NAHMBS 2012 in Sacramento is in the books, finished-done-gone-not to return for a long time to these parts. Was it a bike show or an art show ? I guess it depends on where you stood. MY show was all about standing in my own booth surrounded by people leaning in to see the odd guy and all the old dusty bikes he brought. I made it a point this year to fill my booth with history rather than flash. Don't get me wrong...there's an unrealistic and spiteful part of me that wants to try to make some really whacked-out art piece for the show for folks to gawk at , but reality keeps me from going there. I got some really good feedback from folks who seemed to get what I was trying to show at my booth-a 34 year time line of building frames shown in seven examples. I was not afraid to show my older bikes with all of their respective imperfections...me and my bikes , off-brand culls in a sea of art-bike fetishism. I'm sure that some folks dismissed my display-I'm totally fine with that.....what can I expect if I bring old and dusty stuff to such a show.I even went so far as to enter my uncleaned seven year old cyclocross bike into the awards for that type knowing full well that the chance of a win for such a bike would be impossible. National wins and such really don't enter into the qualifications at a beauty contest.
The good : For me, the show was a huge success, in spite of the lingering thought in my head that I was really not fitting into the mold of a true participant in this show. # 1, I did not build a special bike for the show. # 2, I didn't make any new fixtures for my booth but elected to use mostly old stuff and a couple newer banners left over from races. # 3, My focus was on what I had done over the last 34 years, not what I had most recently built in attempt to out-bling my fellow builders. # 4, I stupidly neglected to get anyone to help me in the booth ....a mistake I'll hopefully never make again.
Even with all of these factors I was pleasantly surprised at the positive reception I got from the press, industry folks and show visitors alike. The best thing at the show were the volunteers at the load-in. They cut the time of the load-in by half and were super helpful through most of the show. I must also praise the publicity as this show broke attendance records for NAHMBS-they really put the word out so that everyone knew the when and where.
The bad: At the risk of being banished from the show for life there are some of the aspects of the show that I find to be...well....unfitting with what I think is the essence of bicycles. # 1, the awards are purely for the physical look of the bike and it's presumed ride-ability based on visual characteristics. In other words, none of these award winning bikes are ridden to determine their performance as bicycles !! To me, this completely invalidates the awards from a cycling standpoint. If the awards are purely a beauty contest, so be it-otherwise , I call bullshit on the whole exercise.
#2, There were frequent and really disruptive P.A. announcements during the show, invariably right when I was attempting to talk to someone in my booth-after all, that's what we come to the show for, right ? We as builders are there to represent our craft and be available to the people at the show. While I understand that some of these announcements were important, there were some that were questionable. I'll cite an example: " Will the ''Original six please come to the stage". Really.....the 'Original Six'......soo.........the show is calling attention to the few builders who have been at all the shows-Hmmm, and who might that be ? Perhaps one of those 'Original Six' is the founder of the show, Don Walker himself. So Don-you are calling attention to the fact that you have attended every one of your shows ? You want an award for that ? -Sorry, but that is downright comical. Of course you have to be at every one of the shows.....YOU PUT THE SHOW ON !! You do not deserve an award for showing up to your own show.....come on ! It's idiotic. You want an award ? I'll give you one: It's called the NAHMBS and you created it and it is huge and you justifiably should be proud-it is a hell of an accomplishment.I bow to you....we all do ! When you are at the show you are literally surrounded by your award -accept it and chuck the fake award.....it demeans your achievement. The other 4-5 'Original six' builders would probably rather be back at their respective booths selling bikes - not standing uncomfortably on stage for some award they don't really care about. The award all the builders want is viability-sales ! Without that they won't survive in this fickle business. I'm sure they can survive without an 'Original six' award and the show's survival depends on the builder's viability as well.
Whew ! O.K., now that I have probably ended my eligability for being at the next show I can speak freely. Call me crazy but I have this misplaced notion that bikes are made to be ridden. Sure, there are some that are so priceless and rare that they should be preserved for artistic and historical significance-this is as it should be....bikes like these are usually old and fragile and irreplaceable , but way back when they were built they were built to be ridden. What I do not understand is a crop of builders creating bikes like this that are meant to be Smithsonian exhibits as soon as the paint dries-needless to say , these bikes were really amazing to behold and the work that went into them was staggering. Don't get me wrong....I saw plenty of other fancy bikes -but the builders that made them that were showing bikes to ride , not bikes to acquire as status symbols . These bikes may be artistic but they were created to be ridden and the outward artistic appeal was secondary.
In years to come I wonder what folks will say about this era of the re-birth of the hand-crafted highly ornate bicycle frame.....is it a living , breathing art or is it akin to a brain-dead patient on life support unable to sustain itself. When people start buying these bikes in numbers and the brave builders crafting them start making a living wage, we'll be able to take it off life support and it will breathe on it's own again. The show displayed a lot of amazing craftsmanship but evidence of actual economic sustainability was scarce. All the art bikes remind me of a time about 600 years ago when amazing art was being produced for the royal families and for the Vatican..........primarily by slaves , guided by artisans -many of whom died in poverty or in prison. Let us hope that we are witnessing something that won't crash and burn like the real estate market, the stock market and just about every other artificially inflated human folly since the beginning of humanity.