Judging the awards at NAHBS is never easy. We take seriously our responsibility to the builders assembled to give their bikes as much time as we can as we assess just which bikes are the most outstanding from a crop that already fairly represents the pinnacle of the craft. Even so, this year, due to a somewhat larger field of builders present and because many builders brought even more bikes than usual, judging the awards was profoundly difficult in many categories.
The good news is that I managed to get the band back together yet again and had Nick Legan and Jeff Archer join me for the judging. With three years of history at this point, we know how the conversation will go and we have become accustomed to asking and answering plenty of questions to make sure we are all working from the same data as we evaluate. The fact that with the exception of Andrew Yee of Cyclocross Magazine joining us for the cyclocross/gravel category, we have three judges makes the judging more efficient and better allows us to get through all the bikes except for the Best New Builder and Best in Show in just a single day.
Rob English at English Cycles consistently showed some of the most original bikes we saw all weekend. He won best road bike with this pink steel and carbon creation. It was unusual among road bikes in that the bike was build around 38mm tires and like many of English’s road bikes featured nearly nonexistent seatstays.
The bike was also notable in that while it is a disc road bike, English went with TRP Spyre mechanical discs and then used compressionless housing to help give the brakes a bit more oomf. It was also built around through-axles.
In an effort to keep the bike light despite the choice to go with discs, English went with some very light rotors. The decision to go with such a big tire on a road bike was easy for us to comprehend knowing that this bike is Rob’s personal ride and many of the roads surrounding Eugene, Ore., are chip seal and will beat you like an unloved child if you go with 25mm tires pumped up to 100 psi. Trust me.
Our winner in the best cyclocross/gravel came from Eriksen Cycles. This is welder Brad Bingham’s personal ride. It was a crowded field dominated by gravel bikes. The Eriksen is a gravel bike, with a longer wheelbase, lower bottom bracket and smoother tires than we would have seen on a pure ‘cross rig.
Like every Eriksen on display, this bike had exquisite welding as evidenced by this entry point for the disc brake housing. The shrink tubing to keep the inside of the liner clean was a nice touch. The particular build of each bike was very important. Andrew was quick to dismiss anything that didn’t have disc brakes. What helped set bikes apart was when the bike in question was destined for a particular user riding a particular terrain and the parts pick reflected the requirements of that environment. I should note that we ruled out many otherwise good bikes because they had absolutely dismal tire clearance.
Despite the presence of a number of great mountain bikes, Alchemy’s Arktos trail/enduro mountain bike was our winner. This bike’s success is partly a reflection of their great and original work in carbon fiber, but also due to the fact that this was one of very few bikes that spoke to what is the single most popular category in mountain bike sales currently. If you want to be successful as a business, it helps if you’re making bikes that speak to the sort of riding the largest slice of the mountain bike market wants to do.
That Alchemy does all their own paint in-house now sure helps their presentation. The Arktos benefits from plenty of internally routed cable keeping its appearance uncluttered. The fact that it is not only a full-suspension bike but also had plenty of travel for riding on real trails and not ultra-specialized cross country courses held plenty of appeal for us.
Aside from the tech considerations, that Alchemy’s work presents just as professionally as that from any major bike company, from finish quality to more esoteric concerns like the particular lines of the design and the creator’s larger concern for the bike’s industrial design really helped put this bike over the top. Alchemy had a great deal more work in store to bring this bike to the market than most of its competitors.
This Breadwinner city bike was exactly what we were looking for. It couldn’t have more perfectly typified what we like to see in a city bike. The mixte frame is for a woman of slight stature. She’s one half of a couple that do not own a car—he had a complementary city bike in the booth. The fenders make it appropriate as a daily driver in Portland.
The porteur rack gives it some good carrying capacity. A front generator hub means the light shines any time it’s moving and the choice to go with a 650B wheel size allowed Tony and Ira at Breadwinner to spec a big, cushy tire without making the bike’s center of gravity too high.
A bike with this much extra tubing doubles your risk of having one bad braze or weld knock the bike from competition. Of course, when the builder gets it right, the result in transcendent. You can see here that even though the bike was equipped with a porteur rack, they included brazeons and eyelets so that a rear rack could be mounted to increase carrying capacity.
The one truly surprising detail on the bike wasn’t the XT disc brakes, but spec’ing an XTR Di2 1x drivetrain. The routing was clean and the wide-spaced cassette means that the rider will have plenty of gears for getting around town.
Co-Motion took the competition for best tandem. The Macchiato might look unusual with its lack of a direct lateral tube bisecting the frame, but the large-diameter, double-butted aluminum tubing is stiff enough to eliminate the need for that tube. It improves the ride quality of the bike some in addition to shaving a pound from the bike. And for folks who like to punish their friends from the saddle of a tandem, this bike is made for turning a group ride into a single-file sufferfest.
Co-Motion has distinguished itself for clean, eye-grabbing finishes. Instead of a traditional timing chain, the Macchiato uses a Gates Carbon Drive belt for the timing, which reduces weight, maintenance and noise. It’s been a real no-brainer improvement to tandems.
The deep-section carbon clinchers, Di2 drivetrain and hydraulic discs mean that this bike is easy to control and quick out on the road. What isn’t immediately apparent here is how good Co-Motion’s geometry is. Their bikes have really redefined what good handling for a tandem is, helping to make tandeming a fair more interesting pursuit for capable cyclists.
The Artisan award was instituted to recognize builders who did an unusual degree of in-house fabrication. The fact is, most bikes start out as just a collection of tubes pulled from a box. There aren’t many builders who actually fabricate much. This unusual flat-bar road bike from DeKerf isn’t exactly why this award was created, but it’s a perfect example of the surprises that can emerge.
Every one of the tubes on this frame started both straight and round. Compounding the difficulty of shaping all these tubes was the fact that the tubing material is titanium. Chris DeKerf told me he had hundreds of hours in this frame.
Not only were these chainstays joined by this unusual chainstay bridge, they curved upward on their run from the bottom bracket to the dropouts. The quality of the welding was exemplary. This bike would have been in the running had it been paintless and submitted for best TIG welding.
DeKerf flattened the chainstays so much that on the drive side he had to cut away some of the tubing and weld in a plate in order to leave room for the cassette cogs. His work on this bike was so good that this was perhaps the only award where the winner was almost instantly obvious.
Silca helped up the ante this year in terms of presentation. It wasn’t enough to show up with a bike with a beautiful paint job. If you wanted to wow people, you needed to harmonize the frame with other components and the go-to was to add a Silca Super Pista floor and Impero frame pump.
So it was surprising when this Caletti was submitted for best finish. No matching pumps. However, it did have matching shoes, helmet and … slingshot. There was really only one other bike (Mark DiNucci’s Yellow Submarine bike with matching Silca Super Pista and Impero) that even came close to wowing to this degree. The sheer originality of the helmet, shoes and slingshot really got us.
Matching stems doesn’t happen all that often, but it’s just the sort of touch that tells us a builder is paying attention. I’m less concerned with what brand the stem is than the fact that some effort has been made to make the stem match.
Does you bike have a crab on it? No? Too bad.
The paint job began with a white powdercoat, which gave the underlying paint stability and durability. It was then hand painted over dozens of hours. Once the paint was completed, the bike was then sent to a painter for a clear coat to protect all the hand-painted art. Gotta dot your Is, cross your Ts.