Outside with Charlie: Cycling evolution

By From page A11 | March 09, 2012


Last weekend’s North American Handmade Bike show in Sacramento showcased one-of-kind, built-for-you-only bikes. The technology was amazing. This was art on two or three wheels — not a lightweight event put on by a fringe group in spandex and silly hats.

My wife I went to the opening with press passes in hand and had brief two hours on the vendor floor before the public came in. Go if the show ever returns. It’s that simple.

Paul Skilbeck puts on this large-scale showing. The logistics were complex but the show was “well-oiled” for the around 10,000 people expected to enjoy the 172 booths. Anything to do with bicycles was there. The bike builders were happy to talk about what they do and how they do it. TIG welder suppliers had two booths complete with Darth Vader-style welding helmets. Any kind of tube for bikes was represented: aluminum, wood, bamboo, alloys, carbon fiber, steel.

Yes, wood and bamboo are both used and work very well. They have some advantages over carbon and metal and look cool.

One could play with CAD software for laying up a bike along with several jigs used to make the bikes. Builders don’t guess at angles and cuts — they are very precise. After a lot of preliminary laying out, all the pieces have to work together.

A private college that teaches bike building showed a great time-lapse video of a day in class. A number of the vendors learned their trade at the college.

The shapes, sizes and colors of the bikes were a visual candy store. Think they’re just bikes — two wheels, pedals, handlebars, brakes and a seat. Au contraire. The differences were clear in every booth.

Road bike lines went from very angular to very curvy with lots of swoops. Displays included gorgeous city bikes to Star Wars-worthy mountain bikes. Some looked straight out of Ridley Scott’s “Bladerunner.” I have never seen a ridable bike as large as one massive behemoth.

Popular retro styles included old Schwinn or Raleigh bikes you had as a kid interpreted in artful ways. One looked like a slimmed-down, one-person 1930s rocket ship. Roger Rabbit came to mind when looking at a couple.

This was a great way to show children how reading, math, algebra, physics, geometry, science and art can lead to fantastic, real-world applications of academic and shop disciplines. It would be a good reason to skip a day of school even though my former colleagues might take issue.

Simply put, the bikes were beautiful. Almost every kind of two- and three-wheeled, human-powered rigs imaginable were all in one place. Cycling enthusiasts learned changes are coming. Slowly but surely, bicycles are entering a new era — not this week but they are on the way. It’s exciting stuff.


Charlie Ferris

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