There's something to be said for enjoying a permanent handmade bike show on a daily basis inside the concrete and rebar confines of Above Category. It gave me a sense of jaded pause when I visited the spectacle that is the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in the bustling burg of Sacramento, a unique perspective on a very unique industry. It was a lot like I've got five takeaways to share.
1) There are small builders doing incredible things. Tom Warmerdam, the one-man show behind England's Demon Frameworks, is one such builder. Born in the shadows of Southampton's storied dockyards, I have never seen such an astonishing dedication to perfection in a bicycle frame. The lugs in his bikes are an ode to Art Deco's finest examples, or perhaps an homage to the great 20th century ocean liners berthed in the city. Each frame takes well over 120 hours to build. Seeing his ornate, nickel-plated masterpiece in person was something to behold.
2) Carbon remains an outlier when it comes to custom bicycles, relative to the technical capabilities of Asian production lines turning out hundreds of thousands of bikes. It's a difficult medium to scale down at the same level of advancement and keep costs/production time within the realm of our inflated reality. It's the overwhelming reason that the majority of the bikes that leave our doors are titanium and steel. But, there's hope! Enter Bastion, an Aussie marque I'd first been given the heads-up on while visiting Baum in Geelong in January. While the production methodology is reminiscent of the original Alan lugged carbon bikes of the late 1980s, the actual execution is a modern spin that might actually work for the market. 3D-printed hollow titanium lugs are married to filament-wound carbon fiber tubes, all produced to individual custom spec. A riff on the BMC Impec, but the project is being driven by three former Toyota engineers bringing a level of engineering to the industry that even bigger production players don't possess. We're extremely excited to see where they go with the technology as it comes online this year.
3) Speaking of carbon and custom, Nick Crumpton is in the small cadre of craftspeople pushing the envelope. His new Type 5 is the bike I was screaming for five years ago as a nascent road racer. Clearance for 32mm+ tires, a 142x12mm through-axle back end, reasonable chainstay length, and a decent chainline for a 53x39 crankset? Color me intrigued. While Crumpton's a one man show with longer leadtimes and exquisite attention to detail, I wouldn't turn down one of his bikes.
4) The amount of custom framebuilders working and wringing out more a living than most domestic professional cyclists is small. If the custom bike market is akin to craft brewing, NAHBS is mostly a showcase of builders just barely brewing beyond their own garages. It's a wonderful environ, one where innovation evolves from circumstances without constraints on creativity. For my first NAHBS, it wasn't necessarily eye-opening, just a confirmation of past experience.
5) Our vaunted Mosaic RS-1 is still a showstopper after its initial debut at the 2014 edition of NAHBS. After all, they say imitation is the finest form of flattery. Its TrueTemper S3 tubing makes for a classic-looking bike at a weight and performance level that is anything but classic. The new G-series drew attention to where else titanium can go in a true gravel "race" application, and the RT remains one of the finest applications of titanium to a domestic road frameset. Aaron and the crew are still one of our favorite organizations to work with, and their presence at NAHBS after our event here was a show of technical force.