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North American Hand Made Bicycle Show

San Jose, California, March 2-4, 2007

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Part 1 - Townies in abundance

By James Huang in San Jose, CA

Third running of North American Handmade Bicycle Show continues exemplary reputation

Peacock Groove's decidedly aggro commuter
Photo ©: James Huang
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Last year's NAHBS was a visual smorgasbord for all who attended and stared long enough to take in the multiple rows of stunning bicycles. Whether the appeal was immediately obvious on the surface or laid a few layers deeper, nearly every machine was utterly beautiful. This year's show certainly didn't disappoint, and if anything, many builders seemed to have bumped things up relative to last year in an effort to outdo one another in a game of friendly rivalry.

By its very nature, the handbuilt industry cultivates niche markets, especially ones that larger major manufacturers either have yet to enter, can not enter for economical reasons, or ones in which they no longer involve themselves. Last year's dominating segments at NAHBS were the randonneur tourers and 29" mountain bikes, but the 'lowly' utilitarian bike was clearly this year's canvas of choice. Fenders, racks, chainguards, internal transmissions and generator hubs abounded on one example after another and those accessories typically received just as much attention from their builders as the frames on which they were attached.

That big red thing is a motor for when Sycip's
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

To Mike Flanigan of ANT Bicycles (Alternative Needs Transportation), the townie bike's strong showing isn't much of a surprise. Flanigan has been producing dedicated commuter bicycles almost exclusively since he started ANT in 2001 and credits the handbuilt industry itself for the segment's popularity. "It's because the people that build bikes enjoy that type of riding, and now they're seeing that their customers will buy that type of bike. So they're willing to go out on a limb to produce those types of images and sell them. But I think it's really because of their own personal interests; most cyclists that are in the industry believe in bicycles for transportation"

If the population of bicycles at NAHBS is any indication, the demand for commuter bicycles is growing, if only at the upper end of the spectrum. "ANT has grown a lot, and I've got a big backlog of orders. People are placing orders for the bikes that I like to build. It's very rare for me to have to build a standard bicycle such as a road or cyclocross or what have you. Those do come occasionally, but the bulk of the bikes are the roadster types with racks and full accoutrements."

Cool double crown and light mount from Oswald Cycles.
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

One question remains, though: Why spend so much time and energy on a bicycle that will primarily be used for trips to the grocery store or other mundane errands? Those roles are more often filled by the most inexpensive bicycles, and it seems counterintuitive to pour your heart, soul, and money (often lots of it at that) into something that will see inclement weather and unfriendly parking meters.

For Flanigan, the answer is, again, quite obvious: "People are afraid to invest any money in their commuter bikes, yet that's the one that they're going to spend the most amount of time on. It's the one that you're going to suffer on, so why suffer 90% of the time and then ride your nice bike on the weekends? You've got to enjoy life now."


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