Monday, March 02, 2009

Thoughts On Handmade Bicycles

The recently completed North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Indianapolis was, by most accounts, another smashing success for the promoters, and (it would be assumed) for many of the small builders in attendance, a big boost to their bottom lines in a trying economy. We will see alot of commentary on how this all bodes well for the health of cycling and the business climate in the industry. I have to wonder though, is it all just a little too inbred?

First of all, I will say that I love bicycles and the associated bits and pieces as much as anybody visiting this blog, but does the success of NAHBS say anything more than "we're a bunch of geeks geeking out"? Does it really extend the passion, health benefits, and economical utility of cycling beyond "the choir"?

I would be willing to bet that the local Indianapolis television and newspapers covered the story. However; outside of the immediate local media, would anyone other than a dyed in the wool cyclist ever know anything about NAHBS? Should they?

Interestingly, one of the biggest categories at this and previous NAHBS has been the "utility bike". A bike that is sorely needed and should be exposed to as many folks as possible. NAHBS, with the equivalent of a Lincoln pickup truck, has these overdressed utility bikes in abundance and although they are brilliantly conceived, are well outside the realm of practicality for most budding utility bike users. In this sense, NAHBS is sort of a "Paris fashion show" of the bicycling world. Who would actually wear/ride that?

I will say that NAHBS has had a definite influence on the mainstream cycling companies, and that this influence is actually utilitarian, practical, and real. Three years ago you would have been hard pressed to find a commuter, utility, urban, or a cargo bike in any middle to large bicycle companies line up. NAHBS has definitely helped to change that landscape, albeit in an indirect way.

So, since "corporate bicycle-dom" has basically "taken it to the streets" and is cashing in on the ideas first seen in abundance at NAHBS from small builders, I suppose the show rewarding the builders with increased exposure and (hopefully) more orders for bikes is only right. I'm just thinking that perhaps there is a little bit of "self importance" and maybe not enough of an outward focus.

Maybe ......maybe not. But it would be sad to see NAHBS become a bloated, self-indulgent pageant of garage queen customs and marketing chutzpah.

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