House of the Handmade: NAHBS 2012 Retrospective

Revering the art of the ride at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show

By Kevin Rouse
Photos by Anthony Smith

The Sacramento Convention Center is a rather unassuming place in which to enshrine the very spirit of bicycles. Thousands of square-feet of drab, stain-masking carpeting, anemic fluorescent lighting and cold, exposed concrete walls don’t do much in the way of setting a reverent mood.

Truth be told, it’s no Mormon Tabernacle.

But, this moving, makeshift church of craftsmanship is surely a mecca all its own—these numbered aisles, home to the 2012 North American Handmade Bike Show, represent a yearly pilgrimage for builders of these hand-wrought works of functional art and those who ascribe to the philosophy they embody. This philosophy—most often one of craft over earnings—celebrates the true spirit of the bicycle.

Not beholden, though not immune, to technology, these bikes represent the undiluted freedom of the form—a window into the endlessly varying essence of the bicycle. If that sounds weighty and, perhaps a bit too metaphysical, then allow me to put down the patchouli—this show is really a celebration of stuff. Stuff—just for the unrepentant sake of stuff. Lugs? Fillet-brazing? Things of the past. Just stuff we needn’t trouble with since the advent of mass-market carbon fiber, robotic welding and CNC machines.

It’s funny then, how this ‘stuff’ can make one lust over a bike more than their first grade-school crush. And, then, isn’t it amusing that this ‘stuff’ can inspire five trips back to the same tradeshow booth over the course of a weekend just to get one more look at a bike that has a mysteriously unfathomable hold over you?

It’s this very reason, though, that the show has flourished, growing from just 700 attendees its first year, to over 8,000 at this year’s show. Call it the unbridled spirit of the bicycle—or whatever you want for that matter—but the undeniable draw of a handmade bike is just part of the magic of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show.

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