NAHBS 2017: Category Award Winners, Part III

NAHBS 2017: Category Award Winners, Part III

When I first started helping to adjudicate the awards there were so many that if you had a booth you were virtually guaranteed an award sooner or later, provided you entered. The problem was that when a builder didn’t win and went home empty handed, with so many others gaining recognition, some really began to wonder just how good they were. We had two choices: Either go the rest of the way and create participation ribbons for everyone, a la Little League, or scale back so that they mean more. I chose the latter.

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One of the awards that I wanted to kill was the Best Experimental Award, but show director Don Walker wouldn’t allow it. The funny thing is, after doing this another five times, I see why. Every year there are a number of builders who show up with some most unusual creations.

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This cargo bike was fabricated entirely in-house by the folks at a new company called Rock West Composites. While the name will be new to you, the expertise isn’t. The guy leading Rock West Composites is Dave Erickson who I’ve known since he was the man behind the Wound Up fork, back in the late 1990s. Erickson bought technology from his former employer as well as a bunch of tooling. He and his crew made everything for this cargo bike in-house, save for the actual bike components, like the tires and wheels. Rock West will mostly be a supplier of tubing and prepreg carbon fiber, but they also offer design work as well. And because this bike isn’t commercially available, it definitely belongs in the experimental category.

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The steering linkage is pretty cool. One question you get into with long bikes like this is how maneuverable they are; you need to be able to turn the front wheel to nearly 90 degrees of the rear wheel to help get it parked. And while there was some flex that made me wonder if you’d really want to ride around with a keg of beer, the quality of fabrication was utterly professional.

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Despite my best efforts to kill off awards (think Woody Harrelson in Zombieland), Don did manage to introduce a new award last year, which he terms the Artisan Award. It is meant to go to a builder who produces a bike with an unusually high degree of in-house fabrication. It’s a laudable desire. Some bikes have upwards of 100 hours in them. Some show it, some don’t.

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This would be where I admit that the fat bike from Black Sheep Bikes wasn’t even entered for the Artisan Award. It was submitted for Best Mountain Bike, and while it didn’t win there, I couldn’t help but take note. Fat bikes aren’t my thing, but it’s not hard to recognize great work and for people doing Idita-like events where camping would be involved, this thing is awesome.

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I had one of our minions go back over to their booth and nab (pun intended) this bike. I realized that after seeing the entrants, there was another bike on the floor that was every bit as compelling as what was submitted. I’m going to call this judge’s discretion.

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I wasn’t sure how Nick Legan, our other judge, would respond, but I believed the bike was worthy of consideration for the following reasons: First there was the fact that because this was a fat bike, virtually everything for the bike had to be fabricated. Beyond the dropouts and the BB shell, builder James Bleakley had to fabricate everything else. And with the number of welds in this bike, it was a mind-blowing amount of work.

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Consider this fork. There are, by my count, 18 welds not including the rack. That rear rack shown above? A whopping 21 welds. I never found a single sloppy weld. Not one. Bleakley won Best Titanium Bike at NAHBS back in 2008, and it’s easy to see why. Beyond the welds, we spent a fair bit of time looking at the tube bending, a heroic effort in its own right. All the bends are perfectly symmetrical. In titanium. I know builders who don’t even want to do work like this because it requires so much effort.

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There’s almost certainly someone somewhere who will be upset with my decision to enter this bike in the Artisan category and then give the bike the award. People get upset about all sorts of things. There are people who hate Buggs Bunny. Go figure. For anyone who questions those decisions I have an easy response. My job is to recognize exemplary work. My job isn’t to see how well a builder follows directions or fills out forms. My job is to help recognize when someone who is very good at something is significantly outside the norm. These awards are meant to showcase people who do work that has the ability to inspire others, either on the bike or off. And this bike is nothing if not an inspiration.

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Even now, as I look at these photos, I’m a big giddy at how much work went into this bike. It’s crazy. Noncommercial. But then all art starts that way.

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Shamrock Cycles won for best City/Utility Bike. This mixte frame townie is geared to the alcoholic in all, most, some of us me. The rear rack will hold a six pack. The front rack holds two bottles of wine and has little leashes to keep the bottles in place. If that was all there was too the bike, it would be cutesy, but no award winner.

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The rear rack includes a slot to hold a U-lock, and it also hides a battery for the lights and Shimano Di2 Alfine hub. You could charge your phone in a pinch. Because this is meant to be a truly usable city bike, builder Tim O’Donnell elected to go with a Gates Belt Drive rather than a chain.

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Those buttons are the shifters. There’s one on the other side for the lights.

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The wood grain in the racks is beautiful. I suppose you could put tequila in one holder, margarita mix in the other and then use the cutting board to cut the lemon (or lime—I don’t discriminate). The headlight and taillight both charge off the generator hub in the front wheel.

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It’s easy to miss, thanks to the urban camo paint, the Silca frame pump running between the twin top tubes of the mixte frame. So often the city/utility bikes we see are so slimmed down, so focused on just the about town part that they fail to recognize real-world needs, like lights, fenders, locks and maintenance issues. This bike didn’t miss a trick.

 


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5 comments

  1. dc

    Love the article and the posts, and i completely agree with your reasoning for the Artisan Award.

    The only one slightly negative thing I’d like to mention is that the copy editing in this article seems to be lacking a little. I saw several grammatical/spelling errors, and it seems this article could’ve had another read-through.

  2. Mark

    “There’s almost certainly someone somewhere who will be upset with my decision to enter this bike in the Artisan category and then give the bike the award. … For anyone who questions those decisions I have an easy response. My job is to recognize exemplary work. My job isn’t to see how well a builder follows directions or fills out forms. My job is to help recognize when someone who is very good at something is significantly outside the norm. These awards are meant to showcase people who do work that has the ability to inspire others, either on the bike or off. And this bike is nothing if not an inspiration.”

    If that’s the case, why not drag in a few bikes and award a “best lugged frame” award?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      It’s hard to give an award when there are no qualified entrants. The frames need to be bare and as I mentioned here, there were no bare frames. Ergo, no award.

    2. Mark

      Ah, got it. Sorry; I hope that didn’t come across as snarky. I just wondered why you would pull in a bike that wasn’t entered for one category and not do the same in another category. But in order to judge the lugwork itself, you want to see it without paint. Thanks for the explanation.


    3. Author
      Padraig

      No worries. I’m pretty good at reading snark and my detector didn’t flash. The thing about the construction categories is you want to see how well they control heat, how well they control the rod, how much they worked on the joints afterward and more. It’s hard to learn much with paint.

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