Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The gift that keeps on taking

Another NAHBS is in the books. Yes, I was there- maybe you missed my display. Seems like many people did but that's not really a problem for me. I don't have big expectations for this show as I'm not the kind of builder who fits into the show aesthetic of 'art-bikes'. I have nothing against these bikes but I build 'bikes'.....maybe you might have seen one.
For 2019 I made big plans as this year marked about 40 years since I had built my first frame and 31 years since I went full time with this craft. Notice I say 'craft' rather than 'art'. I know art and what I do isn't art. I did see some art at the show- most notably a bike called 'Dear Susan' from the UK. This was not just a fancy design or paint job- this was a for real artistic statement that rolled. There was a lot of hidden meaning in many of the features of this bike. I'm still thinking about it- I'm not sure that many people got what the builder was trying to express but that isn't the point- the bike was an expression whether anyone gets it or not.
My bikes are not an artistic expression but more of a marker-a few bikes to show where I began and what I am doing now. Just like the art bike, I'm not sure that many people got what I was trying to say but like I said about the Dear Susan bike, that isn't the point. For me the point is what I do is a service, a craft. I have learned how to do my craft ( and continue to learn) so that people who get bikes from me can benefit from all that I have learned over the last four decades. That amounts to probably more than half an average life time.......
Over the years I have had many blunders but triumphs as well. I did win two ribbons at this show, one for a CX bike and one for a gravel tandem I built just because I thought the world needed one. These two bikes were the only ones out of the six in my booth that I bothered entering into any of the competitions. Am I proud of getting an award? Well, maybe more proud than someone who didn't get one but not much. The award is pictured above. Notice that nothing has been written on the award. This is pretty much how all the ribbons I saw looked. There's no indication of what kind of bike , the actual ranking of the bike ( 1st,2nd or 3rd ) and no builder name. This is the award that is supposed to signify that the judges carefully assessed mine and other bikes and made the determination that my bike was one of the top-3. Which one ? Hell if I know- I was not told. I can go onto the NAHBS site and find out but while I was at the show I had no idea what to tell people other than "Hey, I got this ribbon ".
During the show there were periodic announcements over the PA system that nobody could understand. Seemed like the people organizing the show didn't feel the need to have PA speakers anywhere near my booth or any of the booths in half the show. When they called me up for my award I didn't hear it. Luckily, a volunteer came to my booth and told me to get my tandem and go to a holding area where other finalists were waiting. Wait we did- all the while my booth was empty, I had to use the bathroom and was clueless as to what was going on. I was surrounded by people feeling exactly as I did.
After the awards for the tandems I was told it was time for the CX bikes award. They called my name but I had a tandem to roll back to my booth and my CX bike was across the whole expo. I had no idea that I was a finalist in the CX division until that moment. I had to run back to my booth and get the bike. The awards were held up for a few minutes while I did this- it was nice that they were willing to wait. While the CX award was happening , my tandem was supposed to be getting photographed- this was not happening as I was on the award stage listening to a judge tell folks about how great the three bikes on the stage were. This was awkward for me but I rolled with it. Hell, I didn't expect to win anything- I was only at the show to display some stuff that I really wanted people to check out in person rather than just see it in photos on facebook or anywhere else.
After the awards I settled in for the last hour of the second day of the show. I really didn't want to be at the next day but I really had little choice. Being cooped up in a convention center for three days with bad air was making my throat raw. The standing on concrete was starting to really hurt my back- these shows come at not only a financial cost but they are physically hard on you.
The saving grace for me was the social aspect of the show- seeing people who you rarely get to see- other builders, old friends and customers. One guy came all the way from the Manila to see the show and to thank me for some decals I sent for his 1992 olympic track bike that he scored from ebay. I got to spend much of the time with Bruce Gordon, my former builder friend and mentor. I got to see Jeremy Sycip, probably my most significant apprentice who has eclipsed me in many ways. I got to see some former team riders, other people who started building frames because of coming to my shop. That part of the show was really the best part.
Did I get to see much of the show ? Not really....I never do. I get about 15-20 minutes in the morning to try to see bikes and people but I seldom see the folks in their booths as they are trying to do the same thing as me. I can't really say that I saw much of anything. What I did see was a show with less builders and more parts suppliers. This means that the show is changing. I was told by the creator of the show that this is a change brought on as ' The builders do not support the show'. Funny, I thought that the show was for the builders. What hand built bike show would you have without them ? And why are they not supporting the show ? Maybe it is because 1. Many of them cannot afford to be
there . 2. The loss of productivity is crippling to their ability to stay on schedule . 3. Building special bikes for the show can drain the finances and time of an operation that has very little profit margin.
For me this signals a disconnect between the creator of this show and the very builders he wants to have exhibiting. The reason for this disconnect is plain to me- while the show is great, probably the best one of its type, it is not structured or run in a way that benefits the builders. The show has become a way for the boss of the show to make a living, which he deserves for creating and running such a show. What this does however is to take the emphasis away from the show being a service to the very builders it is supposedly promoting. To a large extent it is draining for many of the builders financially and time wise.
I came back from the show on the verge of a cold and with a seriously painful back. I also came back to the reality of a large backlog of work that in no way was a result of the show . Over the weekend I did get three orders - one over the phone and two by email.....none of them had anything to do with the show. Time will tell if anyone who saw my display at the show will place an order . The show touts that media from all over the world will be there- honestly, I did not see the media presence as in years past-even at the very same venue. I know that the show cannot control who shows up and who does not media wise but this might indicate a bit of a lapse in promotion. If the ribbon is an indication , I am probably right. So now I have these two ribbons- possibly the least personal and thoughtful awards of my career-to display.....where ? They say nothing except "Finalist". I guess one could call this a 'participation award '. I guess the lost time and seriously herniated bank balance could also be considered a participation award. "Thanks for displaying, "Finalist " sure and see us again in the future- our future depends on it, even if yours does not".