Creativity rolls at 2013 North American Handmade Bicycle Show

Photo copyright Nathan A. Ferguson.

Aluminum may be the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust, but it was scarce at the 2013 North American Handmade Bicycle Show. While plenty of mass producers are still building with it, artisans at the show were pushing the edge with new techniques. This was materials science gone mad, but in a good way.

And this year’s show in Denver broke an attendance record with some 200 exhibitors and an estimated 7,000 attendees even though the third and final day saw the city’s biggest snow dump of the season.

While the artisans shared a passion for cycling, they drew on their personal experience.

Take Chris Connor of Connor Wood Bicycles who was showing off his Woody Scorcher made of steam-bent ash wood and reinforced with layers of Kevlar. It gave it a distinctly baseball bat feel. Connor transferred his knowledge of carpentry and building guitars into his two-bike line. The Scorcher comes stock with 29er wheels, disc brakes, and a Gates Carbon Drive System in single-speed configuration for $4,500.

Then there was Sueshiro Sano of Japan showing off his striking mahogany, yes mahogany, road bike. His family has been building wooden boats for more than 200 years and he got into the business when he was 13.

There were more than a few vibration-absorbing bamboo bikes, some mated with carbon tubing. And there was a just-for-fun bike made of Douglas-fir.

The competition was friendly but intense with some builders putting in special requests to large component manufacturers to give them the edge in winning show prizes. Can you make that part in purple? And of course they did.

All the niches were well represented with a lot of attention going to fat tire mountain bikes, belt drives, internally geared hubs and gravel racing/multi-surface touring bikes. It will be interesting to see what happens with titanium versus newfangled stainless steel.

There seems to be a growing number of formal training courses in frame building and with software like BikeCAD Pro,┬áit’s not too difficult to develop your own dream ride. In any case, this is good energy for all aspects of cycling. Let the creativity roll.

1989 meet 2011: from skinny to fat skis

Photo copyright Nathan A. Ferguson.

This is more about psychology than skiing. When I was 17 I bought a pair of the same skis that the U.S. Ski Team was using. The Rossignol 4S Kevlar was an iconic model in its day.

With the skinny waist, lightweight materials, vibration damping and catchy teal color, they pushed the edge of what straight skis could do. They were designed for steep slalom courses. In other words, they were perfect for the East Coast and its infamous bulletproof ice.

I remember how beautiful they looked unmounted at the ski shop. I pulled out a happy-looking pair in the 200 cm length. On my first run somewhere in the Poconos, I let my weight get too far back and they crossed at the front bindings. It catapulted me into the woods. The 4SK’s commanded respect.

Little did I know at the time that my brain wasn’t fully developed. As a male, I had another eight years for that to happen, according to psychological research. My friends and I were impulsive and always doing stupid things. It was all about speed and attempting mostly disastrous jumps. This was before helmets and terrain parks. How’d we survive?

We also had limitless energy from some secret source. As if we had miniature nuclear reactors within us, we’d rise at dawn, drive up to two hours, catch the first chair lift and ski until the last one. For some reason, we always changed clothes and made the last run in shorts despite the weather. Then we’d drive home and go out later. Those were the days. It couldn’t get any better than that.

In the spring of that same year, I was lucky enough to ski out West for the first time. I pointed the Rossies downward at Vail’s massive China Bowl and they quickly submarined into the sticky crud. Once again, I got catapulted.

As a Colorado resident now, ski design has gone through a transformation where western skis are getting fat and fatter to maximize float in powder. I’ve also taken up backcountry skiing where you have to provide your own propulsion upward. The Liberty Double Helix skis, designed here in Colorado, are my vehicles of choice. They can handle anything.

There’s a reason I’ve hung onto those old skis and it’s not for the ’80s parties at the local resorts. Every scratch and ding tells a story.