Sunday, March 3, 2013

He lives in his vomit.......NAHBS 2013

This is hardly a review of the handmade bike show-truth be told, I didn't go. There was no way I could break away from nearly six months of orders with a clear conscious and be part of what is arguably the best show to see custom bikes on the planet. I have a's about 37 frames on order-this is the problem that eludes a lot of bike builders as it did me until something clicked out in the world that made me flavor of the month......or year...or whatever. My problem is a good problem and I'm lucky to have this kind of trouble in view of the economy and the competition.
         So, seeing as I did not exhibit at or even attend the show, how can I have any valid view of it ? Well, I have exhibited at four shows, did seminars at three of them and even put bands together for two of them. I have been on the inside as well as the outside of this show and I can appreciate it for what it is. The problem for me is that it isn't the place where someone like myself will get any kind of return for missing work that justifies the expense and time associated with being at the show. This is tough as I want to be there, want to see the great work and hang out with my framebuilder buddies. The problem is that I also want to have happy customers and maybe have money for a vacation that does not involve sitting in a convention center for several's really not a vacation-it is serious hard work for the most part.
         A very real issue is my own personal aesthetic of what a bicycle is-this aesthetic does not move me in the direction of trying to out-bling my fellow builders with remarkable labor-intensive flourishes on my frames. It is safe to say that I will never win any trophies at one of these shows. My attempts at artful frames have been barely noticed in a field of superior entries-I'll admit that I am not the guy who should build you that rolling piece of art. Rolling pieces of art are what the show is all about, after all.  There are bikes in the show that activate something in people that causes them to want to possess the stuff they are seeing. Aquisition.........collecting.......being in the exclusive club that has a rare item of beauty. The bike show in this respect is no different from the Concours d' elegance in Carmel, California......a fancy car show. The cars are brought to the show in trailers.....for gods sake, you wouldn't want to put any miles on a priceless investment, would you ?
          This brings me to what I hope my frames conjure up in folks who happen to see them: The urge to want to see how they ride-experience the feel of the bike in the corners, up and down hills-into a nasty headwind-careening across an icy corner in sub-freezing weather-hitting a long sweeping turn on a downhill at 50 plus m.p.h. -or simply riding down the tracks to get to the farmer's market on Saturday. My greatest hope is that upon seeing the bike , a person would think : " I wonder how much fun I could have on that thing... " There are no thoughts about paint, decals or finely filed lugs-it's all about the ride.
           While other builders were preparing for the show I was involved in something completely different. I spent the first few days of February in Louisville, Kentucky working in the pit for a few racers at the cyclocross masters worlds competition. My work mainly consisted of scraping frozen mud off of bicycles during the race. This was done in sub-freezing temperatures with  primitive implements and very little time. The work was crazy, humbling and a dose of hard reality of what happens in a world class event in harsh winter conditions. This was not working in my shop in Santa Cruz in 60 degree weather- trying to put the finishing touches on a bike that would hopefully earn me a big-ass bowling trophy to take home-this was doing my best to help riders, some that weren't on my team or even riding on one of my bikes.
            While my focus and personal approach to frame building does not really fit in the mode of 'Artisan frame builder' I am not ruling out being at the show in the future. The show is something that did not exist for the first twenty years of my career , so I am really thankful that it exists. One thing that I do realize is that my venue for promoting my work is not in these shows but out where the ice is being scraped off of frames at the side of the race course-it is on the roads and dirt paths all over the world where people ride bikes rather than drive cars-the proof in the validity of what I do is a bike in motion, not static in some display. I can have a booth and talk all day for the duration of the show but you will only really know my bikes if you ride will only know me if you ride them........after that I am sure you can asses my skills or lack thereof with authority and absolute certainty, a kind of certainty that cannot be arrived at by merely viewing a bike upon a stand.