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North American Hand Made Bicycle Show

San Jose, California, March 2-4, 2007

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Part 5 - Carbon fibre and other bits and pieces

By James Huang in San Jose, CA

Craig Calfee seems particularly adept at creating showpieces,
Photo ©: James Huang
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As in years past, steel and other metals were the predominant material of choice for most of the builders on hand at the NAHBS. However, the nature of the show requires that frames be "hand built", not "hand built from steel, aluminum, or titanium". Just as in the ranks of the professional racing world, carbon fibre's impressive list of properties also made it a nearly irresistible choice for a select group of smaller builders on hand at the show. Other than the tubing itself, the carbon frames at NAHBS still satisfied the requirements of being hand built, one at a time (and, by that argument, none of the builders can be credited with drawing their own metallic tubing, either...). Although their appearance was decidedly high-tech, the pieces were artisan-built nonetheless and the builders' hands were just as dirty and weathered (albeit with a different kind of 'dirt').

Rüe Sports is still a new brand name, but company head Brent Ruegamer is no newcomer himself, having served with renowned carbon fibre framebuilder Craig Calfee. Ruegamer was clearly an attentive employee there as he displayed one of the most technically impressive booths at the show, one of the highlights of which (there were several) was his Zen Überlight road frame, claimed to weigh just 600g.

Brent Ruegamer's600g Zen Uberlight
Photo ©: James Huang
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According to Ruegamer, the entire Zen Überlight frame is made with a unique "super high modulus" carbon fibre that was recently declassified by the United States. Regardless of the source, "modulus" is really Young's Modulus, which roughly translates into stiffness when used in reference to carbon fibre. Typically, high stiffness in carbon fibre is also associated with high brittleness (i.e. cracks propagate more easily), but Ruegamer insists that this newly available material is not only stiffer, but also lighter and more durable.

The Zen Überlight is a nearly 100% carbon creation, using aluminum for only the down tube shifter bosses (yes, the owner plans on using down tube shifters) and the replaceable rear derailleur hanger. Integrated headset bearings drop directly into the head tube, and sealed cartridge bearings specifically sized for a THM-Carbone Clavicula crankset are pressed directly into the bottom bracket shell. We obviously weren't able to ride the frame at the show, but a quick squeeze revealed surprisingly rigid tube walls (substantially stiffer than most sub-900g or even sub-1000g tube walls we've played with) as well as an impressively laterally rigid rear end. How's it ride? We can only speculate.

Sitting at the technological opposite end of the spectrum at NAHBS was the Brooks line of leather saddles and accessories. Although Ruegamer's carbon creations are still hand built by definition, there are few things in cycling more traditional in most every sense of the word than Brooks leather. The UK-based company occupied a double-sized booth this year, and based on the amount of stuff it displayed, it needed it.

Possibly the most ornate of Brooks' collection is the B33.
Photo ©: James Huang
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Brooks currently offers 33 different leather saddle models (plus two Limited Editions) as well as a deep selection of other accessories, and all of the saddles are still fully hand built in England. Even the rivets are hand-hammered, and the edges are hand-chamfered. Given the traditional nature of the line, it's not surprising that Brooks was, by far, the predominant saddle brand mounted on bikes at NAHBS.

According to Clay Lundgren of Highway Two (US distributor for Brooks), the popularity of Brooks is due to "the nature of the customer and builder both wanting traditional, handmade items. The saddles just follow the detail that goes along with the types of bikes that they're showing here that the customer appreciates."

Interestingly, the popularity of the Brooks like has more than doubled in recent years, according to Lundgren. "The biggest reason is that it's reaching an entirely new demographic. Instead of it being just the randonneur crowd, it's now reaching into the younger, urban market. Brooks is cool again! It's not just for the traditionalists; there's a resurgence in quality handmade stuff across the board, and Brooks is a big part of that. It's not that the market they've always had is growing, but they're reaching a whole new customer."


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com

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