I look forward to Nahbs every year as one of the highlights of the spring- I’ve been to 4 of the past five of them. The brands/manufacturers/builders who show up are most of my favourites in the industry, and pretty much all the people who work for these brands are awesome too so it’s a great show to hang out at. It’s not a huge high pressure thing like the Vegas show, so it’s not 100% focused on deliverables and forecasted units and bullshit. The bikes are creative and beautiful and not stamped out of a Chinese mold.
That said, the builders are as subject to the whims of the component manufacturers and consumers alike, so there’s plenty of disc brake CX bikes. There was also a plethora of Titanium CX bikes, it appears to be making something of a comeback as a frame material. The rumour I was trying to get started all weekend concerned about half the bikes with the new Shimano DI2/Hydraulic brakes- they were assembled without fluid in them. The reason was probably just last minute builds and no time or spare parts to reseal the lines, but I like assuming the worst…
Now I’ll shut up and post some bike pics.
All pics are from my phone, I wasn’t trying for greatness in photography, and you can certainly see that in the results.
My editorial view of the show:
So apparently it’s not cool anymore to show up at Nahbs. There was certainly a lack of pre-event internet hype, and once I got to the show, I was struck by just how small the show has become. I don’t have the list in front of me, but my suspicion is that you could count the number of Oregon builders in attendance with less than one hand- and even most of the New England builders, stuck in a particularly nasty winter, couldn’t be bothered to spend a weekend in the warmish North Carolina hills. I don’t know if it’s a matter of not needing the additions to their already long work ques that kept show stalwarts like Vanilla and Richard Sachs from attending, or if Charlotte was just too expensive, or if there’s some conflict with the organizers, or it just isn’t worth the money, I don’t spend much time on Vsalon, and by much time I mean virtually no time. So I don’t know if it’s drama or dollars that kept builders from showing up, but in any case, planely stated, the show is not what it once was. Virtually everyone who did show up, including Shimano and Chris King, had smaller, simpler booths this year, with really only Mosiac beginning to approach the attention to detail in booth design that Vanilla/Speedvagen (and others) used to trot out every year.
Charlotte, in retrospect, seems like an odd city to host a (once?) major-ish bicycle show, as it’s not really known for it’s cycling culture. It’s rated 49 out of 50 in US major cities in walkability, and while it has a very, very strong variety of good local breweries, the downtown area was a complete ghost-town on Sunday, with most businesses not even bothering to open. This is pretty common in many cities in the car-centric South, but it doesn’t contribute to cycling all that much, and it doesn’t make it all that attractive to local cyclists to attend the show. I would wager that many if not most of the attendees were from out of town. That doesn’t seem very logical to me- put the show where people who want to see it already live. If you can also do it where there won’t be a blizzard, well, home run. Next year’s show is going to be in Louisville, which drew a collective “(huh?)” from many people in the crowd after the announcement. It will be great for the foam party crowd on Saturday night, but again, it’s not a huge hotbed of local cyclists, it’s not particularly warm there on the first weekend in March, and ice storms are a real concern. And it’s pretty far (and pretty complicated to travel to) from both New England and Portland.
Speaking to a cycling journalist friend of mine who has provided extensive coverage of NAHBS in the past but didn’t even show up this year, the show just isn’t worth it these days. There is a general feeling of “meh” from twitter and elsewhere regarding the bikes, which was probably inevitable, as there’s only so many ways you can build a custom made steel(?) frame and let a painter take 3 weeks to do an eleven colour fade on it.
My feeling on the show is a mixed one- I’m sorry it looks like it’s on a downswing, because I loved this show since I attended my first one in Richmond in 2010, when it seemed to my idealist eye like the future of bicycle trade shows. I suppose the simple impracticability of high end small volume bicycle manufacturing doomed it- there just isn’t a large enough pool of customers to make the investment by a framebuilder in attending the show worth it, particularly a small framebuilder who doesn’t have a trust fund bank-rolling him. The already well known builders don’t need more time away from their workshops- they have bikes to get done, and maybe they aren’t the most social people in the world anyway. It’s at least a $2000 investment to rent a booth and a hotel room and pay the union to assemble your booth (which you also have to design and construct, or at least pay someone else to do it) and plug in your extension cords and then you still have to travel and eat and drink and of course make a couple of extra fancy bikes so Johnny Hipster doesn’t see your bike on Prolly is not Probably and say “Meh.” So really, consider it at least a $5000 investment including your time, and then it really becomes a question of are you going to see a return on it. I think it’s pretty obvious that most builders these days are answering that question with a no, which is a shame.
What NAHBS always meant to me was a party with all of my best bike friends (many of whom I haven’t met yet), with a bunch of stupidly, profoundly. beautiful bicycles. The bikes are still beautiful, but a lot of my friends went missing this year. Hopefully they can find a reason to find their way back for the next one.