February 23, 2008
The Portland event was special and precious. Part of the magic is the unsinkable, irrepressible creativity of life long cycling artists. But part of it is the chance chemistry of a time and place. As someone who has seen special events thrive but then suddenly disappear, I'm particularly distracted. I think the handbuilt scene is more delicate than it seems.
Even big affairs, for example the Coors Classic or SF Grand Prix or Big Bear NORBA events, and many more festivals and gatherings seemed at the time to be great and everlasting. All the necessary elements were in place. So it appeared. Many are now gone. What about the handbuilt scene? What we saw in Portland is healthy but how will it stand huge, regular geographic relocation?
For everyone to consider: the grass roots handbuilt bicycle scene is growing but there's obviously a limit in a country that's by and large indifferent to cycling. We face increasing free trade and globalization. Combined with likely decreases in US standards of living, one would be foolish to expect enough customers for a thousand custom bicycle builders. So, a safe prediction is modest growth.
At the same time, many crafts people cannot display thousands of miles from their market. It's nice to have a national reputation but even celebrities like Carl Strong or Bruce Gordon have customer bases that are largely geographic. That's the way it ought to be. We think globally but do business locally. So what is the purpose of national handbuilt shows? If it's to give regional builders a chance to broadcast their business, then the shows need to be regional. Makes little sense for someone in Vermont to be custom fitted by a builder in San Diego. Sure, there are bound to be World famous artists, but the strength of our community is at the grass roots level. That's certainly how the modern mountain bike first developed, in Nor CA by small builders and their local customers.
Basically, I favor regional shows, sooner the better. Not to say there isn't a place for a National Show of Shows. But if a builder attends his regional show, how can he afford to also go to the National? Remember, with today's media, everyone can enjoy all the shows. Good work in FL is easy to study from the West Coast, thanks to diligent digital capture and Web venues. How about James Huang from cyclingnews.com?
How to do this? There's no clear path. It's just necessary for everyone to realize that the healthiest outcome might be regional (2-4 locations) shows supported by bike builder associations. For example, the Oregon Framebuilders could host the West Coasters (CA to BC) in their already-underway venue in Portland. Indianapolis is a good spot for the Midwest. And so forth. Only regional shows are affordable for small builders to attend without nearly dying financially. Only a sustainable scene is worth building. Other forms of spectacle may be glorious, but will fade without warning. Big national events before there is regional "infrastructure" could be backwards. Certainly, competitive cycling has seen this. Large national events might have a few glory years. But they don't last unless there is a healthy and widespread grass roots scene beneath them, to supply the fresh blood (spectators, participants, promoters, sponsors) on which longevity ultimately depends.
Time will tell.
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