“Why are you here?” It’s a question that I think every human has pondered at some point during their existence, but it seemed like a fairly heavy conversation opener from our bartender. We looked around at each other. “Umm, what do you mean by here?”
“Look around you, you see all these people? I know all of them; I don’t know you three.” Our new acquaintance scanned us over waiting for our answer. “Strangers are never in town on the weekends, they do their business during the middle of the week, and then they go home.”
“Ohhhh, you mean why are we in Hartford!” Relieved that we didn’t have to try and understand our purpose on earth over fried rice and dumplings, we began the small talk that changes strangers to acquaintances.
We tried to barter for the large ceramic lucky cat over the bar with little progress. In return, our new friend showed us a video of a black bear prowling around her property. “Look at how healthy he is!” she exclaimed. We agreed, the bear was very healthy and large.
We finally came to terms with the fact that we were in Hartford for the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. Honestly, why else would we come to Connecticut in the middle of February? Yes, on paper Hartford is a sleepy town. The business district empties like a stampede at the end of the workday, but when this contingent of the bike industry gathers it can change any dark watering hole into a festival. Rumors of three-story dance clubs, all night games of darts, and the occasional overindulgence of frothy beverages were topics discussed perhaps more than bottom bracket standards around the show floor.
A snowstorm showed up Saturday evening turning the whole city into a winter playground. We heard tales of a snowball battle involving some 60 people. Trench warfare fractured into guerilla tactics as the packable wet snow could cover some distance. The squeal of discs brakes and the hoots of happy riders sliding sideways in the snow could be heard around the corners. A drunken wheelie contest broke out here and there though everyone escaped unharmed.
As for the show itself, Saturday was jam-packed with people. A legendary game or two of Jenga went down under the guidance of Evan and Dunk at the Rotating Mass Media Booth (that’s us!), and yes there were bikes. Like lots of bikes, and they were beautiful, well a fair amount of them were. It wouldn’t be fair to single out builders because bikes are like ice cream, everyone has their own favorite flavors. I did take note that certain booths were more hopping than others. The folks at Squid Bikes seemed to be having a party at all points of the day and the man known as Poppi or Ultraromance or Benedict and his new Sklar touring Stallion seemed to attract quite the crowd as well.
There were legends of the craft, there were awards handed out, and there were lots of good times had. NAHBS is as much more of a celebration of the bicycle than it is the wheeling and dealing of the bike industry at large. Sure, some orders probably got placed with individual builders, but the orders were placed with love. I have found my people.
The North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) is coming up next weekend, March 10-12. We’ve been taking a look at some of the new up-and-coming builders that will be at the event this year in a series of preview articles. In Part 1, we saw bikes from Australia and Russia, and in Part 2, we learned about the students of the Cal Poly Frame Builders club. In this NAHBS preview edition, we focus on a couple of the builders who are local to the Salt Lake City area, home of this years show.
Salt Air Cycles, based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, was founded in 2014 by Matthew Nelson. His background is in architecture, but he caught the framebuilding bug about 7 years ago as an avid mountain biker and bike commuter. In 2011, he took a course at the United Bicycle Institute (UBI), and walked away with his first creation, a fillet-brazed steel cyclocross frame, and the motivation to build more.
While becoming involved in the local racing scene, he honed his framebuilding craft, producing handmade bikes for his friends and family. He was still working full-time as an architect when he started Salt Air Cycles, but his brand quickly gained a small, loyal following. Soon after, he was able to leave his architecture job and pursue framebuilding full-time. He also sponsored a local cyclocross team that rides his lugged steel bikes.
Nelson builds almost any type of bike, except tandems and full suspension. “I take a lot of pride in being a versatile builder. As long as it’s steel, I’ll make it,” he says. Most of the bikes he currently makes are fillet-brazed, while the remainder are lugged construction. They’re “new world bikes, made the traditional way,” each cut by a saw and file, and assembled with a torch. He puts a lot of attention and detail into each frame, so that when it leaves his shop, it not only meets his standards, but also every expectation of the customer.
“My favorite bike is whichever one I happen to be working on in the present,” says Nelson. “Thus far, it’s been an incredible ride, with enough inspiration and gratification to fuel further growth of the brand.”
Until 2013, Ken “KC” Cerreta was enlisted in the United States Air Force as an aircraft machinist and welder for nine years. In 2013, he transitioned from the enlisted corps to the officer corps and is now a program manager who leads large scale Air Force acquisitions and manages development projects. It didn’t take long before he missed working with his hands. An avid cyclist, KC began his start as a frame builder in 2014 after he attended the North American Handmade Bicycle Show as a spectator. Having a background in machining and welding he researched what it would take to build a bicycle frame and by the end of 2014, his first frame was complete.
Now a Captain in the Air Force currently working on the F-16 aircraft and sole owner of Cerreta Cycles, KC continues to build wherever he is stationed, which is currently at Hill Air Force Base, just north of Salt Lake City. He specializes in fillet brazed steel frames and hopes to grow Cerreta Cycles to the point where it can become a full time profession.
“One aspect of why I feel builds distinguish myself from other builders is the attention to detail each frame receives,” says KC. “With a history of fabricating aircraft parts where the tolerances are very small, my frames are looked at the same way. To me, there is no room for error and that is how I approach each build.”
If you’re headed to NAHBS, be sure to stop by the New Builders Tables and give these guys some love. Also be sure to check out the rest of our NAHBS preview content, or take a look back in time to our coverage of the event from previous years.Tweet Print