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.