NAHBS 14, Part IV

NAHBS 14, Part IV

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Peacock Groove‘s “Highlander” bike received the President’s Award, which is Don Walker’s personal nod to his favorite bike in the show. The bike was meant as an homage to the film “The Highlander” (there can be only one) and was entered in the theme category. I’m told that Peacock Grove’s Erik Noren was the reason the “theme bike” category was instituted—so many of his bikes fell outside the traditional categories and yet his work was of such a consistently high level of achievement, a decision was made to create a category to acknowledge unusual work such as this.

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The bike demonstrated a seriously reworked tube set and lugs cut into such unusual shapes they were unrecognizable. While I’m going to discuss judging criteria in a post to come, I’ll say that this bike didn’t win its category because the bike’s theme wasn’t reinforced by the build of the bike itself. Without the paint, nothing about the build suggested a specific sci-fi film. It’s a great bike, which is why when Don asked my opinion about whether he’d catch hell for giving an award to a guy who was a personal friend, I told him I’d have his back.

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This bike was one of the more unusual bikes at the show and I think it’s unfortunate that the use of the tartan actually distracted from the incredible lug work and tube manipulation.

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This was truly creative work and it absolutely deserved some recognition. And yes, he makes his own headsets.

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Six-Eleven Bicycle Co. received the People’s Choice Award. This mountain bike is a great example of Aaron Dykstra’s work that attracted such consistent attention.

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Argonaut Cycles won Best of Show with this gravel racer. Because Best of Show is selected not from specific entries but instead considers all bikes within the show, it was easily the hardest category to judge. While I can say that several candidates quickly rose to the contender’s list, moving on from those was terribly difficult. Trying to compare a carbon fiber bike like this to a lugged steel bike is ridiculously difficult to do. One thread of our conversation included the observation that this was not unlike determining Best in Show at the New York Kennel Club show. We were judging the best Siberian Husky against the best Bichon Frisé. That’s made all the tougher when you acknowledge to the other judges that you love Siberians but couldn’t see yourself ever owning a Bichon. That’s perhaps less literally true than it sounds.

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Of the bikes we considered, I can say that I’d have owned any of them, gladly, had they been my size. Despite some other stellar rides, we kept returning to this bike for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, this bike presents a level of customization very few other builders can claim to approach. Not only can Argonaut customize both the fit and geometry, but the layup can be tailored to the rider, which is an order of magnitude greater customization than simply picking one tube over another. These features are not unique to Argonaut; Alchemy, Appleman (what is it with all the “A” names?) and Crumpton each offer this.

Also noteworthy is the way the tube shapes reflect what we see from the industry’s most forward-looking designs. The frame didn’t include a bunch of odd triangular or rhomboid shapes that haven’t been backed up by FEA modeling. In short, the frame design made sense, visually. Other factors that helped this bike was the simple color palette and the way the gold-anodized parts blended with the powder blue to give the bike an attractive, but not loud look. That the line weight on the Argonaut decal was the same weight as that of the Enve decals on the wheels gave a nice shape echo through the bike, making it even more attractive. This is a bike that will attract eyeballs anywhere it shows, but will do so without begging for attention.

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Because one of the consistent goals with a carbon fiber frame is to achieve low weight, it made sense that this bike wasn’t covered with seven layers of paint. By leaving the bare unidirectional fiber showing over most of the frame, Argonaut’s Ben Farver was able to show off the quality of the layup work (remember, he won that award as well, though with a different frame) and leave the frame feeling lively because it wasn’t buried under 200 grams of material that won’t make it ride better.

Commercial considerations were definitely part of our deliberations. The parts pick on this bike shows that Farver gets what people want in a gravel bike; heck, the fact that he’s doing a gravel bike demonstrates he can see where the hot interest is, which is to say he was smart not to show up with a randonnee bike with 10cm of trail and a 40-lb. bag on the front. Rando is dead, at least as far as these builders were concerned.

There were two bikes that really caught our eyes, but had to be eliminated, each for significant reasons. Tom Ritchey built a carbon fiber Breakaway. We were, however, informed that Ritchey would have been incredibly uncomfortable receiving the award. Tunrs out, the bike isn’t going to be commercially available and Ritchey didn’t want to take recognition away from the builders who are doing it day-in and out. Classy response, actually. Along similar lines, Moots showed a very special bike they built for Peter Chisholm of Vecchio’s in Boulder, Colo. Chisholm is an icon of the Boulder scene and has finally called it a day; he’s retiring. Moots made him a stunning retirement present (watch for images in a coming post), but they won’t do another bike like that, not for all the dollars in a Mexican drug lord’s garage. So again, not commercially available. A bike can’t be Best of Show if you can’t have it. Period.

The bottom line for me is that I think the Best of Show should reflect a bike that sits squarely within the bell curve of what we aspire to own. A bunch of very cool lugged steel bikes have won this award, and rightly so. However, that isn’t the only type of bike we get worked up about. This gravel racer (Farver’s term, which I liked) may not be everyone’s personal cup of tea, but it’s impossible to suggest that this bike doesn’t have serious widespread appeal based on what we see on the road and the sorts of rides we know people are putting on. Layup work may never be as sexy as putting a torch on a joint and pushing silver rod in, but this bike has achieved a level of desirability that made it a standout in a room full of great bikes.

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9 comments

  1. Dustin

    That Six-Eleven was a pretty bike but I was really surprised it won the people’s choice award. The rear tire clearance was almost non-existent, even with a narrow-ish tire on the back. The flower power Groovy was my favorite bike at the show. Plenty of tire clearance (even with a 29+ tire), lots of tubing manipulations, custom stem/bar combo, custom made cranks, AND a killer paint job.

  2. Aar

    My disappointment in the awards given at NAHBS this year is that Nick Crumpton did not receive an award. To me, his work was by far one of the two standouts of the show (the other did receive an award). I am not saying this to cast a negative light upon any of the award winners in any way. I just thought the bikes he had on display were exceptional and deserved an award of some kind.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Aar: Nick was showing a really stellar naked frame. I told him it should have been entered for Best Layup, though there’s no guarantee he would have won. But he didn’t enter. We can’t give awards to bikes/frames that don’t get entered. That’s an exhibitor problem, not a judging problem.

    2. Aar

      Thanks for the explanation. I assumed he had entered it because he was gone with it for a big chunk of Friday at the same time Argonaut had their naked frame away.

  3. Pmurf

    At first I was shocked when Ben and Argonaut won for best in show – the handmade scene tends to have such fervor for tradition that it seemed inconceivable that a carbon bike would ever win. But after mulling it over I thought it was the perfect choice to both honor exquisite craftsmanship and make a statement that material itself is no longer a metric in determining what a great handmade bike is. Ben is every bit the artist the torch-wielders and bead-layers are, and that bike was conceived, constructed, finished and spec’d to the same degree as any lugged steel beauty at the show.

  4. Pat O'Brien

    After looking at your photos from the show, and others from different sources, I think being a judge for this show would be a hard job. It seems that the level of craftsmanship and innovation gets better every year. I still struggle with thinking about carbon fiber as a material for handmade frames and components. My old school prejudices are showing; I just want to see ti and steel frames.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      On a point somewhat related to your comment about the improvement in craftsmanship and innovation, Pat, I had a phone conversation with one veteran frame builder following the show. He lamented that there are, in his opinion, many builders who haven’t been in the game for very long, may not be doing it full time, might be fresh out of UBI. I pointed out that all those things could be true but even the work at the show that you’d just call “pretty good” was beyond much of the work that we ran in “Hot Tubes” when I was at Bicycle Guide. Some of the newer builders are producing work better than the bikes we were doing full reviews of.

  5. Pingback: NAHBS via Padraig at Red Kite Prayer & Some Tandems | The TandemGeek's Blog

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