Monday, February 11, 2008

Handmade Bicycle Show 2008, Portland, OR

We flew in to Portland from LAX first thing the Saturday morning of the show, walked out the airport doors and stepped on to the waiting Max lightrail. A quick 40 minute train ride costing only $2 and we were dropped off at the Convention Center, home of the Handmade Show for the weekend. The glaring differences in the two cities' mass transit infrastructures were already smacking us in the face. The train stops have automated announcements and they are bilingual. In Oregon. In Los Angeles they are not. Portland had just provided the first of several pleasant surprises to these jaded out of towners.

On to the show! Our first stop was to check in with the / booth. The guys were already cranking, bringing some of the custom bikes into their booth for photo coverage, as well as bringing the builders themselves in for personal one-on-one interviews on video.

See their pics and video interviews.

At first glance the venue looked fairly small. Much smaller than Interbike in fact and you assume, falsely, that you can see the entire show in a couple of hours. Its not until you've seen the work of only two builders in an hour that you realize its going to be a much longer day than anticipated. At the Handmade show, the amount of "filler" exhibits is almost non-existent. That is, there are hardly any booths that you pass by from lack of interest. Everything warrants stopping. Whether its something that halts you in your tracks such as a frame made of wood, or maybe its a small crafted detail that registers in your subconscious as you pass by and makes you stop and backtrack to determine what it was that you think you just saw. In most cases you're left gawking at some cleverly designed detail. A lugged stem, a unique fork, a pump peg, a dropout. Or something radical like a drivetrain-mounted disc brake from California's Sycip.


Or a custom made stem face plate from Colorado's Moots that doubles as headlight mount.

Moots face plate

NAHBS is a show about detail. You will waste your day by observing bikes solely as a whole machine. Yes you will see beautiful bicycles, but overlook the fine details and you will have missed the creative nuances that set the framebuilders apart.

Hammered & polished lugs from Florida's Villin Cycle Works.


Double chain stays from Portland's own Ahearne Cycles.


Beer Break


Time to take 5 and sit down with a cold one to process everything that has been in our faces so far; far too many amazing bikes, gracious and approachable framebuilders, celeb sightings such as Lance Armstrong and Robin Williams - both cruising the booths along with everyone else, and getting a peek at cool production components like the new Shimano 29er mtb wheelset.

Also scattered about the show were creative bits like this belt buckle from White Industries, designed for you to mount your favorite cog or freewheel to, cowboy.

White Ind.

Also spied at the White Ind. table was their swanky new set of track hubs. Note the splined cog/hub interface.

White Ind.

We checked back in with the RBR guys and as usual they were still hustling builders into their ad-hoc studio, seen here with the guys from Austin's True Fabrication.


detail of faux pitting and rust on a new True Fab mountain frame

True Fab.

We were in the Soulcraft booth when I felt an electricity in the air. People were whispering and shuffling around. I looked up and Lance was chatting with the Soulcraft staff. I debated whether or not I should bug him for a photo. I decided "what the hell" and asked him after he finished talking. He shot me a classic "Lance" look; tensed up his lips and looked away like "Fuck, another photo". Awkward pause. I looked at him and said "You can say 'No'". He obliged and here's the result. Hooray.

Next we spotted Robin Williams booth-hopping. After the Lance debacle I was hesitant to approach anyone else. There were 4 of us so we decided on asking him for one group shot. I approached Robin, tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he'd mind a group shot. He said "Group shot? No problem!"

So I handed him my camera, then walked back to pose with my friends. He just looked at me then laughed and got the joke. We never asked him to be in one :) Photo Credit: Robin Williams.

We were officially overwhelmed. We had met Richard Sachs, Jeff Jones and Dario Pegoretti. We had left our fingerprints on countless glossy tubes. Met Lance and Robin. We had snapped camera shutters and popped flashes until batteries ran dead. It was time to go.

Portland now offered us a spectacular range of options for nightlife and we dove right in. Getting around town was once again a piece of cake. Walking, riding or taking the Max (free in the Business district!). There are bicycles everywhere in town. Weather be damned, these people are riding. Several places we hit after the show, all withing walking/biking distance were the Rogue Brew House for beer, the Yamhill Pub and Plan B for more beer and another Lance sighting, Clyde Common for dinner and Voodoo Donuts for dessert. We eventually crashed at the uber-hip Ace Hotel, drifting off to sleep while trying to remember which builders were going to be a must-see on Sunday.

Sunday morning brought a hot shower, recharged camera batteries and a hot cup of Portland's Stumptown Coffee. We caught the Max train and were off to the show in no time.

Curtlo-built commuter frame at the Rohloff booth, utilizing a belt-driven drivetrain. Note the single S&S coupler used to separate the chainstay for belt installation and removal.

Curlto belt drive

Custom-molded-to-your-butt carbon fiber saddles offered by California framebuilder Ybarrola.


A make-shift shrine to our recently lost comrade Sheldon Brown.

Sheldon shrine

We took several more laps of the venue, catching things we had overlooked the day prior and re-appreciating things we had already stared at and smiled. We left the show with enough time left in the day to visit River City Cycles, home of the handmade Full Wood wooden bicycle fenders. What a beautiful shop!

River City

Next up was lunch and beer at Lucky Labrador Brewing and catching the amazing bicycle photography exhibit put on by Rapha clothing and Rouleur Magazine.

It was a short weekend, jam packed with goodness. The weather was kind to us. Our luggage was stuffed with brochures, business cards, pint glasses, decals, clothing and other miscellaneous swag. And our bank accounts were given reprieve from what could have been a disastrous weekend for our financial stability. There were plenty of opportunities to justify the need for "just one more" bicycle in the stable.

Thank you Portland! See you all next year in Indianapolis.


more of my show photos on Flickr.