Don Walker — an amiable, extra-large human being with a knack for epigrammatic refrains — noted that what makes the North American Handbuilt Bike Show so special is that these bikes are made with love. Walker, a 26-year veteran frame builder and the founder and organizer of NAHBS (now in its 13th year), didn’t mean it in any kind of sappy, overplayed narrative of a heritage, craft, artisanal product, but rather that the added value of these added-price bicycles is that you get something that comes with the relationship of a frame builder building a bicycle. And, he noted, you don’t get that coming from Taipei or China. In support of his claim, the floor of the conventional hall in which we stood was packed with 100+ bicycle maker hearts beating, and the proof of their love of bicycles sat on two-wheeled display in front of them.
So love is one thing. The other thing you get with these handbuilt bikes is innovation and the pursuit of a better bicycle-riding experience. Across the floor, the precipice of what’s new and next and fun and cool sat in prototype or newly released glory. Monster cross bikes. Performance gravel bikes. All-road (road plus?) bikes in all shapes and sizes. Curvy, beautiful, beach-cruiser-inspired mountain bikes. Classic road bikes. Retro track bikes with crazy modern tube tech. The whole show shined with bike geekery of the highest order, with the tinkerings and R&D canvassing new ways to explore the world on two wheels. And yet, even with such innovation, the overwhelming feeling at NAHBS isn’t the lure of “the next hot thing.” Instead, NAHBS charms by luring you in, bicycle by bicycle, frame builder by frame builder, sharing a narrative that is, at its core, a simple and beautiful love story.