A NAHBS Epilogue Feb 21, 2018

Photo by Brad Quartuccio

I don’t know about you, but at this point every year, I’m pretty burnt out on NAHBS. It’s a lot of work for all involved from the builders to the painters and everyone that is a part of this traveling showcase. Over the years, the show itself has changed drastically and it might not be completely apparent from this website’s coverage – which essentially blacks out all context, allowing the bikes themselves to be the subject, rather than the show. That’s what this convention is about; bringing builders under one roof to give them exposure. Yes, NAHBS is far from perfect, but I’d like to address some key issues, some of which are faults but most of which are positive notes to keep NAHBS relevant.

Every year, an off-site roundtable discussion occurs, usually after quite a few drinks, at a local dive bar, which does nothing to inhibit grand views of what NAHBS could be, or what could grow from the show itself. The ideas are vast and interesting but part of me really appreciates what NAHBS has become and believe it or not, this year’s show in Connecticut was the sea change the show needed.

That said, I find it absurd to move the show back a month in the calendar and to place it in the frigid North East. No one wants to deal with the hassle of flying to a non-hub city, in the middle of winter, only to battle flight delays and unsafe road conditions on the drive to and from the show. Call me a fair-weather traveler, but NAHBS is stressful enough without old man winter kicking you in the ass. Plus, it’d be nice to actually ride bikes with some of these people!

What came from the show this year was much-needed variety. The East Coast builders are different than the West Coast. It’s like Tupac and Biggie. Well, actually it’s not at all but you get my point. My observations are pretty simple: I saw a lot more randonneuring, road, and XC mtbs at this year’s show than years past, which has been on the West Coast. There’s also more of an emphasis on finishes with these bikes, down to the lugwork and paint. When you stack the bikes from the East versus the West against each other, neither are necessarily better, but the contrast is what’s beneficial to the show overall.

I was a bit bummed to see so many West Coast builders and companies – many of whom have preached about the importance of NAHBS in the past – opt out of attending this year but I get it. A lot of the West Coast builders had a rough previous year with the fires and I’m sure they’re all struggling to play catch up, the show was during QBP’s Frost Bike, so scheduling conflicts occured. It’s also a long haul across this continent and this brings up a good point, which I consider the takeaway from all this: NAHBS needs to ping-pong between coasts each year, to cities who have a strong cycling presence and a suitable convention center. These components of the equation are no doubt very difficult to line up, but all it takes is a bit of foresight, from the years of hindsight, to make this assessment easy and a reality.

What about holding the event at a brewery, or in an old airport hanger, or at the Rose Bowl? I think the venues are the one overarching component in the NAHBS equation that could perhaps use an overhaul…

You don’t have to love NAHBS, or the organizers, or the media coverage, or even the builders, but it has a relevance in the cycling industry. Without it, many of the trends we’re seeing pass through the larger brands originated in some way at the show. It’s a platform where the bikes are judged based on merit, execution and the final product, where no matter how new or old your company is, you’ve got a chance to leap onto the awards stage. Do these awards result in more orders for the builders? Who knows. Is it worth the expense for small, independent companies to travel in February? I dunno, but it certainly drains my bank account. Does NAHBS need a complete overhaul? Not necessarily. After this year’s event, I’d say the format, functionality, and fun, is proven time and time again. This repetition, the whole dog and pony show, and everything else the show is often critiqued for is, in reality, its saving grace.

NAHBS isn’t perfect, but neither are handmade frames. You’ve got to appreciate them for what they are and learn to adjust expectations accordingly. The show returns to Sacramento next year, which has always been a great location, and hopefully, it doesn’t shed its new plumage it grew this year. Although if it does, I’m excited to see what the show becomes in the future. I’ll be back, doing more of the same and you know what? I’m looking forward to it.

  • Gregory Ralich

    Many great points.. from what I gather – NAHBS can’t afford Boston, can’t fill out any of our convention centers, and it would just be cost prohibitive to hold it here (big bucks for booths, tickets, etc.). That’s why the closest it could make it was Hartford. I figure the same logic also keeps it out of NYC. Hartford was actual a decent middle-ground – close enough for Boston builders, pulled in friends and fans from NYC.. I was very happy with the people and turnout.

    I really REALLY liked the show in Austin – for a number of reasons. But it was cool to go somewhere fun with a night life and the weather.

    BIG +1 for incorporating a ride – Grinduro and D2R2 are bike shows in their own right. Would be really cool to ride with everyone as part of the fun.

    • I liked Hartford, but why move it back a month? Especially with the major conflict of Frostbike? Other thoughts: does the show have to be in a convention center? Aren’t there other areas around the city of Boston where it could be held? Warehouses, etc. The Philly Bike Expo nailed it with their location. Austin was the best show, IMO. It was tons of fun and the city itself is a great one to play host.

      • Gregory Ralich

        I guess I’ve been out of the loop – didn’t realize it moved a month. Overlap with Frostbike was a big miss for obvious reasons. I do remember that at Geekhouse it gave us a nice $$ bump, a few fresh orders during the typically slow winter months.

        The Builders Ball and a few other small shows in New England have done their best with alterna-locations but as far as the Boston area goes and the size of NAHBS – I think it’s convention center or bust. They did it really well once connected to a big CX race – but that place was maxed out with just builders from the Northeast – no way it could accommodate NAHBS.

        There will always be compromises with the-one-big-event-of-the-year setup so I think it’s just a balancing act and I think the coast-to-coast flip flop would be a great strategic approach.

        • Philip Molloy

          The venue would be too small for NAHBS, but the Roger Williams Botanical Center in Providence was a really cool venue for the Builders’ Ball.

          • Pat O’Toole

            No idea what the pricing would be on any of them, but Boston has more than one convention center — there’s the huge one in the seaport district that is probably too big for NAHBS, but there’s also the smaller World Trade Center (also in seaport), and the Hynes in Back Bay. And, to John’s point above there’s probably a warehouse that could be rented in East Boston or Revere a minute from the airport and T accessible for attendees. The weather is an issue though. Boston in February is nothing nice. +1 for Providence too, that city is great.

      • Matthew J

        Good point.

        Not all that familiar with Boston, but Chicago has several hotels and other venues large enough to host NAHBs.

      • AdamBike99

        Also especially because it’s the coldest month in a cold-ass place (to mirror what Brad Q. wrote about the timing of this year’s show). I’m located in Seattle and was never planning on making such an arduous trip (I flew to SLC last year), though I’d be more than tempted if the show was in a warm place (like Austin or Tuscon) and we could ride bikes. Then it could be more than just a business trip (I am in my second year as a custom painter) as I’m dying to get out of our shite weather by this point. And I totally back Gregory’s idea of having a ride coincide with the event in welcoming riding conditions.

      • If they do have it here in the east or northeast, they should be pushing it ahead. February is one of the WORST months here in New England, especially as weather has been getting more extreme (It was 70 yesterday here in NH. It’s now 27 and snowing today). They benefit by pushing it forward in the calendar because not only are you in for better weather and the ability to plan rides/events outside that coincide with the show but you also start to move closer to larger manufacturers production schedules and release dates. They can use that show as a great time of year to introduce product and work with small builders to showcase that product too. That’s my take on timing.

        What little I do know about the show, it boils down to cost of the actual venue and finding one that is reasonable and large enough to house everyone. My only suggestion to those running NAHBS is to pick 3-4 cities, and then rotate it so the community can plan a bit better further out on known locations. If I knew in 3 years it was going to return to Hartford, I could plan way out ahead of time.

        A huge reason I did not go was on account I’m concentrating so much of my time & investing in titanium and upping my finishing game for that material. So although it was in my backyard, literally… I had to make a really tough decision and say “no, I can’t go.” You have no idea just how much I wrestled with that decision. Having one central location in the center of the US seems nice on paper, but for anyone on the east or west coast (where there are quite a few builders I might add), it gets really expensive really quick shipping 3-4 bikes.

        As an aside: Sorry I missed you Sunday John! Thanks for all the hard work shooting the bikes though. Huge props each year!! It doesn’t go unnoticed.

      • Clarkmackey

        I attended Charlotte; how much bigger is the show now? Any idea what the sq. ft. and people capacity requirements are for the event venue that hosts?

        • Charlotte was one of the smallest years in terms of attendance, IMO. Hartford was about the same, but the exhibitors were much fewer. Less exhibitors, less people still feels like a crowded show. The convention center was split in half this year, which made my shooting difficult since they wanted to put me in a booth and I can’t shoot bikes like that. I need “empty” space.

          • mitch

            Since you mention the low attendance at Charlotte, how do you rate attendance in SLC last year? Local to me, It’s the only NAHBS I’ve attended and it seemed poorly attended with a lot of missing exhibitors I’d expected to see based on years of NAHBS photos. After SLC my thinking is the shows really depend on who exhibits, and that depends a lot on where they hold it. I found myself thinking if I ever travel to NAHBS, and I’d love to, I’d choose one in a location expected to have a full house of exhibitors, PDX or Sac, for example.

  • Max G.

    Speaking of bike-friendly cities, I don’t understand why NAHBS is not coming to Minneapolis, MN. I know, it’s cold at this time of the year, but the cycling culture here is quite something and it can be coordinated with QBP’s events too. In fact, the winter theme could be exploited quite well for such an event. Plus it’s easy to fly in and out of the Twin Cities. Just my $0.02.

    • Gregory Ralich

      Would love the excuse to go there!

    • CJones

      I recently had to go to a conference in Minneapolis. Had never been there before and wasn’t really all that excited about it. Boy was I wrong. What a fantastic city! Great people. Great food. Great architecture. Great Art. Did I mention the food or the people? I thought to myself a couple times, I could totally live here!

      • Max G.

        Okay, the Twin Cities have some long way since I moved back here from the Pacific NW. However, the are still about a decade behind in many aspects compared to the coasts. The Twin Cities feel comfortable as good followers, not as leaders, in many aspects of life. St. Paul is the better one to live in IMHO.

  • Christopher Jarrett

    Anybody thought about Atlanta. Good weather. Good cycling. Good beer. Easy to fly to. Barring fires at the airport.

    • Another good one!

    • Quinn.e

      ATL Metro area, lets give that a 30 mile radius, is a cycling hell. Athens an north east GA is magical for bikes.
      So is Dalton GA, which is close to Chattanooga, A great are for bikes in the southeast.

      • Quinn.e

        Sorry for the typos peeps, it’s late on the east coast

      • Max G.

        Athens would be really cool. Atlanta? No.

  • Quinn.e

    Now being a NC homer, it would be great to see the NAHBS back in the Carolinas. Was in Charlotte a few years back, which has a great cycling community. CLT can’t stack up to Asheville or Greenville, SC, great cycling areas no matter your jones of choice is.
    Being a native Vermonter, leaving Burlington of the list would be sacrilege. Hands down some of the best cycling, road/grovel or mtb on the east coast.

    • Clarkmackey

      It would be a perfect fit for Asheville. And Asheville has riding options close to the venues that could host. Asheville is served by 3 airports, CLT AVL, and Greenville. The event would be warmly welcomed by the cycling community as well.

  • Richard Lapierre

    Since it the NORTH AMERICAN handmade bicycle show it would be nice to see it comes to Canada. There were lot of us canadians at the show this year. Altruise bike won best of show and there from New Brunswick.Montreal is a meca for bicycle. Love to see it here.I know, I know, the weather…move it a few month let say end of april, begining of may it would be fine. Of if you want real heat go to the other north american country; Mexico ! The venue should be cheap. Just saying there a lot more to north america than just the US of A.

    • Max G.

      Yeah, the (US) Americans like to misuse terminology. They like to call some of their winning teams “world champions” in just about any sport they compete in. But they compete only against the US teams… maybe some Canadian teams but that doesn’t make them world champions.
      So for the North America, adding Canada and Mexico would be appropriate. But so far NAHBS seems to be stuck in the East -West coast deal. You know, here in upper Midwest of the US it feels like another country when it comes to NAHBS :)

      • Matthew J

        Exagerrate much?

        Baseball has the World Series yes – and that a holdover from the early 20th Century when such hyperbole was common not only in the US but much of the rest of the Western World as well.

        NBA champions are called NBA Champions, US Football champions – Supebowl Winners, NHL champions – Stanley Cup winners, and Major Soccer League – MLS cup winners.

        Most likely NAHBS has not yet gone to Canada owing to the fact three out of the four major likeliest cities are pretty cold (and Toronto, pretty expensive), and the fourth – Vancouver – is not cheap, has to compete with ski travellers in the winter months, and quite the long haul for most builders in the US and Canada for that matter.

  • Kansas City. It’s right smack dab in the middle of the country. Neither coast has a travel advantage, it has the infrastructure and cost of living is low compared to the coasts, making the cost to hold an event lower too. And people do indeed ride bikes here.

    • Quinn.e

      The Sprint Center right in the heart of the city would be sweet. My folks use to live in Gladstone, love KC. Great area, salt of the earth people.

    • Daniel Smith

      I haven’t made it up to Kansas City, but I hear good things. I very much agree that it needs to come to the middle of the country. There are some great builders here in the plains/midwest that probably find it difficult to make it out to the coasts. The weather’s a bit hit and miss this time of year (here in OKC it was 70 Tuesday morning and by 10am we had freezing rain/sleet/snow and it was 25) but on average it’s decent riding weather, expecially once you get off the road.

    • marty larson

      I dunno about the roads down there, but the trails in town are stellar and plentiful.

      • Who rides on roads anymore? That’s actually all I ride, and I can report that its not too shabby.

  • Nate-o

    Tucson! Plenty of accommodations, tonnes of beer, cheap food, great weather, solid cycling scene. It’s drivable from the west (and even the south) pretty easily. Do it in late Feb ~ mid March after the Gem Show and before the Festival of Books.

  • Scott Gater

    I don’t see how Frost Bike enters into the conversation. None of the builders mentioned would have exhibited at Frost Bike. Perhaps some of the other component makers (Paul for example) might have a conflict, but Frost Bike dropped the expo portion of their show down to one day only, Saturday.

    • Scott Felter

      I don’t think it’s about the exhibitors, it’s about the attendees.

      • correct – I would have gone to FB this year.

        • Scott Gater

          What would you have seen there that was not at Saddle drive and embargoed until now? FB is now a one day show and the other days are just seminars about how to better run a shop

          • It’s more about going to MN to see friends, ride fatbikes, and keep up brand/human relationships.

    • The real reason for builders to go to NAHBS is to talk to the press, it’s really the one chance we have a year. With FB and stuff going on this year there were about a third the amount of outlets we had last year.

  • Will Hilgenberg

    It would be worth it to take a look at the Luftgekuhlt expo model due to the caliber of auto industry folk that it attracts as well as the venues it works with and the culture that it has created in such a short amount of time.


    I’d assume being in LA, you were likely aiming the old airport hanger comments given the success of events like Cars and Coffee or Luftgekuhlt down there.

  • Scott Felter

    New Orleans! Not exactly cycling mecca, but a scene unto itself. No one wouldn’t have fun. Promise.

    • Nicholas Haig-Arack

      I’d travel to the Big Easy for pretty much any occasion. Bikes on the bayou sounds like a dream come true, and the cruiser bike influence could really spice things up.

    • Max G.

      Yeah, that another great city. You’ve got my vote.

  • Nicholas Haig-Arack

    Being able to actually ride bikes during a bike show seems like a no-brainer, and it’s one of the main reasons I chose not to attend this year. My favorite memories of NAHBS are around the event, not at the event (ie, riding bikes around Sac/SLC/Moab with a bunch of hooligans). But I agree about the importance of having a central gathering point for this far-flung community. Maybe more Outerbike, less Interbike?

  • terriblemcnaughton

    I really enjoyed the Sacramento show a few years back and completely agree this event doesn’t have to held at a convention center. When I was at the Sacramento show one of the things that was always in the back of my head was how out of place these beautiful custom bikes looked inside of a windowless concrete room with 2×4 fluorescent lighting. It felt more like a trade show than an exhibit (depending on your perspective it is either/ or). An example of some amazing locations (Bay Area biased) for this event with ample space and natural lighting would be Alameda’s air plane hangars or the Craneway pavilion in Richmond.

  • I fell like PDX would be a great location. We have the annual “1 Moto Show” which is in a great venue. Huge space with a much more personal feel. https://www.instagram.com/the1moto/ just to give you a feel for the venue spaces. And it goes without saying how great our cycling culture is here. tons of great rides in and around the city.

  • marty larson

    what the show needs is four things I think. Ease of access(air port hubs), consistency for builders and attendee’s, solid cycling culture and capable venues. Great air hubs with good cycling culture and capable, affordable venues are a tough combination. I’d love to see four consistent show sites around the country. Allows for a good variety of builders to show, or NOT show.

    Sites in the South East, West, North and South would be ideal. I think it would be a priority to keep the show in Sacramento. There’s just too many industry shops around there already. Atlanta would be a great option. Good culture, cheap to get to. Austin would be good too, but its a little harder to get to…so maybe New Orleans. Its an oddball suggestion, but its not always about the bike. And as someone else said, it would be a great place to have a great time AND look at bikes.Then Minneapolis. Cycling culture is great, riding is good, lots of industry folk here, its also a hub, and venue’s are plentiful.