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North American Hand Made Bicycle Show

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

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Part 5 - Local builders come out in force

By James Huang in Portland, Oregon

Sacha White offered upthe usual array
Photo ©: James Huang
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It could easily be said that NAHBS organizer Don Walker couldn't have chosen a better location for this year's show. In fact, many people did say exactly that given Portland's status as a hotbed of the frame building world right now. Out of the 156 total exhibitors (not all of which were frame builders), roughly two dozen were based in Portland or in nearby surrounding areas of Oregon, including Tony Pereira, Sacha White, Joseph Ahearne, Mike DeSalvo, and Ira Ryan.

White has built an enormous head of steam with his Vanilla Cycles brand since NAHBS 2006. White said his waitlist spanned about 13 months at the time, ballooned to about four years by the next year's show, and after hitting the five-year mark shortly thereafter he stopped taking deposits for full-custom bikes, at least for now. One doesn't have to look too closely to understand why this is the case and we'll let the images speak for themselves.

White's signature dropout
Photo ©: James Huang
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One customer who managed to nudge her way to the top of the list, though, was White's oldest daughter, Cybelle. The eight-year-old outgrew the award-winning tricycle her father created for her two years ago (which currently resides in a museum in San Francisco) and now pedals to school on a beautiful mixte bike complete with the full Vanilla Cycles treatment. Think back now: what did you used to ride to school on? Must be good to have one of the world's best frame builders as your dad!

That five-year waiting period weighs heavily on White, though. While the security of knowing he has work for the half-decade must be at least somewhat reassuring it does also place some restrictions on pursuing other creative interests (and he has many). It also doesn't always sit well with him that his full-blown Vanillas are now financially out of reach for many buyers (including a lot of his close friends).

Creative abilities aside, White still holds a strong passion for 'cross racing and created the Speedvagen line last year to help feed that hunger as well as offer customers a shorter waiting period and more accessible price tag. Built in cooperation with another local builder, Mike DeSalvo, each Speedvagen is a purpose-built racer with few of the purely aesthetic embellishments that grace the Vanilla line and White is careful about whom these go to; these machines are built for racing and he'd like to have some reassurance that they will be used as such.

For 2008, White has added a Speedvagen road racing line but interested parties should line up quickly. There will only be fifteen made this season and ten are already spoken for. We'll freely admit to truly lusting after very few bikes ourselves these days, but this is absolutely one of them. Where do we sign up?

Portland compatriot Joseph Ahearne has thus far chosen to concentrate on everyday lifestyle bikes but his creativity and workmanship has drawn many admiring eyes and multiple awards. His split chain stay design has evolved into somewhat of an Ahearne trademark and each of his bikes profiled here feature it. At this year's show he also showed off a split fork blade design as well. Ahearne readily admits that he's not ready to offer that to the public yet before giving it a good go himself but it's a striking design feature nonetheless.

Fixies were as prevalent as ever
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

One of his most fetching works also happened to be his own personal bike. Paired tubes abound from top to bottom on this one, and the split top tube was specifically sized to hold Ahearne's U-lock as he pedals from place to place. The unique seat binder configuration is unlike any we've come across in recent memory and the custom front rack is as functional as it is beautiful.

Newcomer Ken Wheeler came to NAHBS with what were possibly the most unconventional bikes of the show. Nope, they weren't steel, titanium, or aluminium, nor were they carbon or even bamboo. Wheeler's material of choice is hardwood.

Each front triangle member is essentially created in halves. A CNC mill hogs out the interior of each frame member half and then the two are bonded together to create what is then essentially a hollow tube. Hard points are glued and bolted into place and solid hardwood reinforcements are used at the head tube and seatpost. Carbon fibre rear ends are also bonded in place.

Speedvagen bikes are fitted
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

According to Wheeler, one of his maple down tubes beat a commonly used brand name aluminium MTB tube in out of place bending and torsional stiffness and the smoothness of the ride quality is unmatched by any other material he's encountered. Moreover, wood's toughness and overall damage tolerance bodes well for long-term durability. He can also use a number of different varieties of wood to deliver particular characteristics or even a particular aesthetic. Surprisingly, the frames are even reasonably light as sub-4lbs complete.

Want more? Come back tomorrow!

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



For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com

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