Friday, March 21, 2014

NAHBS 2014

The 2014 North American Handmade Bicycle Show was last weekend in Charlotte, N.C., and photos from the event have been making their way onto the blogs throughout the past week. Here are a few galleries to check out:

Breadwinner Cycle B-Road (photo from VeloNews)
Svelte steel frame, bloated, massive front end.
There are many more, of course. Just search.

Often, the NAHBS has been a real showcase for steel bikes with lugged frames -- "keepers of the flame," if you will. I've been looking through this year's photos -- but I'm really surprised that I didn't see too much that really interested me from this year's show. It's possible that there were still lots of gorgeous lugged steel bikes that blend traditional style with modern materials and the like -- and maybe those just weren't the bikes that were being posted in the galleries. Maybe the photographers and other bloggers find those bikes too "retro-grouchy" or simply too passé to include in the galleries. Who knows.

What I do see in the photos are lots of carbon fiber bikes. While the ones I'm seeing in the galleries actually qualify for the "hand-made" moniker (they don't appear to have been popped out of molds, that is) they don't really excite me like a good steel bike. There was apparently lots of titanium at the show, too. And while there were apparently more than a few steel bikes at NAHBS, many of the steel frames I'm seeing pictured have carbon fiber forks and massive head tubes.

Cielo Road Racer (photo from BikeRadar) -- sporting
 the latest in 44-mm. (internal bore) head tube.
I've never been a fan of carbon forks -- but I think they look downright awful on steel and titanium frames. Not only that, but each new generation of carbon forks gets worse, as the proportions of the forks keep bloating out. Although the carbon makers don't advertise it, the only logical explanation for the swelling proportions is to prevent failures. These forks have grown so large now at the crown, and have tapered steerer tubes that go from 1 1/2-in. at the crown to 1 1/8-in. at the top. All of this is about "triangulating" the fork design, eliminating stress risers, and preventing failure. But none of these measures are needed on a steel frame, or with a steel fork. Even 1 1/8-in. is overkill with a steel fork on a road bike.

The latest thing, as evidenced from the NAHBS galleries, is the 44-mm. (internal bore) head tube. The outside diameter on these is something like 50 mm! Compare that to a steel bike with a traditional 1-in. headset that has a head tube of roughly 30 mm. in outside diameter. I must have blinked and missed something, because one of the articles referred to it as the "now common" 44-mm head tube. This was the first I'd seen of it. Apparently while I've been kvetching about carbon fiber, and disc brakes, and other retro-grouchy nonsense, somebody went and declared this a new headset "standard." The supposed "benefit" of this massive new "standard" is that it allows steel and titanium bikes the use of a tapered carbon fork by using an external bearing cup on the lower race with an internal "zero-stack" cup for the upper race. For steel and titanium builders, I guess it's great because they don't have to try to find tapered dimension tubing for the head tube. But holy cow -- the front end of bikes just keeps getting fatter and uglier.

Enough already. Just give me a nice steel fork with an attractive traditional crown.


  1. "Traditional road bikes dominate the floor at NAHBS" (Bike Radar headline). Does the writer actually read and speak English? Does he have no concept of the word "traditional" and its meaning? I thank you for the trouble of listing the NAHBS links but all I saw (with the exception of Level's framesets) was meticulous craftsmanship in the pursuit of the ugly and the novel. It is baroque at its worst.

    1. I agree -- Like I said, I didn't see much that interested me. There may have been some "traditional" road bikes on display, but one wouldn't know it from the photo galleries that I've seen so far.

  2. Your post reminds me of my experience with Tonka toy trucks. When I was little I had an original stamped steel tonka, it looked and felt like the real thing. I had a friend who got one of the "new ones" it was big, bulky and made of plastic. It looked pudgy. It seems that modern bicycle aesthetics suffers from the Tonka syndrome, big, bulky, and pudgy. (As an after thought you say the same thing about the automobile and housing industry).