The North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Sacramento delivered record attendance (8,100 people), and it turns out many of them came to do more than dream about a new bike. Some of them came to buy.
The blur of a big bike show like NAHBS is often remembered only in vignettes — short chats and interactions you see that help define the otherwise chaotic event. This was my fourth time attending the show (I was at San Jose in 2007, Portland in 2008, and Austin in 2011), and unlike those past years, I got the feeling that builders were doing far more than just talking with fans and showing off their bikes. It seemed like they were actually making sales.
This is significant. At Interbike, the entire purpose is to write orders. But NAHBS is different. It’s considered more of a three day museum exhibition than a handmade bike market where people whip out their checkbooks and plunk down a deposit for a $5-6,000 bike. And with many of the builders only selling 30-50 bikes for an entire year, getting even one new order and a few leads is a big deal.
At one point as I walked down an aisle, I noticed builder Matt Cardinal (of Portland’s Signal Cycles) sitting down next to a table inside the Sputnik Tools booth (they make frame jigs). Why was Matt sitting in this booth all alone? When I asked him, he said he’d just sold a bike and wanted to re-invest the money immediately into a new tool.
It turns out Matt wasn’t alone.
Phillip Ross, one of the dynamic duo behind Northeast Portland-based Metrofiets Custom Cargo Bikes, says response to their new frame design was overwhelmingly positive. Ross tells us he expects to pick up four new dealers from the show.
When I walked up to Curtis Inglis to chat with him about a story I was working on, I realized he was in the middle of hashing out a new bike order with a customer. They were talking braze-ons and colors and Curtis was scribbling notes on an order form. To me, seeing an actual order for a new custom bike being taken at NAHBS felt like seeing Sasquatch… It never happens!
Portland builder Tony Pereira also reported strong sales and interest. He took a deposit for a new bike, and sold a ton of his handmade rear lights. Fellow Portlander Ira Ryan — whose Ned Ludd Market Bike made a big splash with show-goers and earned him Best City Bike honors — says he got an order before the show even began (to get in front of the line before the NAHBS onslaught) and got two “verbal confirmations” from other potential customers.
These reports of sales from just a few builders are likely shared by many others at NAHBS.
It seems this show, which started in 2005 with just 23 exhibitors and 700 attendees (compare that to near 200 exhibitors and over 8,000 attendees this year), has turned a corner. It has matured, and the builders have matured along with it. Their booths are more professional, their bikes have evolved, and they’re becoming better business owners.
“This is a banner year for NAHBS,” one veteran industry insider shared with me. “I’m really impressed this year,” said another. Maybe it’s a sign that the economy is on the rebound, or perhaps it’s something deeper. Maybe people are beginning to understand that handmade bikes aren’t a fad and that investing in a high quality vehicle that can move you around with equal parts of fun and fitness, is well worth the money.