"Forty years ago, South London was the centre of the made-to-measure frame building universe. Forty years on, the axis has shifted to the USA. Why? Forget the economics, dynamics, mathematics and polemics, the short and simple answer is NAHBS," said Neil Hassan, who runs frameforum.org, the forum for frame building worldwide.
"Back in July 2004 a new topic appeared on Frameforum. Its title posed the question ‘A New Idea – Bicycle Expo?’ The post came from Frameforum founder member Slapshot, better known to the bike world as Don Walker, and his post called on forum members to put forward their ideas and opinions of what they’d look for in an expo aimed at showcasing the custom framebuilding scene."
Don Walker’s show started in Texas but this year its moved to Portland, Oregon, one of America’s most bike-friendly cities.
Walker said: "The idea of a shop window kind of show that would also be an information exchange and meeting place for the frame builders was talked about on the various frame builders’ newslists during 2002/3, but nobody stepped up to organize it. Finally I got fed up with all the talk and decided I’d take the bull by the horns and just do it. I was living in Texas at the time, so we held it in Houston. As a frame builder, I thought the show would help me sell more bikes.
"The first year, there were 23 exhibitors and about 700 attendees. This year the show sold out at 155 exhibitors. We’ll see how many customers come through the doors. Last year it was about 4,000.
"The way things have worked out, the show hasn’t helped me personally sell more bikes, although I’m probably the exception among the builders there. Some builders have seen their order books double and triple in size because of the show. What’s happened is the NAHBS has taken me in a whole new direction. I spend 12 months a year working on the show now. I didn’t really intend to be a show promoter, it just happened that way.
"My vision was always to make it more of a show than a seminar. The main focus in my mind was to raise awareness of the handmade frame building industry, and so far I think we’re doing a fair job of accomplishing that."
"As for the future, I don’t think it will get a whole lot bigger in terms of exhibitors or customers. It is a niche market show, that’s the whole point of it. It’s not supposed to be a mass market show. It’s not about huge crowds, it’s about top end bicycles for cyclists with a preference for the best."