Bicycling enthusiasts from all over the U.S. came to the Charlotte Convention Center on Saturday for an event some ranked up there in importance with the Academy Awards.
It was the second day of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show where independent bike builders from around the world showcased their designs and custom builds.
Shoppers stopped to examine intricate wheel mechanisms and run their hands across metal bars like they were testing a champion race horse. They looked at the latest clothing and accessories and talked over biking matters among themselves.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the show has grown from 23 exhibitors and 700 attendees to more than 150 exhibitors and 7,200 attendees. The three-day event, making its first Charlotte stop, wraps up Sunday afternoon.
Show founder and president Don Walker, who lives near Louisville, Ky., said custom bike builders help design their products for specific individuals.
“Like a tailor fits you for a suit they help design what suits your needs,” he said.
He described the show as “high fashion art in the form of bicycles.”
At the Mills Brothers Bicycle Co. booth, David Mills stood beside one of his handmade bicycles and a shirt with the words: “Made in America By a Man in a Shed.”
Mills, 62, lives in a 120-year-old farm house west of Winston-Salem. A farm shed where he makes bicycles was once used for hanging country hams. Now, his tools hang on the rafters.A retired respiratory therapist, he’s been building bicycles since 1998.
Mills suggested entry-level cyclists should buy a bike at a local shop and ride it until the machine wears out. At that point, they may consider a custom-made bicycle. “Then they’ll know what they want,” Mills said.
His bicycles sell for between $900 and $2,000, but people weren’t placing orders at the show, Mills said. Instead, they were shopping around, delaying decisions until a future date.
“A month after the show I’ll start getting emails,” Mills said.
Andre Novotny of the Czech Republic and a partner in a bicycle company named Festka, said exposure at the Charlotte bicycle show “is good for us.”
He saw himself as an artist putting his “heart and soul” into the creation of bicycles that sell for as high as $10,000.
Shoppers wandered around the convention floor, taking their time with exhibitors.
Zach Graham, 30, of Ashburn, Va., had wanted to attend the bicycle show for years at its various sites around the country, “but this was the first time it was close enough to drive to and that I had the time.
“This show is like the Academy Awards,” he said. “It’s got the coolest stuff. And you get to meet all the bicycle builders you see on the Internet.”
Paul Ensogna, 43, of Winchester, Va., welcomed the opportunity to talk with builders he’d connected with online.
Ensogna flew to Charlotte on Friday and planned to spend all day Saturday at the convention center, looking at bicycles and attending lectures.
Vanessa Roth, 39, left Durham by train Saturday morning, bringing her bicycle along. When she arrived at the Charlotte train station she cycled toward the convention center – finding herself in front of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade for a while.
Finally getting to the bicycle show, Roth looked around and said: “It’s like waking up on Christmas morning, only you don’t get to keep everything.”
A dedicated bicyclist, she rides to work on local trails and greenways, and also enjoys long treks, such as a memorable ride from Flagstaff to Tuscon, Ariz.
Roth owns a custom-made bike, but hopes to get another. She came to the Charlotte show to look around.
“It’s great so many small, independent builders are here,” Roth said. “In the future, I’d really like to see more women builders.”