Every year there are bikes that go home empty-handed, bikes that miss out on recognition despite their obvious excellence. It kills me. I make a point of it to visit the builders who came close and speak with them. This is especially true of the honorable mentions, but isn’t limited to them.
A great case in point was Rob English’s travel road bike. His proprietary folding frame design was on display in that road bike and a time trial bike in his booth. It’s a fresh idea that may warrant a patent. That alone was enough to merit consideration for Best in Show; we don’t often run across bikes with ideas so fresh that they may be patentable, and I do believe that one of the duties of the awards is to recognize originality. There will certainly be people who will accuse us of failing to properly praise that bike (either bike), but because there’s no category for travel bikes and English didn’t enter it in any of the other categories, it was really only considerable for the Best in Show. This is how greatness can slip through the cracks.
There were a number of bikes that matched Silca pumps to frame paint schemes; in addition to my DiNucci, there were bikes from Mosaic, Breadwinner and others that took that old touch of class and gave it fresh expression. In every instance my gut reaction was to be wowed by the cool factor. That attention to detail came together amazingly with the Caletti, but another overlooked expression of this was in the Breadwinner booth with the motorcycle (with carrier) painted to match the bike—or was it vice-versa? That’s another one that got away.
I bring these bikes up because I want to make sure the exhibitors know that Nick Legan, Jeff Archer and I were paying attention. Those efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the judges. And while we expect that they did plenty to draw people into their booths—as intended—it’s important to me that I take a moment to praise these presentations in spite of the fact that they didn’t receive any awards. It’s important that exhibitors continue to bring their A game.
There are other unusual quirks of judging that are harder to explain. Curtis Inglis showed off an amazing 27 Plus mountain bike with a gorgeous matte green and gold paint job and 40th anniversary Chris King hubs, headset and bottom bracket. It didn’t win Best Mountain Bike or even get an honorable mention, but when it came time to look for Best in Show, it was a bike that definitely pinged on my radar.
Incredibly, Black Cat’s Todd Ingermanson produced three different mountain bikes that were all so gorgeous in presentation that we discussed just which of his bikes would be our consideration for Best in Show. I can’t say our choice was arbitrary, but the fact is the Black Cat aesthetic is so refined and unique we could have given the award to him without even designating a bike. I gave Ingermanson grief for not entering any bikes for awards last year as well as this year. He told me that awards aren’t his thing and he made it clear that the entire process makes him uneasy and anxious, which is a shame, but I can’t fault him for his clarity and honesty. Up on stage, Ingermanson leaned into me and said, “So this is how you get your revenge?” It was good natured, but I appreciate that climbing on to the dais may not have been his favorite thing ever. He played it like a pro and my God, did he deserve it.
This year, I changed how the judging was performed in some significant ways. Ahead of the show Don emailed a form to all the builders—whether they had indicated a willingness to enter a bike or not—that requested them to fill in information about their entry. We’ve done this in the past, but to the questions about fabrication and special touches, I asked some new questions. They included just how many bikes a builder is likely to produce in a year, how many hours were in the bike in question, how long the wait is from order to delivery, the retail price for the bike and how many people were involved in its fabrication, among others.
I did this because the awards have been faulted for only recognizing the pretty. I’ve heard it said that if you’re not doing curly lugs, you won’t win an award at NAHBS. While that is untrue to an obvious degree, it does carry with it an air of accuracy in that bikes that are labored over are definitely more likely to win. But what of the frame built in 10 hours and delivered to a customer in three or four months? There’s a distinct value in that.
Carl Strong of Strong Cycles is a fine an example of someone whose aesthetic is utterly austere because his priority is delivering a well-made bike quickly. That we’ve managed to fetishize the wait for a frame is utterly dysfunctional. The awards ought to recognize someone who delivers a quality machine without an undue wait. Those criteria came to the fore as we discussed Best Mountain Bike. Jeremy Sycip submitted a mountain bike frame that cost $1800 and required a wait of four to five months. That’s great customer service.
The best part of this year’s show? You needed at least a full day to get through all the exhibitors.