There’s a renaissance happening in the world of bicycles. Perhaps even a new Golden Age. Portland, Oregon is at the center of it. Why Portland? My theory is Portland offers a combination of vibrant bicycle culture and consumer demand, combined with the availability of cheap shop space, that allows creative individuals to set up small custom manufacturing businesses. From the people I’ve spoken with, becoming a frame builder requires taking a vow of poverty. Like musicians and artists, only a handful make a decent living. Cities like Austin are home to a thriving local music scene because of this same availability of affordable practice space and plenty of demand. Here in Seattle, most 20-somethings I meet seem to work as software developers at Amazon. I believe Seattle’s high cost of living and lack of cheap industrial work spaces is putting a damper on the development of artisan businesses. Eugene, Oregon also contributed its fair share of handmade bicycle builders.
The show was clear evidence of a Renaissance in the art of the handmade bicycle. Although a custom bike costs way more than a stock “Made in Taiwan” number, the more I look at them, the more I am convinced they are reasonably priced. These bikes have SOUL! Each is a reflection of the designer/artisan builder. Even the most expensive custom bicycle costs way less than the cheapest car. I am looking forward to the day when I can have one made for me by one of the constructors I met at the show.
The culture of the Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show is not about racing, carbon fiber, or the latest aerospace technology. Spandex was rarely seen in the great hall. These builders are moving the bicycle back to its place as a beautiful form of sustainable personal transportation. Notice the front and rear racks, upright handlebars, and cargo carriers — perfect for carrying groceries, kegs of beer, and babies.