Lengthy reflections on the 2016 North American Handmade Bike Show

It’s been a couple of days now since returning from the North American Handmade Bike Show in Sacramento California and I’ve had a chance to rest and reflect more on the show and the bike that I brought.

As many people know, I’ve been building bicycles for a long time; over 25 years now. If I look back on the bikes I’ve built over those years my design slant has been primarily one of unique details, fine finishing, but always within the context of a fairly traditional look. The bike that I brought to this year NAHBS show had the details and the finishing but the overall design was anything but traditional. The bike represents a distinct departure from how most bicycles look. The radically shaped tubing, the swooping lines, and the appearance of a reversed raked fork are only just the beginning of how this bike departs from the norm. The non-concentric steering axis is also completely unique and was a big technical challenge to overcome. I must admit that during the design and build of the bike I was so immersed in all that it entailed that it hasn’t really been until now that I was able to better reflect on what I’d actually created.

I personally do like the look of this bike and it was very gratifying at the show to speak with so many people who came by the booth and felt the same. That said, I can also see how the bike’s non-traditional look may not be for everyone’s tastes. But this is the nature of attempting to push the boundaries of design. My intention was to create smooth, curving, connected lines from the rear drop-outs through to the handlebars, and from the top/front of the head tube down to the front axle. The disjointed seat tube configuration is probably the most controversial component of the design but this depends on perspective. Yes, the seat tube does not flow in one continuous line as do the other major elements of the frame. But the two sections of seat tube do form parallel curves with the intention of those curves matching up with the head tube curve. To appreciate this aspect requires stepping back from the bike and taking in the entire picture. The two seat tube sections and head tube are all nearly parallel and as such create their own continuity to the lines of the bike. Is it for everyone’s taste? Perhaps not, but such is the nature of design; opinions will vary, controversy may brew!

It was very gratifying to receive the “Artisan Award” at the show; particularly so because I have built well over 5000 bicycle frames during my tenure and this is the first time I’ve ever received a formal award. I can’t deny that I hoped the bike would win something. After all,(and not to toot my own horn – but) I am very experienced at what I do and I did invest what is arguably an insane amount of time into the bike: about 500 hours! So yes, I was hopeful that it would receive some recognition, and upon reflection the “Artisan Award” is so appropriate considering the radical design and look. I would like to thank the judges at the show for the recognition, it means a lot to me.

So where do I go from here? Well the practical realities of the frame building business, those being that this is how I support my family will necessitate that I get back to the work of building more ‘normal’ bikes and filling the almost 1 year’s worth of orders that exists here. But I can’t deny that I very much enjoyed the time put into creating this special NAHBS bike and my mind is already churning on ideas for my next special project. Whether it will be ready for NAHBS 2017 is probably unlikely but perhaps for the 2018 show; time will tell.

I have said on a few occasions of late that you can’t build the bikes that I do, and in particular this type of show bike, without some level of emotional involvement; or at least I can’t. This bike involved so much time, so much ‘left brain’, so much of myself that I believe an emotional connection is actually essential to doing it well. The challenge of course is that in the end it’s out there for everyone to see – and judge! I think that herein lies a new opportunity for me, an opportunity to hear it all, the good and the bad, and still feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. Nothing new or different was ever created without risk.

More pictures and stories about the bike here.