Wednesday, February 13, 2008

2008 NAHMBS - Portland, Oregon

Wow! How to begin?!

I've attended plenty of bike industry trade shows and events. Quite frankly, after the first couple of years, it's the same ol' stuff, only now they make it in carbon, and everyone's is better than everyone else's. Oh yeah, and it's horizontally stiff and vertically compliant...

I don't know whether it was the more "homegrown" nature of the builders and exhibitors or the "open" nature of the show - unlike the other industry-only shows; or it might have just been that Portland is a bike-crazy town. Whatever it may have been, this was the coolest bike show I've been to. What a great experience. The combination of cutting-edge innovation and traditional, proven methods creates an atmosphere where it seems almost anything is possible. Creatively-minded technical craftsmen used common materials in uncommon ways or uncommon materials in traditional ways (yes, there really were bikes made of wood and bamboo/hemp/bull's horns). Contrary to popular belief, not all of the innovation in this industry comes from the big brands. The free-thinkers present at NAHMBS are using this platform to bring some truely great, original, practical ideas to the big stage of the bike industry's consciousness.

O.K., enough of my blabbering; here's what I saw that really caught my eye:

Ruegamer Retro-Grouch:

All of the great craftsman appointments; 32 spoke wheels, quill stem, steel toe-clips w/ leather straps, Campagnolo 5-speed group w/ down-tube shifters and lugged construction. Mmmm, tasty. But a closer look (and a tip-off from my new friends at Parlee) betray the truth behind this work of art - it's all carbon! Here's a close-up of the lug work:

Brent Ruegamer is a former Calfee employee and has a reputation for building what is normally considered obsurd (and sometimes controversial) from carbon fiber. The Retro Grouch is one case of a job well done.

Ric Hjertberg's Wooden Rims:

Ric Hjertberg works for industry technology super-power FSA. Apparently, he needs some balance in his life because he's also importing these Italian, hand-made rims (which made appearances on several bikes at the show). There are four models he brings in - obviously two are tubulars, the other two are amazingly clinchers. There are not distinctive "hooks" to mechanically engage the tire bead on the clincher rims as we've grown accustomed to seeing on modern aluminum rims - so I'm really not sure just how secure they are. In fact, if you're familiar with some of the older hookless Schwinn-specific rims of years-past - the profile of the clincher rim looks very similar (look closely at the two left rims in the lower picture). So I'm rather curious about the tire pressure limitations of the rims. Unfortunately, Ric was quite engaged with someone when I stopped by the booth, so I didn't get to pick his brain.

But, here's what I did pick up: Claimed weight for the tubular rim is 320 grams and the clincher is 420 grams - very respectable. Ric also claims that they actually build stronger, more durable wheels. Because of the rigid, somewhat brittle nature of the aluminum rims, much of the spoke tension in the wheels that are common is holding the rim in place when under impact. With wood rims, because the wood is flexible; almost bouncy, you can use less spoke tension to shield the rim from impact, allowing a double butted spoke to naturally flex as it is designed to yeilding a stronger, more durable, and more comfortable riding rim. Very interesting stuff.

Chris King "Cielo" frame:

This one really intrigued me. Chris King is well known as the namesake and creator of what is largly considered to be the gold standard of headsets. What I believe was a little known fact was that back in the '70's, King was a frame builder of some certain renown. So, what better a project than to build a frame to re-launch his frame brand, Cielo, for the show in the new home town of his company? And here we have it: Chris King Cielo Frame. Upon first look, it is nothing spectacular and looks like any other lugged steel frame. But like most things he attaches his name to; its what you see when you look closer than makes King's creation unique. It's Chris's interpretation of an "integrated" headset!

Here's what is going on here: The headset is a 1 1/8" Chris King Steelset - a popular headset for applications needing the utmost in durability. The Steelset has 1" deep cups which have been cut down a little and brazed to a 1" headtube to allow for a modern 1 1/8" steerer fork to be used with the 1" headtube. Why? Because he can! Here's another look: Cielo Headtube. Very original idea.

Moving on...there was just so much stuff there to see...and so much of it has been covered so well on other websites. So, since I'm probably the last person to post my show review (Hey, I have a demanding full-time job and a family. Cut me some slack.) I thought I'd focus on stuff that I thought was cool that I either know something unique about or I thought was skipped over by everyone else. So, here's a few quick drive-by's:

Waterford RS-22 Touring bike:

Still good friends of mine - the house that Schwinn built (Waterford is the old Paramount Design Group and is still headed by Richard Schwinn and Marc Muller of Paramount fame) brought another beautiful show-bike. While not as overtly stunning as past bikes of other shows, like last year's Flame Bike, this submission was still beautiful in it's simplicity. Classic panel paint, wooden Full Wood fenders, Nitto stainless steel bottle cages, and - as can be expected - beautifully ornate hand carved custom lugs. It was also great to stop by and catch up with Richard. I sincerely miss working with these guys. They are consummate craftsmen and great business men.

Independent Fabrications had two bikes that I really liked. Both were true one-off bikes that there are currently no plans to actually publically produce. First, was their "BMXS" bike, based off of their titanium and carbon XS frame:

Complete with carbon fiber Answer Scythe fork and Shimano DXR group. No word as to what it weighs though. Second was a lugged steel track bike, I believe is Reynolds 953 stainless tubing, or at least stainless stays, polished to a mirror finish. Look closely and you'll notice the twisted spoke wheels, lugged steel stem, and my favorite part: the stainless steel top tube guard. I'd love one like this for myself!

Another stand out was Sacha White's Vanilla townie for his daughter which she actually rides to and from school. Must be nice to be the child of one of the most prolific frame builders around.

My cynical side can't help but wonder why Vanilla's wait list has ballooned to the nearly 5 year wait that it is though...One man can only build so many bikes. But, all of them are true works of art, and I wouldn't turn down the new Speedvagen road frame if I was offered one...

And finally, two companies that are newly close to my heart:

Parlee Cycles:

I'll post soon with some more details about Parlee and photos of the bikes we have in the Beaverton store...but for now, the two new bikes they brought to NAHMBS

Parlee Z1 Cyclocross:

This is #2 and a rideable prototype which saw some action in the Northeast 'cross scene this past fall. Based on the proven, award-winning Z1 frameset with a proprietary fork made by Edge Composites and some modifications to allow for cantilever brakes and wider tires. Here's a look at the chainstays - remember though that this isn't a production model. This bike is planned to be ready for next 'cross season. Get your orders in early to avoid the rush!

Next was the Parlee Z1 Track Bike. While we were tearing down the Parlee booth on Sunday night I was lifting this one off it's display stand and, DANG! It's light! Track bikes are build to be tough and stiff first - lightweight is not a common quality. But knowing what I do about their construction methods, I don't believe there is any corners being cut here. Amazing machine.

Finally, Signal Cycles was launched at NAHMBS.

Not only are these guys local - they're co-workers and work at the Hollywood Bike Gallery. Nate and Matt are skilled mechanics and art-school graduates - evident in their workmanship and distinctive paint schemes. I believe these were the most distinctive bikes at the show - I may be biased, but I'm critical too! The cyclocross model above is certainly my favorite. It's brass fillet brazed and I'm a sucker for fillet brazed frames because of their smooth lines and lack of visible weld or lug joints.

Another nice touch on the signal bikes was their dedication to our fallen and beloved Bike Gallery co-worker Brett Jarolimek, simbolized with a black band containing Brett's initials and birth and death years. Brett worked at the same store as Matt and Nate and raced occasionally on a single speed Cardinal cyclocross frame built by Matt.

Some of the parts and frame fittings were also designed and created by Bike Gallery's Corporate Service Manager, Brett Flemming. Brett is a talented machinist and exceptional mechanic whom I've grown to respect immensely. The fittings for the custom racks mounted to the Signal townie were some of Brett's great handiwork. This townie was another stand-out bike that I think didn't get the attention it deserved.
Notice the Shimano Nexave front dynamo hub which powers a headlight under the front rack and rear 8 speed hub which is a popular choice for commuting and utility bikes.

The swooping lines and color matched fenders were another indication of the design capabilities of this duo. Each Signal bike is a unique piece and will be built to spec and to measure for each client and their desires. I'm happy to hear that because I'd love a fillet brazed cyclocross and road frame. I guess I know where to go... To find out more about Matt and Nate's plans, see the great article from Jonathan Maus at

I hope I was able to offer a unique look at Portland's 2008 NAHMBS and thanks for reading!

(All photos except #'s 2,3,4 are courtesy of Jonathan Maus at

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