I am a lucky girl. I could have just paid to see the North American Handmade Bicycle Show and been awed by the state of the art of bicycle making in 2010. Instead, I volunteered and was assigned to be a photographer's assistant, allowing me to not only see the show for free, but also spend hours behind the scenes chatting up various fascinating bike- makers from all over the world.
Like everyone else, I was excited that the event was going to be held in rva this year. When I saw the lists of media attending to cover the show, they ranged from the mundane and mainstream, USA Today and the RTD, to Canadian Cycling Magazine, Bike Talk Radio and Fixed Gear Gallery with everything from NPR to Cyclelicious in between.
I was lucky enough to be assisting Brad, the photography half of the team that publishes Urban Velo magazine; I couldn't have chosen a more pleasurable assignment. We spent the afternoon talking bike polo (he plays for Pittsburgh's team, so we both know a couple of the guys on rva's team), the perks of working in publishing and, naturally, bikes. Sometimes it was my job to return bikes to the show, but mostly it was my responsibility to entertain bike- makers when they brought their bikes back to be photographed. It was amazing.
I saw a stylish tandem made by Calfee Design on which the shop had been given carte blanche on the paint job by the customer. Apparently that doesn't happen much and the owner acknowledged going a little crazy with the custom painting; it was just beautiful.
The bamboo bike from Bamboosero out of Santa Cruz was painted by an artist in New Zealand using henna ink. The frame was so smooth, artistic and beautiful as to be sculptural. They use artists from places like Ghana, Uganda, the Philippines and New Zealand to create their one-of-a-kind bikes.
The owner of Dominguez Cycles, from St. Paul, told me it had been an easy winter there; they only had about three feet of snow piled up at home at the moment. I guess everything's relative to what you're used to. He'd brought an unusually colored, but short, red bike that he'd built for his wife. The color was an exquisite shade of lipstick red, not bright or deep. Of course, she had a helmet to match.
The owner of Kirk Frameworks Co. out of Montana told me he began designing and building skateboards as a teen and segued into bike-making. I asked what it was like living in a state like Montana (total population 900,000 people) and he bragged that his city had 30,000, so it was one of the larger ones, which meant it had a symphony, a ballet and other cultural amenities. There'd have to be something, wouldn't there?
The delightful owner of Shamrock Cycles was from Indianapolis and I asked him where the name came from. He said, "I considered Pasta Cycles or Sausage Cycles, but they didn't have the right ring to them." Smart ass. Actually, it was about his name, so we bonded over shared heritage. He was an O'Donnell, as is my mother, and we agreed that there's something lucky about meeting another O'Donnell. He also said that Indianapolis is more of a road bike town than a mountain bike town, so that you know.
Probably my favorite conversation was with Ton of Vittorio Fietsen in Holland. I couldn't resist talking to him about the surprising pictures and videos I've seen of girls riding their bikes in Holland with cute high-heeled shoes and fashionable clothes on; was it really that common? He said it was, but qualified it with, "But they're not the best biking shoes!" He also said that the average person there has three bikes. I asked what he thought of Richmond and with his succinct European sensibility, he summed it up. "Garish hotels and not enough bikers." Amen.
As if all the backstage conversation didn't make my day, strolling the show reminded me what being a female at a male-dominated event can do for the ego. In the middle of a bike discussion, one of the guys from Mosaic Cycles in Boulder looked down at my legs and said, "Awesome tights!" Strolling another aisle, a guy informed me that,"That color is magnificent on you!" referring to the day-glow yellow volunteer t-shirt I had on; maybe it was the contrast with the black I was wearing. I got more flirtatious smiles and greetings from out-of-town bike people than I should have, but I figure they were just looking for someone to show them the town once the show ends for the day at 6.
Which I would be very good at doing and I could practically guarantee that they'd leave with a great impression of what our fair city has to offer beyond the obvious, but I'm already booked. With any luck, they'll discover all rva has to offer on their own.