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North American Hand Made Bicycle Show -

Portland, Oregon, USA, February 8 - 10, 2008

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Part 3 - Who needs cars?

By James Huang in Portland, Oregon

ANT specializes in utility bikes
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

Much as Tony Pereira predicted, the vast majority of booths at this year's NAHBS had some sort of city bike or utilitarian commuter on display. Whether that stands as an indicator of growing trends in the marketplace, the local influence of the commuter-infused Portland scene, or a direct consequence of rising energy costs, it doesn't really matter: townies are still arguably the reigning genre of choice at NAHBS.

The growing popularity of these 'lifestyle' bikes comes as no surprise to Mike Flanigan and Betsy Eckel Scola of ANT – Alternative Needs Transportation. Since the creation of the company in 2003, ANT has focused primarily on utilitarian machines that customers can actually use as legitimate replacements for automobiles for most common errands. They're not light nor are they all that sporty-looking (although that's in the eye of the beholder) but they apparently serve their intended purpose nicely.

According to Flanigan, fully 98% of ANT's annual production has fallen squarely into the utilitarian genre since the company was founded in 2003 and he doesn't deny feeling a satisfying sense of validation with how things have shaped up around him. Will the trend continue? We're not going to try to predict the future, but at this point we're at least comfortable saying that it does strike us as a genuine trend and not just a passing fad.

Pereira proved that last year's breakout display was no fluke with a trio of classically-inspired bikes that included, of course, a stylish city bike. Pereira admits to being "strongly influenced by the French bicycles of the mid-century" and each of his displayed creations bore the usual attention to detail and creative touches that won him three awards at NAHBS 2007. Was each one of them a strictly utilitarian machine? Well, no, but they all bore far more usefulness in day-to-day activities than what most of us usually ride. Seriously now, when was the last time you picked up a half gallon of milk on your Cervélo?

The Sycip boys of Santa Rosa, California pulled out the stops yet again with a collection of bikes that drew crowds all day long and were anything but conventional. One of their errand-running machines could also certainly haul a decent load with its custom-built front rack (a common theme again this year). Judging by the enormous beer tap handles used as shift levers, though, it might best be used for bringing a six-pack home instead of dinner (or if you're a Guinness fan, those two could be one in the same). Either way, at least the custom chain- and pants guard will keep your clothes clean.

Alternative Needs Transportation (ANT)
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

Arguably taking the cake in the Sycip booth, however, was a superb fixed-gear runabout. There were no racks to be found but its speedy layout virtually guaranteed that you'd get to your destination quickly and easily stop once you got there courtesy of the single disc brake… mounted at the bottom bracket!

One of this year's showstoppers, though, was a single creation by Canadian Sam Whittingham of Naked Bicycles. The pierced top tube is specifically designed for a U-lock but there's little else about this fixie that would encourage us to leave it unattended around town. Novel eccentric rear dropouts create an elegant means of tensioning the chain, the custom handlebar includes both narrowly-spaced (think messenger style) finger notches and lathe-turned wooden grips out wide, and the straight-bladed offset box crown fork features internal routing for the single front disc brake. The craftsmanship and overall aesthetic screams 'old school' but the integrated seatpost design and modern parts say 'new'. Either way it says 'winner' to us.

Also be sure to check out additional coverage from Gary Boulanger at our BikeRadar.com partner site


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Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com

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