The North American Handmade Bicycle Show has always been a showcase for the immense talent and creativity of small artisan builders but this year's show is already feeling notably different in years past.
The general cycling industry now also recognises that these builders are intimately connected with upcoming trends and fashions, too, and based on our last five years of coverage it's a virtual lock that what's cool here will be cool in the mainstream in a year or two.
This year's 'traveling circus' finds itself in the cycling hotbed of Austin, Texas, and not surprisingly, local builders are putting in extra efforts to pay homage to their hometown scene. Here's a preview of what you'll see during our coverage of the next few days.
Crumpton Cycles expands into off-road 29ers
The highlight of long-time carbon builder Nick Crumpton's display is his new hardtail, built using the same impeccably finished tube-to-tube construction and Enve Composites-made main tubes of the rest of his line but with Italian-sourced stays. Interestingly enough, Crumpton skipped the 26" standard altogether and wrapped all of this carbon fibre around the increasingly popular 29" wheel format instead.
Crumpton says the new 29er isn't quite ready for sale yet as he's still finalizing the design. Currently the stays' one-piece aluminum dropouts allow for just a single angle that limits frame geometry options and he's considering designing his own that will allow for much more flexibility. For now, this lone prototype conveniently fits him but he'll bring it to production depending on public feedback.
Crumpton didn't quote a frame weight – in fact, he says he didn't even weigh the frame before building it up for the show – but with the trick parts kit and rigid Syncros carbon fibre fork as pictured here, total weight is said to be under 7.7kg (17.0lb).
Crumpton is also bringing a new SL Road flagship to the show with a true integrated headset, internal rear brake routing, and a novel patchwork finish on the otherwise unidirectional carbon fibre tubes. In contrast to previous Crumpton frames, the SL will also use full-length, straight, twin seat stays instead of the monostay and pseudo-monostay designs of other models.
Available and optional features include a PressFit 30 bottom bracket, internal Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 wiring with a custom slimline battery mount, and in another first for Crumpton, an integrated seatmast complete with Ritchey's new carbon fibre Superlogic head.
Fully optioned the new SL Road will fetch a premium US$6,900 for the frame, fork, headset and seatmast top but 'base' models will cost a somewhat more attainable US$5,300.
The workhorse Corsa-M gets an update as well though it's mostly evolutionary. According to Crumpton, the key improvement is in the more highly refined surface finish to the carefully hand-wrapped joints with virtually no post-molding sanding to disrupt the fibre plies.
Alchemy Bicycle Company introduces aero carbon tubeset
Already well versed in steel, aluminum, and titanium, Alchemy Bicycle Company is delving further into the carbon fibre game this season with a new aero road tubeset and seatpost designed in-house and built by Enve Composites. According to Alchemy's James Flatman, the new tubes can be built into a wide variety of road and time trial configurations thanks to the flexible tube-to-tube construction methods.
For example, a triathlete may want the full aero treatment with the teardrop-shaped down tube and seat tube but a bigger road racer may opt for a stiffer round seat tube instead.
Pricing for Alchemy's full-carbon road or time trial framesets range from US$3,200 to US$4,750 depending on the configuration and quoted lead time is about eight weeks.
KirkLee Bicycles offers its own spin on Texas-bred carbon fibre
Located just a few blocks from Crumpton's shop is KirkLee Bicycles, another Austin builder specializing in custom carbon fibre frames. Among company founder Brad Cason's favorites at this year's NAHBS is his own carbon fibre 26" hardtail, which he raced at last year's Leadville 100.
KirkLee normally does tube-to-tube construction but Cason's hardtail also incorporates some carbon lugwork. Carbon fibre is also used for the top tube cable guides and the bottom bracket again uses the increasingly common PressFit 30 standard, though KirkLee has also used true carbon fibre BB30-compatible shells of its own design. The titanium plate rear dropouts are also an in-house KirkLee design and can be used for either geared or singlespeed drivetrains.
KirkLee's hand-wrapped and sanded joints yields some interesting surface finishes but the company is also fast becoming known for the high-quality paint jobs sourced for its customers.
One road bike we saw was intended to simply be "as black as black" and features subtle frosted logos integrated into the clearcoat for a stealthy look along with a PressFit 30 bottom bracket and tapered head tube. Another, though, was far brighter with a green base fade topped with intricate pinstriping work.
Options are realistically only limited to the customer's budget but more common ones include an integrated seatmast, internal Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 wiring, and extended wrap plies at the joints for additional frame stiffness.
Some of you may also recall seeing an image of a very young rider – as in elementary school – sitting at the start line of a local race on a custom carbon fibre bike with 650c Lightweight wheels, Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 and a time trial helmet.
As it turns out, the father is a Texas local and well-heeled businessman who simply wanted to build the best possible machine for his son at any cost. Carbonsports agreed to re-open the old 650c mould for one last run and KirkLee built the frame. And yes, the boy does have siblings...
True Fabrication steers a bit left-of-centre
One of True Fabrication's highlights for this year's shows was, in fact, born out of a mistake. Instead of brazing the fork tips backwards to prevent wheel ejection due to the planned disc-equipped rigid 29er fork, the tips went in the standard way. So what's a builder to do? True Fabrication instead built a 'Monster Fixie' complete with giant Schwalbe road tyres, a tall bottom bracket, and a single rear disc brake.
True Fabrication will also have a more traditional track bike in its booth at this year's NAHBS though it still features a tidy straight-bladed fork and a curved seat tube that allows for ultra-short chain stays.
True Fabrication is also participating with a few other select builders in NuVinci's design contest, intended to show off the company's new 360 continuously variable internally geared hub. True opted for a step-through urban bike here with a gently curved and dropped top tube, slotted rear dropouts, and a neat segmented crown fork. There's a flat grey paint job in keeping with the urban theme but a few subtle touches of pink nicely set things off.
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