NAHBS 2019: Where We’re Touring, We Won’t Need Roads

Mar 19th, 2019

Upon walking into the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS), everything competes for your eyeballs. Where do you begin? The visual rush of metalwork and paint schemes — from gilded to glittery — requires the attention span of a lightning bolt.

For the third time in its 15 years, NAHBS held the show in Sacramento, California, where early March makes for pleasant riding weather. This is welcome news particularly for Tom Porter of Porter Cycles, who plans ride back to New York City after NAHBS on a custom frame he built. It’ll be his first bike tour.

“This will be the first time in 10 years I’ve gotten away from Brooklyn for this long,” said Porter, 39. He expects to finish in about two months.

Tom Porter custom steel bicycle touring frame.
Tom Porter’s custom steel frame and stainless racks on display at Black Magic Paint’s booth.
Nikolas Wright

This year, we saw more cross-pollination among categories we assign to bicycles, as well as the drivetrains and gear we associate with them. A sporty gravel bike could serve as a trusty, world-touring rig. An adventure bike could take you across the world, or simply to work. And many exhibitors made compelling cases for belt and/or gearbox drivetrains as realistic, reliable options. 

Let’s dive into highlights from two days roaming the Sacramento Convention Center.

The Things We’ll Carry

Framebuilders are finding clever ways to stash gear on your bike, from the “micro pannier” to new racks.

Portland-based North St. Bags, known for its commuter backpacks and duffels, is leaning into the adventure category with its X-Pac Micro Pannier. It’s a compact alternative to larger panniers for overnighters or light touring loads. The setup here (including panniers and framebags) goes for about $325.

North St. Bags panniers.
North St. Bags bikepacking and touring gear.
Nikolas Wright

Matt Feeney, the man behind Pass & Stow Racks, displayed his first fillet-brazed rear rack intended for bikepackers who aren’t committed to a seatbag. He says they’ll be available in three months, with sizes to accommodate tires of the monster, plus, and fat variety. 

Pass & Stow Racks fillet-brazed racks.
Pass & Stow’s new rear rack with triple mounts for cargo cages, seen here on one of Steve Potts’s bikes — the official proving ground. 
Nikolas Wright

Shimano announced last December it was entering the ever-expanding framebag scene with its PRO Discover line of bike bags.

Shimano PRO Discover bikepacking bags.
Shimano’s PRO Discover line of bikepacking bags.
Nikolas Wright

And Rick Hunter of Hunter Cycles partnered with Paul Component Engineering for this stem-mounted front rack to keep handlebar loads secure. 

Hunter Cycles stem-mounted front rack.
It’s maturing through the prototype phase, but keep your eyes peeled for production down the road. 

Alternative Drivetrains

There was a big presence of Gates belt–driven bicycles and Pinion gearboxes in every row of the show floor, on almost all styles of bicycle. But this doesn’t mean obsolescence for chains. Rather, touring and traveling cyclists have options for cleaner, quieter drivetrains they won’t need to adjust on the road or in the wild. 

Pinion gearbox with Gates belt drive.
The Pinion gearboxes can weigh five pounds or more, but having 12 or 18 gears can be a worthy tradeoff. 

Keep in mind that the jury’s out on whether Pinion gearboxes have come of age. One issue is the weight, and another is the lack of shifter options beyond twist-shift (limiting riders who want to use dropbars with Pinions). But solutions are popping up. For example, Tout Terrain’s in-house brand Cinq (partnering with TRP Brakes) debuted the new Shift:R lever and trigger shifters.

Dropbar shifter from Cinq for Pinion gearboxes.
A dropbar shifter from Cinq for Pinion gearboxes.
Nikolas Wright
Co-Motion Java tandem with Pinion gearbox and Gates belt drive.
Co-Motion says its Java tandem is the world’s first to include a Pinion gearbox (and requires three drivetrain belts). 
Nikolas Wright

Mostly absent from the show were eBikes — there were a few here and there, but the overall muted presence suggested that NAHBS wasn’t the place to get excited about electric motors on an otherwise simple machine.

Of Course, Bicycles

There isn’t an official “best touring bicycle” category award at NAHBS, as there are for road, mountain, and cyclocross. But that leaves room for both framebuilder and rider interpretations of a bike’s capabilities.

Plenty of framebuilders gave nods to timeless randonneuring-style rigs, like Coast Cycles and Frances Cycles, which could send you into a reverie of pedaling through a French countryside. A few we pored over:

Coast Cycles randonneuring bike.
Brooklyn-based Johnny Coast returned to NAHBS with two of his randonneuring rigs, inspired by the likes of Peter Weigle and René Herse.
Nikolas Wright
Frances Cycles Tourist bike with matching Farfarer trailer.
Frances Cycles’ Tourist with matching Farfarer trailer. 
Nikolas Wright 
Shamrock Travel Commuter bike.
The steel, belt-driven “Travel Commuter” from Shamrock Cycles can easily be broken down via S&S couplers. The customer lives in Hawaii and regularly puddle-jumps between islands, bike in tow. 
Nikolas Wright
Ti Cycles collapsible touring bike with Pion gearbox and Gates belt drive.
A custom collapsible touring bike from Ti Cycles, properly attired with a belt-driven Pinion gearbox, S&S couplers, and a prototype inline connector that lets you detach the hydraulic brake line. 
Nikolas Wright

Related Reading