Contender goes to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show

We were lucky enough to have the 2017 edition of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show here in Salt Lake City this past week.  This gave local bike aficionados the opportunity to geek out on custom bicycles rarely seen beyond the internet.  With bikes, wheels, and parts from all over the world there was serious eye-candy to be seen along with the ability to communicate first hand with their makers.

The NAHBS officials put on their own contests for ‘Best Of’ throughout the event, with exceptional bikes chosen for their quality in design, execution, and looks.  Contender Bicycles took a slightly different approach at the show.  Here are some of the highlights for us.

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Most Custom Custom: Rookey Bike Works and Black Sheep Bikes.  Almost every bike at NAHBS has been custom built for an individual client.  In the process of having a dream bike made every millimeter of the bike can be taken into consideration.  Add-ons, details, engraving, and almost endless customization is available.  This deluxe touring bike from Korean builder Rookey Bike Works stood out to us.  From a distance this bike has a clean, retro-inspired look.  However, once up-close you see that everything from the stem, racks, chainrings, and more have been thoroughly customized.  On the other end of the spectrum is the Adventure Bike from Black Sheep bicycles in Montana.  Completing its bold look this entire bike, from the space-frame fork to deluxe front and back racks, has been made from custom tubing cut, bent, rolled, formed, and fabricated just for this build.

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Hottest Color: Pink!  As choosing a custom bicycle is largely an aesthetic consideration there are countless colors and finishes to add your style to your ride. We saw everything from glossy fades, bright colors, and bold stripes, done up in powder-coating, anodization and even spray paint. What caught our eye were many shades of pink. Remember, in the bike world pink means fast.

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Coolest Look: Camouflage.  Continuing with style choices is the trend of camouflage graphics on everything from frames, forks to jerseys and bags. Whether you prefer a subdued black and grey, razzle stripes, or more the more traditional green and tan Woodland camo,  your customized paint will let you blend in or stand-out as needed.

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Wheel Size du jour: The bike world has been supplied with a steady stream of new – and often just different – wheel and tire sizes over the last few years, with custom builders often leading the charge towards unique tire options.  At NAHBS there were plenty of fat-tired adventure bikes and mountain bikes with 27 Plus wheels to be seen.  A noticeable trend is bigger tires on road bikes as well, if NAHBS is any indication Road Plus will be the next big thing.  One of the most custom fat bikes at the show boasted custom 24 inch wheels from HED to accommodate fat tires.  Cake Bikes created this variety for cyclists on the smaller end of the spectrum and builds these 24 inch fat bikes for an all women’s fat bike race team.  

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Metal Militia: LOW alloy bikes.  Custom builders love the workability of steel and titanium tubing to fabricate their frames.  Now a small number of frame-builders are working in aluminum too.  LOW bikes from California showed some sharp looking, lightweight and race-ready alloy bikes in road, track and ‘cross versions.

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Natural Ingredients: Calfee Design.  This being a show focused on custom work there are no rules when it comes to what the bikes are made from. Steel, titanium, aluminum, or carbon fiber were all on display.  Many builders forgo these more traditional materials to work with different species of wood and bamboo, which may be bringing bicycles full-circle to their introduction in the mid 1800s!  The look and feel of these wooden bikes is completely different than anything you’re likely to see out on the road.

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Biggest Bike: The ability to get tailored sizing is what leads many riders to order a custom bike.  Case in point is Utah Jazz alumni Mark Eaton.  At 7’4” he not only needs a larger frame but bigger wheels.  His custom DirtySixer rolls on 36 inch tires! Go big or go home.

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Smallest Bike: Triton titanium strider.  The guys behind Triton bicycles traveled all the way from Moscow, Russia to show off this tiny two-wheeler.  With a handbuilt titanium frame, custom wheels and a leather saddle this small strider proves that kids need custom too.

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Blast from the Past: The Breezer from The Pro’s Closet Museum Collection.  With all the attention on modern bikes, new builders and unique wheel sizes it was refreshing to see some of the history of our sport at The Pro’s Closet exhibit.  I really liked this old Breezer mountain bike hailing from the late 1970s.  This bike was built to take on singletrack almost a decade before mountain biking would become the full-fledged activity that it is today.

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Niftiest Gadgets and Gizmos: As NAHBS revolves around all things custom and cycling related, we saw some pretty eye-catching accessories at the show.  If you want a box of wrenches to match your Breadwinner Bicycle, Silca has just the set for you in a custom etched wooden box.  For those who like to pack a picnic and escape on a nice day, Shamrock Cycles created a custom rack for a bike of theirs built to perfectly nestle two bottles of wine.  It has wooden platforms for the bottles and a small platform for a lunch box or bag, complete with rails to tie down the goods.

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Blingiest Bike:  Shamrock Cycles boasted perhaps the sparkliest bike at the show with gold fenders, chrome paint, and a drive train polished to perfection.  The shiny royal red paint only adds to the regal aesthetic.

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Coolest Components:  As usual, Chris King displayed a collection of handmade headsets, BBs, hubs, and small parts of all sorts in a wide rainbow of color – looking so much like candy that they’re nearly good enough to eat.  Industry Nine displayed a similar rainbow of deliciously colored mountain bike hubs and particularly striking spokes in every color of the rainbow.  Wolftooth Components followed suit in creating an array of components in an anodized rainbow.

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Beauty in Simplicity:  As the flashiness and flare increases at NAHBS annually, it was refreshing to see the Gothic webbed-fillet brazed steel frameset from David Kirk at Kirk Frameworks.  In all the color and commotion of other vendors, this frame stood out from the rest for its pure beauty and simplicity.  No glaring colors or bold logos, just shiny steel and the smoothest fillets ever hand crafted and filed by man.

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