Just as in years past, steel was the predominant material at this year's NAHBS thanks to its wide range of available sizes, shapes, alloys and gauges, the ease with which it can be manipulated, and the multiple ways in which it can be joined. Stainless alloys continue to grow in popularity, too, with Reynolds and Columbus increasing their inventory of sizes for their respective 953 and XCr alloys but also a newcomer to the scene, KVA.
According to KVA, a special heat treatment process lends greater ductility to the weld area (stainless tubes are usually seam-welded) than competitors' products, suggesting more flexibility in terms of bending and forming and better long-term durability, especially for TIG-welded frames. Builders we spoke to at NAHBS who were already using KVA tubing also cited the greater availability of bike-specific sizes and shapes.
Newcomers Bronto MTB Co hit the floor
Bronto are relatively new builders out of central Oregon specializing in steel hardtails. Included in the four-model range is the Bon 26in do-all cross-country rig, the Reverend geared 29er, the Willy singlespeed 29er, and finally the harder-hitting Paycheck designed around a longer-travel 140mm fork and with room for up to 26x2.5in tires.
All of Bronto's bikes share several key features, including True Temper OX Platinum tubing – with the exception of the forward section of the curved down tube – a 44mm-diameter head tube for use with straight or tapered steerer tubes, optional geared/singlespeed Paragon slider dropouts, and curved seat tubes on the 29ers that allow for shorter chainstays.
Bronto are also offering a slick-looking rigid fork called the Udo for 26in or 29in wheels, both with sleeve-reinforced upper legs, a segmented crown a la Fat Chance's old Big 1", straight-bladed chromoly legs, and stout hooded dropouts.
Don Walker does steel with a modern twist
With all that goes into planning something like NAHBS, it's a wonder that show director Don Walker had time to build much of anything, let alone pack his booth with finished rigs as he did yet again for this year's event.
One of the highlights for us was a bare road frameset that used some of the latest tech features: a true BB30-compatible bottom bracket shell, a semi-integrated seatmast and a 44mm-diameter head tube fitted with Chris King's latest mixed InSet and a full-carbon Columbus tapered fork. Finishing things off was a neat two-sided red, blue and black paintjob.
Sitting at the other end of the spectrum was Walker's decidedly traditional-looking keirin racer. Not only was it styled like the real thing, but Walker says every aspect of the build complies with official NJS technical guidelines, with many of the parts imported especially for the project such as the top tube protector, Soyo Gold Star tubulars with silk casings, and even the helmet that was hung over the bars.
Walker's area was expectedly filled with various track bikes – seeing as how that's his specialty – but one other project also occupied a healthy chunk of his time before the show: a steel road tandem. Built for a friend who lost his sight last year, Walker says he had just a single week to get the massive structure done.
Further complicating matters was the chosen fillet-brazed construction. Nevertheless, Walker got it done and, with the help of industry friends at Co-Motion, Rolf Prima, Fi'zi:k, Continental, FSA, Ritchey and SRAM, the bike was even fully built in time.
An assortment of quirky machines from Minnesota's Peacock Groove
Peacock Groove's Eric Noren made yet another return visit to NAHBS with an impressive collection of bikes, each with its own little quirks that set it apart from most other machines.
One glossy blue-and-white 26in hardtail was normal looking enough, what with its TIG-welded joints, standard double-diamond configuration and unicrown steel fork. The dice theme in the paint carried over to real dice that were threaded into brazed-on fittings at both the fork tips and signature Peacock Groove rear dropouts. Blinking LED lights inside the dice perhaps added to the gimmick factor a bit but they did their job – passers-by stopped and took a closer look.
Noren also showed off a few steel cyclo-cross bikes that looked fit for racing with plenty of tire clearance and suitable angles. One was thoroughly coated in metallic copper paint – including the Campagnolo Record group and alloy clincher rims – and fitted with front and rear disc brakes, while the other was a more sedate white affair with conventional cantilevers. Both included rack mounts front and rear for extra versatility, with the front ones being designed around randonneur-style mini-racks.
Finally there was the dual-purpose hardtail 29er/grocery getter – as long as your groceries consisted of nothing more than a six-pack of beer to fit into the dedicated bespoke front rack. Rather than use a curved seat tube, Noren instead carved out the backside of the straight tube to lend more clearance for the big 29in tires.
Six-Eleven's Aaron Dykstra – a new builder but with keen old-school style
Roanoke, Virginia-based builder Aaron Dykstra of Six-Eleven Bicycle Co has only been building for a couple of years but has studied under one of the greats of framebuilding: the legendary Koichi Yamaguchi of 3Rensho. Dykstra's bikes belie his relative lack of experience and have already earned him a "Best Track Bike" award at this year's NAHBS.
Dykstra won that award for a beautiful lugged steel machine built with KVA stainless tubing and vintage lugs and finished in a classic-looking black and red panel layout. Capping things off was a painted-to-match lugged steel stem.
More stainless steel was found in the polished lugs, fork crown and rear-entry horizontal dropouts of a two-tone green town bike built with Columbus SP steel tubing. S&S couplers make for easy breakdown for travel while the split seatstay allows the latest-generation Gates CenterTrack belt to pass through. The finishing touch was a one-piece steel bar and stem combination complete with extra struts to prevent excess flex.
YiPsan Bicycles – artisan looks with an engineering backbone
Hong Kong native Renold Yip earned his bachelor's degree in engineering in the UK but now builds some of the most creative bikes of NAHBS in Fort Collins, Colorado. One of the crowd favorites was a black-and-copper town bike with twin top tubes that took a quick detour at the seat tube to form the seatstays.
Other features include front and rear disc brakes, internal routing all around, a full complement of polished aluminum bits (including a polished Greenfield kickstand!) and custom front and rear racks. The front one in particular reflects Yip's mechanical chops with its modular design. The top extensions can be removed for use with lowrider bags and a small racktop pack, or installed to provide a more cargo-friendly shelf with lots of surface area. The rear rack sported gracefully curved stays with a fixed wooden deck.
Also decorating the YiPsan booth was a yellow randonneur bike with color-contrast painted fenders and a matching lugged steel stem plus Yip's take on a go-anywhere mountain bike complete with a monstrous Surly snowbike front tire.
Countless other steel builders were on hand that we haven't yet mentioned and while we can't quite fit everyone into this article, feel free to enjoy the accompanying image gallery from our continuing coverage. Also, stay tuned for one final installment before we call this year's NAHBS a wrap.