Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Host Our Coast Contest: Blog Submission

Host Our Coast is looking for both a video and a sample blog. So, here's the blog to tell the rest of the story of the 3rd Annual North American Handmade Bike Show:

Bikes on the roof, wheels in the backseat, and another I-64 traffic jam in front of us. We're usually impatiently waiting to ride when stuck on the highway, but today we had hit the road to look at bikes. From Ontario to Delmarva, almost 7,000 cyclists headed to Richmond, Virginia for the 3rd Annual North American Handmade Bike Show, held February 25-28. When the show started in Portland, Oregon two years ago there were just 700 tickets sold.

Like music, bicycles have become both a commodity and an art form. Taiwanese mountain bikes are churned out almost as fast as teeny-bop MP3s, and have just as brief a lifespan. “Real” bikes, like real music, are a labor of love, crafted with patience and attention to detail by artists, treasured and shared by often-fanatic followers. With a punk rock, D.I.Y. ethos, bike builders start tinkering in garages. Many labor on in obscurity, a few make a living at it, and only rarely do any gain fame. For every Gary Fisher or Alex Moulton (near-household names on their respective sides of the Atlantic), there are dozens of lesser-known, but equally gifted, master builders.

The hallway outside echoed with the tick-tick-tick of freewheel hubs as cyclists pushed their bikes to the indoor valet parking. Inside, a humdrum convention hall had been invaded by a caravan of callused hippies and their temporary emerald city of chrome and pedals. A minimalist bike of mercury and silver glowed under tracklighting—two wheels, two pedals, a handlebar and a seat on the sleakest of metal frames. No brakes, no gears, no handlebar tape, no bells, no whistles. A track-inspired "fixie," or fixed-gear bicycle: without a freewheel, the pedals and rear wheel are chained together, and the cyclist's legs become the brakes.

Bilenky Cycle Works out of Philadelphia was awarded “Best road frame” in the show. Owner Stephen Bilenky brought his staff along with nearly all the tools, fixtures and dust from their shop- a dozen unfinished frames lined the back wall of their “display booth” above a workbench, invoices hung on clipboards beneath a decades-old clock. Potential patrons lingered around single and tandem bikes, pointing to details, talking and dreaming of riding.
Just down the aisle was the legendary Craig Calfee, a bike messenger turned bike builder. In the Nineties he was on the forefront of carbon fiber bikes, and now in the 21st Century he is a pioneer and prophet of bamboo bikes. A three-seater road bike with bamboo tubes as thick as oil cans stood next a “traditional” carbon fiber road bike.

In years to come, the third annual North American Handmade Bike Show may become our generation's cycling Woodstock: many who were never there will nonetheless say they were for the significance of it: Rock 'n' roll is here to stay, and so are handmade bikes. All you need is three gears and the truth, the rest is up to you.

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