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NAHBS 2011 – Austin Day 1

by Josh Lipton

The North American Handmade Show is a cool rush of air in the bicycle industry.  The purpose of this show, while not 100% apparent from the outside, becomes quite clear after spending some time with a few of the builders.  While the designs, styles and directions vary greatly from builder to builder, there seems to be a unified voice in stating that the greatest value in custom bike building is about the interaction with the customer.

Bilenky Bikes

Bilenky Bikes

NAHBS does a better job of distilling and presenting the essence of bicycle designed for long term everyday use more than any other event or publication.  The glamor of the show does not distract and lead you into empty corners, but rather draws you into the center of what matters, as Eric Estlund of Winter Bicycles put it succinctly, “User Specific Design”.

Gallus Bikes

Gallus Bikes

The integral nature of the customer focus of custom builders results in every decision about bicycle setup being scrutinized.  I’ve realized that custom builders are some of the best people to talk to about both bicycle design and bicycle setup because this relationship dictates that their choices are solid and reliable.  When a customer spends thousands of dollars on a bicycle they expect a nearly perfect setup.

Whether or not you can afford to work with a custom builder, the insight that they bring into the industry is invaluable.  What they distill in their workshops with their customers is perhaps better R&D than any large player in the cycling industry can offer.  It makes me wonder why more of the large players in the cycling industry do not have an custom division of their business’s in order to curate this style of development.

Perhaps, their plundering of designs and trends initiated by the custom builders is sufficient enough for their business models. But if this works so well, I wonder why bringing this interaction in-house hasn’t been done more often.

Shamrock Cycles - Hand Knob for Rack

Having distilled my initial impressions on the show, I’m raring to get off of the computer and back to the show floor to find some more bike commuting bacon.

We’ve been enjoying capturing images of integrated bike rack designs.  The work by Shamrock Cycles of an integrated rack, fender and rear light was quite phenomenal.  The design includes Shamrock emblazoned hand knobs to quickly detach the rack when it is not in use.

Stu was very excited about the original style of the orange commuter/cargo bike from Gallus Handmade Bicycles. The bike has 16-inch wheels with low and easy cargo capacity options and S & S couplers offering up quite the unique blend of features for both function and what I’m guessing is a whole lot of fun.

Shamrock Cycles

Shamrock Cycles rear rack with integrated tail light

Geekhouse Bikes

Geekhouse Bikes

NAHBS - Original 6 Presentation

NAHBS - Original 6 Presentation



 
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2 Responses to “NAHBS 2011 – Austin Day 1”

  1. EvilXI says:

    So the question is “why don’t the big industry players” involve themselves with customer experience through the development and point of sale?

    A great topic! The reality of it is that some of them do on a variety of levels. I can tell you that a large focus of some companies is ethnographic research, becoming intimate with the customers and their product experience — actual product usage, storage, security, … But also the aspirational intent and vision that the customer has of themselves and the product relationship.

    I could go on into more detail on the development side of the user relationship… But there is also another driver for the current direction by bigger industry leaders… And that is the Bicycle dealer, who is establishing the face to face customer relationship and taking care of their needs.

    I guess the answer is Yes,companies do engage on a personal level… but on a variety of different levels that are influenced by the the nature of the business environment in which they operate.

  2. Josh Lipton says:

    @EvilXI The techniques used by the big industry players are without a doubt sophisticated and capable of gaining powerful insights. But despite big budgets and advanced research, these methods do not seem as thorough as the organic process of development that happens between the builder and the customer in the process of the creation of hand-built bicycles.

    I’m sure that all of the methods you mention are quite effective in accurately, determining markets for large bike manufacturers.

    I’m just wondering why these manufacturers have not attempted to more actively use the simple and effective method of custom building for customers as an addition to their R&D efforts. It seems like a logical extension given their recent tendency to borrow ideas from custom builders. Why not make custom building an integral part of the product development cycle in order to make the most of it?

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