steel, polished seatstay caps on this Cielo are pure class.
The ultra-thinned points on this Ritchey frame are stunners. This frame dates from the mid-’70s.
Randonneur frames were all the rage and this naked frame from Ellis combined randonneur touches with Di2.
The amount of polished stainless steel on this Ellis would put Detroit’s finest to shame.
It would have been easy to go overboard on a bike like this; the lug shaping shows taste and refinement.