The mission for the awards is, and has always been, to recognize superlative work in frame building. I know there are those who oppose the idea of awards at all. They are easy to oppose if you’re a builder who has never won any, easy to oppose if you’re an attendee whose favorite builder has never won; hell, there are builders who have won and still find them problematic. I honestly enjoy those conversations because I welcome the chance to discuss the dilemma posed by not having a way to recognize all the great work displayed at the show.
There’s a question as to why any work needs to be given an award. It’s a fair question. So why do it? Well, the awards are a chance to shine a spotlight on work that is out of the ordinary, work that is by some definition special. Originally, those awards tended to go to frames with great paint; I’ve since codified our criteria so that we look for additional factors like quick delivery and affordability. For the right client, those qualities can be as highly prized as $2500 in paint from Spectrum.
In 1997, Nova Cycle Supply and Reynolds had booths at the Interbike trade show. If my memory is as clear as I’d like to think, they easy had 10×20 booths and while each had a display of the tubing they sold at the time, the majority of the space was devoted to displaying frames built by their customers. I wish I had my photos from those booths as I can only recall a few of the builders; most of them are out of the biz, unfortunately. Those booths were the coolest spots in all of Interbike, and this was back in the era when all the new stuff for all the big companies was introduced there. And everyone was there.
And those frames that were so cool? Most of them wouldn’t even be also-rans at NAHBS. Maybe in the first few years, but certainly not in the last 10 years. What changed between then and now? NAHBS itself. Without the show, I can’t say where the art of handbuilt frames would be, but I don’t think it would be where it is now. The combination of the show and the awards has put a spotlight on work that rises above the need to just deliver a made-to-measure frameset.
Judges Discretionary Award
With that as prologue, I recommended that we institute a new award last year, the Judges Discretionary Award. It has no set criteria, but is meant to recognize more than just a single bike. The fact is that there are builders who do a good bit more than bring two or three bikes and a banner to display in their booth. Last year, No. 22, the operation that rose from the ashes of Serotta, displayed eight bikes with colored runners matched to the anodized finishes of the bikes and iconography related to the model of each bike. It was a remarkable presentation.
This year we gave the award to Mosaic in what I referred to as the shock and awe approach to marketing. Aaron Barcheck and company brought something on the order of 15 bikes to the show, maybe more; they seemed to keep turning up in other booths and when I asked Aaron, he wasn’t actually sure just how many bikes were there. For most one or two-man operations, getting four bikes ready for the show is a major undertaking. Doing four times that many with half a dozen people doesn’t make it any easier. Given that each of those bikes were dialed and polished, Mosaic’s nearly omnipresent presence at the show was a stunner. Even so, Rob English deserves a nod for the incredible number of bikes he brought, not all of which were in his booth.
Best in Show
When I saw No. 22’s entry for Best Road Bike on Friday morning, I knew I was looking at something special. The fenders on the bike were attention grabbing, an anodized billboard that dazzled with lustrous color where nearly every other bike was black in the same location. It’s tantamount to taking off a black shirt and putting on Aloha wear.
We’ve never had a rule, the way dog shows do, that requires best in show to be judged from he winners of the other categories. The simple reality is that all dogs at a dog show are competitors, so only dogs that wins their breed, and then their group are in the running for best in show. With NAHBS, we consider every bike in the hall, not just the bikes submitted for awards. Many of the bikes that have won best in show weren’t even submitted for awards.
Part of what made the No. 22 bike so compelling is the fact that it was a finalist for both best road bike and best finish, which is something a dog at a dog show can’t do; no matter how cute Fluffy is, she can’t possibly win both best Irish Shepherd and best Chihuahua.
The Campagnolo build was nice, but putting Campy parts on a bike won’t win an award. Calling out significant years in Campagnolo’s past on the down tube was a nice touch, though.
More attention-worthy was how the geometric design used on the top tube was echoed on the fork, stem, down tube, frame pump and even the floor pump. And let me just say that given all the support Silca gives to the frame building community, it’s nice to see Silca cages and pumps used with a submission; it’s a class move as much for the products as for support.
Then there were those fenders. Fenders are an item that are rarely able to contribute anything other than function. So a fender that makes a bike prettier is really unusual. The fact that these fenders were crafted from titanium and rolled to the right circumference for the tire size and then also curved to wrap around the tires is challenging on an order that is hard to fathom. And then they were anodized, but not a single color; it was a gold-purple fade, which I’d never seen before. The final touch was crafting hardware that was anodized to match. In the early 1990s no one was able to anodize much more than a few square centimeters on a bike frame. I dreamt of a bike being anodized like these fenders were, just in a gold-blue-purple fade.
It’s worth noting that Silca doesn’t make titanium barrels for either their frame or floor pumps. No. 22 had to make the barrels for both pumps according to Silca’s specs.
Let’s not forget that an anodized finish is durable in a way paint is not. Sure, it can be worn away, but it can’t be scratched or chipped as easily as paint can. Durability has an absolute value when beauty isn’t sacrificed in its service.
In my minds eye, I can see each of the best in show bikes from the last five years; each of them is special and something about them continues to glow long after the hubbub of the show has ended. From Erik Noren’s collaboration with Anna Schwinn on the Peacock Groove Prince homage bike—which is possibly the most obsessive bike I’ve seen in my life, to Todd Ingermanson’s Black Cat bike packing bike, to the Argonaut custom carbon fiber gravel bike, they are all bikes of a lifetime. The No. 22 is an easy, even obvious addition to this group of bikes.
This is a bike no one could have produced in 1999. Just 20 years ago. Increasing the amount of work that goes into a frame was the opposite of what the custom bike world was doing in the late ’90s. Builders were looking for lugs that required less time to clean up, that looked good with a minimum of fuss. The difference between then and now, the change in the market, is attributable to one simple factor, the presence of NAHBS. Without the show, this craft would have languished. But thanks to the show, builders look at what their peers produce and decide to up their game.
Perhaps our man Robot, who is mostly known as John Lewis, a Seven Cycles employee, and was at the show for the very first time, said it best. “We get here and think we worked really hard, and you look around and realize everyone worked really hard.”