EXTRA! 2018 NAHBS reveals shocking insights for the future of humanity

Hollywood touring insider, Ultra Romance, investigates behind the scenes of the nation’s #1 hand built bike show. Join Ultra Romeo as he reports beyond the glossy paint jobs and meticulously filed lugs of the bespoke cycling industry. What titillating new revelations did this year hold for the world of adventure cycling? Who wore it best? All these salacious details and more right here in this tell all cyberweb dossier…

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Since 2005, NAHBS (North American Handmade Bicycle Show) has represented the fringe contributors to the cycling community at large. There was a time when many, if not most, of the bicycles pedaled in the US were hand made and artisanal, but those days hopped like Hans Rey in Pacific Blue all the way to full corporate conglomerate by the late 90s. Sure, there were the master framebuilders building for pro teams masked under big labels, but the representation of the bespoke builder hunched over their trusty torch in a solitary dark garage was just a faded memory of a romantic past.

Then the internet happened. It’s what many modern framebuilders, most under the age of 35, attribute the rise of their trade. Suddenly, a builder no longer had to rely on mailing out catalogues and soliciting business; they could simply post to their blog or keep showing up on John Prolly’s doorstep until he featured them on his blog. This opened up a whole new world to whoever was savvy enough to appeal to the rapidly changing market… a market the big box brands are too large to keep up with. The nuevo golden age of hand built bikes was upon us, and by 2005 there was enough momentum for the movement to have its own trade show, NAHBS.

Thirteen years later, the idea is the same, but the bikes, and their intended purposes, have changed. One can argue that another golden age, a boundaryless renaissance if you will, has compounded on top of the hand built model. The bicycle as a holistic ideology has never been more en vogue. At the forefront of this spiritual revival are the small brands that supply ideas for the big ones to capitalize on. Fun! Lolz. I personally work for both, and as long as whatever is happening still serves the exalted one, oh LORD BICYCLE, then I can still sleep at night with cucumber slices on my eyes. I’m suggesting that bicycles, small scale production ethos, environmentalism, and all the things that connect in between, have burgeoned into a provocative new culture, completely removed from racing. Pretty cool!

A hand built bike, champion of both the tech startup paycheck and the young urbanites maxing out their student loans. Whatever your background, the choice of a hand built bike comes down to life priorities. If you wanted a bike that already existed, then you would just buy it from your local QBP/Spec concept store. Buuuuuttttt, you have refined tastes… you champion yourself an artist… a designer. That, and you’re willing to drop a heaving deposit only to be placed on a waitlist to receive a bike you might not even want in 1-7 years when it’s finally done. Now that’s art! For real though. It is.

Regardless of all the sociopolitical unease that goes along with prioritizing and buying expensive things for little apparent reason, NAHBS brings discernible innovation to the bicycle industry. If her/history is any indicator, it’s generally the small garage tinkerers who facilitate genuine innovation. What is seen at NAHBS every year could be considered a sneak peek into what the big brands will be releasing 2-3 years from now. That’s reason alone for the bicycle evangelist to pay attention to the thousands of flashy photos that pop up all over our feeds every NAHBS season.  That, and they’re downright PORNOGRAPHIC.

So, what was the big takeaway from this year? Welp, for me, it was that a 650b randonneuring bike won “best road bike.” Granted, it was an already decorated bike built by the master of masters, J.P. Weigle, but it nonetheless represents the slow death of the traditional road bike that has dominated global industry since the advent of Lance era 666.

The 650b rando bike, being the O.G. gravel adventure bike, is what initially drew me away from the pain and mental anguish of road racing, including the impractical bikes this application inspires. The idea that a bike could be stylish, comfortable, have all day carrying capacity, yet still be fast, is what blew my mind as I was grasping for faith in the higher power of pedaling. Gleaning from both Rivendell Bicycle Works literature and Weigle’s flickr, I began loading up old fat tire bikes and heading off for days on end, enjoying a new (to me) form of cycling in all of its blissful purity. For the sake of labels, this was adventure cycling.

This year at NAHBS, my above sentiments were reflected in the prevailing offerings. Maybe it was an east coast thing, but it was fabulous to see how many bikes were inspired by French design of prior golden age(s)… a golden age that inspired innovations such as the derailleur, cantilever brakes, aluminum rims, and dynamo lighting, to name a few. Innovations born from real world riding and picnicking, not racing. It often takes seeing these details in person to fully appreciate their distinguished beauty. That’s reason enough to attend the show, and offerings from Brian Chapman and Johnny Coast did not disappoint.

Aside from the flashy fenders and drillium of the rando bikes, most of the “groad” offerings were essentially low BB cross bikes with attractive paint jobs. Kinda felt like builders were shy to evade the safety of the All City Macho Man and Cosmic Stallion build model; a successful model, lack of creativity notwithstanding. I blame the third party cookie cutter carbon forks nearly all these bikes had in common. My personal critiques aside, this is a massive leap forward from the spindly 700 x 23-28 models that have dominated the show in the past. In fact, for the first time ever, a mountain bike took away top honors. Come to think of it, the whole podium was off road dedicated. What a time to be alive!

Speaking of times to be alive, I foresee this as being one of the last NAHBS, or industry things in general, that is entirely white male dominated. Social media reminds me daily that their are amazing women, trans, femme builders out there, and their much needed offerings are tailored to a whole new subset of hand built customers. This is my wishful thinking, and anyone who has swam the pasty testosropatch spiked seas of a bicycle trade show would also be this whimsical.

In closing, if my Dionne Warwick monthly subscription crystal ball visions of the industry future are at all true, then we are in for a tangible sea change in the brands and resulting products offered in the coming years. Being a relaxation adventure product engineer, I couldn’t be more biased and excited.

Now, please enjoy my mediocre photo coverage of NAHBS 2018. Disclaimer: I was very busy doing shellac demos at my personal booth, so I honestly only had skimming opportunities for the rest of the show. The builder names and glossy studio photos of the bikes can be found all over the internet. You are here for the article, not the photos ;)

  • 2018 NAHBS, Porter Cycles
  • 2018 NAHBS, Porter Cycles
Porter Cycles out of NYC caught my eye immediately with his beautiful rack lines.

2018 NAHBS, Olivetti

Olivetti was new, from what I understood. The paint and other b-packable details got me to look twice.
  • Fat
  • NAHBS Shirts
Left: The other side of the FAT booth was fun, too, but I’m sure there are a lot of photos of that in you wanna look around; Right: Shirts.

2018 NAHBS, White Industries

  • 2018 NAHBS, White Industries
  • 2018 NAHBS, White Industries
Top: Still the best looking way to ride one ring; Left: Everyone likes ano and everyone likes White Ind; Right: See, you like ano.

Nicolai Geometron

This is a Nicolai Geometron at the Pinion drive booth. I based the Nutmegger geo off this geo. I like to think this guy is measuring the 50″ wheelbase.

Stinner Bikepacking Bike

I met so many folks that weekend. Forgive me for forgetting this Stinner employee’s name, but he had a brand new b-packer, and he was quite excited to get out there. Not Hartford, but California, I presume.
  • 2018 NAHBS, Horse Cycles. Ultra Romance
  • 2018 NAHBS, Horse Cycles. Ultra Romance

2018 NAHBS, Horse Cycles. Ultra Romance

Horse Cycles outta where else, Brooklyn. Loved the paint jobs, and Thomas is A+. This one got an award.
  • Black Sheep Cycles, NAHBS 2018
  • Black Sheep Cycles, NAHBS 2018
Cool cushy fork of Corbin’s Black Sheep.

Northern Frame Works, NAHBS, 2018

Northern Cycles: Great way to bring spare t-shirts to the back country!
  • 2018 NAHBS, Groovy Cycles
Left: Groovy Cycles, groovy paint job, obvs.; Right: Yes, I like this one.

2018 NAHBS, Stinner

This Stinner was a crowd pleaser.
  • Breismeister, NAHBS 2018
  • 2018 NAHBS
Left: Not gonna try and spell the maker, but I got to talk to him and he was very nice. Cool bike. Won best gravel. At least it has a fork he made. Frame builders should make forks. Forks are too important to be made by someone removed from the process. OK, I said it! Right: Not sure they are referring to the divide trail, but likely not with these puny rubbers. I liked the display though.
  • Vlad Cycles
  • 2018 NAHBS
Left: Vlad Cycles: One of these was called the Impaler and I like Dracula tales; Right: Cool enough.

2018 NAHBS, Black Sheep Bikes

  • 2018 NAHBS, Black Sheep Bikes
  • 2018 NAHBS, Black Sheep Bikes
James’s Black Sheep “WOW” 36.” He’s charming and creative. Grab dem bars.

2018 NAHBS, Reynolds

  • 2018 NAHBS, Reynolds
  • 2018 NAHBS, Reynolds
3D printed mind blown. So cool to see real tech going into making steel frames.
  • 2018 NAHBS, bikepacking
  • 2018 NAHBS, Moots
Left: Not my favorite look, but bike packing was there! Right: Cushy Moots. Why’d these ever go outa style? Welp, they’re back.

Squid Bikes

Squid bikes are cool on the internet… but you gotta see ’em in person to really scramble your eye sockets.
  • DeSalvo dream bike
  • DeSalvo dream bike
DeSalvo dream bike. Gotta say I was impressed.

J.P. Weigle NAHBS 2018

  • J.P. Weigle NAHBS 2018
  • J.P. Weigle NAHBS 2018
The king of kings. All hail Peter Weigle!

J.P. Weigle NAHBS 2018

Left: The gilded age; Right: Chapman details. Unreal. This bike was unreal. Don’t know why I only have one photo. Look for more for extra credit.
  • 2018 NAHBS
  • 2018 NAHBS
  • 2018 NAHBS Ultra Romance
  • 2018 nAHBS, Ultraromance
Clockwise from top-left: A third version of my relatively wide drop bars. Wow, what a fine chest of Fabio’s! My custom waxed canvas Fab’s chest from Swift Industries; It’s me. This is my demographic; did you get a high quality autograph?

2018 NAHBS, The Ultranutmegger, Ultra Romance

Behold the #ultranutmegger, my collaboration with Adam Sklar. It’s a modern slack HT steep ST long wheelbase Connecticut themed backwoods bog scorcher. Somehow they forgot to have us on stage to receive our best in show award.


The less artistic and autistic Sklar sister bike to my #ultranutmegger.
  • Skyler

    Drop bar/road bike design has been based on arbitrary UCI rules and the unique aerodynamic needs of riding in a peloton, that 1950s randoneur designs are often considered innovative these days. It’s been cool to see “gravel/adventure” riding take off as a more dedicated recreational cycling niche, but the designs have mostly been fully stuck to concepts that came out of road racing…small variations on a theme.

    I would argue that the prevailing ideas behind drop bars in general also fall into that trap. I don’t want “multiple hand positions” when none of those hand positions is actually comfortable.

    Benedict deserves huge props for being almost alone in recognizing that you don’t tour in a peloton, and that the mountain bike would has already figured a lot of this mixed-surface, solo-riding geometry stuff out. He’s probably right that in 2-3 years, big brands will be touting recreational road bikes with MTB geometry as totally revolutionary and innovative. But goddam, it took long enough.

  • Eric Cornell

    Your turn of phrase is head-turning. Thanks for the write up.

  • Right! And what about rising stems with drop bars?!?

  • Dan Davison

    This was 10x better coverage of the show than Pinkbike, great job Benedict!

  • Matt M.

    Admittedly I’ve got a fever, but after reading this three times I’m still a bit confused. What precisely is this new bicycle innovation and when can I ride it? Been comfortably bumbling along on my ECR for 4 years. What am I missing?

  • M.R.

    To each their own. For me, road bars have always been more comfortable than MTB bars. Bar ends can help, but I still prefer drops.

  • Judging by the Geometron inspiration, you’re missing a super slack front end, almost-straight up steep seat tube, and an extra helping of reach and stack…

  • Skyler

    If you’re touring in a mtb, seems like you’re not missing anything. The innovation is just that road racing geometry kinda isn’t ideal for anything but road racing.

  • rocketman

    I’d love to see a true shift in bike design to something more connected to normal usage, but I ain’t seein’ it here in San Diego. 99% of bikes are road racers, and many time trial type bikes. Even off-road everything is a carbon FS bike even on easy backcountry roads.

    My comment on Bene’s ( or is it Jeny’ now) bike I can’t figure it out? Slack HTA are great for bombing steep downhills but on a gravel/dirt road/tourer? I’m happy with my low trail steep HTA dirt rando for all of the above.

  • P.S. I’ve heard that there’s no bumbling on the Monumental Loop, anyhow. So it must be working for you.

  • Matt M.

    Don’t lots of companies already have adventure road(ish) bikes? It might have been helpful to only focus this article on the truly innovative (from what I’ve been told) Ultranut. Obviously it looks different, but I want to hear why it’s better, where it excels, etc…

    I’m just missing the revolutionary part.

  • Matt M.

    Trouble is, this article doesn’t explain why those geometry numbers are an improvement. I’d like to hear more detail and less silliness. Sure the geo is different but is it better? For who, when, where.

    I was delighted to ride my 3 speed coaster brake Kona world bike across Iowa though, so I’m well out of the loop.

  • Matt M.

    As far as I’m concerned, there is plenty of bumbling, thanks in part to my bike setup.

  • Skyler

    Who knows if it’s better. What I think is so cool is that it’s breaking the mold, abandoning the racing ethos, and totally experimental.

    A bike like that Nutmegger is not even for sale, so it doesn’t need to claim to be better. But someone is trying something crazy so that maybe in 3 years some huge bike company can try to sell you something better than what you’re riding now. Just like the article says, that’s basically what Nahbs is all about: esoteric experimentation.

  • Matt M.

    I get that. To be honest I’ve not seen a bike on this site that does embrace the road racing ethos. That part doesn’t seem new.

    Despite haven ridden bikes my whole life, I guess I’m not really interested in geometry changes. I was however all over plus and fat bikes because they allowed me to to take my bike to new places.

    Thanks for providing some clarity.

  • Big Jänet Romance

    Drop bars are great. My favs personally. They just aren’t high enough, nor wide enough. That will change soon hopefully. Really nothing has been done until recently to explore this position outside of the peloton, as skyler suggested. It’s absurd that folks are still having to handle their fat tire bikes (anything above 42mm) with spindly little 48-52 mm drop bars:::low trail or long and slack.

  • Big Jänet Romance

    Gotta get em up, and gotta get em wide. Well, you don’t HAVE to, that’s just my opinion.

  • Big Jänet Romance

    Thanks Dan! 💋

  • Big Jänet Romance

    I love my Romanceür low trail dirt tourer also. Buuuuuttttt, I gotta say the angle of attack on a slack bike smoothes the ride out considerably. The extra wheelbase and steep seat tube assure that the modern geo bike climbs well too. It’s just exciting for me to explore analog innovation rather than what seems to be the norm

  • Big Jänet Romance

    ECR is greAt! Keep bombing. I’m just an obsessed tinkerer looking for ways to improve the experience without using “innovation” that is both gimmick ridden, and designed to become obsolete

  • Big Jänet Romance


  • Big Jänet Romance

    We’ll be doing an article on that soon enough! Gotta keep you coming back to the site with this forplay 💁‍♀️

  • Harry

    I could read this kind of stuff all day long. I like that innovation is being made by the user and informing the manufacturer, instead of the other way around.

  • Matt M.

    I’m looking forward to it! No question you are on to something, I just want to know what it is. Really want to try that long green bike thing on my trails.

  • Plusbike Nerd

    Personally, I don’t care for drop bars. I seldom if ever use the drop part of the bar and when I do, I don’t find it very comfortable for any length of time. In addition, reaching forward to put on the brakes makes zero sense. When braking one wants to shift their weight back. However, one mans raisin is another mans grape. Ride what you like!

  • Hailey Renner

    Benedict, from someone who got to watch your bike being built, it’s a damn shame you two didn’t win best in show.

  • M.R.

    I’m not a fan of the full slammed euro position, far too extreme for my tastes and comfort. But I don’t like being too upright either. Too upright tends to put more weight on my butt which can become less comfortable on longer rides. I’m somewhere in between which my happy place. As far as fatbikes, I only have one and it has flat bars, I’ve never tried drops on a fatty.

  • rocketman

    I’ve been riding the Ritchey Venturemax bars and they are great. 46cm at the hoods and 56 cm in the drops.

  • Harry Major

    i read the comments before I read the article, and this one coloured the way I read between the lines in such away that’s its blown mi little socks off. Props to you both for saying something very fresh.

  • Idle Prentice

    YES. The truth that noone sees, or will say out loud. Thank you. My Fargo with drops is comfortable, but they’re way up high on a yard of spacers, (uncut steer tube), the seat post isn’t jacked up, and the shape of the bars is very different from traditional – splayed out wide. And even with all that, I still prefer the Jones loop bars on my Pugsley clone.

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