NAHBS 2017: Category Award Winners, Part I

NAHBS 2017: Category Award Winners, Part I

In recognizing bikes for achievement, it’s obvious that categories must be created. It’s hard to compare a mountain bike to a road bike, right? What is better is likely to depend largely on your own preferences. It’s further complicated by the fact that a steel mountain bike is almost certainly going to be TIG welded while a head-turning road bike made from steel is more likely to be lugged or fillet brazed. There’s just no way to compare them.

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So we have categories for best mountain bike, best road bike, best cyclocross bike, etc. But even so, I can say that I never know just what of each we will see. I go in with no preconceived notions and try to be open to what the bikes say to us. Such was the case with the mountain bike from Sklar Bikes.

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This is a Swiss Army Bike if ever there was one. It features Paragon flanged sliding dropouts so that it can be run as a single speeder, which is how it was set up for the show. But it also features cable routing for a rear derailleur, should you choose to add one. Up front, it was equipped with a rigid fork for folks with more ambition and younger joints than I possess. But that fork featured the same crown to axle measurement as a suspension fork, making this effectively four bikes in one, provided you purchase a rear derailleur, cassette and suspension fork.

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I loved how convertible this bike was, even if I have more interest in standing in front of a firing squad than riding a fully rigid, single speed mountain bike. I respect how that setup would make riders I know drool. Beyond that, it’s a clean-looking bike with a simple color palette. The arc of the top tube combined with the seat tube support gave it a rakish style that couldn’t help but draw attention the way a Ferrari does.

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While the gold chain didn’t quite match the gold-anodized hubs, headset, brakes and quick releases, those other components all matched perfectly and the combination of polished aluminum and gold ano worked well with the earthy green.

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The award for Best Cyclocross Bike went to Donhou Bicycles. Tom Donhou hails from London and ‘cross bikes there need to be thought through with an eye from wet, gunky (technical term) conditions. The lynchpin of this bike was the 3D-printed seat lug. What made it unusual was that it permitted the top tube to be heavily ovalized and when the seatstays were joined, they extended beyond the seat lug, which allowed Donhou to pass continuous derailleur housing all the way through the frame until it passed out of the seatstay and ran to the rear derailleur. The upshot is rear shifting that is far less likely to foul in the U.K.’s awful conditions.

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That ovalized top tube will be a good deal more comfortable on the shoulder (we confirmed this) than a round one. The paint is simple and all biz. Also, in this category we saw a number of bikes that featured tires that weren’t UCI legal. As a result, we eliminated them because we’d created a separate Gravel/Adventure category.

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Finally, a number of the bikes suffered from low clearance between the tires and the frame and the Donhou had enough clearance that in muddy conditions the wheels would still roll. This was a bike that could be raced in any conditions. 

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I’ve been cutting categories over the last couple of shows. Too many awards does two things: First, the value of an award is diluted when it’s one of two dozen as opposed to one of ten. Second, when you have too many awards, the builders who go home empty-handed are really discouraged.

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That said, we had so many entrants in the cyclocross category last year that we realized we needed to split the gravel bikes from the ‘cross bikes. Done right, they aren’t the same thing. A gravel bike will have a lower bottom bracket than a ‘cross bike and will likely have smoother tires, and those tires may also be larger than the UCI limit.

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We gave the award for Best Gravel Bike to Mosaic Bespoke Bicycles for its GT-1, a gorgeous, fendered ride. The GT-1 isn’t that far from a traditional road frame, but it features much more tire clearance so that you can either run larger-than-normal tires with fenders (as shown here) or huge tires with no fenders. It’s got a lower BB for calm handling on changeable terrain and a double-butted 3/2.5 titanium tubeset which improves the ride quality of the frame.

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The fact is, most riders don’t need a bike that can run a 50mm-wide knobby tire. Many of the events I ride mix asphalt and dirt, so a bike that splits the difference makes a good deal of sense.

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Builder Aaron Barchek chose to go with the Enve gravel fork and its optional fender. But Enve doesn’t make a rear fender, so Barchek sourced another that was as wide and featured a similar curvature. He then painted both gray on the outside and used the accent blue found elsewhere on the bike on the inside of the fenders. It was a crazy cool touch. Mad style points. The paneled design was carried beautifully through the frame, stem and seatpost.

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The ti is left bare in the much of the rear triangle to show off the fact that the frame is ti and to reduce the opportunity for chips in the paint that would warrant a later repaint. Little touches like MTB pedals showed that this is a real-world bike. The bike had already won when we found out that Barcheck had painted it himself.

 


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13 comments

  1. wyatt

    Wow, what beautiful machines. Thank you as always for taking the time to evaluate and highlight so much of the work and the craftspeople producing it. It makes this time of year very fun. I love that gravel bike–I wish Enve and more fork manufactures in general would add fork bosses for water/accessory mounts. They extend the range and function of these bikes with so little extra effort. Nit picky I know. Regardless, beautiful bikes, great coverage, happy morning. Thanks again

    1. ChinookPass

      I have not seen any carbon forks with touring bosses. If you know of any, let me know. Unfortunately the metal forks with touring bosses are functional but not attractive.
      That enve fender needs to be extended at both ends if I would ever consider it for my Seattle winter bike. It’s not going to do much to keep me dry.
      Cool bikes and thanks for the coverage, Padraig.


    2. Author
      Padraig

      Co-Motion has a fork with bosses for low riders. As to the Enve fender, I’d suggest that it’s not meant as a true rain fender, but instead one meant to prevent mud from splattering your glasses.


    3. Author
      Padraig

      The point you raise about not being able to find a carbon fork with the mounts you want is really valid. Combine that with the fact that the Enve gravel fork has less clearance than their cyclocross fork and in my view you have yet another reason why going with a custom builder on an adventure bike is the thing to do. And some of those steel forks were gorgeous. The tapered crown on Dave Kirk’s road bike was beautiful.

  2. Kevin Collings

    Here in KS 50mm clearance between the stays & fork legs is kind of the gold standard :D. I can ride from home to the Flint Hills and regularly race on some pretty gnarly roads though, and I know this isn’t typical.

  3. Rod

    Chinook – my LBS and team supplier has its OEM brand sourced from Asia. We had a lot of input into geometry, specs (the boss hates pressfit BBs!) and so on. And since I got the prototype bike, I asked for a carbon CX fork that had fender bosses. The next generation of the same fork is thru-axle with fender mounts. Then we found out Wound Up makes them as well.

    They are not the same as those in my Kona frame that look more sturdy, but my point is you can spec stuff if you go beyond the big brands. Someone somewhere is doing cool stuff (like the good people at the NAHBS).

    1. ChinookPass

      Rod, thanks. Interesting, I talked to Wound Up a few months ago and they told me they had no thru-axle forks in the pipeline. I like their stuff!

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