Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bicycles that rock

I spent today at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. I wish I would've thought to take my camera; I saw a lot of stuff I wish I had a picture of. Clever designs, new ways to bolt things to a bike, stylized specialty bikes, wood-grain finishes (and, in at least one case, bicycle parts made from wood), new technology: it's amazing how many cool things you can do with a bike and bicycle equipment. 

It was also surprising how few people do cool things. I probably saw a hundred road bikes that were essentially identical. I suspect this is because the wildly different designs for road bikes have had decades to converge on a few very efficient design principles. Racing bike frames are all straight, not curved, because straight works better. They don't use grip shifters, because grip shifters give you less control and determine where you need to put your hands. Triathlon bikes all use aerobars, because they're the most aerodynamic option. Racing spokes are flat, rather than round, because it cuts air resistance. So it's only natural that road bikes are much more similar than they are different. Still, I was a little surprised at how little variation there was in a lot of the handmade custom bikes.

Because it's what I do, I looked at a lot of commuter bikes. I pretended I was in the market for a new extremely expensive bike, and tried to pick a bike. And I didn't find my perfect bike, no matter the price range. Admittedly, my criteria were complex: geared for speed; fenders; generator for lights; comfortable grips; good shifters; good frame geometry; durable tires; rear rack; disc brakes, nice but optional. But, still -- an entire bike show packed with custom bikes, and I didn't find a must-have in the bunch, even if I were in the market. I'd still buy an off-the-rack Soho before I'd dive at any of the ones I saw today. That said, some of the people who finished and painted the bikes were world-class. If I did buy that Soho, I'd want to have it repainted by some of the people at the show.

I did see some cool accessories, too. I was impressed with a bike-commuter backpack from Ergon. Some people had cool messenger bags, but they're mostly about the cool, not the practical. A real backpack is a superior choice for commuting, largely because it stays in place and you never need to think about it. I also saw a gyroscopic travel-mug holder for mounting on bike handlebars, and I'm kicking myself for not writing down the manufacturer. It wasn't for sale, but one of the bikes had one mounted. Also from Ergon, comfy grips -- but I can't use them with the grip shifters on my Navigator. And I saw a handlebar rack specifically designed to hold two bottles of wine.

I was also surprised that nobody was selling cool snarky cycling shirts, like GenCon people sell gaming shirts.

And, cycling-related: I like this picture (subtitled "after 16 days of ice and snow, we'd forgotten how to ride") from one of the regular commentors at


Jeff Kerkove said...

Ergon does make grips for gripshift....we just didn't have them at NAHBS. The GR2, GP1, and GC2 all come in gripshift length.

Jeff Mountjoy said...

That's good to know; thanks! I'll make them a part of my next upgrade cycle (heh!).

I've gotta say, the Ergon guys were one of the highlights of the show for me.