As this was the second year of the show, I was interested in hearing about how the show had grown in just that short time. Most felt that it was at least twice as large, and the number of frame builders has more than that. The show exhibited some really top-notch work, needless to say, led by local Bristol builders Robin Mather (Best in Show) and Ricky Feather (Best Road). Demon showed up with their big winner from the North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show in California last month (co-Best Road Bike!), and artists like Paul Villiers and the boys from Paulus-Quiros made you know that British bicycle building skills are ascendant. I mean, check it out:
The seat stay detail from a Paulus Quiros roadster.
Manic lugwork from Paul Villiers on his randonneur frame.
Mercian bottom bracket detail. Buttah.
Yet, in talking to folks in various booths, this is something of a new deal; old school builders like Mercian (wonderfully representing) agreed that between the hayday 50s and 60s, British bike building had gone into a slump during which only the heartiest builders kept on with it. Unlike the U.S., perhaps, there was no great apprentice class learning from the masters, and so the 70s and 80s were rather quiet for British bikes. The new builders are changing that, and nobody was happier about it than the boys from Reynolds tubing! While the NAHBS show offered a flood of action in Reynolds' stainless steel tubing, there were just a coupe of examples on show in Bristol. Reynolds says that this is in part due to the difficulty in working with the material, which may be resolved with the introduction of new 931 stainless; builders at the show were anxiously standing in line for its issue.
There was a retro presence at the show as well, with refinishers like Argos holding a booth, etc., but as Reynolds doesn't sell any new tubes (okay, a couple now and then) to people who buy old bike frames, they're not as enthusiastic about that market. Who can blame them? And a new custom frame is a thing of beauty, but seriously, the biggest difference between new and old world craftsmanship is price: you can buy a new frame from Mercian or the guys above and it will run you many times what an old frame may cost you. They're worth every penny, but if you're in recession mode with a lot of us, or one of those suspects who need many bicycles (oops, that would be me), a garage full of customs is just not an option.
Which brings us back to the Viking Severn Valley.