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North American Hand Made Bicycle Show

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

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Part 1 - Talented hands converge on the Pacific Northwest

By James Huang in Portland, Oregon

This is where the magic happens
Photo ©: James Huang
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This year's North American Handmade Bicycle Show opens its doors this weekend with its longest exhibitor list yet and a new venue in downtown Portland, Oregon. According to show organizer Don Walker, the 2008 NAHBS will host 155 exhibitors as compared to just 23 in the inaugural show just three years ago. Given the host city's notoriously bicycle-crazy population, last year's figure of approximately 4000 figures is also almost guaranteed to be eclipsed by a wide margin.

"What's happened is the NAHBS has taken me in a whole new direction," said Walker. "I spend twelve months a year working on the show now. I didn't really intend to be a show promoter, it just happened that way. My vision was always to make it more of a show than a seminar. The main focus in my mind was to raise awareness of the handmade frame building industry, and so far I think we're doing a fair job of accomplishing that."

Opening doors to the world

Naturally the rising visibility of the show has been beneficial for its participants, many of whom rely on NAHBS as their main source of exposure. "The way things have worked out, the show hasn't helped me personally sell more bikes, although I'm probably the exception among the builders there," Walker added. "Some builders have seen their order books double and triple in size because of the show."

That statement certainly applies to local Portland builder Sacha White and his Vanilla Bicycles marque, whose waiting list exploded from thirteen months as of the 2006 show to an epic five years today. White has expanded his operation recently from what was once a purely one-man show, adding a new line of bikes dubbed 'Speedvagen', a handful of employees, and even a full paint shop.

Pereira has other interests as well
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There are no CNC controls
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Tools of the trade
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A few frames of personal significance
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Tony Pereira of Pereira Cycles is another Portland-based member of the 'new guard' of the handbuilt industry having only been in the business for two and a half years. Even so, he has quickly earned respect among his peers and now enjoys reasonable success in terms of sales. Pereira's waiting list has grown from five months to a full year since the 2007 NAHBS where his works garnered three awards.

"I think [NAHBS] has been instrumental in allowing me to succeed," said Pereira during a visit to his Portland shop. "It's my main marketing outlet and without spending a huge amount of money there would be no other way for me to my stuff in front of so many eyeballs."

The number of those peering eyeballs in general, be they firsthand or otherwise, has grown substantially in recent years and the show figures only point to a growing trend in the return of the handbuilt industry. Although the typical machines offered are anything but inexpensive by most standards they're also not terribly expensive in the grand scheme of things and also arguably represent excellent value in terms of the cachet they offer.

"People are really passionate about their bicycles and to be able to have something that's totally unique… it's a pretty special thing," Pereira continued. "It's very accessible. I mean, sure, it's five thousand bucks or whatever, but compared to buying a collector car or something like that it's a drop in the bucket. Even for people of modest means it's approachable so there's lots of opportunity there and you can do it. You can have something really unique. It's a unique piece of art and something that you can use everyday."

Even with the segment's growing popularity and his own passion for his craft, though, Pereira hesitates to encourage others to jump into the business blindly.

"It's not easy at all. It takes some natural talent, some luck, and some good friends," he cautioned. "There's no way I could have gotten where I am now without the support of all of my friends that bought the first twenty bikes. Literally, about twenty people stepped up and were guinea pigs! There are lots of things that can go wrong and lots of luck you need to get it off the ground. The margins are so small and the scale is so small… you can't get a huge loan and throw money into a marketing campaign. You'll never make your money back. You've got to build that out of nothing and with nothing, really. If you put a lot of money into it you're just going to be upside-down forever. But at the same time if you're good and you've got some talent and you're dedicated to it and you're willing to sacrifice for a little while, you can make it happen."

A look at things to come?

In addition to its eye candy appeal, NAHBS has also seemed to serve as a fairly reliable of indicator for the general bicycle market. Track bikes were shown heavily in 2006 and many larger manufacturers began offering their own fixed-gear models shortly thereafter. Similarly, last year's show offered up a heavy dose of commuter-type machines and several bigger industry players that weren't already involved in the segment jumped in afterwards. Whether it's a cause-and-effect relationship or simply a symptom of the handbuilt industry's ability to respond more quickly to market trends is anyone's guess but an interesting trait nonetheless.

Pereira wasn't able to offer up any firsthand look at what other builders might display this year but figured that the city bike will be even more prominent this time around. "I'll make a prediction that this is going to be the year of the city bikes, you know, like 'Portland' bikes," he said. "There's going to be fenders and lights and mixtes and stuff like that. Part of that is because it's here and there's such a market for that here but the other part of it is the oil prices and the transportation idea that's getting greater attention. And I don't know if it's because of us… it seemed like after the show last year you saw the bigger guys that were coming out with city bikes. Maybe we have an influence there. I've heard some people say that we do, but who knows? Maybe it's just because people are more inclined to use bicycles as transportation than before."

Either way, we're excited to see what this year's show brings. Doors open this Friday to exhibitors, press, and trade only then to the public through the weekend. Just as in years past we'll try to bring as much of the show to you as possible so stay tuned!


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com