08 October 2010

Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show: Building More Bicycle-Friendly Communities, One Frame at a Time

"If you build it, they will come:" that's the intent, at least, behind the Third Annual Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show happening this weekend in the cycling hub of Portland, Oregon. With over 35 exhibitors at the Sandbox Studio gathered to feature some of the country’s finest handmade bicycles, related artisanal products, and their creators, and an expected 2,000 individuals in attendance over the course of the two-day event (October 9th-10th), this goal may very well be realized in abundance. New for 2010, the show is expanding its offerings to include educational programming and seminars on topics such as Injury Prevention for Cyclists and Bike Fit and Custom Frame Design, provided by Upper Echelon Fitness and Bodywise Physical Therapy. Representatives from United Bicycle Institute (UBI) will also be on hand to answer questions from both professionals and the general public. (photo left): Jude Kirstein of Epic Wheelworks creates revolutions in her studio every day.

With the theme of "Hands Hammers Files and Fire Make Bicycles," attendees will have the unique opportunity to view the latest designs (some constructed specifically for the show) and chat with custom frame builders such as Ahearne Cycles, Land Shark Bicycles and Sprout Cycles about their craftsmanship, choice of materials, and why one might consider an independent frame builder versus a mass-produced model found in a traditional bike shop when shopping for the bicycle of their dreams. Looking to outfit the special lady in your life with a custom steel frame that incorporates the "four elements"--"beautiful, Italian, simple and classy--into each design? Contact M.J. at BellaDonna Cycles. Need haul a serious--we mean, serious-- amount of gear? Look no further than cargo bike specialists at Metrofiets to help you take a load off. Want to share that special blend of cycling love with your companion? Co-Motion Cycles, based out of Eugene, Oregon, can put you on a custom "bicycle built for two" that's as unique and distinctive as your relationship.

(left): Andy Newlands right at home in UBI's Portland campus with one of his women's steel rigs.

Strawberry Bicycles
Doing business since: 1971 (39 years and counting!)
Speciality: steel and and specially-designed castings
Average length of time per order: 6 months
Estimated cost: frame, fork & headset starts at $1,600; complete build ranges between $3,000-$4,000

Why Portland? When the question was put to Andy Newlands, owner/proprietor of Strawberry Bicycle, he stated simply, "Beer and bikes--how much better can it get?" Adopting a more serious demeanor, he cited the City of Portland's exemplary bicycle planning, bike routes, and friendliness towards two-wheeled, non-motorized modes of transportation as key factors when selecting a venue. Indeed, the Oregon Bicycle Constructors Association, founded in 2007, was initially spurred by a series of meetings between the City of Portland and the Portland Development Commission regarding what might be done to support the bicycling industry. Newlands, amongst others, co-founded the OBCA to bring dedicated frame builders together in order to strengthen their voice within the industry and provide much-needed business and marketing expertise to complement their engineering and/or artistic backgrounds. While he considers it analogous to "herding a bunch of cats," the 3 year old organization is already 40 members strong, with the majority of exhibitors based within Portland's city limits. "[Portland] is the nexus of everything," Newlands states.

(right): Wayne Beauchamp with "The Back 40," his 2005 steel single-speed 29er. With a commute that consists of 3 miles of singletrack and 4 miles of dirt roads into town, this trail-worthy bike doubles as an excellent commuter.

Vulture Cycles
Doing business since: 1996 (incorporated in 1999)
Average number of frames built per year: 37
Average length of time per order: 3-6 months
Estimated cost: frame & fork: $1,700; complete build ranges between $3,500-$4,000

"For me, [the show's] about getting out of the shop and talking to humans," jests Wade Beauchamp, owner and sole proprietor of Vulture Cycles. "It's a chance to see a whole bunch of people who make bikes and love bikes, new friends, and old. Mostly, it's about getting the word out and creating awareness--hey, I exist."

Based 7 miles outside of Bend, Oregon, he specializes in handmade steel mountain-bikes. "Single-speed 29ers are kinda my bread and butter," he remarks while showing off a 2005 purple argyle beauty he dubbed "The Back 40." But that may soon change: in 2009, he started developing a new line of "Town and Country" bikes with a road/cyclocross geometry and disc brakes. The target audience? "They're built for those who want to ride around town, and then escape to the country."

While carbon fiber remains one of the most highly-coveted objects of desire amongst the racing set and club riders alike, due to its lightweight and vibration-dampening properties, most of the frame builders you'll find here choose to work with steel as their preferred medium. "As a builder, steel is a phenomenal material to worth with--especially the variety of tubing available," Rob Tsunehiro comments. "It allows you to really fine-tune a bike frame."

(left): Rob Tsunehiro proudly displays a custom steel commuter bike built for customer in Bend.

Tsunehiro Bicycles
Doing business since: 2008
Average number of frames built per year: 12
Average length of time per order: 3 months
Estimated cost: Frame & fork starts at $1,800; complete build ranges between $3,000-$6,000

A fairly recent newcomer to the custom frame-building scene, Rob launched Tsunehiro Cycles in 2008 shortly before the economy began to take a nose dive and Americans tightened their collective belts (and wallets). But despite the recession and uncertainties in the economy, Tsunehiro is happy to report he's still been able to maintain a steady line of work, with new orders matching his pace.

Why choose an independent, one-man operation over a larger competitor, such as Serotta, Independent Fabrications or Seven? Tsunehiro is quick to list the advantages: "I can offer a higher level of customization, incorporating a specific blend of features into your dream bicycle. Building a custom bike offers a much broader range of choices than stock geometry, design or components; customers in the area can come to the shop and visit the work in progress; they're able to have direct interaction [with me]; and they're part of the decision-making process." His favorite part of the building process? "I really enjoy sitting down with customers to talk about how and where they like to ride…Together, we come up with the best solutions, such as how to accommodate a bigger tire for commuting [if that's what they want.]"

What keeps the bicycle business growing for these manufacturers? According to Tsunehiro, residing in the vibrant and eclectic bike culture of Portland has been an "eye-opening experience" from the industry perspective. "Every kind of cyclist is here--not just the serious 'street warrior.' Everyone's out riding…You're exposed to so many more cycling programs, such as the Community Cycling Center, making cycling accessible to everyone, and that really excites me...The safe bike infrastructure, and promoting cycling as a lifestyle some the something that's really healthy for individuals and or community. It's a big part of what drives me to make this my life's work."

To learn more about the unique benefits and beauty of the Oregon handmade bicycle, visit the Sandbox Studio at 420 NE 9th Avenue in Portland, OR between 10am-6pm October 9th-10th, or consult oregonhandmadebicycleshow.com for more information.

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