Custom bike builder Don Walker remembers how this event began. He and a number of other custom bike builders used to have an internet forum where they would talk about their work and discuss how cool it would be if they could all get together with their handmade bikes and show them to the public. “After a while, I got tired of talking about it and decided to do something,” Walker recalls. He found a place in Houston, Texas, where the bike makers could get together for a show. Then he reserved the location and put the wheels in motion.
That first year—2005—a total of 23 exhibitors got together in the Lone Star State to show off their handmade bikes to the public. Attendance was free, and 650 people came to see the show. The exhibitors enjoyed it, and the public seemed to like it as well. There were also some seminars on bike building that people could attend for $5 each, and those did well, too. When all the accounting was done, Don was willing to try putting the show on again the following year.
For 2006 Don found a place in San Jose, California. This time his show drew 93 exhibitors, and 3000 visitors came to check out the bikes and the people who were making them. After that, Don decided to keep doing the show in the future.
Over the years the North American Handmade Bike Show (aka NAHBS) has traveled around the country—back and forth from the West Coast to the East Coast and places in between. In the last few years the show has grown to include over 250 exhibitors (there were 260 this year), with more than 7000 people coming to see the show over the three-day weekend.
As for Don Walker, when he’s not organizing the show, which takes up about half the year for him, he still builds bikes. He makes all kinds of custom bicycles—everything from track, road, cyclocross, and tandem cycles to mountain bikes.
Don loves building bikes, but he also enjoys putting on his annual show.
“It takes the better part of the year to put it all together,” Don told MBA. “I have a staff of several people who help me with it.” It takes a lot of time to put everything together. They have to find a place to hold the show, line up hotels, map out the exhibitor layout for the event, collect the reservation money and pay all the fees involved. They have to put down the money for the exhibit space, get insurance, and jump through all the other hoops that are necessary to put on the show. They’ll even line up judges for the awards that will be handed out at the show. That’s only part of what’s involved. It’s not easy to organize an event of this size, but Don knows how to do it, and he has pulled it off successfully every year since 2005.
This year marked the 15th straight year that the show has been held. Judging from the success of the event, it won’t be the last. Interbike may be gone, but the North American Handmade Bicycle Show lives on.
Mosaic Cycles owner Aaron Barcheck won the Best Mountain Bike Award for this bike-packing unit. Joe Tonsager of JPaks made the custom frame bags and matching necktie for Aaron. Photo by Brad Quartuccio
Next year the show will be held in Dallas, Texas. It’s worth a visit if you get a chance. While much of the bike business is made up of companies worth millions of dollars, you can still find bike makers who are just getting started, people with ideas and innovations that the rest of the world has never seen before. In a way, this show is an opportunity to see how new bike companies are born and what kind of bikes they are introducing. Some of them could well turn out to be bikes that will shape the future of the industry and our sport.
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