Contender Goes to NAHBS 2019
Working at Contender Bicycles gives me immediate access to some of the best bicycles and accessories the bicycle industry has to offer. However, sometimes there are itches that can't really be scratched by anything other than a full-custom bicycle. NAHBS is made for these itches. NAHBS, or the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, is a regenerative experience that brings excitement to everyone involved, and while I have a love-hate relationship with the show, I always feel better about it once I'm there. I've been to the show several years, and each year I've left more excited about bikes than when I went in. This year's show in Sacramento, CA was no different. It was their most successful show yet, with 210 different builders and suppliers on display, and record attendance as well. I've been fortunate enough to go to NAHBS four separate years including this year: three times in Sacramento, and once here in Salt Lake City. NAHBS is an excellent way to see the development of new or evolving sub-trends in the cycling industry, as most of the bikes were either built for people who couldn't find what they wanted by mainstream manufacturers, or specifically to be a showcase of what the builder is capable of. Over the years, new concepts and trends first surfaced at NAHBS, and the show offers a way to see where the cycling industry as a whole is going in regards to style, tech, and even paint schemes. While NAHBS exhibitions in years past have been dominated by gravel bikes, blingy track bikes, and carefully-curated chariots, NAHBS 2019 seemed a bit more.. conventional. The show has a bit more polish than before, and some of the kooky builds I treasured in years past have been replaced with a bit more restraint and panache. Maybe it's a better reflection of what people are actually riding, or maybe it's a sign of the collective maturation of the custom bicycle industry. Either way, there were plenty of unique bikes and technologies on display. Below are some of my favorites from this year. Though carbon is still the best for unique tube shaping, it's amazing what can be done now with steel. This English Aero road bike is a prime example. Beautiful brazing, purposefully-shaped tubes, and a truly quality build. Cherubim seemingly pulls out all the stops every year, and like nearly every year, they've made one of my favorite bikes at the shop. This curvy character shows what is possible with steel tubing. Another English, this time at the Campagnolo booth displaying the new Super Record EPS groupset and Bora WTO 45 wheelset. Looks fantastic, but I bet the bike rides even better. Dear Susan made some of the kookiest builds of the show, but this unclassifiable thing at the Hope Tech booth was relatively sedate compared to their other bikes. It features Hope mechanical-hydraulic brakes that are kind of kludgy, but kind of fit the bike's aesthetic. I'd ride this into the ground. English put a bit of *English* on this frameset. Both ends are heavily reinforced to deal with the asymmetrical loads, with custom-designed hubs specifically for this bike. Both wheels can be removed independently of the drivetrain and brake components, and are completely interchangeable between front and rear wheels. He claims it rides just like a normal bike, but was it worth the trouble? Probably. Allied Cycle Works displayed this Alfa limited edition with custom paint scheme from Bay Area-local painter. Available in both frameset-only and module options, this limited-edition paint scheme will be available later this year; give us a holler if you're interested. Dario Pegoretti passed away last August, but that doesn't mean that the brand will cease. Pietro Pietricola, who has was the brand's primary frame builder even before Dario's passing, will continue the company's legendary craftsmanship and reputation for quality. This bike pays homage to Pegoretti; each red circle represents wine stains found on dinner tables, with a different wine on the inside of each circle. Speaking of bikes named after their proprietor, here's the new Ritchey Swiss Cross! Well, not quite. While most Ritchey frames are TIG welded in Asia, Tom Ritchey fillet brazed this one himself. This was made in anticipation of a new Swiss Cross coming later this year, with wider tire clearances and an updated feature set. Mosaic Bicycles recently acquired Spectrum Paint Works, and their paint capability was on full display with this "befendered" all-road bike. Mosaic had some truly beautiful paint schemes on display, but this was my favorite finish at NAHBS, down to the matching fenders. If there's anything carbon can't do, it's shine as much as a well-polished alloy. This Enigma titanium all-road bike features a hand-polished Campagnolo Potenza groupset and polished Rolf Hyalite wheels. It would be great to see a polished groupset like this on the market. I bet it would sell in the tens! One of my favorite builders this year was Mars Cycles. While they had a number of bicycles at booths that weren't their own, this all-road bike at the TRP display was a real eye-catcher. The star of the show was the TRP Hylex Di2 adapter kit, which allows riders to use a Shimano Di2 drivetrain in conjunction with Hylex hydraulic brakes. Based not far from our Salt Lake City shop, SaltAir makes no-nonsense steel bicycles of all kinds. This city bike is a change of pace of sorts, but very well-executed. This is more along the lines of what we've come to see from SaltAir. This S&S coupler bike is, outside of the couplers, no-nonsense and built to the rider's wants and needs. Santa Cruz debuted their new 700c and 650b Reserve rims and wheels. Not just a downsizing of their MTB rims, they're each specially-designed for lightweight (read: drop bar) applications, with the 700c rim using their first application of a hooked rim. They feature the same warranty as their MTB rims but are sized to fit a 700 x 30-40c or a 650b 40-55b tire. Rotor showed off their aptly-named 1x13 groupset, built for both road, mountain and everything in between. Hopefully, we'll get our hands on this soon (shoutout Rotor), but early impressions are this: improved shift feel over the Uno groupset, a wide range of cassettes, and highly modular. I'm glad to see that there's drivetrain development outside of Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo. The CeramicSpeed Driven concept was made "to create a drivetrain that only had one-percent frictional losses," according to the Danish brand. While it made it's worldwide debut at Eurobike 2018, the technology is a novel one, with a 32-percent less friction than the CeramicSpeed enhanced drivetrain, and 49-percent less friction than the stock Dura Ace drivetrain. White Industries displayed their new XMR hubset and G25 rims. As always, they're made with care in Petaluma, CA. Lovely. I also talked with White Industries for a bit about their new G25 rims. Slated to come out at the end of the year, the G25 is the start of a wide range of MUSA rims from White Industries, which feature wonderful machining and excellent build quality. Paul also brought the heat with their own booth. The genesis of their brake design is awesome to see side-by-side. SLC-local SaltAir had a hardtail with a paint-matched fork on display at the Ogden-local TRP booth. The S&S Couplers might allow the frame to pull apart for travel, but the lack of decoupler for the derailleur cable or hydraulic (?!) disc brakes makes this a no-fly zone. The Cal Poly Bike Builders club made one my favorite bikes, this custom-fabricated downhill bike. They took the time and effort of machining their own levers, brake master cylinders, and pedals. The welds were impressive, and the dual-link suspension design they used on the bike was well thought-out to boot. Photos courtesy of NAHBS. Hidden in the sea of restrained all-road bikes and toned-down paint jobs is the bike to end all NAHBS bikes. More information can be found here, but between the cantilever-actuated whoopee cushion and horn, swoopy truss fork, and unique anodizing, this is as custom as it gets. Photos courtesy of NAHBS. Colors! Panaracer has a hit on their hands with the GravelKing all-road tire, and for this year the Japanese brand has released three limited-edition colors that offer a distinctly retro vibe.