Dave Moulton

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Back from NAHBS


The North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show (NAHBS) has grown to become a wonderful bicycle institution. Back when I was in business there was no such show, I had to attend the Interbike Show, and for a small business that was a challenge; it was not an inexpensive endeavor.

With the Interbike Show, apart from being extremely costly, a small framebuilder tended to get lost amongst all the glitz and glamour of the fancy lighting and displays of the industry giants.

The NAHBS is a show just for small framebuilders, and although a few exhibitors try to upstage the competition with a fancy display, NAHBS doesn’t have that “Disneyland” glitter and feel to it; all you see is product.

I went to the show to give support to my ex apprentice Russ Denny who was re-launching the Fuso line of bicycle frames. I also got to meet many old friends, some I had not seen since the 1980s.

I first flew to San Luis Obispo to hook up with long time friend David Ball, and then we drove up to Sacramento for the show, taking with us the #001 Fuso (Built 1984.) that David owns. (Picture below.)

Excuse me if I diverse a little just to illustrate a point: David Ball is a highly skilled woodworker and has told me he would like to build guitars, but admits he would probably have to build fifty guitars before they were any good.

I see a parallel between highly skilled woodworkers who play guitar, and so try their hand at making guitars; and highly skilled metal working bike riders who are drawn towards framebuilding.

I can see David’s concern, what would be the point of making a beautiful guitar that showed off his woodworking skills if when you played it, it sounded like crap. All the exotic woods, and inlays of abalone and mother of pearl would mean nothing if it didn’t sound somewhere close to a Martin guitar which is considered the industry standard of excellence.

However, here is where my parallel ends. How many framebuilders would have the honesty to admit they would have to build fifty frames before one would be any good?

And do they really need to? Case in point; just this morning checking my emails after returning from California; there was one from an owner of a custom frame I built in the early 1990s.

His opening line, “I never built my lovely frame into a bike for fear I would use it, and God forbid ruin it.”

Here is a custom frame I built in Reynolds 753, that would ride and handle as good if not better than most, and this owner will never know the joy of riding this bike.

So you see there is a market out there for “Wall Hangers.”

There is also a market for bikes that people want to ride; which is what I told Russ when he expressed certain concerns he had about going to NAHBS in the first place. “How can I compete with someone who puts between 70 and 90 hours of labor into a frame?”  He told me.

My answer is, “You don’t.” The Fuso was always a bike to be raced and ridden, and this new Fuso is no different. The new steel tubing builds into a frame that is comparable in weight to other materials. Steel is practical for most riders; I can’t wait to get mine.

(Above.) Russ Denny on the right, with the New Twin Downtube version of the Fuso in the foreground.

The Fuso is still a hand built frame; it is just different enough to appeal to someone who doesn’t want to go with one of the massed produced, made in China brands. Its builder, Russ Denny has the background and experience that you can buy and ride the bike with confidence.

I saw metal craftsmanship and paint work at the NAHBS that was out of this world, I am not going to name names or even show pictures, because unless I could actually ride each one of them how can I judge a frame’s true value? I can’t simply pick it up and play it like a guitar.

When a craftsman can combine the beauty of his metalwork with the ride and handling qualities of what a bike frame should be; then he can with all honesty, call himself a framebuilder.  I hope I won’t be considered unkind for saying that.



Reader Comments (8)

Understand but still like to hear your comments (not necessarily riding reviews) on some of the more interesting-appealing frames you noticed. The beauty of bikes is the combination of art and practicality. Riding a piece of art that handles as well as it looks is a dream come true.

Pictures of the new FUSOs from different angles available?

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack

I'm looking forward to you getting your new Fuso, Dave. I'd like to see a few detail shots and maybe a ride report?

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlemmiwinks

It is refreshing to see passion in ones craft. I think that, although the made in china brands help the cycling world in the way they make frames available in price ranges that allow cycling to be accessible to most, there is certainly a quality about those frames that are sometimes lacking. And I couldn't agree more that a frame is too specific to a person's anatomy and riding style to adopt a one type fits all viewpoint. Thanks for reminding us of what a framebuilder should be!

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Still trying to wrap my head around buying a frame and not building it into a bicycle. How much of that goes on, I wonder? Are there thousands of untouched classic frames out there, hanging on dining room walls or mounted over the mantelpiece?

Conversely, are there crates of NOS derailleurs and shifters and freewheels sitting in cellars aging like wine?

The mind boggles.


March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTrailer Park Cyclist


Hello, it was my honour to meet you in person after all the emails exchange we had.
I too prefer the newer tubing today than what we had (SL days). Nothing wrong with SL and they ride well, but the new stuff is lighter thus make me faster.

I used a GPS device for the last year and collected data to compare. Roland Della Santa made me a oversize tubing and one SL bike, both ride nicely but the oversize tubing is faster overall (+1.5 miles over 100miles).

Technology is not always good, but sometimes it is.

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRonald Lau

The new Fuso looks really great - very nice. Looking forward to more pictures and details.

And yes, bike are made to be ridden. I've wondered how well some of these "show bikes" actually ride. I don't get the mentality of saving a frame, but to each his own.

To me, a bike becomes a "Wall Hanger" after many, many years of use. I have a few classic mountain bikes in such condition, that I save to reflect on the memories contained in the steel tubes. My road bikes are all still in use, the "Wall Hanger" status not in the foreseeable future.

Pretty cool you attended NAHBS. After such a trip, does the thought of building frames again become even remotely pondered?

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

Dave, I am sorry I did not get to meet you at the show. I was overwhelmed by what I saw and 6 hours what not enough time to see everything by a long shot. One of the things about the show that left me perplexed was that there were so many framebuilders there that I had never heard of even after 3 years in the biz and countless hours pouring over the internet etc. Thats not so suprising...outside of my circle very few have heard of me. What blew me away was the level of organization...being at the show, designing and printing literature, catalogues, stickers, flyers etc. Also the infrastructure present in the booth itself. I just dont know where they got the time and $ to refine their "image" and still kick out 3-5 perfect show bikes. Made me feel like I was doing something wrong.

Regarding the idea that one must build X# of bikes/guitars to be any good at it. I think that is true of most people. But at a show like NAHBS we dont see a lot of those people. We see the prodigy. I think with all of the information out there and the access we have, which was different when you were building, facilitates a faster personal growth curve than was ever possible. I also think it is possible to build 50 frames or guitars in your mind, work out problems before they occur, dream of puddling brass and silver. All so that X# gets drawn down a bit. I dont know how many guitars Martin built before he found his stride but I would venture that it was probably more like 2-3??? I say that because I believe he was a genius in his field and probably was a master woodworker prior to getting started and most importantly he may have built 49 in his mind after #1. Another key difference is when Martin and You got involved you had to teach yourself everything in a way that this generation of builders does not. If I dont know what a 'neutral flame' is I can go on YouTube and watch any number of experts explain it and show it. You may have learned it by trial end error or travelling and convincing someone to show you etc. When I wanted to know the rules regarding frame size and top tube length I did an internet search which led me to your site! Everything I needed to know right there in chart form from years and years of experience and careful record keeping. My own experience is that I built #1, rode it tens of thousands of miles over 12 years. Riding thoughtfully. Then I built #2. I sold #3. (I am not a prodigy, these first frames took hundreds of hours to build)

I think that it also depends greatly on ones personal experience. Your friend who is a woodworker already has a working knowledge of miters, copes, hand tools, power tools, jig making, intuitive physics of structure and materials, measuring, spacial orientation, and most importantly a work ethic and the ability to finish a project beyond the 90% mark...to completion.

As a former woodworker I feel that the above qualities allowed me to speed up the process a little. I dont consider myself a master at this point (when I stop making mistakes I will let you know) but my frames are at least 'good'. But Dave, if my frames are 'good' its because I am standing on the shoulders of giants.

Dave, if you are ever in SF and want to build a frame, my shop is your shop.

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhalekai

Great article Dave, and it brings up an interesting philosophical point: at what point does a frame cease being a tool but instead serve as pure eye candy? Hetchins may have have had their ornate lugs and the Italians their chrome but surely American builders have taken gilding the lilly to a whole new level, and not infrequently, in my experience, at the expense of practicality or function.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertonyd
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