Small businesses all over the bicycle world have their sights set on Denver, where the largest gathering of handmade bicycle builders in recent history is soon to take place.
The North American Handmade Bicycle Show, slated for the Colorado Convention Center, February 22-24, has already broken several of its exhibitor records, giving cycling's cottage industry good reason to cheer.
In an increasingly mass produced and reproduced world, artisan manufacturing is a growing niche where great value is still placed on a high quality hand-made product designed and built to meet the exact needs and wishes of the customer.
Frame builders from the USA, Europe and Asia will gather at NAHBS over a three-day period to present their wares, attract new customers, and exchange gems of knowledge about frame construction techniques, materials, and a raft of other subjects affecting this arcane industry.
Some 7,000 attendees will go in person to this show, yet the majority of the audience is spread out over more than 100 countries and will view the thousands of stories and podcasts and broadcasts generated in the various media used by around 120 journalists present at the show, many of whom have also traveled from across the globe, attracted like so many others, by the beautiful bicycles.
According to Dario Pegoretti, a renowned Italian frame builder who in the 1990s was building bicycles for dozens of Tour de France competitors, "the best bicycle frame builders in the world are now in the USA."
This was not always so. American builders were well regarded, but Italians and British frame builders were seen as the leaders until the 1990s when cheap mass-produced carbon fiber frames made in China yielded huge profits that enabled the large bicycle companies to run marketing campaigns that successfully steered customers away from the handmade bicycles.
By the year 2000, few handmade companies remained in Europe. Cyclists, forgetting the feel of steel, clamored for the ultra-light carbon fiber race bikes, buying them up as fast as the Far East could produce them.
In the USA, frame builders got together and produced what was for them a major new marketing event, the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, or NAHBS for short.
The first NAHBS took place in Houston, Texas, in 2005. 23 builders exhibited bicycles, and about 700 people showed up. The idea rapidly caught on and the show moved from city to city, hitting an early peak in Portland, in 2008, with 150 exhibitors and 7,000 attendees. The 2012 show in Sacramento a year ago, attracted 171 exhibitors and over 8,000 attendees.
"There is no question that the show is popular. We get a good crowd every year now, and there is a lot of buzz around the host city. Somebody in Denver probably came to you and told you about it, right? That happens all over. It seemed all that was needed was for people to be reminded that the handmade builders are still here, and be given a place to come and see us," said Don Walker, a frame builder in Louisville, KY, who founded the show.
A couple of years ago UK cycling specialist journalist John Stevenson agreed with Pegoretti that US handmade frame builders are producing the world's finest bicycles now. Many attribute this to the information sharing and friendly competition that is nurtured by NAHBS. "I always try and raise my game a notch for the each year's NAHBS, but then I look around the show hall and I see others have pushed the bar even higher," said one of the Oregon frame builders at last year's show.
This year in Colorado NAHBS has reached new heights. "My only regret is we didn't go to Colorado sooner," Says Walker. 199 exhibitors have registered for the Denver NAHBS, including more than 35 from Colorado. This is the highest rate per capita of home state builders the show has ever had. Compare it to California, with 37 million people, which last year provided 48 home state builders for the show.
Bike Colorado executive director, Dan Grunig, said, "The importance of bicycle manufacturing and participating in cycling as lifestyles is one of the reasons people choose to live in and visit Colorado." Colorado, it was determined in the 2012 US Census, is number four in the USA for bicycle commuting.
A contingent of 16 frame builders and component makers are coming from Japan this year to exhibit at NAHBS. But possibly most striking of all is that 20 of the exhibitors are new builders, occupying tables reserved for builders that have not yet completed 50 frames in their career. This is almost double the figure of the past two years.
While the success of NAHBS is modest, and its position in the $5.6bn US bicycle market is very small, the signs are clear: With the North American Handmade Bicycle Show as a focal point, the worldwide handmade bicycles market is seeing a comeback in its cottage industry.
More info: www.handmadebicycleshow.com