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North American Hand Made Bicycle Show
Portland, Oregon, USA, February 8 - 10, 2008
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Part 4 - More alternative materials than ever
By James Huang in Portland, Oregon
The choice of frame materials found at this year's NAHBS continues to take
on an increasingly non-ferrous form as more builders get into the game. Titanium
is as appealing as ever but composites such as carbon fibre and even wood are
quickly gaining ground. While perhaps not delivering the traditional aesthetic
many buyers look for (for the most part; read on), many of these frames still
represent some of the highest levels of handmade artisanship around.
The handmade crowd does carbon fibre...
Calfee outdid last year's longhorn steer
Photo ©: James Huang
Craig Calfee has inadvertently created much of this trend on his own as some
of his employees have inevitably moved on over time to try and make names for
themselves. Former employee Brent Ruegamer of Rüe Sports has created some showstoppers
in years past but came to NAHBS 2008 with a decidedly retro-inspired theme.
On the surface, the 'Retro Grouch' was a thoroughly modern bicycle with full
carbon tubes, handmade lugs, and a claimed 650g frame weight. However, the relatively
small diameter tubing cast a profile more akin to a steel bike and the adjoining
lugs were cleverly crafted to look like traditional hand-filed units with their
long winding points. To further confuse the matter, Ruegamer equipped the frame
with an old Campagnolo Victory group that was in surprisingly good condition.
This was no typical Victory group, though; instead, it was an extremely rare
Victory Olimpico group that was only issued to Campagnolo-supported Olympic
athletes back in the day. Luckily Ruegamer had just such a friend that was willing
to loan out the coveted parts for the show. Eat your hearts out, Campyphiles!
Another ex-Calfee employee is Edgar Chavez who launched his own Roadrunner
Velo company last year with his brother, Luis. The carbon tube-and-lug frames
boast Edge Composites tubing, clean lines, and neatly integrated cable stops
at the head tube as well as BB30-compatible versions that are ready to accept
the latest crop of oversized cranksets. Road, 'cross, and even recumbent models
are available and Chavez says that each frame is 100% built and painted in-house
in their California workshop.
One of the more intriguing frames on hand was that of Slovakian builder Brano
Meres (yes, he flew to NAHBS all the way from Eastern Europe). Meres holds a
Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and also freelances in industrial design but
his personal passions include cycling and carbon fiber. Perhaps to the chagrin
of the folks over at Delta 7, Meres showed off his own carbon truss road bike
that was supposedly developed independently (we'll let the patent lawyers figure
this one out).
Slovakian builder Brano Meres
Photo ©: James Huang
Meres says his 'C-Thru' frame required over 300 labour hours but boasts the
light weight, redundant strength, and rigidity properties that are associated
with truss structures. Claimed weight is an impressive 1200g and the quality
of the finish work belied its prototype one-off status. Cable stops were neatly
integrated as well as intelligently located and the overall aesthetic drew consistent
crowds all day long.
Like Calfee, Meres is also fascinated with the mechanical properties of a natural
composite, bamboo. "I like natural materials and I love bamboo as a building
material," he said. Meres completed his own bamboo-tubed mountain bike frame
back in 2004 but the most recent iteration involved the use of bamboo cloth
in place of carbon. Meres admits that the creation is still very much in the
experimental phase but expects the natural-synthetic composite to yield the
ultra-smooth and damped ride of the bamboo tubes but with better consistency
Speaking of Calfee and natural-synthetic hybrids, Craig Calfee took last year's
longhorn steer concept bike and pushed the idea even further this time around.
This year's version sported longhorn handlebars with backswept horns
(ouch, my kidneys!) and another pair were also used for the fork legs. Bamboo
tubes and hemp fibre were again the frame materials of choice but formed into
a cruiser setup instead of last year's standard double-diamond arrangement.
Finishing off the package was a composite chainguard made from wood and hemp
fiber composite. According to Calfee, the latter is almost as strong as fibreglass
and could ultimately serve as a viable substitute.
One of the most outlandish items on display came courtesy of perennial favourite
Independent Fabrication who brought four 'stock' machines in addition to four
showpieces that definitely were not out of the company catalogue. On display
was a steel fixie with stainless lugs, a titanium Moulton-like road bike, and
a hip titanium and carbon cruiser-style 29er. The one that garnered the most
open-mouthed gawks, though, was a BMX version of IF's heralded titanium and
carbon XS road bike... thus creating (ta dah!) the BMXS. We won't delve into
the practical arguments of such a beast but its creator at IF apparently intends
on hitting the dirt jumps with it. Um, ok. Good thing company president Matt
Bracken offers IF employees 100% health coverage.
This is easily the nicest BMX frame we've
Photo ©: James Huang
Sacha White apparently isn't the only builder who felt the need to fabricate
an over-the-top machine for one of his kids. Jim Zoellner of Indiana-based Roark
Custom Titanium Bicycles showed off a mini-sized fully custom rig for his oldest
daughter, Juliana, complete with a gracefully arcing frame, fork, and stem all
in custom-made titanium. The wheels were both CNC-machined from aluminium billet
and the rear one encases a SRAM i-Motion internally geared hubs.
On the adult-sized side of things, local builder Jeff Jones reportedly has
had so much demand for his swoopy 3D Spaceframe titanium frame that he no longer
accepts additions to the multi-year waiting list for fully custom models. Luckily
for most of us, though, he has farmed out production of stock sizes of both
the 3D Spaceframe and traditional double-diamond models to the titanium fabricating
masters at Merlin. Both are supposedly faithful reproductions of Jones' designs
and offer 'Jones-approved quality' at a reduced price and a far more palatable
claimed lead time of twelve weeks.
…while another's dream was for a lugged
steel track bike.
Photo ©: James Huang
Jones is also well known for his unusual H-Bar handlebar and he now offers
a vaguely Morati-like one-piece titanium version that sheds almost 150g from
the original H-Bar. In addition, he also offers a six-speed compatible version
of the venerable Chris King ISO cassette hub that retains the 135mm OLD spacing
but builds into a dishless rear wheel for better lateral strength.
Not one to be left out of the game, handbuilt icon Bruce Gordon showed up in
Portland with a lugged road bike that had a number of onlookers confused as
to the materials used. As it turns out, Gordon used custom-made titanium lugs
and titanium tubes throughout but intentionally made it appear like a traditional
After over three decades in the business, though, Gordon is apparently ready
to hand over the reigns to a certain extent as he was actively seeking financial
partners that might be interested in a 'unique business opportunity'. According
to his pre-prepared letter, Gordon "has several ideas and designs for products
he feels would be easily accepted in the current bicycle industry climate...
With over 30 years of producing bicycles and bicycle related products, Bruce
Gordon has proven that he is committed to his vision and the direction it has
taken him. After many years of making it all happen on his own, Bruce is now
ready for a new challenge and is seeking a passionate and eager partner (or
partners) to do so with." Any takers?
Actually, let's use steel, too
Blending everything together in one machine was Carl Strong of Strong Frames
in Bozeman, Montana. The unique frame used a Reynolds 953 stainless steel lower
half (head tube, down tube, bottom bracket shell, chain stays), titanium seat
stays, and a carbon fiber seat tube and top tube. According to Strong, the combination
optimizes the properties of each material: the steel pipes largely dictate the
overall feel, the curved titanium seat stays are springy and compliant for comfort,
and the carbon fiber damps road buzz and lightens things up. Seem like overkill
to you? Maybe, but some might argue that that's the name of the game at NAHBS.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Rue Sports is always good for interesting carbon frames
but the Retro Grouch was particularly fitting given its environment.
These look like steel lugs to the casual observer…
…but it's actually all carbon.
Yup, here, too.
The dimensions of the seat stays
are more akin to what is usually used in steel frames, not carbon ones.
The classic-looking horizontal dropouts
are carbon, too, and even include adjuster screws.
Brent Ruegamer fitted the Retro Grouch
with a rare Campagnolo Victory Olimpico group.
Yes, kids, this is how people used to shift their bikes.
The single pivot brakes still look nearly new.
Alloy cogs are lightweight
but won't last long.
Ruegamer also built a fixed gear rear end
for the family tandem.
Cable stops are built right into the frame
and are slotted for easier maintenance.
Sheena Ruegamer is apparently also handy
with a paint brush and there were several of her works on hand as well.
Edgar and Luis Chavez have opened up their own carbon shop
in California after spending some quality time working for Craig Calfee.
Chavez's Roadrunner Velo frames
can also be fitted with BB30 bottom brackets.
The Roadrunner Sprezzatura
sat on the floor with a simple, yet striking, black and white paint job.
Even the seatpost was painted to match.
The Roadrunner Velo Cañada
looks to be a fast 'cross bike.
Cable stops are cleanly integrated
into the head tube.
What else would it be? This is NAHBS!
Slovakian builder Brano Meres
came to NAHBS with this showstopping C-Thru carbon truss bike.
Apparently Delta 7 isn't the only company
to have thought of using a truss structure for a bicycle frame.
Mares integrates the hard points
in an impressively clean-looking fashion.
The truss structure might be efficient
but it's also radical looking.
How well will this hold up?
If Mares did his homework, then hopefully for a very long time.
Cable stops are neatly built in.
Mares has also experimented with bamboo
…although his latest creation
uses bamboo cloth instead of carbon fiber.
Mares is also dabbling
with carbon fiber fork lowers.
Calfee outdid last year's longhorn steer bike
with this one.
Calfee used his hemp fiber truss technique
to create the stem.
Calfee uses the decidedly unconventional material
for the fork legs, too.
More hemp fiber is used for each frame joint.
The chainguard is made from hemp fiber composite plate
and is bordered in wood.
Yup, even the kickstand is bamboo.
One Independent Fabrications employee
is reportedly going to use this 'BMXS' for dirt jumping.
This is easily the nicest BMX frame we've ever seen.
IF president Matt Bracken
always wanted an over-the-top 29" cruiser…
…and lo and behind, he finally built one.
The Roadster wears another variation
of IF's down tube logo.
Another IF employee built
a Moulton-like road bike…
…while another's dream was for a lugged steel track bike.
Damn, that looks nice.
Unfortunately, though, IF doesn't currently have plans to offer anything like this to the public.
A custom-painted saddle tops it off.
This IF bike was fitted with S&S couplings
for easy traveling.
The couplings were a popular feature
on many frames at NAHBS.
IF track machines were also on display
at the Pedro's booth across the aisle.
And yet another custom-painted saddle.
Gotta have heart!
IF's stunning XS titanium and carbon road bike
sits at the top of the company range.
Subtle grey on grey detailing
makes for a cool look.
Jim Zoellner of Roark Titanium
built this killer rig for his daughter.
Most of the bike is titanium…
…but the wheels are CNC machined from aluminum.
The chainguard is titanium, too.
Check out the neat water jet-cut Roark logo
in the dropout.
The rear hub encases a SRAM i-Motion internally geared hub.
Apparently Zoellner's daughter likes butterflies!
A gutted pair of Crank Brothers Candy pedals
gets the job done.
Jeff Jones is a local Oregon builder
whose 3D-Spaceframe has earned countless devotees.
Supposedly the peculiar arrangment of frame tubes
makes for a particularly comfy ride.
Jones' truss fork is now available
in a 'big wheel' version.
Jones is also well-known for his H-Bar…
…but a new one-piece version
lops off almost 150g from the original.
Clean workmanship like this
is a Jones trademark but can now also be found on the work he farms out to Merlin.
Jones also produces this singlespeed cog.
A bit of reinforcement
goes a long way.
If you have one of these at your house
, consider yourself seriously lucky.
Jones modifies King rear hubs
to yield a dishless wheel.
Unfortunately, though, you do have to give up a few cogs.
Jones even goes so far as to build
his own fender strut reinforcements.
Steel tubing is carefully bent
to provide an end-to-end seal.
The front derailleur line
simply arcs around the seat tube.
Bruce Gordon confused a few onlookers
with this titanium road frame…
…which was intentionally built
to resemble a steel machine.
Gordon faithfully reproduced his signature lug shapes
The matching stem
was a work of art on its own.
Brian Baylis is an accomplished builder in his own right
but also a master painter.
This is from Bruce Gordon?
Gordon walked away from NAHBS 2007
with a number of awards and did the same this year.
Carl Strong blended steel, titanium, and carbon
into his dream machine.
Reynolds 953 was used for the down tube
and chain stays.
Pseudo-lugged construction holds the seat cluster together.
Seat stays are shock absorbing titanium.
The logo is cleverly left bare
to let people know what lies beneath.
Another fantastic paint job
by Spectrum in Colorado.
Colorado builder Black Sheep
offered up its own swoopy titanium design.
The matching truss fork
bore at least a mild resemblance to Jeff Jones' design.
Burly fork tips
keep the front wheel securely in place.
keep the rear disc caliper moving with the wheel.
were awfully popular this year.
This Black Sheep head tube badge…
…matched up with this one on the seat tube.
Black Sheep's full-suspension design…
…swapped a conventional main pivot
for a flexstay.
Dropouts are likely convertible
for geared or singlespeed use.
More swept bars could be found here.
Fox Racing Shox is a familiar name in the MTB world
but there weren't many of these to be found at NAHBS.
is practically a local paintshop for Black Sheep.
Chain stays on this Black Sheep are heavily bolstered.
Got some errands to run?
Black Sheep apparently does utility bikes, too.
A custom-etched Rohloff hub graces the back end.
A Rotor crank is an odd spec for this kind of bike
but maybe its unique design helps get that heavy load back home.
Moots' snow bike made another appearance.
Riders living in the snow belt
would likely kill for one of these.
How much traction do you think this thing gets?
This massive box-style chain stay yoke
has a lot of tire to go around.
More sliding dropouts can be found back here.
Moots offered its own take on the townie bike
with the Comooter.
Jeez, did anyone have a straight bar here?
A generator front hub
powered front and rear lights.
Wires were run interally for a clean look.
Moots also ran the shifter lines
for the Rohloff hub internally.
Sure, why not?
Long-time titanium builder Kish Fabrication
has several frames on display including this curved tube titanium model.
Excellent finish work by Spectrum
included carefully masked sections of ti.
Tom Ritchey doesn't do custom frames anymore
so he refers some customers to Steve Potts.
Potts offers Ritchey's excellent BreakAway
system for his custom titanium builds.
The system makes for a clean look
that barely belies its travel bike status.
Ric Hjertberg of FSA also has a side project
involving wooden rims.
Hjertberg explains the benefits of wooden rims
to a showgoer, which reportedly include surprising strength and an unbeatable ride.
Hjertberg was also showing off a new Morizumi
spoke cutting and threading machine.
The Morizumi machine occupies a very small footprint
yet is impressive in its thorough design, precision results, and ease of use.
Spokes are cut here…
…and threaded here.
Swapping between 14g and 15g
is literally a ten-second operation.
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