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NAHBS goes big in Sacramento with record attendance, ‘Road Plus’ bikes

Published February 28, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BRAIN) — This year’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show proved the old adage: If people don't have to fight 18 inches of snow, they will come.

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And come they did. Saturday saw more than 3,500 riders and dealers cruising the aisles at the Sacramento Convention Center, and expectations were that Sunday would be almost as big.

Last year’s NAHBS show in Louisville, Kentucky, opened in a snowstorm that kept a few exhibitors from arriving, and closed with the threat of flooding. 

This year the weather was no hurdle, and in addition to the core focus on hand-built bikes, show organizer Don Walker, himself a notable custom builder, included many first-time exhibitors such as Japanese distributor Sim Works, Dutch/Swiss Edco, Detroit Bikes, Tout Terrain and others.

“We have 179 exhibitors, which is quite a bit more than we had at the show in Sacramento last time we were here,” Walker said. “But the focus is just like it's always been: on the framebuilders. But I also want to grow the show to bring as many people in as I can to see their work.”

And people turned out. A jubilant Tony Pereira said early Saturday morning that he already had orders for four bikes.

“Sacramento was so good four years ago I had to come back. And so far it's going even better than I had hoped. It's Saturday and the show just opened and I already have orders,” said Pereira, co-owner with Ira Ryan of Breadwinner Cycles.

Zak Pashak, founder of Detroit Bikes, is the first to admit he's an industry outsider even though his company welds about 10,000 frames a year in its Detroit factory.

“It's great here. We've been talking with a lot of dealers, which because I've never been to this show before, I didn't really expect,” Pashak said.

“Because our selling price is $700 for a complete bike we have a hard time convincing our customers that our bikes are actually welded in Detroit from U.S.-made tubing,” he said.

“Being in the context of so many U.S. builders means we don't need to tell that story. People get it because that's what they expect at this show. It's been good moving past that to be able to explain more of the details about the bike and the company,” he added.

The show is a lightning rod for trends in the hardcore enthusiast part of the market, which is why design and product management teams from the big brands cruise the aisles rubbing elbows with riders.

What did they see? In years past, porteur bikes with their various cargo racks dominated, or new takes on utility city bikes, or framebuilding focusing on the high art of the profession. This year was more varied, with porteur and city bikes alongside 10-pound road bikes and full-suspension fat bikes.

WTB launched its “Road Plus” Horizon wheel design that matches a 47-millimeter-wide tire to a 650b rim to deliver the same overall wheel diameter as a 700-by-30-millimeter road tire. The concept is similar to WTB's 27.5-plus tires, which fit an oversize 27.5 tire into the same overall diameter as a 29er.

“I had to dimple the chainstays a little more than I normally do on my 700c bikes to get the tires to clear, but I'm really looking forward to riding it after the show,” said Sean Walling of Soulcraft.

Walling said many of his road customers are asking for greater tire clearance, but there is only so much that can be done to a road bike before it turns into a 29er. The 650b move gets the tire volume up to where riders want it, but holds wheel weight down for a quicker feel and keeps the frame compact and more proportional for people of average height.

“We will see how many people place orders to really gauge how it's going to sell, but riders keep wanting more volume in their road tires and this gets that done,” Walling said.

Hunter Cycles also showed a frame built around the Horizon wheel package.

It's no surprise the adventure category is big. Calfee Designs packed an amazing array of adventure-friendly components into its Dragonfly Adventure bike.

In addition to a carbon adventure fork that turns the top fender mount into a handlebar pack support, the company lined its Honjo aluminum fenders with a layer of carbon that not only keeps the fenders from shaking, but quiets them from ringing with road vibration.

And its Firefly, a carbon seatpost with integrated rear water bottle carrier behind the saddle, taps the internal Di2 battery to light up a string of red LEDs in the carrier, illuminating the water bottle.

“The water bottle looks like it's glowing red from the inside, and is much more noticeable from more angles than just a string of LEDs,” said Rob Baird, Calfee assembly manager.

Calfee is offering a one-piece bar and stem service that allows a rider to send them in their carbon stem and bar clamped in their preferred position. The company then removes the bar hardware and front faceplate and wraps carbon around it, turning it to a one-piece setup so adventure riders don’t need to worry about hardware loosening up.

Erik Noren of Peacock Groove showed a 24-inch fat bike with one-off Hed rims, and there were many other 20- and 24-inch fat bikes around the floor.

“Current fat bikes are really big — too big for many riders who like winter riding. Dropping down to a 24-inch rim, as you can see, not only makes the bike look like more fun, but it is just a better size for many riders,” Noren said.

Noren's one-off show piece, an electric-assisted cargo trike with a large 4-foot cargo platform, may not end up being a one-off. He raised the price to where he thought people would lose interest: $15,000. Instead, a few people said they would be in contact after the show.

Other than Peacock Groove's cargo carrier, there were noticeably fewer electric bikes at NAHBS than in years past.

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