New England Bicycle Expo!

Last weekend we visited the New England Bicycle Expo - held right here in Somerville, MA. We weren't sure what to expect: Would it be a handmade bicycle show? or a trade show of larger manufacturers? Turns out, it was a bit of everything: a mix of local framebuilders, artisans, manufacturers, and various cycling-related organisations. The show was relatively small and had a "country fair" feel to it - which was pleasant and personable.

The Expo was held at the Armory - an old military structure, refashioned into a community arts center.  I did not have the right lens on my camera to photograph the entire building, but you can see it here. The Armory basically looks like a cartoon castle, and I always get excited upon seeing it in what is otherwise a normal, residential neighbourhood. It's just so unexpected: House, house, house...castle!

Booths were set up pretty much all over the place, making use of the interior's pre-existing structures. Some areas were well-lit, while others were cavernous, which created interesting contrasts and a sense of mystery, but made it all darn difficult to photograph.

Some exibitors set up their spaces inside tents, which contributed to the country fair vibe. Wandering around the tents, I found myself craving a corndog on a stick. Ciclismo Classico had a large information tent.

Geekhouse booth - shaped like an actual house, with an actual geek in it. Those guys do not disappoint.

Royal H. Cycles took the stage - literally. There is a stage in the Armory, and that's where he set up. Naturally, the crowd kept expecting a performance.

Instead, they got to look at Bryan's beautiful bikes, including the Randonneur we are collaborating on.

Those curious about framebuilding got to see a frame in progress, with filing marks visible and flux still caked onto it.

Icarus shared the stage, the delicate details stunning anyone who examined the flawlessly fillet-brazed frames.

The finishing on Icarus frames is just amazing.

Tiny stainless steel feather details in unexpected locations on the frame and fork are his trademarks.

Folk Engineered displayed a very memorable bicycle that was designed to look like it was stitched together.

Like this!

The seams are not painted on; this is a fully tactile experience. And I believe that's a rendering of New Jersey on the seat tube.

ANT had some new mixte basket-bikes built up, with lots of nice custom touches. A few of us rode one of the bikes and I will write about that at some point in the future.

An aerial view of "ANT Bike Mike" (the framebuilder Mike Flanigan), looking very cool in his shades and cap.

And another local framebuilding legend, Christopher Igleheart.

I was impressed with the Igleheart bicycles we saw on display - in particular this unique Randonneur, built especially for Paris-Brest-Paris.

Notice anything unusual here? Hint: Look at the handlebars. There are two sets of shifters, enabling the cyclist to shift both while on the hoods and in the drops, without changing hand positions. You would think such a set-up would be clunky, but here it is executed so elegantly, that nothing even seems out of the ordinary until you look closely.

Two sets of shifter cables, neatly routed.

Another interesting feature this bicycle had was this button built into the stem. It's a switch for regulating the headlight beam. I want!

More Igleheart work. How about these dropouts!

Dynamic chainless bikes were giving presentations.

These bicycles use shaft drives and have enormously wide bottom brackets. People were test-riding them outside, but we didn't have a chance to.

Alongside the framebuilders and bicycle manufacturers were makers of cycling accessories. I really liked the Alchemist wool jerseys.

2nd Suit cycling caps were on display, made of thrifted garments.

I found the colour and textural combinations they used appealing.

Very popular at the Expo was this belle of bicycle helmets. Belle helmets are handpainted in acrylic, with the coolest motifs. Although you may have noticed that I neither promote nor wear this particular accessory, I can't help but want to promote a fellow artist.

There is one painted like an apple. An apple!

An apple(!!) The ridiculously realistic rendering is just awesome. It makes me imagine some giant accidentally biting off a cyclist's head.

Speaking of edibles, Zipcar was at the expo, giving away mints. I reviewed my experience with Zipcar here earlier.

And a cafe was set up by the entrance, selling coffee and surprisingly healthy food.

Lots of people brought their own interesting bikes to the show as well.

Owners of the above Bullitt- Brian P. of Bummels and Jaunts, with family.

Interesting wooden trailer, belonging to another family.

Vintage cruiser advertising a gas and oil company.

And a true piece of history - an 1895 Eagle with curved seat tube.

Wooden grips and spoon brake. There are many more picture of this bicycle here, if you're curious; it's really something.

Expo organiser, Rob Hill. This was a great event he put together, and I hope it continues for years to come.

If I have to assess how the expo turned out, I would describe it as small, friendly and low-key. The upside of that, is that the atmosphere was comfortable, open and inviting. The downside, is that it was perhaps too small and low-key for what the name of the event suggested. Frankly, I think the expo could have been promoted more extensively, and could have benefited from more media coverage. Boston has a huge cycling culture, and I saw only a small fraction of it reflected among the attendees. Many people I told about it locally simply did not know it was happening, but would have loved to go. Perhaps that is something to consider for next year - and I hope very much that there will be a next year! This was an exciting and promising beginning that I would love to see become a local tradition.

Additional images of the New England Bicycle Expo can be viewed here. There are more coming, and they will be added to the same location.


  1. Please tell me you intentionally posted a photo of someone giving you bunny ears.

  2. Bunny ears?.. No-no. Those came with the cycling cap.

  3. It's a shame you didn't get to try the shaft drive. I can see the benefits but they are supposed to be a fair bit less efficient due to the direction of rotation being transformed twice (I'm not expert on forces and motion though). I imagine that to deal with the kind of low RPM torque a human leg can put out, the mechanism would have to be pretty robust too, meaning either heavy or expensive materials.

    It is still a fascinating concept though, and it would open up the possibility of incorporating the gearing into the main shaft in the style of a hub gear, making swapping out and changing the range/number of gears independent from the wheel itself, whilst retaining the benefits of internal gearing.

  4. Great photos. I hope events like this crop up closer to me before too long. My three-year-old son was sitting on my lap while I looked at the photos. When we got to the photo of the randonneur in progress, he said "Oh no- Poor bike!" I had to assure him the bike was just fine, only not finished. : ) Looks beautiful, btw!

  5. I dropped in on NEBE on Sunday afternoon, while running errands and agree that it was a relatively quiet, low key affair. I thought it was just because I arrived after a bunch of people left for one of the scheduled rides, but folks confirmed that it had been rather mellow throughout the weekend.

    I agree that it could've done with a lot more coverage and advance notice. I didn't know about it until the Wednesday before, when I just happened to see a note for it on BostonBiker or the MassBike Bike Month event calendar.

    still, I observed with Mike that it was a nice change of pace compared to the annual Redbones Massbike party. The Redbones thing is crazy crowded, and unless you arrive early, it's nearly impossible to get in and talk to anyone. Usually one can spend a little more time with exhibitors after the raffle is done, but by then it's getting late and everyone wants to get home. Something like this, that's a whole weekend and gives you an opportunity to sit and chat and not feel rushed is great.

    Hope that fellow keeps it up for the next year. It's a welcome addition to "The Scene"

    oh, and, yeah, I loved the Belle bike helmets. I am not a huge fan of the skateboarder helmet form factor, but the concepts were way cool.

  6. Whoa, I would just do some kind of clear-coat over that randonneur and leave it as is. Soooo gorgeous in its raw-ish state.

    Looks like fun! I love that bike shows that friendly to amateurs are cropping up.

  7. I love those helmets! I want one. Being so well done and such, they probably cost more than I can afford at the moment.

    This sounds like a fun event. Wish there was something like this in the Chicago area.

  8. Lots of fun things to see.

    Who ever thought we'd spy Velouria as an applehead?

    The Randonneur project looks very promising- it's already attractive in it's far-from-finished state.

    Corey K

  9. Wow, that Folk Engineered is cool looking! I didn't know there were any indy builders so close to home for me. Your post inspired me to check out their site, and also to buy a lottery ticket, in the hopes of being able to order one of their bikes ;-)
    I was thinking of a Rivendell as my "someday" bike, but now... hmmm a Folk Marsupial is really appealing (if for nothing else than the fun name).

  10. God, I love living in Somerville! Where else is there such a strong concentration of bike culture, not necessarily from an infrastructure point of view, but from the "bottom up" perspective of frame builders with unique styles, and cyclists from so many walks (rides) of life! So many cool bikes there, not just on display, but ones ridden there by show goers.

    I was disappointed that the organized rides got canceled (through no one's fault but Mother Nature!). For those who weren't aware, there was supposed to be a local tour of Somerville frame builders' shops, and later on, a ride to Lexington to hear David Herlihy talk about his book The Lost Cyclist. The latter was rescheduled for June, but I really wanted to tour all the local frame biulders! :-(

  11. neighbourtease - It's funny, because all frames look good raw, especially with cream tires! I've had the same "leave it" thought about almost every in-progress frame I've seen. But I think the lugs on this one are so delicately intricate that they deserve paint. I already have a colour scheme in mind that will set them off...

    Matt - the Marsupial was there too, but it as too backlit to photograph!

  12. Cris - I was there for a good part of the day on Saturday, too bad I missed you.

    I've never been able to go to Redbones due to a conflicting schedule, but I don't quite get what it is. Do you think it's redundant with the NEBE?

  13. I went to the Redbones bike party last year (briefly), and it was different-- it consisted of about a dozen small tents with various organizations represented, and only a couple of frame builders (ANT and Geekhouse were there... not sure if any others?). There was a live band and of course, lots of red meat and beer! But aside from the raffle to win an ANT basket bike (so generous of ANT!), there were no organized events, talks or discussions, at least that I was aware of.

  14. oh, I was on the road for most of Saturday, pre-riding the Boston 400k. On Sunday, it was a hard-thought choice between NEBE and the Steampunk festival in Waltham, but in the end, my legs were fine with a recovery spin over to the Armory and Davis Square ... less fine with ambling around and standing for hours at concerts.

    The Redbones party is a Massbike fundraiser, so you show up, pay a small entry fee that gets you a ticket for food and beer and you can purchase raffle tickets for sponsor prizes. The sponsors set up tents where you can hang out and chat. My first conversations ever with ANT and IF were at sponsor tents at the Redbones party. It's in the alley outside of Redbones so it gets crowded fairly quickly.

    I would say that NEBE and RedBones might have overlap with sponsors, but I wouldn't call them redundant. Redbones is a four hour party that raises funds for state cycling advocacy. NEBE is a weekend long exhibition without any particular political agenda.

  15. This looks like so much fun! And such a great showing from high-quality of vendors. You do look quite fetching with an apple on your head.

  16. Regarding that push-button light switch:
    Velouria, in order to make it happen you will have to overcome your aversion to threadless headsets.
    Thanks for the great writeup of a cool bike show.

  17. You can see some nice pictures of a very elegant shaft-drive 1910 Pierce bicycle here.

  18. frozen prairie - Thanks, that is very cool and yes, much more elegant than the contraption we saw!

    Ah, I understand now about RedBones; didn't realise it's a MassBike fundraiser. Wish I could magically transport myself back in time to the one where ANT gave away the slate-gray loopframe basket bike!

  19. Thanks for the details. I showed up for a few hours on Sunday. It was mellow. I do hope that there is another one next year. Unfortunately, I only knew about this one because I'd been going to Armory for the Somerville Winter Farmers Market and had seen a posting on a calendar.
    I do wish that they had had some music playing to fill the space. I think the bands were playing in another location and I did not have time to check them out but I don't know if the bands would want to be "background" music.
    Lighting is also difficult in that space. Lots of windows at the upper level and it still can feel a bit cave-like.
    My favorite bike was the orange ANT basket bike. Close second was the Stitch City, for creativity. It was great to see other hand-made goods. I ended up buying a brown tweed/illuminati scarf from Vespertine, mostly because her mother was wearing one. She also had some wonderful disco-inspired safety vests that would never make an appearance on a construction site.

  20. Anon - The orange basket bike was the one we rode. Will have a test ride report with lots of pictures next week-ish. I agree about the music. I was told the band was playing in the basement, but it felt kind of disjointed to leave the show in order to go listen to them.

  21. What a great venue! I love re-purposed buildings like this. Regional bike shows are a lot of fun. I go to the San Diego one which is really well represented and attended, but the venue isn't anything like this.

  22. It looks like a lot of fun! I recently went to the New Amsterdam Bike Show (NYC) and had a great time, seeing everything, and being with like minded people!

  23. Just call that the "William Tell" helmet.

    I like the concept of shaft drive bikes, the idea of completely enclosed drivetrains appeals to me after too many years of working on gunk-encrusted bikes from horse country ;-) . I'd love to hear more about how they actually perform though.

    A group of engineering students from PA recently designed and built a chainless three-speed bike, which I initially thought was a shaft drive, but it turns out is a completely enclosed belt. It also has a push-button feature that lets you switch from fixed to freewheel on the fly. The prototype is a bit "Buck Rogers" looking, but it's a neat design idea (I believe it's called the Alpha bike).

  24. The "extinct gas and oil company" still exists. I grew up with lots of Sinclair dinosaur gas stations in Iowa and Minnesota, and I still see the famous green dinosaur when I visit some states.

  25. Glad for the Igleheart shout-out. My wife here in Maine just took delivery (in person from Christopher himself, he's an old friend) of a new custom Iglebike 3 weeks ago. She has some fit challenges and so far it seems as if he nailed it perfectly. Christopher does wonderful work and is a great guy! I'd be happy to send photos of my wife's bike if you're interested. Btw, I enjoy your blog and check it daily.

  26. But why a drive shaft? It seems like a gimmick. Sheldon Brown said somewhere (under "chain" I think) that the chain is one of the most efficient ways to transfer force. (to say nothing of your note re Q factor)

    The sign's claim of "low maintenance" reminds me of something I've noticed with bike innovation, -that so often the availability of parts is overlooked by designers. Either they imagine their product becoming wildly successful (and establishing a new standard) or they're simply short sighted and don't see anything beyond the initial sale.

    I think the respected builders you've featured are on to something... bike development is a discourse: pay attention, offer your contribution, and get it right.

  27. David, that's great to hear! Would love to see photos: filigreevelo-at-yahoo

    At the expo, I briefly test rode an Igleheart with the SA 3-speed fixed gear hub and will write about that soon : )

  28. oh cool, I am v intrigued by that SA fixed gear hub.

  29. Anonymous said...
    "The "extinct gas and oil company" still exists."

    Oops. Thanks for pointing it out : )
    Here's info about Sinclair.

  30. Any idea who was selling the Sinclair bike? I think I see a price tag?

  31. neighbourtease -- I rebuilt a Raleigh Supercourse around the SA 3-speed fixed hub last year and have been using that as my primary commuter. It's been a fun wheel to ride with, though my standard descriptor for it is that you shouldn't think of it as a fixed gear with 3 speeds and instead consider it as a 3-speed Sturmey Archer that doesn't let you coast.

    Or in other words, if part of the appeal of a fixed gear is the mechanical simplicity, you might find this eclipsed by the need to maintain, set and occasionally monitor the shifter cable tension; especially if you ever have to take the wheel off for flat repairs or maintenance. Still, aside from that it has a lot of the nice flywheel and cadence benefits of a fixed gear and stands up to elements better than a derailleur bike.

    The range on the hub could also stand to be a little wider. Direct drive\75%\66% is generally fine for having a 'fast' and 'utility' set of gears, but less so if one wants it for say 'flat' and 'steep'.

  32. Mr Colostomy said...
    "It's a shame you didn't get to try the shaft drive."

    I considered it. But frankly, given the limited time I preferred to ride the Igleheart and ANT bikes. The Dynamic bikes just weren't for me, shaft drive aside.

  33. Cris, thank you, that is really helpful and interesting!

  34. That Alchemist wool jersey looks pretty nice!


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