NAHBS 2019: Best City, Artisan, Experimental, New

NAHBS 2019: Best City, Artisan, Experimental, New

There’s an inherent challenge to the category of Best City/Utility bike, one that is straightforward. A city bike is not necessarily the same as a utility bike. To me, this is a not all rectangles are squares, but all squares are rectangles sort of issue. Fundamentally, all city bikes are utility bikes and when we split the two categories we didn’t always have enough entrants in the utility category to judge it, so I did the only thing that made sense: I merged them.

Dave Levy at Ti Cycles is one of a rare breed of builder who, along with James Bleakley, consistently designs and builds bikes that are utterly original and with execution at such a high level that the bikes aren’t experiments; they are ready for full production. The #CarGoAway was arguably the most original bike at the show.

You could put a party’s-worth of pizza in that bucket.

And you could fit enough beer in those moto panniers to keep the party running at least until the cops were called.

And it used the Shimano STEPS motor to give this thing a boost. I can attest that were this bike fully loaded would be impossible to get through most stoplights from a dead stop. The light would turn red before the thing was through the intersection. With a motor? Zip-zip.

The steering damper was a pretty genius touch.

Tim O’Donnell at Shamrock Cycles has a history of showing some very nice city bikes. This one was no exception.

The custom rack with the wood inlay was very trick.

This bike is for a guy who lives in Hawaii and frequently travels to the other islands. This is (or will be) a primary mode of transportation and the S&S couplers will make flying with the bike cheap and easy.

This front rack with integrated light and Shamrock Cycles logo is plain gorgeous.

It was Steve Rex who won the category, though, with this townie that was as beautiful as it was functional.

The handlebar bag gives it some tote-around practicality.

But the bilaminate head tube featured some of the most gorgeous work we saw in the entire show. The oval cut at the side of the lugs and the three circular windows is classic Rex. I’d have known who made this bike even without decals.

Bilaminate lugwork at the seat tube is less common.

Full fenders and racks make the bike super-practical. I could see turning the commute home into a bit of an outing just because the bike is so nice to ride. One of the judges’ favorite features about this bike was that despite the incredible frame, the build wasn’t crazy expensive. The downtube shift lever operates that Shimano 105 rear derailleur. While $6000 is a lot to spend on a bike, that this didn’t become a $10k extravagance is something we appreciated.

This bike from Bicycle Pubes (not making that up) was submitted for a number of categories and the builder wasn’t entirely thrilled that it got rolled back to him, on occasion, minutes after it arrived. Truly, the Artisan Category was the only category it really fit in. Your personal opinion of the bike aside, there was an amazing amount of original thought and construction.

It was an aesthetic that we don’t usually see.

The bike is stopped by cable-actuated discs, so the presence of cantilevers front and rear was really just a joke. That’s a whoopee cushion between the two pieces of wood. When he hits his rear brake … the bike farts.

And when he hits the front brake the canti’s honk a horn. I’ll be the first to admit, NAHBS is an environment where people can get a little too serious (me included) and I loved the sense of humor and playfulness in this bike.

Rob English created this “Righty” in which the brakes and rotors and the complete drivetrain were integrated into the frame.

He machined the hub shells to create his own attachment system; the front and rear wheels were interchangeable, which sorta blew our minds.

The Gates belt drive was yet another really trick touch on this bike.

The winner for the Artisan category was, yet again, James Bleakley from Black Sheep Cycles.

Most of the reason this bike won was the suspension fork built from titanium. His design allows him to tune the fork to the rider’s weight; of course, it is a one-time tune.

The handlebar of a Black Sheep is always a cut above with extra touches you won’t find elsewhere.

We loved the mother-of-pearl inlay in the headset top cap.

The degree to which the two plates are parallel determines just how active the suspension is. The less parallel the plates are the firmer the ride. I’d love to have a chance to ride one of these forks.

Bleakley refined a design we saw last year for a folding travel bike. Last year it was rough; this year it looked ready to sell. And this is nothing if not experimental. The Pinion gearbox gave it usable gears, while a portion of the hubs are removable to make packing the wheels much easier.

The welding alone on this bike was impressive.

The clamp Bleakley designed for the frame was effective and didn’t allow any play in the frame.

The center portion of the hub slides out after disassembly to allow the wheels to be stacked tire to tire.

Rob English’s “Righty” made a reappearance in this category because, well, it’s nothing if not an experiment. (In fact, Rob entered it in this category and we decided it was so original and involved so much in-house fabrication that we determined it deserved to be there as well.)

Our winner for the Experimental category was Brad Bingham’s full-suspension road bike with dropper post. This is a bike that could easily be misinterpreted. However, it’s a bike that was commissioned by a client with physical limitations and the dropper post aids getting on and the suspension makes riding possible with minimal discomfort.

The design is simple, elegant. The pivot in the top tube was square and the welds, in keeping with the rest of Bingham’s work, were flawless.

One of the interesting elements of the design was the pivotless rear triangle; the flex in the titanium tubes provides the necessary movement in the rear triangle.

Bingham spec’d a lightweight fork with 100mm of travel, matching the reported travel of the rear.

The lever on the left operates the dropper post, while the levers on the right provide suspension lockout as necessary. As with many bikes at NAHBS, this bike isn’t for everyone, but it definitely has a place. I could see riding this bike myself considering some of the awful roads I encounter.

In all the years I’ve been judging the new builder category the field has never been so full of capable builders. I’m accustomed to seeing one, maybe two builders who are ready to be considered alongside the pros in the rest of the hall. This time we had to have a conversation to narrow the field to three finalists. Mooro Cycles came all the way from Perth.

So the aboriginal-inspired art is at least destination authentic.

The non-drives-side top tube anodization is their view of the setting sun.

While the drive-side ano is their view of the forest and mountains nearby.

The headtube of each bike is engraved with the year built and the bike’s production number.

Corvid Cycles was another builder that really surprised us. The weld quality was impressive and the bikes were very clean.

The weld quality demonstrated some real expertise.

We really liked the design of this bar. Could be really handy for bike packing.

Our winner was Porter Cycles, and this bike would have been right at home alongside more established builders.

Builder Tom Porter told us how his day job is in fabrication for a shop that does all sorts of store displays and fixtures in Brooklyn.

It turns out, that despite his obvious expertise in Art Deco design, he didn’t know about that school of design by name; it had simply been an environmental influence, something that as a New Yorker he saw everywhere.

This rack features the elegant lines so common to Art Deco, but is impressive because it’s not a copy of something that once existed; it’s an adaptation. Tom Porter’s ability to apply those ideas in a fresh way is what really helped to set this bike apart.

This chain guard was crazy beautiful and inspired in a way that speaks to an internal drive to create.

And his head tube looks like something out of the New York World’s Fair. I can’t wait to see more work from this guy.


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  1. Steve Courtright

    My chin hurts from my jaw dropping… So much bicycle goodness.

    It is a fact that many years the US Patent Office grants the greatest number of patents in the “art group” that encompasses bicycle-related inventions. Apparently, the well is a deep one.

  2. George Kirschbaum

    Funny how so many artisan builders are creating bikes with bars that… look like Jones bars, and never a mention of that.

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