In Denver, Colorado, last weekend, more than 200 small bicycle manufacturers gathered to show off their designs at the 9th annual North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS). That lengthy title, as well as the almost 10-year tenure of the event, might suggest a big, corporate affair, but I was surprised and taken by just how intimate it felt. Unlike, say, Interbike, the annual bicycle convention that draws almost everyone in the industry and an overwhelming amount of product, NAHBS has a more down-home feel, with many of the booths occupied by one-man operations, often only one or two bikes on display per exhibitor, and a welcoming vibe to stop, fiddle with the gear, and chat about bikes. It’s not unlike a visit to your local bike shop, where a quick stop often morphs into an hour or more of chitchat.
What NAHBS lacks in volume, it easily makes up for in range. Yes, because of the cost of making things by hand and the economies of scale, this is mostly a show of very expensive bicycles. But it’s also a breeding ground for ideas, as the bikes are full expressions of each individual builder’s creativity, ingenuity, and vision. These small manufacturers aren’t constrained by corporate dictates, conventions, or even profits, so they are able to mostly build to their vision and try out quirky ideas. Start-up Breadwinner Cycles, which launched at the show, displayed a bike with a U-lock built straight into the frame. Japanese builder Ogre created a titanium bike whose graceful arced tubing came from dozens of welded segments rather than from bending. And fat bikes were everywhere, including Hunter Cycles’ utility version and Black Sheep’s full-suspension design. There were wood bikes, steel bikes, time trial bikes, cargo bikes, utility bikes, tandems, custom trikes ... basically any sort of bike a mind can conceive. Craig Calfee even showed off a bike constructed from a single piece of Douglas fir deadfall.
Builders bring their wares to this show not only to promote their companies but also to compete against one another, and NAHBS judges did a fine job of distilling the breadth down to a handful of official winners. Before those awards were announced, however, we walked the show, visited with dozens of boutique manufacturers, and picked the bikes that caught our eye. Presenting Outside’s favorite bicycles from the 2013 edition of NAHBS.