These days, bicycle manufacturing is well and truly dominated by the Far-East. Enormous factories in China and Taiwan churn out mass-production frames and components for the vast majority of cycling brands on the market, including many smaller ‘core’ brands, as well as the big names that have been around a lot longer.
Despite the intense concentration of bicycle manufacturing in places like Taiwan, there has been a steady resurgence in recent years of localised handmade manufacturing. Smalltime frame builders across the US, UK and Europe are enjoying more support for their products – possibly because of a new type of customer entering into the sport, or possibly because current riders are simply looking to support local businesses. Whatever the case, there appears to be a lot more choice than there was 15 years ago.
As a showcase for the burgeoning artisan bike-building scene, the North American Handmade Bike Show (NAHBS for short), first launched in 2005. Over the past decade and a bit, NAHBS has grown significantly, with more exhibitors joining the show to display their skills and talents. As more backyard frame builders have popped up around the US and beyond, the show has evolved to play a key supporting role for the handmade scene, with frame builders, apparel companies and component manufacturers using the NAHBS platform to reach a new audience.
For 2017, NAHBS was held in Salt Lake City, Utah. This was the biggest show yet for NAHBS, with over 180 exhibitors setting up in the Salt Lake Marriott, including a record number of international exhibitors. There were track bikes, road bikes, touring bikes, mountain bikes, fat bikes, urban utility bikes, e-bikes, tandems, folding bikes, and even a penny farthing too. Every possible material and frame design you could imagine was used to make all of these creations, with some incredible artisan skills on display.
Here we have a look at some of the highlights from the show, including some of the category winners from the 2017 NAHBS.
Adam Sklar of Sklar Bikes took out the Best Mountain Bike award for this rugged-looking 27.5+ mountain bike. Appropriately built from swoopy steel tubing, Sklar built this rigid plus bike as a super-clean singlespeed ride that’s topped off with White Industries cranks and Paul Components Klamper disc brakes.
Sklar builds each and every frame in his workshop in Montana in the US, and while he also builds road and cyclocross frames, he originally started out with mountain bikes, and specialises in elegant hardtail frames specced with rigid or suspension forks. Clearly Sklar’s work is in demand – his current wait time is four months, though we suspect that’ll only grow following his NAHBS award!
This is a hardtail mountain bike from GRD Bikes. It’s made from steel, but not in the conventional way. Rather than traditional tubes, the frame is built with folded sheet metal – not unlike how an Orange frame is made. After each sheet is folded, it’s then welded along the length of the tube to create a seam. There have been many monocoque frames built like this in the past from alloy – including the old Specialized Enduro frame, and the Intense M1 – but it’s not something you done with steel that often.
The GRD hardtail is built around 27.5+ wheels, with a lovely set of DT Swiss/ENVE M60 wheels doing their ting.
Painted Pinion crank arms locked onto the internal gearbox within. The gearbox is connected via a Gates CDX belt drive setup to the rear wheel. Smooth and very, very tidy.
Thanks to the sheet metal construction, the lines on this GRD frame are absolutely stunning – just look at the seat stay bridge!
The tubes on the GRD are hella-slender, giving it a very elegant look. We dig the copper colouring too, which is achieved with an acid wash finish.
One of the international exhibitors, Triton Bikes, turned up with this stunning titanium beauty. Handbuilt in Russia, Triton produces road, fixie and mountain bike frames, including this lovely 27.5+ rigid mountain bike.
Simple, but effective. The finish on this titanium frame is drop-dead lovely!
To go with the blue anodized highlights on the frame, headset, hubs and seat clamp, Triton custom painted an ENVE carbon fork with an incredible metallic fleck paint job. Dreamy!
There’s something to be said for the simplicity of a rigid mountain bike like this.
Located up in Santa Rosa in Northern California, Jeremy Sycip has been constructing works of art since 1992. Like many of the NorCal cycling community, Sycip’s roots lay deep in the early mountain biking scene. Sycip will build any kind of bike, though it’s hardtails that he is best known for.
Over the past 25 years, Sycip has evolved with the times, using modern frame features such as beefy head tubes and thru-axles, whilst evolving geometry around bigger tyres and longer travel forks. He’ll build frames for 26, 27.5 or 29in wheels, and he works with steel, titanium and alloy. For steel, he performs both TIG welding and fillet brazing construction techniques, depending on what the bike calls for.
Despite all of those evolutions, Sycip has remained faithful to his original designs. His hardtail frames feature a characteristic wishbone seatstay arrangement, which offers loads of tyre clearance while adding in a small amount of vertical ‘give’ to the back end. On this particular showpiece, Sycip has plugged the top of the seatstay tubes with old pennies – nice detail!
We are very much into this 27.5+ hardtail – it is stunning! Combined with 2.8in wide Maxxis rubber, a Thomson Elite dropper post and a Fox 34 fork, this is a fine piece of work that looks like it’d be a blast to ride too. Although Sycip didn’t win an award at the 2017 NAHBS, it’s worth mentioning that he’s taken glory before at NAHBS, with recent victories in 2015 and 2014.
Retrogrouches unite! Brad Hodges of W.H.Bradford Designs came to the 2017 NAHBS Show with this stunning reinterpretation of the old Yeti Ultimate. Using a similar frame silhouette, a rigid fork and the classic turquoise paint job, this rig employs all of the modern standards to bring the design up to date.
There’s thru-axles front and rear, 27.5×3.0in wide WTB tyres, a 44mm head tube, and reworked geometry that’s just a little slacker and longer than the original.
Combined with the purple anodizing, the toe clips and the friction shifters, this is an homage that garnered a whole load of attention at the 2017 NAHBS. What do you think? Are you into the retro stylings?
Colorado-based frame building company, Proudfoot Cycles, turned up to NAHBS with a range of unique bikes. Self-described as having a “utilitarian style”, Proudfoot predominantly works with aerospace grade 4130 cromoly tubing, and creates bicycles mostly designed for the dirt and snow. The most bodacious bike in the Proudfoot booth was this intriguing full suspension fat bike.
Using an enormous mono-pivot design, the swingarm on the Proudfoot Full-Suspension Fat Bike (that’s its name) is also constructed with 4130 cromoly steel tubing, hence why it’s so slender compared to an alloy back-end.
Proudfoot claims the fatty will take up to a 26x5in wide tyre for snow duties, while still having clearance to fit a 29×3.0in tyre. Given Proudfoot is based in the mountainous region of Golden, Colorado, the flexibility of having a bike that can double duty for winter snow plugging as well as dusty summer singletrack riding is important to a lot of riders there, and this guy ticks quite a few boxes.
This is a bike from Connor Wood Bicycles that, incidentally, is built with a wooden frame. There’s a growing number of companies working with wood for bicycle frames, and it certainly offers a pretty distinctive look. It sounds like a highly time-intensive material to work with though, and we’re not entirely convinced on the durability in a Northern English winter…
Erik Noren of Peacock Groove took out the Best In Show award at NAHBS 2017, with this incredible drop-bar gravel bike that was built as a tribute to Prince. There is so much detail on this that it’s ridiculous. You really need to check out the Peacock Groove website to see it all properly.
A custom bike built to carry wine bottles? With an urban camo paint job? Sure!
Tallerico took out the People’s Choice award with this big-wheeler. Needs more beards.
This one is quite special – it’s a custom cargo bike that’s made from carbon fibre by Rock West Composites. Called the CARGONNect, this beer hauler is without doubt the most practical of all bikes shown at NAHBS.
Ok, so this is our favourite bike of the whole show – a carbon fibre bike designed to port beer. We’ll take it, but only as long as that guy delivers it to us.
For all the details on who won what at NAHBS 2017, then head to the NAHBS website for loads more beards and bikes.