Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday News And Views

NAHBS: Where welds are scrutinized- (Steve Potts Frame shown)
Bike nerds, hipsters, and industry wonks will be on high alert this weekend as the NAHBS, (North American Handmade Bicycle Show), takes place in Charlotte North Carolina this weekend. In fact, the geekery has already begun with social media updates of folk's travels to NAHBS. 

Last I checked traveling by air or Interstate  was infinitely boring, but apparently if you are going to NAHBS, well.......that's a different story, mate! Let me tell you about the coffee in Terre Haute!

Anyway, I am no different when it comes to wanting to check out the scene. I love bicycles, and I have had a past which included custom making things, (jewelry), so I understand the commission and hand craft behind the bikes quite well. Maybe that is why I am a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to many custom, "handmade" bicycles. (In fact, the whole "handmade" thing is just weird. For more on that, you can read my 2011 rant on NAHBS here) Anyway, what I wanted to talk about today is something related to custom made stuff, be that jewelry or bicycles.

Back when I did design and make custom jewelry, I had to deal with the customer, order the materials, (if necessary). I helped with the marketing and advertising of the business. I oversaw repairs, employees, and hand filed, soldered, and set stones. Polishing, refining, and making sure everything was sharp, defined, symmetrical, and as perfect as humanly possible. I think I did a pretty darn good job. There are people still wearing stuff I made, designed, and had a hand in manufacturing to this very day. (Including my wife!) So, to say that I do not understand the custom, handmade thing is very wrong. I get it.

If the details aren't right- then what? (Image by M Gersib)
So, I've always looked at bicycles with a critical eye for detail, symmetry, fit, finish, and refinement. I notice some things many people don't many times. I happened to see a limited production frame not long ago- a lugged steel frame- that had a brake bridge brazed in slightly "off". It was "handmade" according to the brand that marketed it. Now I will say that I've seen several "production frames" with oddities, mind you, but these days, the level of symmetry, alignment, and finish are so high that any defects that may occur are statistically insignificant. It seems the product, for whatever reasons, is pretty consistently high in how straight, symmetrical, and nicely done they are, especially in the realm of steel frames that I have seen, at any rate.

All that to say this- I've seen, (and bought some), custom, small builder frames that are off. They were not symmetrical, the fit and finish on some are not all that great, and I've seen some strange things that, in my opinion, should not happen for the level of money folks are paying to get these types of frames. On one hand, yes- they are made by human hands, (but so are most bicycles, really), and yes, folks can and do make mistakes. But ya know what? When I worked in gold, silver, and precious stones, it was either spot on, or I/we did it over again until it was right before the customer saw it. I just wish the majority of custom builders of bicycles were that way. Are they? I don't have the evidence to say. But I have already seen things I think are "odd" that are going to be shown at NAHBS this year. I hope that these oddities are in the minority.

What does this have to do with NAHBS? maybe nothing, or maybe everything. I only can speak from my experiences. But I do know one thing- If I ever get to NAHBS someday I'll be happy if I don't see what I have seen with custom bikes up to now.

Have a great weekend! Spring has sprung, (or is about to), so get out there.


MG said...

It seems like I've been having this conversation with a few like-minded folks lately, but the little details really do matter.

From tip-to-tail, a bicycle is the result of a million little details, and when you get them right, it's a beautiful thing. When details are missed, they end up stealing the spotlight from more appealing aspects of the bicycle.

In this respect, bicycles and art share a strong kinship.

Steve said...

Ah, what short memories we humans have! Anyone remember the epic blog entry, entitled "Frostbike 2014: The Trip"? Didn't play in Terre Haute, but it did go through some similar glass houses!

Guitar Ted said...

@Steve: But I doubt anyone did anything THAT stupid going to NAHBS. ;>)