I went to NAHBS for the first time this year, hesitantly. The visit coincided conveniently with the end of my annual February training trip where I slam as many training hours as possible into the warmest weather I can find. Austin was a good choice in that regard. However a full week spent on a bike left me dreading NAHBS, as what little bike nerd-dom I had left shriveled in the Texas sun. More so than usual at the end of the week, my bike was just that: a trusty, aluminum Ridley with all the signs of too much riding and not quite enough caring. It wasn’t pretty or ornate or, frankly, interesting; it was not fancy or reminiscent of any of what anything else in NAHBS made itself to be, and by Friday it was about all I wanted or could handle.
Thus, curmudgeonly-equipped and with newly-minted press badge about my neck, I wandered the show. The bikes were gorgeous, immaculate, artful, but for the most part, that was about it. Mind you, I don’t wish to take anything away from the painters and builders as what they did for the show elevated bicycles to pieces of ride-able art (and I will say Pegoretti is still my favorite), but where in past years there have been noticeable trends or innovation, this edition of NAHBS felt like a lot of builders simply finding new ways to dress up old ideas (at the top of that list goes the Wheel Fanatyk guys and their wooden rims).
Walking about the show I started to feel as if I was watching an old elephant trudge off to die, as esteemed builder after esteemed builder rolled out variants of yesteryear to the fanfare of the adoring public.
Ironically what saved NAHBS for me were two bikes that really had nothing to do with myself or racing, and at least one of which, I’m sure, raised the ire of many a crowd member. The first was Geekhouse’s custom Polo bike.
Yeah, its for an obscure segment of cycling culture, but so was cyclo-cross only a few years ago (not that I’m expecting the same growth curve). The bike fulfills a function and need that isn’t properly met by today’s current offering, and for me, that is what justifies custom bike building in the first place. Above all, it was new, and especially thanks to the near-sloppy canary yellow paint job, it simply emanated an idea of function over form or aesthetic which so many at the show seemed to eschew.
The other bike that left me with a rather dumb grin on my face was the KirkLee Custom 650, or as I’m sure many came to know it, ‘that carbon kid’s bike with the Lightweights (wheels) and DI2’. It is a bike that you see and can’t help but shake your head and say to yourself “Damn, someone did that” shortly followed by “Damn, I wish my parents did that”. I can only imagine how much the bike cost; one of the gents at the booth told me that the owner even paid Lightweight to reopen the mold for the wheels because they had stopped producing the smaller size as no one bought them. In what was my favorite irony of the day, many called the bike excessive, but then never blinked an eye at a $7,000 Crumpton frame in a nearby booth. It highlighted a sense of selfishness and entitlement that we as bikers tend to be guilty of (and I readily accept that I am part of this problem). Many of us lust after equipment and scrape to spend thousands on dream bikes, and then scoff at the thought of a child riding the same thing. To which I must ask, what is a better $10,000 investment for cycling? Getting a 10 year old on a bike or a 50 year old? I know the 50 year old has more cash, but I’d rather another kid discover what bike riding really is about, and if it takes a goofily-expensive bike to do it, so be it
NAHBS, thanks to the relatively small scale on which its participating builders operate, has the ability to quickly focus important parts of the industry on new things. It doesn’t have to be a parade of fancy paint and detailed lug work, but until more of us – the bike geeks – can bring ourselves to stop at the Texas High School Cycling League booth instead of drooling over a company offering wooden rims, it’s not going to bother.