Free from the usual constraints of mass production and cost cutting, creations shown at this year's North American Handmade Bicycle Show exhibited a level of craftsmanship and detail that you'll rarely see on a showroom floor.
Bikes here generally aren't judged on weight, stiffness or aerodynamics but rather their aesthetics, artistry, creativity and, most importantly, how well the finished product reflects the desires and personality of its end user – price be damned in some cases.
A bit morbid, but we like it anyway!
By definition, there is no economy of scale with a bespoke bicycle and many of the features and details seen at NAHBS are in no ways functional. Nor are they necessarily easy to construct, so the builder often has to devote an unpredictable amount of time and expense to figure out a problem. But it all adds up in the end and there was no shortage of showstoppers at this year's event in Richmond, Virginia.
Case in point is the 'sunflower bike' by Fort Collins, Colorado-based builder Renald Yip of Yipsan Bicycles. Yip says his customer (many of the bikes at NAHBS were customer-owned, not dedicated showpieces) asked him to build a townie for short errands and also to equip it with a front rack to fit a specific wicker basket.
Yipsan's sunflower-themed townie
The result was a gleaming yellow and cream flower-themed mixte machine with painstakingly crafted front and rear racks, a hand polished crank and chainring guard, cleverly integrated internal cable routing, a polished stainless steel seatpost with cast lugged head, a Shimano Alfine internally geared drivetrain, and beautiful colour matching throughout.
The total cost? About US$6000. And the final weight? We've no idea and didn't feel the need to ask. Nor is it likely the buyer cared much after laying eyes on it.
Aaron Rogers built this S&S tourer for himself
Like the Yipsan townie, Ahren Rogers' Banjo Cycles S&S tourer wasn't built specifically for show, though in this case it was something the former Seven Cycles employee made for himself and not a paycheck but with a similarly exorbitant level of meticulous detail. Rogers' was fitted with front and rear racks like any proper touring bike but his custom leaf-themed stainless steel examples were also designed to be easily disassembled to tuck into a travel case along with the rest of the bike (many racks won't fit).
Check out the leaf details on this Banjo Cycles custom stainless steel rack
Custom walnut fenders made from four layers of veneer were fitted to both ends to protect from road spray and dynamo-powered lights with concealed wiring were also included. Rounding things out were a painted-to-match full-length frame pump mounted behind the seat tube, lacquered cloth handlebar tape finished with hand-wrapped jute twine, custom walnut-and-carbon-fibre bottle cages, and a leather saddle and fender flaps custom decorated by Kara Ginther.
Brooks makes the saddle but the artwork comes courtesy of Kara Ginther Leather
Some bikes at NAHBS were notable for their incredible paint jobs and finish work, such as the stunning Hetchins restoration done by Tom Kellogg of Spectrum Cycles. Kellogg says this customer restoration is one of just 12 known remaining samples out of 150 produced and the "particularly challenging" project took five months to complete.
Spectrum Cycles took an old Hetchins and immaculately restored it to show quality
In addition to the tedious paintwork, Kellogg also had to replace the fork blades, fill in numerous deep rust pits and rechrome all the requisite sections. The finished product is astounding in its thoroughness, though, and it's a veritable certainty that the current owner will take better care of it than the previous one.
Tom Kellogg says this Hetchins restoration took five months from start to finish
Other shining examples of finish work came from dedicated paint shop VéloColour, whose showpieces included a blue-and-white Specialized Transition with ornate masking work and "porcelain motifs … fusing the historical output of Taiwan and the surrounding areas of China" plus hand-painted (not decaled) aero wheels.
VeloColour took a standard Specialized Transition and turned it into this
Sitting behind was a striking Pinarello Prince using "imagery from the Italian coat of arms topped with a deep red and gold crown, and layered with pearls." While neither paint job will make the bikes faster, they undoubtedly make them more distinctive.
VeloColour refinished this Pinarello Prince with a brilliant deep red and gold paint job
Then again, there's always gold – not paint, but rather the precious metal which Peacock Groove used to completely coat their 29er hardtail to go along with the highly polished crankarms and headset. Practical? Perhaps not but it definitely brings new meaning to the term 'bling'.
Peacock Groove builder Erik Noren outdid himself this year with a gold plated 29er hardtail
Among our perennial favorites, however, are Darrell McCulloch's Llewellyn steel frames. Though not necessarily as flashy or overtly ornate as some other bikes on the floor, the dark red metallic and polished stainless steel finish on one road frame in particular was among the most utterly perfect and understatedly brilliant as any we've seen. Highly regarded in framebuilding circles, McCulloch made the trip to Richmond all the way from Australia and we certainly hope he makes a return visit to next year's show in Austin, Texas.
Can you spot any flaws in this Llewellyn seat cluster? Neither can we
Check out the thumbnail gallery at the top of this page for more photos, including a flamethrower bike from GroundUp and models from Bilenky Cycle Works, Groovy Cycleworks, Herbie Helm, Peter Mooney, Shamrock Cycles and Stellina Sport.