It's called bike porn, and it's exactly what it sounds like, and it's exactly what the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS for short, pronounced "nabs") is about. Pretty bikes, polished and airbrushed, all out in the open for people to gawk, to take pictures, to spread on the Internet.
Don Walker, the heart and namesake behind Don Walker Custom Cycles, started NAHBS back in 2005 and brought the show along with him when he relocated his custom bike shop to the literal shadow of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the Westside.
This year's NAHBS is taking place in Indianapolis from Feb. 27-March 1 at the Indiana Convention Center. And, more than eye candy, there is one truly amazing thing about bike porn: Just like a beautifully rebuilt hot rod cruising down the interstate, everyone can appreciate it. Even people who aren't into bikes stare in wonder at a well-crafted, artistically-rendered custom bike.
Something this unifying has been needed in Indy for a good while. Let's admit it. The world of cycling is often times worse than high school. Whether you're 15 or 50, everyone knows or remembers the cliques: the jocks, the nerds, the band geeks, the greasers/hippies/punk rock kids, the kids who play in the dirt. Unfortunately, cyclists seem to cling to these divisions well beyond high school in the form of roadies, commuters, fixie kids, mountain bikers, cyclocrossers, triathletes. It's all in what and how you ride.
"There are plenty of divisions, but you know what?" Walker says. "They all come together one weekend a year at the show. It doesn't matter what generation or faction you belong to, everyone loves pretty bikes."
So, despite the economy, despite the divisions, despite the naysayers of the Midwest, he's lined up all the names: Cane Creek, Campagnolo, King Components, Shimano, the Indy-based ZIPP High Speed Weaponry, on and on. And, he's invited the builders in booths right next to them: Richard Sachs, Waterford, Serotta, some Hoosier talent from Shamrock Cycles and over a hundred others.
The start of it all
Walker's life as a frame builder was born of the same stuff as his inspiration for NAHBS: questions. While living and bike racing in California, he took his bike to a local Santa Barbara builder, Al Wanta, to look at a cracked frame.
"I'm inquisitive by nature," Walker says, "so I started asking questions. Questions, questions, questions. After about a week of this, Al said, 'Look, I'm getting a brand new frame jig. You seem genuinely interested and passionate about this, and I'd like to help you out. Would you like my old one?' He gave it to me - free. That was around 1990, and I've been hooked ever since."
Twelve years and hundreds of frames later, Walker got the idea to do for the newer breed of frame builders what Wanta had done for him. Not to dole out a bunch of free frame jigs, but to answer questions, to get everyone together in one spot and show what can be done when the experience of the older builders was shared with the creative momentum of the younger builders. "My idea wasn't to help just the few people who show up, but to do something good for the entire industry." And so, he got to work on the first ever NAHBS.
"Our industry is a niche within a niche within a niche. Most people, even cyclists, don't know that we exist, or think that we're too expensive. I wanted to show that we are a viable option; you don't have to go out and spend $5,000 on a factory bike. I wanted the public to know that you can outfit a custom bike, build it up exactly how you want with personalized service, parts, even choose your own paint. It'll be prettier, it'll be fit exactly to highlight you and how you ride, and there's a good chance it will still cost less."
A chance for the Midwest
Walker hasn't been here long, but you can tell that something about Indy has gotten into his bones. When asked what he ultimately hopes to achieve with NAHBS this year in Indy, he responded simply, "That the Midwest shows up in mass."
It was an unobvious answer, an answer any Midwesterner can appreciate. As a region, the Midwest is underrated, perhaps the ultimate underdog, especially when it comes to cycling. When people think of bikes, they might think of Portland, and, to the city's credit, Portland is the Amsterdam of the United States. They might think of Austin, home of Lance Armstrong. But, even though you can go to the Tour de France and see a large portion of the peloton riding ZIPP wheels, people do not think of Indy when they think of cycling.
Walker's intentions to hold NAHBS in Indianapolis this year is just as much about showcasing the city and the region as it is about showcasing pretty bikes. He's done his part. Now, it's time for the Midwest to do its part. It's simple really. All it takes is showing up.
Points for showing up on your bike.
More than pretty bikes
Even beyond the lure of pretty bikes and high-end components, Don Walker wanted NAHBS to include something to entice everyone. Those wondering whether their $20 is worth it, those without much clue of what to expect, can go knowing they will find something to merit their time and admission.
Obviously, there will be seminars and workshops for the attending builders, but here are some other highlights to whet some other appetites.
The brainchild of Laura Brennan from O2 Sports Media, ArtBike! marries local art galleries and school art programs with cycling and NAHBS. Momentum Magazine has sponsored an ArtBike! party Friday night at Big Car Gallery in Fountain Square to kick off the weekend. The party is free, and includes gold sprints, art, more shiny bikes, a VIP room and a raffle to raise funds for other cycling and art not-for-profits.
Cycling seems to attract advocates of all sectors, whether political, environmental, cycling advocacy, etc. The Thunderhead Alliance will be holding a seminar to illustrate successful advocacy strategies. Want to learn how to do more than sign petitions?
Big Car Gallery is going to be the party central. Saturday night at 8 p.m., it's hosting the premiere of the much-anticipated Macaframa video, featuring some of the latest fixed-gear freestylings out of San Francisco. The premiere is free, and there's talk of some tricking around post show at Pan Am, too.
Whether it was planned or sheer coincidence, February's gathering of Critical Mass is the opening evening of the show. Anyone who wants to take to the streets and say, "We're on bikes, and this is our pavement, too!" should converge at Memorial Park just off Meridian Street and New York Street at 5:30 p.m. that Friday. Look for the people standing with their bikes near the fountain.
Hoosier Mountain Bike Association
The HMBA will be having their annual meeting at NAHBS this year. Of course they will have some business to attend to, but for anyone wanting to believe that Indiana isn't too flat to have good mountain biking, you should attend this meeting.