What it’s like to be a judge at NAHBS

We were somewhere over Iowa when the bourbon kicked in. Dammit, AAmerican, is Jack Daniels the best you’ve got? Wait, that’s not even bourbon. I’ll assume Louaville has better. But then I started to see the patterns on the ground as the sun set over the vast midwest. Is it just the whiskey or is something else kicking in?


Loueeeville here I come. Bikes and good Kentucky bourbon. After a good nights rest I managed to negotiate my borrowed Tern folding bike over the frozen, rutted trail to the convention center. It would have flown completely free but my “Silver” status with what used to be my airline had been removed. Still, the Tern flew in the samsonite for a mere $25.


Wandering in, I found myself drawn magneticly and immediately to the judging area. I had judged before, enjoying the company of people like Patrick Brady, Nick Legan, and Jeff Archer, No one had asked me to judge in advance, this year or any other, but I stopped by to say hi and see what was up. It’s a TRAP!


“Wanna help with the mountain bike judging?” Patrick says, as he reeeeels in another fish in the name of Maurice J Tierney. Ummm, ahhhh, ok.  Trapped. I had promised myself not to get involved, yet another addiction kicks in and I start going off right away, injecting what I can into the proceedings.


Thing is, I really like to get into people’s heads sometimes. Only days earlier I had volunteered to review my friend Zo’s photographic portfolio. I got me a four-year degree in fine art photography and if there’s one thing I learned it is how to expose the weakness in a batch of photos and bring out the best of the bunch. This talent is useful for bikes as well.

So How does one judge a bicycle show? I already have enough people mad at me for speaking my mind-truth in public. Maybe it is the bourbon, or maybe I just don’t give a shit. Or maybe it’s just the battle to keep it real.


So let me share a bit of my personal criteria, which should not to be cornfused with anyone else’s idea of judging, or any actual written rule book. First of all, builders, you’ve got to have your craft down. No mistakes. Perfect construction, paint and build. Then you can pursue the art of the handcrafted bicycle. So unless you’re in a bare-frame category you better bring a complete bike.


If the pedals are missing that is one thing but everything else better be there. And make sure the pedals are all the way screwed in and the headset is not loose or you will see me motioning with a neck-slicing hand across the throat indicating you are out of the running (No you don’t get a pass for bad weather). You’re product better be tight. One really amazing favorite builder lost points for a missing cable. Although the bike’s owner never bothered with it, I felt it needed to be there for show purposes to complete the deal.

After all that weeded out I get to look at the art. What has the builder done to rise above and really create something I’ve never seen before? Some judges are more interested in the bike they’d like to take home and ride. My winner needs to be that and more. There’s where I find my winner.


Bottom line? One guy in the aisle stated that you can’t judge personal preference. True, it is a beauty contest. But I can assure you of one thing, we judges work real hard to honor the best of the best, and they deserve it.

2015 NAHBS award winners

  • Best TIG-welded frame: Eriksen Cycles (Honorable Mention: Holland Cycles)
  • Best Cyclocross bike: No. 22
  • Best Mountain bike: Retrotec Fat Bike (Honorable Mentions: Mooman and Funk)
  • Best Road bike: Repete
  • Best Tandem: Black Sheep
  • Best City bike: Brodie
  • Best Experimental bike: Sycip
  • Best Finish: Shamrock Cycles (Honorable Mention: Peacock Groove)
  • Best Artisan: Cykelmageren
  • Best Lugs: DiNucci
  • Best Carbon Lay-up: Alchemy
  • Best Campagnolo equipped bike: Sarto
  • People’s Choice: Mars Cycles
  • Best New Builder: Love Baum
  • President’s Choice: Ron Sutphin
  • Best in Show: Groovy Cycleworks
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