Diane Lees is a 38 year veteran of the bicycle industry. She is a professional bicycle fitter and co-owns and operates HubBub Custom Bicycles in NE Ohio. She is also a registered yoga teacher, a journalist, and the host/producer of The Outspoken Cyclist, a weekly radio show about bicycling on WJCU-88.7FM broadcasting locally and podcasting worldwide on Saturday evenings.
I’ve had about a week to settle back in at our shop in NE Ohio and reflect on this year’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Sacramento, California.
This is the fourth NAHBS I’ve attended and, IMHO, the most professional.
Now, having said that, I think there is a contingent of folks who would say they didn’t want professional but rather a more “homey” and casual type of affair. Allow me to explain my perspective.
In the past, I’ve attended one of the shows in San Jose (there were two), the show in Portland, and the Indianapolis show. They were all great shows and a lot of fun. But Sacramento had a bit more sophistication and flair — from the smooth registration process to the layout of the show floor. The seminar rooms were quiet and the press room was accessible. (As a “media” attendee, it meant I could plug in a computer and have access to a quiet space to work). The Hall was directly across the street from the Grand Hyatt, the host hotel, and just a short block in any direction to great restaurants. Downtown wasn’t crazy crowded and bikes garnered a pretty amazing amount of respect! The weather also turned out to be stellar!
Sacramento is also the hometown of Don Walker, owner and producer of the show, so it was a homecoming for him and, they welcomed him with open arms. He had hoped that his mom would be able to come downtown to see his show, and in fact she did! He was thrilled.
The exhibitors are, of course, the reason to attend the show. And in this venue they were very accessible and upbeat. They were also mobbed by more than 8100 attendees over the three days! The show was literally sold out. In fact, when we walked out of the hall on Saturday around lunchtime, the line to get in to the show was around the block!
So, what did I see that I really enjoyed? (Besides lots of bicycles, which you can see on any of a number of online sites. Just go to a browser and type in NAHBS 2012 then sit back and drool!)
So, first and foremost…
Brooks of England! I love Brooks products and they have outdone themselves for the 2012 cycling season as far as I’m concerned.
Even though the new lines of beautifully dyed leather saddles matching leather leg bands, and matching leather purses for women give way to fashion, it is not while forgoing function. The colors are vibrant and fresh making you want to break in a Brooks’ saddle!
But Brooks also made a second statement — in the opposite direction — with a line of un-dyed, natural, almost white, leather bags and saddles.
For a company that almost saw its own demise a few years ago, they are like the Phoenix — risen out of the ashes and flourishing!
Just down the aisle from the Brooks’ booth, I ran across Cyclelogical, a little company from Ogden, Utah. They had what looked like a package of birthday candles; but, of course they weren’t. They are lightweight, fully reflective (as in explode in light when you shine your headlights on them) “chop spokes!” They just snap onto your spokes and offer you a $10.00 side-safety option. (www.cyclelogicalgear.com). Good idea, inexpensive, lightweight — no downside that I could tell!
Each builder had his or her obligatory “shwag” — from stickers, caps, and t-shirts to glassware (pints, pilsners, and wine glasses) and metal trinkets. I think many of the exhibitors made their travel expenses back on these items, which is a good thing! I’m not sure how much the general public knows about the expense of going to one of these events, especially for a small builder.
Which brings me to the topic of the “new builder” aisle of the show. Many of the big names such as Richard Sachs, Craig Calfee, Mike DeSalvo, and Bruce Gordon, (and even some of the smaller past winners of awards at NAHBS) come to see their “already customers” as well as show off their latest work and visit with one another, which they often can’t do during any other time of the year.
But Don Walker also allows a limited number of “new builders” to bring one bike — just one — and set up a table in a special aisle of the show. This gives these “newbies” the chance to not only show off their work and garner some new orders, but also to vie for the “best new builder” award from the judges.
The first bike I saw in this aisle was from Stinner Frameworks of Santa Barbara, California. Aaron Stinner and his wife were standing proudly behind a shiny black mountain bike with intricate carving in the seat tube, internally routed cabling, and a pretty golden carved head badge. I told my partner Brian that I really liked the bike and told Aaron that I hoped he’d win “best new builder” — and he did! (And I didn’t get to vote!) You can see a lot of photos of the bike on the Stinner Blog. As with many popular builders, his wait time for a new frame will now go up considerably.
Although I wasn’t able to talk with him, because he was constantly being surrounded by adoring fans, Bruce Gordon was in rare form for this show! (And will be a guest on my radio show this week. In my opinion, he is one of those rare geniuses who just doesn’t get how good he is! His interview should be interesting.
On Friday afternoon, I was one of a group of six panelists on the “The Present and Future of Handmade Bicycles” (and the token girl, of course). The room was SRO. I was among a rare and very well respected group including Richard Sachs, Craig Calfee, Mike DeSalvo, and Gary Smith (from Independent Fabrications). The moderator was Joe Lindsey, blogger from the Boulder Report and contributing editor to Bicycling Magazine.
What I found most interesting about this panel was the diversity of opinion about why each is in this business — from Richard’s usual commentary about how he just wants to work by himself, to Craig’s evolution from building exquisite carbon racing bikes to his now hugely lucrative business of repairing broken carbon frames keeping 35 employees busy with broken bikes from many other builders including the mass market frames.
One of the most enjoyable things about a show like this to someone like me who owns a bike shop, produces and hosts a radio show, and has been involved in the bicycle business for almost four decades is meeting face-to-face with people I’ve “known” but haven’t actually met. I recently interviewed Amy Walker from Momentum Magazine for example, and poof — there she is at the Momentum booth.
Then, I was standing at another booth and right behind me was Ross Shafer — another recent interviewee and the original genius of Salsa many years ago.
I saw good friends, colleagues and even saw customers I hadn’t seen in almost 10 years! (They still live and work in Ohio but had come to NAHBS because… well, it was their vacation!)
Nest year, NAHBS will be in Denver, Colorado for the first time and let me just warn you Coloradans! You are in for a treat! If you love beautiful bikes, want to rub shoulders with a great group of people, and see cutting-edge ideas in frame building, you gotta’ be there!