NAHBS 2017: Part VIII

NAHBS 2017: Part VIII

There’s one final award I need to mention: Best New Builder. This went to Matt Nelson of Salt Air Cycles. Nelson is a Salt Lake City-based builder who focuses largely on road and ‘cross/gravel bikes. The New Builder tables are generally populated by builders just getting started, and with good reason. Don places certain limits on who can display there so that a truly established builder doesn’t use it as a way to save money on a booth.

Nelson builds in steel and brazes both with fillets and with lugs. He showed off a complete bike that was fillet brazed with a seat mast as well as a bare frame for a travel ‘cross/gravel bike. It was the first time Nick and I had seen a bare frame on a New Builder table. And while that takes some brass (literally, figuratively) to be a new builder and show a bare frame, it paid off.

The fillets were well done, largely devoid of pits, which showed marvelous heat control and great symmetricality. He’s a skilled builder and the Salt Lake City cycling community will benefit from his presence. If he can forge a relationship with some of the bike manufacturers in the greater Salt Lake metropolis, that could increase his exposure, which could lead to more orders.

It’s rare that a year goes by that Radio Freddy over at Velosmith Bicycle Studio doesn’t have a bike that he has built up on display. This year, once again he built up a Mosaic, this one in the SRAM booth with Red eTap Hydro. It was a gorgeous bike.

The custom bike world isn’t one in which kids’ bikes feature too much. After all, sinking $2k or more into a bike that someone will outgrow in a year or two is, admittedly, a little extravagant. The guys at Triton, the Russian manufacturer of titanium frames showed off this very cool kids’ mountain bike with 20-inch wheels.

How about a titanium balance bike?

Peacock Groove proprietor Erik Noren has another brand he’s established, called Cake. As Erik explained it to me, Cake Bikes has a very specific focus. These are 24-inch wheel fat bikes. Okay, you’re going to ask how come, right? Noren digs this platform because the geometry works out to be essentially the same as old 26-inch wheel mountain bikes. The difference is that Cake bikes have traction like no early generation mountain bike could approach. Erik says he likes the handling on these bikes much better than full-sized fat bikes.

The head tube decal is all Noren. His sense of humor infuses everything he does.

When I took on the role of chief judge of the awards, I asked show director Don Walker to recuse himself from the awards. He had also previously exercised some veto power over the awards, and that hadn’t sat well with some folks, so I asked him to relinquish that as well. I worked to convince him that the awards would carry greater meaning if he was hands-off. I give him tremendous credit for trusting the judging team to get results that the building community respect. And that’s the point, to me, at least.

But this year was a difficult one for me. Don is a builder with plenty of ambition. It’s important to him that the community of builders respect his work. He’s also a complete geek for all things track. Over the years he has displayed at least one track bike at each show and some of them, like his steyer bike, are historic nods to specific periods in track racing. And he takes the time to get the details right.

This year he went nuts. He went what can fairly be called all-out in producing a structurally faithful replica of Viatcheslav Ekimov’s team pursuit bike from the 1988 Olympics, where he and his team secured gold. Don fabricated the top cap and stem specially for this bike. He also went to silly lengths to secure the wheels, bar and other period-correct components.

Even when my spine was in its 20s, these bikes were virtually unrideable and those 26-inch front wheels made the bikes crazy twitchy. Cosmetically, the bike is a wink to the old Soviet Union, and perfectly in keeping with Don’s irreverent sense of humor. It is arguably the coolest bike he’s ever built.

If I’d seen this Stinner in the early ’90s I’d have lost my mind. The bright neon fade would have been on the cover of Bicycle Guide for sure.

Reversing out the seat tube insignia was a genius move by the painter.

Steve Potts showed off his bikes along with some that he’d fabricated for John Castellano, the man behind a bunch of innovative suspension designs. As respected as Potts is for his history as a builder, it’s easy to lose sight of just how influential and forward-thinking his work was as a founder of WTB—Wilderness Trail Bikes. He brought this piece of history that completely derailed me from looking at his current—excellent—offerings.

Those are the original WTB brakes. They can bring some serious cash on Ebay.

Though Potts is best known for his work in titanium, he began his career in steel and his work was every bit as ambitious as the other California builders of the time. These fillets on this bilaminate head tube have the smooth curves of a Ritchey fillet. And the lug points have a lovely but unique curve to them. 

This seat binder made me salivate. The gentle curve of the fillet into the delicate edge of the seat tube is a hallmark of West Coast builders. He kept the point short to make it harder to damage and though you almost never see the back of the seat tube rise higher than the front point, given the stress the frame was under with the unsuspended off-road riding, it was a very smart move, as borne out by the fact that the bike is still in perfectly rideable condition.

Attitudes are mixed on the Lauf fork, but this Co-Motion featured one painted to match the frame and making the effort to do that gave this Klatch a cool and exotic look. Co-Motion deserves some credit for for producing road bikes for off-road use throughout the years, staying faithful to the idea that some bikes should be able to go anywhere.

 


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