Monday, March 17, 2014
NAHBS: Niches All Have Been Sold
Back in 2005 or thereabouts, a man with a kilt and a dream launched a custom bicycle show. He called it the "North American Handmade Bicycle Show." Thanks to the Internet, pictures of these bicycles went "viral," and they worked desk-bound Freds and other bike dorks up into a frothy lather. Orders were placed, queues for the top builders formed, and within a few years we were in the throes of a custom bike boom and the NAHBS grew into the builders' pimp and the world's most preeminent bike show in the entire universe.
So what happened?
This past weekend, in Charlotte (it's in one of the Carolinas or something) hosted the [insert number here]th NAHBS, and from what I can tell nobody really paid any attention. Well, okay, the usual nerds got media passes and took pictures (I'm looking at you, James Huang), but whither the ripples through the bike world you used to feel around showtime? Were you hovering over your keyboard for the those first bike nerd media updates? At its peak, the NAHBS truly captured the cycling zeitgeist. Remember when "townies" were a big thing, and it was all over-wrought city bikes? Remember when the fixie craze hit, and builders all reminded you what a proper track racing bike looked like? 29er, 650b, the resurgence of steel...all the cycling trends of the past ten years that we now take for granted can arguably trace their coalescence to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show.
Alas, those days are behind us. Granted, I didn't go to this year's show, and in fact I've only ever been to one (1) NAHBS, and that was Austin 2011. Even so, I'd argue that those of us who don't go have the most insight, since we're the regular schmucks to whom all this stuff ultimately trickles down. When the NAHBS began I was absolutely one of those desk-bound bike dorks, drooling all over stacks of work I wasn't doing and dreaming of one day owning some gaudy lugged overpainted Fred Chariot or some city bike I'd never lock up ever ever ever because it was way too fancy. In short, I'm Every Bike Dork, and I want to know where the magic went, goddamn it!
I blame the bike industry. When NAHBS started you couldn't walk into a bike shop and buy, say, a classy townie or an urban fixie. Now, though, the big companies are ON IT and there's no type of bicycle so arcane you can't check a box and order it through QBP. There are no niches left for the custom builders to fill! I mean, gravel bikes, for fuck's sake! It's a niche within a niche within a niche, yet there are 20 off-the-rack models you've got to wade through before you'd even think of ordering one from a builder--and if you do, by the time it's finished half the shit on it is going to be obsolete.
If anything, NAHBS now seems to be the place where the crabon companies unveil their new bits, and where the mainstream companies can go to get ideas for creative electronic shifter cable routing.
Also, it was in Charlotte, so there's that.*
*[Disclaimer: I have never been to Charlotte.]
Meanwhile, all the entrepreneurship seems to have shifted over to Kickstarter--which is not necessarily a good thing. At least NAHBS is still full of bikes you'd give your left nut or labia to ride, whereas Kickstarter is rancid with this sort of nonsense:
Dear Bike Snob,
We are a team of young architects and avid cyclists keen on alternative transport systems. We are excited to present you our latest project - Halfbike, a very compact and light vehicle that may redefine the way we move around the city.
Behold...this piece of shit!
This stupid idiotic remedial adult tricycle proves two things: 1) Humankind will stop at nothing to fuck up and unravel the nearly perfect piece of engineering that is the safety bicycle; and 2) Humankind is disgusting and selfish, because people all over the world are starving, yet we've given the people responsible for this moronic exercise almost $25 thousand so far:
They should change the name from "Halfbike" to "Hopeless Symbol of Misanthropy and Despair Bike."
Penultimately, Honda has recalled almost a million minivans:
From my admittedly non-scientific observations over the years, I have determined that Ultra-Orthodox Jews freaking love Honda Odysseys, which means this recall will be the biggest blow to their freedom to drive since the invention of Shabbat.
Lastly, in the comments on Friday's post, someone left this:
Hmm, no women's leaderboard:
Musta been a real sausage fest.