Picking up where yesterday’s post left off, we’ve got our second and final gallery from the Philly Bike Expo, featuring track bikes, gravel bikes, commuters, and a high-pivot full suspension. Read on for John’s closing thoughts on the offerings from this year’s Expo and a reflective outro on the future of custom bike showcases…
Due to my personal life being rather busy these days, I found myself with a conundrum; my limited time in Philly meant that my only full day documenting expo bikes would be Saturday rather than the full weekend. To squeeze every bit of photographic opportunity from this trip, I documented a few bikes Friday as the builders were rolling them in for setup but still found myself shooting bikes up until the closing time at the Expo on Saturday. As such, I left out a lot of important bikes and wasn’t able to connect with everyone I had hoped to, but I was still stoked to make it out and be able to feature a handful of truly compelling builds here.
Chapman Cycles’ and Acoustic Cycles’ kid’s bike offerings
On our Sunday morning flight home, I was reflecting on the state of the US-framebuilding scene and was struck by how many of these makers are supported by their families during the expo and during their day-to-day operations. From daughters or sons packing orders or even running the facilities, several US component manufacturers were joined by their family members in the booths.
It made for some quaint photo ops as I got to overhear some playful family banter, like the exchanges between Alec and Doug from White Industries. For example: how Alec missed his flight to the show, which resulted in Doug lamenting that he’d never be able to live that one down if the roles were reversed. Doug flew his own two-prop plane to the show from California too! Ron from King Cage had his daughter with him, and Mark from Paragon Machine Works was joined by his son. It solidified the family and community vibes at a showcase run by a father and daughter team, the Bilenky family.
Then, there’s the extended bike family. Friends, both old and new, all coming together to celebrate an event like the Philly Bike Expo. It was great reconnecting with longtime friends while also meeting plenty of new folks. If you stopped me and said hello, thank you! It means the world to me, and thanks for attending the show! Your support goes a long way.
Let’s get to it!
Acoustic Bicycles High Pivot Steel Full Suspension 29er: ROWDY
A new dawn is on the horizon. The age of the steel full suspension is rising. Enough of these plastic motorcycles that all look and ride the same. Enough of rampant consumption of model years, with half a degree changes in the name of incremental gains. Enough with seas of carbon bike frames, cracked, forgotten, and in landfills. Pardon me while I fall off this rickety podium, speaking to an audience that might not care, but this sea change is very important to me.
We’ve seen my Starling Murmur and Kyle Klain’s Myth Zodiak in detail. Yesterday we showcased the 44 Bikes prototype, and I’ve got a REEB SST review en route, but I was not expecting to see this big, beautiful behemoth roll into the convention center.
Acoustic Bicycles high pivot full suspension is a stunner. Based in the Southern Rockies, this Colorado-based builder’s backyard most certainly provided a perfect testing ground for this raucous bike. Its chassis is tig welded and features rocker links manufactured by (another CO builder) REEB Cycles’ Adam Procise.
The dropouts, clevises, and stainless pivots are the handiwork of Sean Handerhan out of Pittsburgh. Paragon Machine Works made the custom head tube. The finishing touches include Ignite Cranks, an ENGIN Cycles seat collar/stem, i9 Hubs, with custom ano by Ashley Anodize It. Oh, and his wife made the head badge. This bike is a testament to collaboration.
For the number-hungry, the 160/160 travel bike dons a 63.5º static (non-sagged) head angle, a 77º seat angle, 440mm rear end and a 482mm reach. The 160mm Zeb was retrofitted with a Vorsprung spring, and the rear shock is a Push shock.
When asked what the next step is, Zach from Acoustic emphasized that the bike is overly-engineered and he’d like to work on lightening it up a bit. Right now, this rowdy platform shook the bicycle showcase, and everyone I talked to was vibing with it. Kudos, Zach!
Blaze Bicycles Titanium Pinion Gearbox Tourer: Nimble
Touring bikes aren’t necessarily supposed to be lightweight or nimble, but it ain’t a bad thing when they are. One of the reasons I love titanium for an off-road tourer is the resonance reduction, the right amount of flex, and the weight savings.
Moab, Utah-based Blaze Bicycles displayed this no-nonsense touring bike with a custom, integrated rear rack, Pinion shell, and Lauf fork with a Razorbar handlebar and Paragon Machine Works sliding dropouts. The short travel fork combined with the ti build promises a buttery smooth ride.
When society collapses, and we’re spread out across the land, this is the bomb-proof bike you’ll want!
Chapman Cycles Singlespeed Commuter: Classy
As a photographer, do you even do this bike justice? My approach was to shoot 40+ photos, but even these can’t convey the modulation of the Paul Cross Stop or IRD Widget-inspired brakes (made by Chapman) or let you feel the fork flex as it rolls up the corrugated loading dock or accurately portrays the beauty of the nickel plated stem. There is so much about the experience of a Chapman Cycles that photos will never do justice. Classy is an obvious descriptor, but they’re so much more.
I had Cari help me with spotting this bike as she had just brought me lunch from outside the venue. Having her eagle eyes for detail along with me during the documentation was a real treat. Not knowing the lingo or vernacular for bicycle parts, she kept pointing out parts or moments in the frame construction that caught her eye.
The Northeast has some exceptional classic constructeur-inspired builders, with J.P. Weigle proximal to them all. It’s clear that the classics never die, and whoever this bike lands itself under will understand that with the first pedal stroke.
Engin Cycles Singlespeed 29er Hardtail: Engineered
Looking like a subterranean exploration vehicle from the depths of Khazad-dûm, Drew, from Engin Cycles, lends his work a look that’s immediately distinct from other builders. There’s just something elegant about his geometric designs, and it’s clear from his builds that there’s a high level of professional OCD involved, where exemplary is never substituted for “good enough.”
We’ll look into this mythos and ethos in a forthcoming Engin Shop Visit, but know for now that Drew machines all his frame pieces in-house, in one of four of his CNC machines. When he’s not fighting CNC chip management or tinkering with cable stops, he’s building one-on-one custom bikes, never being swayed by the status quo. This bike features Drew’s custom dropouts, made to accept the Paragon sliding hardware, future-proofing the design.
It’s this latest era of ENGIN that’s escalated my admiration to obsession. From the M900-inspired crank arms to the neoclassical or art nouveau-inspired 35mm clamp stems, and rock-solid seat post clamps, Drew’s expansion into the world of components (thanks to product designer BEADENKOPF) has been a welcome addition to the design landscape. As for the wild anodizing, that’s all thanks to Ashley Anodize It.
Jubilee Manufacturing Disc All-Road Bike: Progressive
Sam was a part of the SRAM Inclusivity Scholarship at the last Philly Bike Expo, where she displayed this very bike for the masses. For this year’s event, she and her friend Sal had a booth displaying their various products for sale—more on that later.
Last year’s build photo by Jarrod Bunk
What really struck me about their booth is the progression of Sam’s work. Last year, this bike featured a Spray.Bike paint job while this year, it was sporting a lovely hunter-green finish. When I asked Sam about the bike, she exclaimed that Brian from Chapman Cycles had taught her to paint.
Sam and Brian worked on prepping the frame, masking the logos, and finishing it to its current state. Steel bikes have long lifespans and can see multiple iterations depending on the owner’s interests. It was the collaboration between Jubilee and Chapman—and Sam’s progression of skills—alongside a bike designed to morph and change over time, all while maintaining its solid foundation, that spoke to me.
We’re in a world where we need each other, and working with one another to push through the muck is where humanity shines. There’s a lot of heart in Sam’s work, perhaps embodied by her heart-shaped cable straddles, which hopefully we’ll see a restock soon!
Liberation Fabrication Ultra-Endurance Hardtail: Adventurous
Eva Kloiber from Liberation Fabrication was one of the four framebuilders chosen for the SRAM Inclusivity Scholarship. If you haven’t seen SRAM’s post on this year’s builders, I’d recommend checking it out!
Not to steal SRAM’s thunder in this initiative but Eva’s quote from their profile resonated with me:
“I was initially hesitant to pursue Liberation Fabrication in earnest after hearing many warnings about builders who couldn’t cut it or grew to hate the whole process. But the more time I spent thinking about it, the more I believed I had something valuable to contribute. I am a trans woman which has meant encountering exclusion within the bike industry and frustration in finding gear built with my body in mind. This led me to the empathy-first approach I take with my building and working with my customers.”
Eva named this bike the “East Bound and Down” as it was the last frame they built in their Seattle studio before relocating to Pittsburgh.
What struck me was the full bikepacking accouterment and thoughtful detailing found in a bike that was not only meant to travel great distances but, thanks to the Paragon Z Couplers, could be transported across the globe. The paint, the decals, the FENDERS, all were cause for pause.
No22 Little Wing Fixed Gear: Crispy
Wow. So look…I haven’t ridden a fixed gear in some time, but my love for them is embedded not only in this website’s DNA but my own (as I’m sure many of you feel the same). While I love seeing randonneuring bikes, full suspensions, and modern klunkers at showcases like the Expo, I’ll always skid to a stop for a good fixed gear.
No22 Bicycle Co‘s Little Wing at this year’s event was a show-stopper for me. With its bourbon-colored anodizing, sleek cockpit, clean lines, an aggressive geometry, and featherweight stance, it was impossible to keep this bike from wanting to roll, even with the wheels chocked!
Well done, team!
Rodeo Labs Show Pony 29er Hardtail Prototype: Versatile
While not a US-made frame, I was stoked to see Rodeo Labs at the Philly Bike Expo, displaying their Show Pony hardtail prototype. We chatted a little about what went into this bike’s DNA, which was a direct result of Rodeo Lab’s audience and fans requesting a hardtail from them.
With an emphasis on its qualifier as a prototype, I was allowed to document the bike in situ behind the Expo in the warm morning light. I’m leaving this one light on the details as it will no doubt change when and if the Show Pony goes into production, but it was cool nonetheless to see the bike in person and to be able to share it with y’all.
The popularity of hardtails speaks to their versatility, as they are indeed a great solution to many of the issues people face with modern gravel bikes!
Vicious Cycles Rabbit Fighter Gravel Bike: Speedy
The lines. The colors. The stance. This bike screams speed. The Rabbit Fighter is Vicious Cycles‘ disc gravel or all-road bike. It’s built in the Metal Guru facilities, Carl’s framebuilding academy, in New Paltz, NY. The paint was done in-house at Vicious and resembles a tableau from the Star Wars canon.
In yesterday’s post, there was some commentary about carbon forks on steel frames taking away from the overall package, but this is a great example of the lines from the frame, both painted and visual, creating continuity through the fork.
Plus, if it’s a race bike, the client might want the stiffness that carbon forks provide. At any rate, without derailing the visual beauty of this bike, I was glad to be able to document this stunning example of Carl’s relentless pursuit for creating long-lasting, timeless bikes…
Benevolent Bicycles Titanium Gravel Bike – Photos by Jarrod Bunk
Each of these showcase bikes received SRAM and RockShox components to compliment the stunning creations these builders made.
Even though Katrina has only been framebuilding for about six months now, laying down stacked dime beads at the Janus Cycle Group, who make both Dean and Merlin titanium frames in Boulder, CO, her work is right at home alongside industry veterans.
Currently, when she’s not building for Dean/Merlin part-time, she’s a graduate mechanical engineering student. At the Expo this year, she brought forth a stunning titanium tourer, a do-it-all bike; a quiver killer, and the one bike to do it all.
What I’d like to end this framebuilder showcase with is a quote from Katrina’s profile on the SRAM site in which she states:
“While I love the immersive environment of shop life, I often need to work through feelings of being “the Only One”. I am a mixed-race woman, and in almost all the shops I’ve worked in I have been the only one.”
Due to time constraints, I couldn’t document this bike myself, but luckily the homie Jarrod Bunk dropped some delicious images on us. I want to thank Katrina for being so open about the challenges she faces as a woman in the framebuilding world and to SRAM for including her work in this year’s Philly Bike Expo!
Returning to Philly felt like a reunion. Not only between friends but with my roots on the East Coast. Being a North Carolina boy, I spent the first 20 years of my life all up and down the East Coast and will always feel a connection to it, even if I now prefer to spend my free time in the deserts along the Colorado Plateau.
This sense of returning to an extended family made me think a lot about the US framebuilding scene, its future, and what role(s) showcases like the Philly Bike Expo can play in the progression and proliferation of US-made frames.
One overarching takeaway I’d offer up is that diversifying the vendors at the showcase brings in more everyday people. I wasn’t able to document the show floor or many of the vendors, but it was very evident that families attended the showcase to throw a leg over kid’s bikes, cargo bikes, e-bikes, and the like. The motivation to see the high-end, custom steeds seemed low on many people’s agendas. Yet, for others, seeing the custom bikes were the only motivation for attending.
While my focus was on documenting custom bikes, it’s clear that the Philly Bike Expo has warmed the coals of commuter/utility bikes for the people of the greater Philadelphia area.
So many showcases only focus on the builders, which is excellent, but I genuinely feel for longevity, it’s time to broaden the range. I want to see builders and their custom creations—such design experiments bring inspiration, innovation, and sometimes much-needed levity to the world of bikes. But I also want to see more people excited by bikes and for the “everyday” rider to feel at home at a showcase like the Philly Bike Expo. For it to be artful and accessible. I think we can do both.
What do you think? If you could attend any framebuilding showcase in the world, which would it be and why? And if you see a bike in this gallery that resonates with you, let us know in the comments! This feedback helps us decide what to document at future events.
Much love to Bina, the Bilenky family, the builders, the companies, and everyone that said hello. Philly, we’ll be back next year! With over 200 exhibitors and 5,000+ attendees this year, I cannot wait to see its growth in 2023. Thank you!