Handbuilt Bicycle Guide is your online guide to the world of handbuilt and custom bicycles, components and accessories. The soon-to-launch guide will help consumers navigate the head-spinning variety of choices and builders in the custom bicycle world. Say you want a cyclocross frame made of steel tubing, TIG-welded, and built in (or near) Denver, Colorado. HBG will process these choices and provide you a list of builders who can produce this type of frame, with their geographic proximity plotted on a map.
The Handbuilt Bicycle Guide was the idea of Paul Skilbeck, a veteran cycling journalist and communications expert. The idea came to him in the early years of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS), which hired him as a communications consultant to build the international status of the event.
“Even though I had been a cycling specialist journalist for almost 20 years by then, I found it difficult to research the handbuilt companies. The websites were all very different, they gave very little idea of the frame builder’s intrinsic quality and it took me years to get a handle on the industry as a whole.”
In talks with potential customers for the custom frame builders, Skilbeck found that some were turning to mass-market options for that very reason.
“If I was having difficulty, then imagine what it was like for somebody just entering the high-end bike market?”
Skilbeck, formerly a competitor on the road and international mountain bike circuits, fondly recalls the role of small manufacturers in the development of that industry, as well as the frame builders who made his first racing frames back in the 1970s.
“For me, the small manufacturers are both the heart and the brain of bicycle products. They just need to be found. As long as I’ve been around, I’m still regularly learning about companies for the first time, which have been around for several years and are doing really good things."
The advent of the mass-produced, non-ferrous Asian-made bicycle initially threatened to extinguish the fickle flames of the small custom builders. But concomitant movements toward organic and locally-produced craft beer and produce, and a renewed focus on traditional materials have fueled a renaissance in the handbuilt bicycle industry over the past few years. As shows like NAHBS and the Philly Bike Expo continue to place the spotlight on small companies, some larger, mass-market manufacturers have attempted to inappropriately use the term “handbuilt” to cash in on this renewed interest. This has muddied the term and has created questions about which bikes are authentically handbuilt.
“It’s important to know the person who will be building your bike, to look at some examples of their past work, and to ask questions,” says Skilbeck. “HBG will play a large role in fostering the relationship between customers and builders, and it’s by knowing your builder that the customer can properly determine the authenticity of their work. Builders who post a profile at HBG will be carefully vetted, and we won’t accept advertising from the mass-market manufacturers.”
The goal of HBG is two-fold. One is to make it easy for customers to more easily find the right frame builder, or the components they’ve been looking for. The other is to help the small businesses in the cycling industry promote themselves collectively as a category.
“I know frame builders say getting them to do things collectively is like herding cats, but heck, a cat’s got to eat doesn’t it?”
HBG aims to put more food on the tables of cycling’s small manufacturers at the same time as making it better for customers.
“The site is paradise for people who like nice bikes and nice cycling products. There are lots of pictures and snippets of useful and interesting information, and owners will be able to post photos and descriptions of their own bikes on the site so others can enjoy the bikes too and maybe even learn some things for a project they’re working on.”