2018 NAHBS: Best New Builder and Judge’s Discretionary Award

2018 NAHBS: Best New Builder and Judge’s Discretionary Award

Before I get to our final two awards, I want to take a moment to once again thank my co-judges Tom Kellogg and Merlyn Townley. They were a delight to work with and were surprisingly easygoing about the incredible amount of time the judging occupied. I also want to put out a big, effusive thank you to the volunteers who ferried bikes back and forth for the awards, stood in booths for builders while they were out receiving awards, and helped to organize the builder info sheets. We jokingly refer to them as our minions (as a result of the yellow volunteer T-shirts they wore a couple of years ago), and while I accept that there are many things that just aren’t cool to joke about anymore, referring to the volunteers as minions is a celebration of their terrific helpfulness and enthusiasm—a reflection of those irrepressible and charming movie characters. It’s my sincere hope that no one ruffled undergarments over our usage of that term; in my lexicon, it’s a compliment.

The best new builder category is one in which the judging is either really difficult, or fantastically easy. There isn’t usually much middle ground. In some years, everyone presents work that is good for a hobbyist, but no more. In those years, the judging is hard. In other years, you get the equivalent of a pro mountain biker lining up for the Cat. 4 race, like the time I had to race Tinker Juarez at Devil’s Punchbowl. These builders have come to frame building from some other background that includes significant fabrication skills, like in 2014 when Kevin Harvey of Harvey Cycle Works displayed a bike that was so good we considered it for best in show. No one else was even close to his workmanship.

This year two builders rose to the top. One worked in steel: Olivetti. The other worked in carbon fiber: Eyewater. The Olivetti drew our attention because the lugwork was impressive and the lugs themselves had to be fabricated. The bike we looked at had an oversize head tube and the lugs were a pastiche of the famed Nervex lugs. This was no small feat because getting the proportions right as you make a lug oversize isn’t easy to do. This could easily have looked comical had he gotten the curves and cuts wrong.

The award went to Eyewater in part because he showed cutaways of his joints. We spent some time talking to him about his process and what put him over the top was his description of his proprietary method of vacuuming the joints to get all the epoxy out. I’ve seen the inside of a great many carbon fiber bikes and I can tell you that I’ve never seen a bike from the big three (or four) look that clean inside. The three of us were dumbstruck at how good the work was. Even best carbon layup award winner Nick Crumpton said he was impressed.

Somehow, I failed to get shots of the Eyewater or the Olivetti, so you’re seeing Brad Quartuccio’s shots on behalf of NAHBS here.

On Saturday morning, after walking the show a bit I spoke to Don Walker about adding another award. He did a double-take. I am, after all, the guy who has pushed for fewer awards. I told him that I wanted to create a judge’s discretionary award. The point of the award was to allow us to recognize something that the judges see as laudable but doesn’t fit into a neat category. I want the ability to recognize excellence without creating a competition you must enter. Don got on the phone and told me he could have an award ready for when we made the announcements.

I then asked Merlyn and Tom to go and look at each of the booths present at the show. Not just the bikes, but the whole booth. For me, there were three booths where the overall presentation was superlative: newcomer Deanima, Mosaic and No. 22. While I found a number of booths to be impressive and/or fun (like Bilenky’s and Fat Chance’s), the trio of Deanima, Mosaic and No. 22 were different for me because they had placed an emphasis on presentation.

The case I made to Tom and Merlyn was that I wanted us to have a chance to recognize a builder or company that had helped elevate the overall grandeur of the show. I wanted to recognize someone for the presentation of their booth as a means to celebrate that extra effort, and hopefully, inspire other builders to put more effort into their booths in the future.

The award went to No. 22. The reason? Each of the eight models of bike they brought was color-coordinated to the display and each model had an icon that helped give you some idea of what the bike is meant to do. In the world of custom bikes, understanding what a model is or isn’t can be difficult because, you know, custom. No. 22 went to a significant effort in creating their booth and to give visitors an interesting place to visit, a space that was open and inviting. They also gave out envelopes with post cards, that easily fit in a back pocket, rather than an even more easily tossed catalog.

At the end of the day the North American Handmade Bicycle Show is meant to stimulate commerce. These builders are nothing without clients and the show is meant to spur orders (and in the case of Moots and Dean, I hear they are continuing to see orders trickle in subsequent to the show). I think we owe it to the builders to recognize those who put their best foot forward.

Whew. That’s it for 2018 NAHBS. Thanks for reading.


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  1. Tominalbany

    Thanks for attending and documenting all of this, Padraig,

    Hartford’s only two hours away but I just wasn’t able to swing the time to head over and drool on the goods. My loss. Is it reasonable to assume that the show is heading back west next year?

    1. Author

      Next year will be Sacramento. Some time in the not-too-terribly-distant future the show will return to the East Coast. It was too successful not to return.

    1. Tominalbany

      Maybe in the NYC metropolitan area? Then Fatty can come too so he can visit his sister! He could set up his own booth and show us how not to maintain bikes? Or he could just ship 10-15 of the family bikes over and set up his own brand of used bike shops!

  2. Jim

    Thanks for the NAHBS stories. These are the best news on bike tech every year and the insider info on judging is very interesting.

    1. Author

      So great to hear you enjoyed these. In some ways I was concerned about how much our core audience would like these; in a way, they were more for the builders, so I could point them to the posts so they could better understand what we look for. Thanks for reading.

  3. Eric Hancock

    Totally agree about No.22’s booth. Great presentation and great to see all the finishes in person.

    These were great to read through. I thought I paid close attention at the show and there were still lots of things I missed.

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