INDIANAPOLIS, IN (BRAIN)—After the huge success of last year's North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Portland, there were some grumbles and moans—mainly from west coast builders—after show founder Don Walker announced that this traveling show was heading to Indianapolis for 2009.
Well it turns out Walker, who also owns Don Walker Cycles in Speedway, Indiana, knew something they didn't. Friday's attendance set a record, while overall attendance reached almost 6,500, which was just shy of Portland's record breaking attendance.
"I've been saying it all along: the midwest, Indianapolis specifically, is so centrally located to two-thirds of the population of the U.S. that can get here within a day's drive, so this doesn't shock me," Walker said. "I'm absolutely thrilled they came out in these numbers. We had people coming from Alaska. I had people coming from Japan, the Philippines, the Netherlands, Sweden—this show is attracting people the world over."
While there were some west coast holdouts, Portland's builders weren't among them, showing up seven deep to show that it's about the bikes, not about the location after all.
"Portland wasn't lacking, but other parts of the west coast were," Walker said. "You know I tried to tell them it was going to be a good show, but sometimes it just falls on deaf ears."
Signal Cycles was one of those Portland builders that made the trek eastward. "For us it was about the logistics of getting here," said Matt Cardinal, co-owner of Signal. "We all shipped on the same freight truck, so some things made it a bit easier."
For builders like Signal, who launched the brand early last year, it's key to get their name out there, especially in an economy as tight and challenging as this one.
"Last year was a recond for a lot of bike dealers, so we started in a really good year," Cardinal said. "And this year it's definitely changing. For us our view of things is much shorter since we've only been around for a year, but I think we had a pretty good start year. We built 20 bikes last year, and we're probably looking at 50 this year."
Many exhibitors mentioned how the attendees gave off a different vibe than in years' past, using words like "serious" and "with purpose" and most importantly, "bringing their checkbooks."
"The cyclists that are here like the Chicago contingent, they ride every day of the year regardless of the weather," Walker said. "Those are the hard core people. This [show] is a good fit for them.
"I think the attendees know what they're looking at, a lot of them have come with checkbook in hand. They've been hearing the show was going to come east, and they're ready to make some orders, and that's good for my exhibitors because without the people that are buying the bikes it doesn't make for a good show for them," he added.
Richard Sachs, the legendary framebuilder and owner of Richard Sachs Cycles, agrees about this year's attendees.
"I feel like in the past shows it's been more of just a curiosity," Sachs said. "It's been a bunch of—for lack of a better term—bike geeks and niche clients who want to take a weekend off to take a look at some expensive bikes. They're not there to buy, they're just people that through the years have supported the framebuilders. It's a career for a lot of these [framebuilders] so they need new blood coming into it."
Next year's location has yet to be determined.
"I'm actually still in the process of determining the location for next year," Walker said. "I have two more locations to look at. We're still going to be east of the Mississippi. We're not doing anything west yet. My plan is to have it in this region—east of the Mississippi—for at least two more years."
For more coverage and to read what other exhibitors had to say about the show and their companies, be sure to read the April 1 issue of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. (Handmade award winners on BRAIN's blog page along with additional Handmade photos. Click on link.)
—Jason Norman (PHOTO by Chris Ertel)