Tick one off the bucket list. As a long time admirer having to watch NAHBS from afar, I was really stoked that the show had returned to the east coast. The eastern coordinates made it a lot easier to finally attend in person and I wanted to make the most of it. With a little bit of planning, I was able to attend NAHBS as part of the media contingent taking photos for this site, the Canadian Cycling Magazine social feed, and to help cover all of the incredible builds from our friends, Blacksmith Cycle. Although Hartford is only a days drive away from Toronto, friend and helpful second hand, Eryn, and I decided to fly down to Hartford. The adventure down set the tone for the weekend as we walked up to an 8 person capacity prop plane to sit first row behind the open cockpit. It was as close to chartering our own flight as we may ever get.
Big thanks to Eryn for being second hand and second shooter for the weekend. This whole trip and story wouldn't have been possible without him. Full credit due and appreciated
With the event now over, it's hard to believe how fast the 3 days went by. But it's even more unbelievable to have seen so many dream bikes in person.. all under one roof. Mind blown. As a first time attendee there were some definite confirmations of preconceived beliefs and then some interesting new revelations too. First, in terms of the number of vendors, the show was about as big as I expected it to be. Large but not overwhelming. A good but quick walk through of the show floor could be done in a few hours but to really appreciate what was in front of you, it's a days event for at least. And then if you get yourself engaged in conversations with the builders, it easily becomes a weekend affair. My advice is to invest your time into the event.
While the event lived up to size expectations I wasn't expecting the overwhelming prevelance of gravel, off road, and MTB on the floor. Because of this, it felt like road cycling (at least in classic form) was far from the predominant theme. However, in retrospect, I think that my expectations were set by viewing past years events in a vacuum. My connections and follows are all road cycling and thus, I haven't been predisposed to what else is going on at the show. But now that I've seen it in person, I totally get it. One other positive I took away from the multi-genre makeup of NAHBS is how much overlap there is between disciplines, even in the hand built world.
Then there were disc brakes. So many disc brakes… You couldn't go two feet without hitting a disc brake equipped bike. If there was any question whether disc brakes were being adopted outside the big brands, NAHBS sure sealed the deal. To quantify it, the ratio of discs to calipers had to be at least 5:1, if not 10:1. Interestingly, it was also clear that there is still a wide variety of approaches still in play with discs. Different mounts types, different rotors, different actuation methods, and even different groups including 1x setups. Wide spread adoption has taken hold but I still see uncertainty when it comes to standards.
For as much as you would find on the floor, there was just as much missing. There were a few notable builders I was hoping to see, but they were absent - and I get the east coast vs west coast travel woes. For example, the frequent award winner, Argonaut, was not exhibiting this year. And although Blacksmith had a stunning Cherubim Uli on the floor, the builder was a notable and talked about void in the show. I'm kind of bummed on that one. But it wasn't just searching for builders where I came up short. There was only a small group of parts and component manufacturers in attendance. That's not to say they weren't all there in spirit. Even though Chris King was absent as a vendor, it was hard to miss the popularity of their headsets, hubs, and bottom brackets being used in bikes across all disciplines. There were bearing and bottom brackets being shown from White Industries and Enduro, wheels from Boyd and Mavic, bottle cages and toe clips from King Cage, and wrenching tools Pedros and Abbey Bike Tools. Over the course of the weekend I couldn't help but pick up new toys for the workshop. I couldn't resist a set of toe clips from King Cage or the limited edition dummy hub from Abbey & Phil Wood. And even some Ti tire levers. What!
But what about the bikes and was it worth the trip? The answer is definitely yes. Attending NAHBS in person gives a proper perspective to the excitement going on in the custom and hand built bike community. As much as you think you really know what these bikes look like, seeing them in person is the only way to truly appreciate them - save for riding them. Mosaic came stoked with a new GT-2 sporting a powder coat on titanium treatment. You may have needed a discerning eye to find it though because it was being overshadowed by the splatter painted RT-1 collaboration with Shimano that was sprayed by their in-house guns, Spectrum. Another attention grabber in the Mosaic booth was the itty bitty Ti strider… that I secretly wanted to ride around the event. I even tried to get them to enter it in the 'experimental' contest. No dice.
The Gianni Pegoretti led Deanima brand made the trip over from Italy to show a broad selection of their lineup. Everything you've heard about the legendary Pegoretti paint is true and it's exemplified by their water color styled technique. It's not just about paint though. What really threw me was that even though I got hands on while photographing their bikes, I didn't even realize that one of them was made of steel tubing. Their shaping was so incredible that I mistook it for carbon. Ooops. The Deanima team had a heart warming moment when Gianni Pegoretti picked up an excellence award from HED wheels for his contribution to cycling. But that wasn't the only award the Italian team took home. They also grabbed second spot in the Campagnolo contest which may be the most competitive challenge at the event.
The guys from Stinner Frameworks definitely made a splash this year as a finalist in the Columbus contest for their 90s sweet sixteen birthday party collaboration with Blacksmith. Painted in a pearled teal and purple with confetti detail and matching Silca frame pump, the build kit is set off by a mechanical Campagnolo Super Record with hydraulic disc brakes and wheels courtesy of Rolf Prima. This bike makes you want to smile and go fast. Seeing this one come together makes it easy to understand why there were Stinner bikes in booths all over the show floor.
Of course the Toronto local crew from No. 22 drew everyone in with their new and larger booth. Their booth gets better every year. Each day there was a crowd drooling over their new anodizing options. For me, it was all about the pink purple pink fade on their Little Wing track frame, which was a finalist for best track bike. It should have won if you ask me I don't usually ride track bikes, but when I do, that's the right kind of whip.
Maybe the most unexpected wow'er on the floor was the custom painted carbon road from Fifty One out of, Dublin, Ireland. A Mies Van Der Rohe inspired collaboration with Blacksmith Cycle produced a metallic ombre fade over boxed windows atop a deep black frame. And they set it off with matching Silca frame and floor pumps. And of course they tricked it out with a SRAM Red eTap groupset, oval Rotor Q Rings and ENVE SES 4.5 AR Disc wheels. Good thing this demo ride is my size cause I'm gonna definitely ride that.
Last but not least was my dark horse hopeful. The custom painted Stelbel SB/03, also entered into the Silca contest, was inspired by a 30 year old Silca track pump owned by Stelbel. The steel frame and Silca frame pump were painted to match and the build kit was topped off with a Campagnolo Chorus mech group, Xentis Squad 4.2 wheels, and Deda cockpit. Another one I'm hoping to get a chance to spin around the city.
One more thing. NAHBS was a great opportunity to meet up and reconnect with, Eric Bones, who was on hand to show off and support his commissioned Bones Project frame. The Bones Project is a Firefly Ti road frame to which Eric applied his artist interpretation atop paint laid down by Jordan Low of Hot Tubes paint. In my opinion this frame was the best finish of the show and only reaffirms that my collection will never be complete without a frame from Eric.
In the end, what gets talked about most are the awards. There seems to almost be an award for everything and everyone comes out a winner. Maybe it's a bit trivial when you put it that way, but everything at the event really is next level. So it's only fitting that the recognition gets around. I'm really excited and thankful that I had the opportunity to attend the show and snap photos for friends and media. If you get the chance to check out NAHBS, do it. It might just redefine what you define as a quality bicycle.