Why I kinda hate NAHBS

First of all let me say I love NAHBS, the bikes that are showcased there aren’t as much bikes as they are pieces of expression. Each one as unique as the builder that made it. They’re pieces of art made in the medium of the bicycle. I personally take the bikes as that.

I love these kind of bikes, my favorite bike is steel, but the fact of the matter is that no matter what you do, there are limitations to the metal bikes. There is good reason why top cyclists all race on carbon, why all new aircraft are almost 100% composite, etc, it’s just better for the application. If Eddy Merckx were racing today (for some reason we seem to romanticize that era in an Amish sort of way), he would be on a carbon bike from Asia. These craft bike thrive in areas where absolute performance of the frame isn’t as important, Cross, city bikes, Fat Bikes, etc.

NAHBS is absolutely part of the larger “craft” movement. And it’s interesting where “craft” industries really thrive. There are some cases where you pay more and legitimately get a better product, like food and beer. These industries make more practical sense because large producers use cheaper inputs (ingredients, processes, etc) to make a uniform and inexpensive product. There are other cases where you’re not necessarily getting a better (functionally speaking) product, but something more unique and artistic, like the stuff at NAHBS. You’re paying just as much for your bike to be produced with cheaper materials and older production techniques, not because you’re interested in functionality, but because you want the bike an¬†expression of yourself.

Once carbon production has become easier and cheaper, you’ll start to see more ‘craft’ carbon shops coming into the NAHBS sphere as well. This is because steel or aluminum isn’t the heart of the NAHBS, it’s just the medium. It is relatively easy for an individual to master the art of building a metal bike, which means that bike is the individual’s creation and expression, thus most bikes at NAHBS are metal. Carbon bikes are more complex.

It takes a team to build a carbon race bike, not an individual. This means that an individual’s vision must match up the other people working on the bike, there is not yet room for much expression. This does not mean that the Engineer creating material layups is not a master of their craft, or the factory worker who must meticulously set up the layups is not passionate about their work, or that the designer who creates the paint scheme does not have vision, but these people must come together to create a single vision for a product that is beautiful AND¬†functional. Just because you don’t know the names of the people who built the bike doesn’t mean they are not craftsman.

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