Fresh Finds in Philly

Nov 7th, 2019

After a decade in the bike industry, every trade show, consumer expo, and product launch starts to feel, well, a little same-y. Same-y bikes, same-y gear, same-y people (heck, literally the same people). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you. I like those bikes and gear and people. Catching up a few times a year is the routine around which the year spins. But I’d never been to the Philly Bike Expo, which celebrated 10 years in 2019. I’d heard it was fun and young and hip (two — possibly three — things I am not), but mostly that it was something different. I’d heard right.

Let’s just say it: there were a lot of people of color at this expo, and young riders, from kids to 20-somethings. There were plenty of tattooed hipsters and an exhibitor selling very expensive backcountry bongs, but there were also young professionals and young Lycra-clad racers. Certainly the increasingly huge Sea Otter Classic expo in the spring is crawling with young riders and racers — and some diversity on account of its California location — but Sea Otter’s crowd has always felt somewhat unique to California and the state’s intense center of gravity for the mountain biking side of the sport.

Philly felt deeper and wider than I’d expected in terms of all kinds of demographics from cycling style to age — there were plenty of old-school, dyed-in-the-literal-wool players of yesteryear — to ethnicity. Maybe it’s a function of my backwoods Montana perspective, but I walked out of the expo thinking to myself, “Damn, the cycling world is better off than I thought.”

Oh, and there were some bikes and gear too. Here’s what caught Adventure Cyclist’s eye:

Beardman Rack
A custom Halloween-themed rack on a Beardman bike.
Alex Strickland

Custom builders

The custom framebuilding market continues to pay special attention to touring and bikepacking needs, and the floor was full of bikes built for the long haul. Olivetti Bicycles showed off owner Peter’s Great Divide rig, a dropbar mountain bike with clearance for 29 x 2.25in. tires and running a full-on MTB suspension fork. Peter told me he found the trend toward some extremely short-travel “gravel” forks like the Fox AX (40mm) a misguided approach. Why take the weight penalty and give up most of the travel? Well, stack height is potentially one issue, but Peter’s bike sported pretty traditional geometry for that style dropbar rig with a 100mm Rock Shox SID offering some extra cushion and traction for rougher terrain.

Olivetti’s Divide-ready bike running a 100mm Rockshox SID fork.
Alex Strickland

Beardman and 44 both showed off enviable custom rack configurations, an extra feature seemingly gaining popularity for those seeking a fully bespoke option. In addition to a custom rack, 44 showed off a set of X-Pac bikepacking bags that are bound for small-run production outside of their custom clients.

Velo Orange Neutrino
Possibly the fanciest mini-velo on Earth — this Velo Orange Neutrino was wearing SRAM’s wireless AXS drivetrain (and dropper) in the SRAM booth.
Alex Strickland

Small bikes

Velo Orange had their tiny new Neutrino on display, plus an extremely overkill build courtesy of the SRAM crew wearing many thousands of dollars of wireless drivetrain and dropper post tech from the brand’s AXS group. I haven’t had a chance to ride the Neutrino, but there’s no doubt the mini velo has gotten people’s attention. It drew gawkers the whole time and certainly had me thinking about how I could use such a functional conversation starter.

Tern BYB
Tern’s BYB (Bring Your Bike) uses a z-fold design to achieve its small folded footprint.
Alex Strickland

Tern’s new folder, the BYB (Bring Your Bike), isn’t quite as small as a Brompton, but … it’s also not quite as small as a Brompton. Figure the BYB takes about 30 seconds for a regular user to fold or unfurl (compared to more like 10 for a Brompton), and there’s a trolly mode somewhere in between folded and unfolded that allows the bike to roll on casters affixed to the rear rack.

Bruce Gordon BLT
A classic in any language.
Alex Strickland

Classics new and old

Anyone with an eye for the old-school came away happy, as grizzled vets and appreciative newcomers ogled classics from Bruce Gordon, Stephen Bilenky, Georgena Terry, and others. Of course, you can still order up a Bilenkey or a Georgena Terry, proving they’re classics for a reason. I enjoyed a long chat with Georgena, whose perspective on women’s-specific bikes carries the weight of a lifetime of wisdom. Not for nothing, her Waterford-built frames are gorgeous and timeless.

Georgena Terry
A pair of completes from Georgena Terry.
Alex Strickland

A highlight here was in a display of builders from the last 40 years or so. I was looking over a Bruce Gordon BLT when a group of attendees — whom I wouldn’t serve a beer without I.D. — saw the BLT (from 10 feet away), and someone said, “Oh @*!&, that’s a Bruce Gordon!” and the group hustled over. Kids these days? Yeah, they’ll be fine.

Everything else

Not everything, of course, but the floor was also full of unusual options. An inflatable chamois? You betcha. The aforementioned titanium bongs? Certainly. Wooden bikes? Yeah, and let’s chat about those.

Normal Bicycles
Nothing Normal about these wooden bikes.
Alex Strickland

Renovo, the largest-scale wooden bike maker (besides perhaps Boo, but let’s stick to non-bamboo) went under a few years back, victims of many things, but among them a hard-to-scale manufacturing process that CNC’d each side of the bike and affixed them together. I don’t think I ever saw a head not snap around when passing a Renovo at a trade show, and it’s easy to understand why. My neck owl’ed it’s way 180 degrees when I saw Buffalo, New York’s Normal Bicycles’ booth in Philly. Maple and walnut frames harken to classic wooden boats, and they just look so good. Chatting with Chris and Jessica Kudla, I learned Normal’s frames use CNC’d wooden lugs mated to wooden tubing, though looking at the bike it’s a lot more seamless than it sounds. An “adventure” model offered rack mounts in the rear and low-ish gearing for lightly loaded touring, but Normal says it’s the wood’s vibration-killing quality that really makes the bike perfect for long-distance, multiday journeys. Honestly, I’m not sure I even care how they ride, I just want to look at them.

Ultradynamico, a new tire company from the mind of Instagram-famous bikepacker Ultraromance, had rubber on a number of Crust bikes. Another option in the wider mixed-surface market, it’s further proof that we live in a golden age of tire choice. Also, you can get gray tires if you want.

Selle Anatomica Rubber
A familiar shape in an unfamiliar material from Selle Anatomica.
Alex Strickland

I’ve spent a fair amount of time on one of Selle Anatomica’s saddles, but the simple fact of the matter is that leather saddles don’t stay bolted to my daily driver. Why? Rain and snow is why. Remembering a saddle cover is only half the battle — remembering to put it on is the part I never get right. That’s part of why the company is offering its first-ever non-leather option, a rubber saddle that shares a silhouette with its cowhide cousin. A trio of preproduction models were at SA’s booth (the only three, I’m told), and I pedaled aboard one on a trainer and can confirm it feels very similar to the original. The available setback is lessened on account of shorter rails, but otherwise the rubber version looks and functions familiarly. We’ll be testing one as soon as production models are available.

Rodeo Labs Flaanimal
Steel is real, but carbon is … real-er? The new Flaanimal from Rodeo Labs uses both. 
Alex Strickland

Rodeo Labs had a prototype of the fifth generation of its Flaanimal frame on hand. Built for touring and bikepacking, this steel frame is now … mostly steel. Added weight of a new chainstay yoke is offset with a carbon seat tube. The brand’s new Spork fork was on hand as well, with a slightly slimmer profile but retaining a bevy of mounts, dynamo routing, etc. The Spork is on a very short list of carbon forks well suited for bikepacking and touring …

IRD carbon fork
Carbon, three-pack mounts, QR or thru-axle, and a straight steerer in a new fork from IRD.
Alex Strickland

Though there is a new entrant — brand stablemate of SOMA Fabrications, IRD now has a carbon fork with a straight 1 1/8” steerer tube, triple mounts, and QR or thru-axle options. While there are a few carbon fork options with tapered tubes, the IRD joins the Fyxation Sparta as the only options we’re aware of for those still sporting straight steerers.

Last but certainly not least, bikes from Chapman Cycles, Rivendell, Crust, Royal H, Jamis, Masi, and others looked ready to take you across town, across the river, or across the world. You want a beautiful, functional touring bike? It’s a heckuva time to be alive.

Chapman Cycles
This brake routing from Chapman Cycles is a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Alex Strickland

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