SALT LAKE CITY — At first glance at the display, you might be struck by the unusual coloring of the frames; many with tan, brown or golden tones, while others have a dark, rich reddish-brown color.
If you didn’t know any better, you might swear they look like wood.
But that can’t be because they are Renovo bicycles with metal spokes, gears, pedals and handlebars. Yet upon closer inspection, it becomes obvious that the frames are, in fact, made from wood. How about that!
“The idea around wood was that it has excellent mechanical properties which would produce a bike that rides really well,” explained Nick Wood, spokesman for Renovo Hardwood Bicycles. “Specifically, we’re looking at vibration dampening (because) wood transmits vibration more slowly than most any other bicycle frame material.”
The Portland cycling company is one of more than 150 exhibitors this weekend at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show at the Salt Palace Convention Center. The event is the largest display of custom-built bicycles in the world, showcasing custom bicycle frame builders and vendors from across the country, said Don Walker, founder and president of the show.
“It’s a celebration of craftsmanship much like when you go to a tailor to get a new Bespoke suit,” he said. “It’s the fit, the performance, the finish. Everything you want in a bicycle is available to you in a handmade bicycle.”
The three-day event is open to the public and runs from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Sunday, with ticket prices ranging from $25 to $60.
Walker noted that avid cyclists appreciate the notion of true craftsmanship and innovation, which is why thousands of people attend the event each year. Last year, the event drew about 8,000 attendees. This year marks the show’s first visit to Utah — and potentially its last.
Last month, Walker released a statement on behalf of the association in response to the state’s public lands policy that prompted the Outdoor Retailer show to exclude Utah from further consideration after its current contract expires in 2018.
“(Gov. Gary Herbert’s) agenda for the state of Utah has the ability to curtail the recreation of our exhibitors and their customers,” Walker said. “NAHBS moves the location each year to accommodate the needs of builders across the country. Regardless of our schedule, we would not chose to bring the show back to Utah unless serious changes are made by government officials.”
For now, though, the show will give locals the chance to see some of the more unique custom bike frames and bicycles in the country. Most are produced by small companies using high-end materials like carbon fiber, titanium and aluminum, but a few like Renovo and Hawaii-based Werk Arts offer alternatives like hardwood and bamboo.
“I’m a woodworker, but I also build furniture, and for a bike you just learn by trial and error,” said owner Barret Werk. “It took about a year before it was something that somebody would want to buy.”
Today, a complete bamboo frame bike costs about $3,000, he noted. About 90 percent of his bicycles are made of sustainable materials, including linen fiber to connect various pieces of the bike, he said.
Back home in Hawaii, he teaches workshops on building bikes with natural materials.
“People really want to learn to build their own and ride it,” he said. “It’s like building your own instrument and then you play it; you get this great feeling of satisfaction.”
While other handmade bicycles with more traditional materials may be even more costly, for cycling enthusiasts the price is well worth it, Walker said.
“You’re looking at having something fit like a Bespoke suit,” he said. “If you have your bike made for you, it’s going to fit you perfectly.”