I loathe going to the North American Handmade Bike Show. IT’s not because the show sucks, but because everything just looks so darn beautiful.
I was admittedly grouchy as I made the trek from San Francisco to Sacramento, yet more than anything, the people, new and old friends, really made the show a whole lot more worthwhile.
Onto the bikes. Well, there were lots of them. Scroll through the gallery and you’ll see why NAHBS is such a fun show even if you have no inclination whatsoever to buy one of these custom steeds. The amount of time the builders, or shall I said wizard artisans, spent in making these ridable show bikes was simply amazing. I hope you enjoy the bikes as much as I do.
Special shoutout to Travis at Paul Component, Dennis at McGovern Cycles, Jeremy at Sycip, Billy at ECHOS, Evan at Alex Rims, and Andrew at Cyclocross Magazine for keeping things light and fun.
I was all ready to photograph this wooden bike at the Cal Poly Bike Builders booth when I saw this small-tubed downhill rig chilling front and center. We at Element.ly don’t cover much downhill but a downhill bike is also not a common sight at NAHBS, either. So I decided to take a look.
Cal Poly Bike Builders is a mechanical engineering club out of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, an uber-competitive public university known for its excellent engineering program that happens to be surrounded with plenty of good riding. I know this well because I really wanted to attend that school.
According to Chris Fedor, the club’s vice president and a 4th year mechanical engineering major, this downhill rig, named D.A.V.E for Downhill Assault Vehicle Extraordinaire, was conceived one week after the 2018 NAHBS.
With about 3,000 man-hours of work done by as many as 25 members of the club to manufacture much of the bike from scratch including the use of 3D modeling, FEA, running the CNC machines, and brazing the steel frame together at the fabrication facilities on campus that would make some full-time builders very jealous.
Needless to say, D.A.V.E is one hell of a student project. The bike has yet to see any trail action, per the members’ agreement of not riding the show bike before NAHBS, but perhaps the lead welder will get first dibs? There’s also rumored to be a long waiting list.
Yes, it’s entirely possible to make a bicycle frame out of whisky casks.
I can count a handful of collaborations between bike manufacturers their automative counterparts (Colnago/Ferrari, Specialized/McLaren, Pinarello/Jaguar…)
But this is the first time I have ever heard of a bike made of whisky glass. I mean, I saw the email subject line right after I made it to Apple Park for the iPhone 8/X launch event and I kept wondering what’s up with this wooden Renovo whisky bike.
Named the Glenmorangie Original after Renovo’s partnership with Scotland’s Glenmorangie (and one of their popular Scotches, the Glenmorangie 10 Year Old – The Original.) Each limited edition frame uses roughly 15 staves from twice-filled American white oak casks which are shipped to Portland, Oregon where they are then shaped and put together into a hollow trapezoidal-shaped top and downtube that traces the curvy shape of the staves while a curvy thin seat mimics the shape of a longbow to soak up all the unpleasant bumps.
Just as wood has its own characteristics from growth and well, being aged in some fine Highland scotch, each frame will be one-of-a-kind so you can be certain that no one in your weekend riding group will share the same frame even if he/she decides to order one.
Renovo bills this as an all-around adventure machine so the disc only frame will have plenty of clearance to fit up to 700x40mm tires. A tapered headtube, PF30 bottom bracket and thru-axles are also employed to further boost the frame’s stiffness. Front and rear fender mounts come standard and is rear-rack compatible with a rackmount seat collar.
The Glenmorangie Original launch edition built with Shimano Ultegra R8000 and hydraulic brakes will be available for a cool $6,950 while the Prestige edition with Dura-Ace 9170 Di2 will be $11,450. It’s not exactly cheap and the bike won’t smell like whisky, but it’s definitely something different from your typical carbon fiber titanium steed and is still capable to go just as fast.
After the first day of introductions, a shakedown ride, a whole lot of names to remember and even more Sierra Nevadas involved, came the second day of Paul Camp in Chico, named and organized by none other than Paul Price of Paul Component Engineering.
I know, there are a lot of Paul’s in the previous sentence.
The plan for the day was to ride bikes. Precisely, custom handmade bikes made specifically for this one ride.
I was set up on a 27.5 drop-bar mountain bike built by Robert Ives at Blue Collar Bikes in Sacramento. Painted in bright candy red and adorned with just about every anodized blue component Paul makes out of his shop.
The bike was gorgeous as it was playful and surefooted to commandeer… very much like Ives himself, who was a welder at Ventana and Ibis before dabbling between his own bike company, a day job as a metal fabricator, and being super involved in a Pitbull rescue in town.
“I want to build bikes that people can go out and get rad on,” said Ives when I asked him about his design as we slowly pedaled closer to Bidwell Park.
Once we quickly treaded through the trails we rode on the previous day, it was game on. Although the post-ride strava revealed we didn’t climb a whole lot, I was getting reacquainted with rock navigation 101. It wasn’t that the trail was really gnarly, but let’s just say I was rusty while everyone else was in tip top shape.
Whatevs, I was riding with a badass group of frame builders and their bikes. This must be the rideable version of NAHBS.
After a quick descent on the double track and ripping through the shrubbery (read: poison oaks), I made it to lunch.
It was a picnic by a Big Chico Creek. After what seemed to be an eternity of riding with no overhead covering, it was a much welcomed break.
But we had more to ride.
“Stop at parking lot P on the way back,” said Travis, one of Paul’s employee.
We did as we were told and out of nowhere, boom, came the view of the canyon. Definitely not huckable, but the size of the canyon was unexpected. It was amazing and for a second I wished I was at that sweet looking swimming hole at the bottom of the canyon.
I spent the last few miles in and out of paved bike paths and parallel singletracks.
Further down at the front of our dirt peloton, Adam from Sklar Bikes was giving Burnsey of Oddity Cycles and Maurice from Dirt Rag a quick tow. I quickly snapped a photo on my camera and that essentially summed up the entire laid-back rad nature of Paul Camp.
Minutes later, Curtis from Retrotec ditched his bike and dashed into the water at Five Mile while Paul tried to hustle all of us back to the hotel. We weren’t done just yet!
eTap-equipped MKI road at NAHBS. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Frame holding jig in the finishing booth. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A few of Andrew's origin frames. The steel one in the middle was the one he build while attending UBI in 2009. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew prefers to operate the foot switch bare-footed for better feel and control. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Mise en place. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Pre-weld markings. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Spent welding rods. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Head tube on the welding jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A bunch of triangles made while practicing welds.. and finishes. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A JET horizontal mitering bandsaw plus the must-have, multi-use gallon bucket. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Rear triangle alignment jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Custom frame oven designed by none other than Andrew himself. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Frames. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Welding time. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew seen through the yellow curtain. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew, with a MkI road, and Manny. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A custom aluminum frame is somewhat of a unicorn these days. Stroll down the aisles at NAHBS and it’s obvious that the dominant materials for frames are titanium, carbon, and steel. And those are all wonderful materials in their own right, but I have a soft spot for aluminum.
Well, Klein’s gone now (RIP), but my hope of finding a good aluminum bike is not.
The Low Down
Sure, you could go with a big name factory option like Cannondale’s CAAD 12 and Specialized’s Allez, but if you want custom aluminum hand-crafted by an expert, Andrew Low of LOW Bicycles is your guy.
Growing up with interests in model airplanes, guitars and cars, Andrew started building roll cages for off-road vehicles while pursuing his degree in fine arts in Colorado. After moving back to his native San Francisco in 2005, he got really into bikes, and eventually got the idea to make his own frame.
Years of researching tools, saving money, and welding practice finally yielded two frames by the summer of 2010. From there, Andrew “started to take those around town where bike messengers were hanging out.” The LOW frames were an instant hit, and that was the origin of LOW Bicycles.
Today, besides offering four different track models, LOW is dipping into the resurgent aluminum road and cross market with their new MkI road and cross frames—all made in their 500 square foot shop so tidy you would think you just walked into a boutique car shop. Here’s what he has to say for himself.
Why aluminum? I like the look of oversized tubing as opposed to steel frames but I also wanted to make racing bikes and aluminum is a great material for that, dollar per dollar it’s the most effective material for racing. It’s really versatile in that you can make a really stiff bike and you can make really comfortable bike contrary to popular belief.
It’s just how you shape the tubes.
Aluminum is softer than steel and it’s not as rigid and brittle as epoxy which you find in carbon fiber.
How many frames do you make now? 12 frames every four weeks, and we stop 4 weeks out of the year. So that’s about 120 bikes a year.
Describe your bikes in five words: Beautiful, aggressive, well-designed, well-made, fast.
Why #thismachinekillscarbon? Because if you get on our bikes you won’t feel any disadvantage because you’re on an aluminum bike. I came up with that hashtag myself. The full quote is “this machine kills carbon and your preconceived notion of superiority.”
That’s what we’re setting out to do with our road bike. It started happening now in the industry where big brands are investing into high-end aluminum bikes. Specialized with their Allez which is a beautiful bike in my opinion. Some people are starting to realize that barring from buying the highest end carbon frame you can get just as good if not better performance out of aluminum. One of my bikes will ride much better than a similar-priced carbon bike. You’ll feel the difference.
Uphill or downhill: Downhill.
Favorite riding place: Riding in Marin is awesome, riding through traffic is fun. I used to love riding the city loop
One thing people don’t know about you: I am working on getting my pilot license.
Favorite music: Bands that I grown up loving: the Ramones. Jonathan Richmond, jimmy Hendrix, Lou reed, a lot of stuff from late 70s, early 80s. I play the guitar.
What are you most proud of? That I’ve able to keep this going for five years. Most businesses fail within the first year. I am proud that it took off to begin with. We have a shit ton of struggle keeping the business going. But I am just really proud that I did something people like. For me that’s awesome. It’s validating.
How long does it take to produce one frame: About 30 hours per bike.
Morning or night person: Both. I don’t sleep that much. I go to bed late and wake up early.