BY JASON NORMAN
PORTLAND, OR—Local fire officials were among the unlikely guests at this year’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show. They dropped by on the second day of the show because the Oregon Convention Center exhibit hall was at capacity.
The show broke records as almost 7,000 visitors attended the gathering, held in Portland for the first time. This was almost 3,000 more than last year in San Jose, California. Also setting records were exhibitors, which numbered 152 occupying 185 booths.
“Portland has become the bike cultural capital of this country—if not the world,” said Chris King, owner of Chris King Precision Components based in Portland. “I think it’s a perfect fit.”
King’s booth created quite a buzz. King personally unveiled a classic Italian road-inspired frame on the show’s first day.
“I used to build frames many years ago, back in the late ’70s and early ’80s,” King said. “This is kind of a re-hatching of the frame project from back then.”
King constructed the frame from Reynolds 953 stainless steel tubing and Henry James stainless steel lugs. King shared no further details on whether more frames will be made, and if they will be offered to the public.
Handmade builders love to support niches like 29ers and 650B. This year was no different, but with a twist as Shimano unveiled its first-ever 29er wheelset.
“It’s based off of our XT wheels,” said Than White, tech rep for Shimano. It’s tubeless compatible and features 24 spokes, weighing 2,000 grams (70.5 ounces) for the pair. The wheelset will retail for $750.
“This is a group that really embraces the 29er wheel size,” White said of the Handmade crowd. “We wanted to give these guys something special and specific for them.”
White Brothers exhibited for the first time to show off its 29er forks and new 650B fork. Mountain Racing Products vice president of sales and marketing Paul Aieta called 650B a “sensible” wheel size.
“The wheel size is totally viable,” Aieta said. “I think the commercialization of 650B is going to be challenging, however.”
Vicious Cycles owner Carl Schlemowitz is also a big believer in the 650B wheel size. He’s already sold a couple of 650B mountain bikes to customers.
“Basically we’ve been a company of niches, but we’re not just jumping on it because it’s a niche,” Schlemowitz said. “We fill niches where there’s a need for the consumers. Where 29ers have advantages 26ers don’t, and vice versa. It’s about blending the good qualities of each wheel size.”
Many handmade builders spec the same component and accessory brands on their bicycles. Besides Chris King headsets, L.H. Thomson Company stems and Brooks saddles are commonly seen gracing the bikes throughout the aisles.
“I’m here as both a company person and a fan,” said David Parrett, marketing manager for L.H. Thomson. “Small framebuilders have supported Thomson from the beginning. We always want to return that favor in any way that we can.”
L.H. Thomson showed its new 18-gram seatpost clamp that’s due out in June. Suggested retail will be $29.95.
Brooks highlighted its Dealers of Excellence 2008 program, where dealers are asked to supply information about their shop with pictures to help evaluate their brand dedication. The highest rated dealers worldwide win a limited edition White Swallow saddle.
“We want to have our partners build up year after year,” said Cristina Wurdig, brand director for Brooks.
That’s one way brands are getting the word out and building loyalty. Another way is by taking a page out of Mark Lynskey’s playbook. He had four employees back at Lynskey Performance Design headquarters in Tennessee spreading feedback posted on various bicycle Web sites, blogs and chat rooms.
“There’s no better trustworthiness for a brand than to have end consumers’ honest comments about something—seeing what consumers’ comments are in chat rooms, using it, helping it spread on the Internet,” said Lynskey, owner of the company. “It’s us helping it spread better and quicker. Consumers want to hear from other consumers.”
Midwest and East Coast consumers will be heard loud and clear next year as the Handmade Show moves to Indianapolis, Indiana.
“They [Indianapolis] have a lot of cyclists,” said Don Walker, founder of the show and owner of Indiana-based Don Walker Cycles. “It’s a good location. It’s easy to get to for everyone. It’s a one-day drive for 100 million people. We have a lot of people back east that would like to come to this show.”