“Our hope is to remake the show with an eye toward the future.”
— Dave Levy, Oregon Bicycle Constructors Association president
Organizers of the Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show have called off their marquee event — for the first time since it began 11 years ago.
In a message to vendors, fans, and sponsors, Dave Levy, president of Oregon Bicycle Constructors Association, the nonprofit trade association behind the event, wrote, “It is with a heavy heart we have decided to cancel the show… 2018 has been the year we have seen the lowest level of interest in the OHBS, the number of builders who have chosen to sign up is so low the OBCA board feels we cannot put on a show we can be proud of, and allow the builders to present well.” Levy said the organization will refund vendor fees that have already been paid.
Last year when the event was held in a warehouse just north of the St. Johns Bridge, over two dozen vendors shared their creations with an appreciative crowd. But excitement about the event has tapered in recent years as the local framebuilding scene has cooled considerably since its heyday in the mid-to-late 2000s.
We reached out to a few vendors who’ve displayed at the OHBS for several years to hear what they think.
Joshua Liberles of HiFi Components said the 2017 show continued a trend of low attendance numbers — from both the public and the industry. “With the time and expense involved in putting together a booth, a builder (or wheel company) needs to be confident that the turnout will merit the work and money put in. There’s something of a catch-22 at play, too: over the last several years, some of the bigger local builders have stopped taking part in events like this, and they are certainly a draw for attendees.”
Portland-based bike builder Joseph Ahearne of Ahearne Cycles said the OHBS was his favorite show because it was easiest for him to attend. But he understands why the number of builders might have dwindled. “I think it’s harder than ever to make money as a bike builder and Portland is getting more expensive as a place to live, and as a place to find affordable shop space,” he shared with us via email this morning. “At some point the numbers don’t pan out. It’s never been easy, but now, the bike industry is changing, going more online, making it even more difficult for those of us who work with lower quantities and higher prices. Everything in the industry is going in the other direction.”
Ahearne also thinks this cancellation might illustrate larger trends in our ever-changing city.
“There’s a shift in the community, what felt for a long time like a big Portland family has changed,” he wrote. “It’s like all the kids grew up and left for college or something, and now Portland wants to be like other big cities, despite some of us with our nostalgia for the cheaper, grittier days. Newer members to the community don’t seem to want the old edgy Portland so much as a cleaner, more upscale living and shopping experience. Which is pushing a lot of people out.” Ahearne has also noted a significant decrease in the number of local builders.
Dwan Shepard, owner of Eugene-based Co-Motion Cycles, thinks the show has never really found the “magic formula” it needs for sustained success. Last year’s venue was “cool,” he shared, but it’s out-of-the-way location might have kept many people away. “The show is full of lovely, interesting, kind and lovely people. Most I’m sure would come year after year if the show could generate good attendance in a hall that people could find, with plenty of fun and interesting reasons for them to make an appearance.”
Shepard estimated last year’s show drew only about 200 people. Our report on the first OHBS in 2007 included an estimate of over 1,800 attendees.
The OBCA says they hope to “Remake the show with an eye toward the future.”
For builders like Ahearne, Co-Motion, and others who still have strong businesses, the value of a gathering like this is still apparent. “It may not be the most glamorous or visible bike show in the country,” Ahearne said, “But I think it’s important to get these people together sometimes to remind us that we are, in fact, a small community. The nature of the business is isolation, and there’s a lot of struggle involved, and to put ourselves in front of the public and to talk with them, and to have some time to meet and hang out with other builders is important, validating, inspiring. And cool bikes are still cool to look at, even when everything else around us is changing.”
UPDATE, 8/7: The OBCA has announced a new event coming August 18th: A Framebuilder’s Goodbye to Velo Cult. There are 15 amazing builders already lined up!
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