There’s something nobody tells you about the North American Handmade Bicycle Show:
It’s not about bikes.
Sure, you might be led to think otherwise, what with the prevalence of bikes of all kinds, conspicuous cog tattoos, and guys wearing shirts saying things like “Rosebud was a bike” and “Your mom digs my bikes.”
But you’d still be wrong.
Matt is wearing 510 Freerider shoes, a trucker hat, and has remnants of healing skin peeking out from his shirtsleeve. He looks like one of those 20-year-olds who inherited the magic wheelie gene at age five and easily flings his wispy body into the air without a second thought. And here he is, excited and nervous, standing in line to talk to Richard Gängl.
“He built bikes for my grandfather.” Matt says. Seizing on the opportunity, he walks over to Gängl with an outstretched hand. “I’ve heard about you all my life.”
Strolling up and down the rows of the show, it doesn’t take long to realize what’s really on display are stories vaguely disguised as bikes. A discussion about the validity of wood as a frame material leads Ken Stolpmann of Owen Bikes to a tale about his recently passed mentor, boat builder Owen Woolley. As I walk by, Erik Noren of Peacock Groove wraps up a story with, “and that’s how I ended up with nine stitches in my ass.” His next story is about the bike next to him, painstakingly crafted for Minnesota’s Almanzo 100 race—even the Peacock Groove logo was created using gravel collected from the course.
Intricate lugs, stunning woodwork, and meticulously wrapped carbon spin yarns of late nights, good ideas gone bad, and bad ideas gone genius. Out of curiosity or awe or an intrinsic attraction to shiny stuff, people travel from all over the world just to experience the silent stories of crusty old bike builders. Complicated tales of art and function, beauty and whimsy, tradition and innovation are distilled down to the one most common denominator: the bike. While people increasingly double-click their way through life, NAHBS celebrates the tangible and real, the stories you can touch with your hands, and the tales that invite you to ride along.
It’s the middle of a school day, but Chris and his 11-year-old son Alex are at the show anyway. “I pulled him out of school today,” Chris says, “He’ll probably learn more here than there.” And he’s probably right. When Alex is asked about his favorite part of the bike show, his wide scan the floor looking for an answer when it suddenly hits him:
Damn straight, kid.