The Cycle Life

NAHBS 2013 Bicycles

Of the more than 200 small bicycle manufacturers that gathered to show off their designs at the 9th annual North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Denver last week, these seven stood out

NAHBS 2013 Bicycles
Farid A. Abraham)

Presenting Our 7 Favorite Handmade Bicycles From NAHBS 2013

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.

Our Favorite Bicycles From NAHBS 2013: Appleman Lumberjack

Farid A. Abraham)

Matt Appleman’s venture is a perfect glimpse into the blend of passion and necessity that drives small bike manufacturing. Having raced bikes for half his life and developed a debilitating knee problem in recent years, Appleman decided that rather than let the injury knock him out of the sport for good he would build a bike to try and solve the issue. “I figured I could either spend $5,000 in buying a custom bike from someone else,” he remembers, “or I could invest $5,000 in the tooling to make my own.” He put his degree in composite materials engineering to use to build a road bike that allowed him to keep riding, and shortly thereafter he left the aerospace industry and launched his bike company. Three years later, he has built 50 bicycles for both the domestic and international market.

The Lumberjack is an all-carbon hardtail race 29er for which Appleman constructed every carbon bit, including the dropouts, cable-stops, and the integrated handlebar and stem. It’s a study in innovation, including cutting-edge brakes from German design house Brakeforce one and carbon rotors from upstart Kettle Cycles. Even with the three-inch Surly tires, the bike tips the scale at a scant 22 pounds; with a lightweight set of hoops, Appleman says it weighs under 18 pounds. More than anything else, however, it’s the detailing that sets this bike apart, including the swatch of plaid shirt that’s laminated into the frame for color and the head badge and trim in real oak veneer. As built, the Lumberjack would retail for around $10,000.

Our Favorite Bicycles From NAHBS 2013: Argonaut

Farid A. Abraham)

We like this carbon road racer not only because it looks blazing fast and subtly unique from all the plastic bikes out there—not to mention the iconoclastic single-word name—but also because it comes from Portland, Oregon, which is better known for retro-feeling lugged-steel frames.

Ben Farver, the mind behind Argonaut, actually began building with steel in 2007 but says he shifted away from the material to gain more control over his products. “With steel you were limited to just a few distributors and couple of different tubing options,” he says. “With carbon the possibilities are endless.” To maximize those possibilities, Farver opted to lay up and mold his own frames (as opposed to purchasing tubes and using tube-to-tube construction), which allows him to offer custom geometry and layups that allow him to fine-tune the fiber orientation based on rider weight, ride quality, and stiffness. Farver even builds the compression-molded carbon dropouts, which interface with the frame by way of custom machined titanium plates. A stock Argonaut, including frame, fork, and seat clamps, runs $6,000, with custom geometry going for $6,500 and up.

Our Favorite Bicycles From NAHBS 2013: Boo Bikes Glissando

Farid A. Abraham)

Having constructed high-end road, cross, and mountain bikes from bamboo tubing for several years, Boulder, Colorado-based Boo Bikes turned to a laminate for this concept bike to add architectural elegance. “It’s inspired by fine wood furniture,” says Corey Collier, the industrial designer who collaborated on the project. “The titanium gives the bike its strength and structure, while the bamboo softens it up and provides an organic feel.” When asked about the integrity of the bamboo laminate, which is cut in segments from bamboo tubing, steam-bent, glued together, and sanded to a well-hewn finish, Boo’s Vietnam-based designer and bamboo supplier explained that while some varieties of the woody grass can be brittle, the strain he uses, called iron bamboo, is exceedingly strong and durable. “There are 2,000 species of bamboo,” he explains. “If you get the right variety, and you know when to harvest it and how to work with it, it’s stronger than wood.”

We love the arc of the dual cantilever top tube design, as well as the Gates Carbon Belt drivetrain, which is as smooth and subtle as the frame itself. And the rearward sweep of the custom titanium fork is a brilliant and gorgeous touch. At an estimated $3,500 for a frameset, the Glissando is a seriously pricey commuter bike, but Collier calls the bike “functional art” and says it’s not that expensive compared with an original painting or sculpture. On the other end of the spectrum, Boo Bikes also debuted a compelling offshoot company called Aluboo, which will build budget aluminum-bamboo stock bicycles starting at around $1,000.

Our Favorite Bicycles From NAHBS 2013: Cherubim Rambler

Farid A. Abraham)

From the Japanese master Shin-Ichi Konno, whose radical take on a road bike garnered best in show and president’s choice at the 2012 NAHBS, comes this beautiful, sculptural city cruiser. The stunning integration of the frame and rear rack immediately set the Rambler apart from everything else out there, while the contrast between the polished steel and the glimmer blue paint yields an elegance that was hard to find anywhere else in the show. Even the integrated stem and handlebars, commonplace throughout NAHBS, get a remarkable rethinking here, with the butterfly-like design providing both an upright comfort position and as well as a deep drop for high-speed riding.

The bike was finished with hardwood tubular Parigi-Roubaix rims from Challenge, a genius Sturmey Archer S2 kick hub, and color-matched Brooks grips and Colt saddle. “I’ve studied almost every bike at this show,” says photographer Farid Abraham, “And no one else is able to combine both the form and function like Cherubim has. Shin-Ichi Konno’s bikes embody what this show is all about.” The judges agreed, awarding the Rambler the award for Best City Bike of NAHBS 2013.

Our Favorite Bicycles From NAHBS 2013: English Cycles TT MK2

Farid A. Abraham)

Rob English showed six unique steel bikes at his booth, and each one was as well thought out and staggering as the next. Among the stable was a travel bike, an aero road bike, a 29er hardtail with graceful dual top tubes, a Tour Divide adventure bike complete with bolt-on custom packs, and English’s own time trial bike, which won the frame builder Best In Show. “I don’t really have designs, which is sort of difficult for people to understand at first,” says English, who produces just 18 to 20 bikes annually. “Every bike is a one-off that results from conversations with a client and a new set of needs and demands. It’s all about problem-solving, and I like to solve problems.”

For his time trial bike, English sought to build an aggressive drop position to suit his long arms and torso. The bike’s form is deceptively simple, concealing an impressively slender profile (the tubing is just 18mm across from the front), full Di2 integration (with the battery concealed in the tubes and a USB charging port built into the integrated seatpost), and an integrated bar, stem, and fork assembly that elegantly bolts together from the base. English constructed almost every part on the bike by hand, including the steel crank with ovalized tubing, the narrow airfoil front hub, and the aero-bar Di2 push button controllers. “In England there’s a unique culture of time trialing. Some cyclists will do nothing but the discipline year-round,” English explained of his creation. “I have raced as many as 50 TTs in a year, so I wanted the best equipment for the task.” English said he couldn’t put a price tag on the TT MK2 given how many custom bits and pieces went into it, but said that his other bikes at the booth would go for no less than $10,000.

Our Favorite Bicycles From NAHBS 2013: Gängl Custom Cycles Vintage Track Bike

Farid A. Abraham)

Though he has been building bikes for 32 years, Rich Gängl has never before publicly displayed his handiwork. He’s a reclusive man who likes to focus on creating the finest bikes, and he never saw any point in spending the money on tradeshows given that he’s always had plenty of business. But when his customers heard that NAHBS was coming to Denver, Gängl’s hometown, they took matters into their own hands, purchasing a booth for him, creating printed materials, and rallying customer bikes to display. If that’s not testament to the quality of his bikes, then perhaps Gängl’s two-time world champion status is. (He won them both aboard his own creations, naturally.)

Gängl began building in steel only but has since branched out into titanium, aluminum, and even carbon. Today he specializes in TIG-welded titanium and lugged steel frames. His designs mostly look classic and straightforward, but the no-nonsense geometries belie the incredible detailing that goes into every frame. “I do all the pinstripes by hand,” he says, pointing at millimeter-thick piping on the fork of one bike. Gängl was inspired to build this wild, green track bike, which was UCI legal at the time but would no longer be today, after Francesco Moser came to Colorado Springs in 1984 and best Eddy Merckx’s hour record on a similar frame. “When I saw Moser’s bike, I knew I wanted to race one like it,” Gängl remembers. “So I built it.”

Our Favorite Bicycles From NAHBS 2013: Moots IMBA Trail Maintenance Bike

Farid A. Abraham)

The Steamboat, Colorado-based titanium specialists created this bicycle as both a showpiece for NAHBS as well as a practical collaboration with their local trail advocacy group, the Routt County Riders. “A lot of the trail maintenance they do is on ATVs, which have limited access, or with Bob Trailers, which are cumbersome,” says Jon Cariveau, marketing manager at Moots. “So the goal was to make an all-in-one bike that would make it easy to carry the tools they needed to get their job done.”

The resulting titanium behemoth carries a road hoe up front (complete with custom leather blade sheath and custom titanium handles), a chainsaw on the rear rack (with titanium blade guard), a fuel canister in a special-sized King Cage behind the seat post, and foldable handsaw, pruners, and other sundries in the purpose-built frame pack. It’s constructed around a cargo bike-style wheelbase, with Surly’s 29+ wheels to help shoulder the load. Moots will not only loan the bike to the Routt County Riders but also to the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) for trail service projects around the country. But Cariveau says not to expect to see a whole fleet of the IMBA bikes anytime soon. “We have over 100 hours of labor in this bike. It’s not something Moots is going to reproduce,” he says. “But it could be a blueprint for somebody else who wanted to make a more affordable version.” Or it could remain the single coolest utility bike ever built.

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