IRL Events for Custom Bikes and the People Who Love Them

NAHBS is dead, and a number of fresher, brighter, more inclusive shows and gatherings are filling the void left in its wake. I love these events, but I don’t love standing around in a hall talking bikes – that’s why my favorite part is always the post-show group ride. That’s when we all get to actually ride bikes together!

A couple weekends back, Carlos from BikeMonkey (a race/events producer) invited a bunch of local bike makers to a pizza party in his backyard in downtown Santa Rosa, CA. We gathered to discuss the potential for turning our long-running local mountain bike race at Skyline Park in Napa into a showcase for custom bikes, the people who ride them, and the folks who make them.

Picture a weekend-long campout, with a big XC race in the middle and multiple ride options for folks who’d prefer to chill or ride road/grav/bmx/etc. I think Grinduro was immensely successful at this format – this would be an even more grassroots version of that, with a focus on cross country mountain biking rather than gravel.

Here’s what I’d love to hear from you: what would YOU like to see from an event like this? What would entice you to travel to Napa, California for a weekend in May? If you’re a commercial frame builder, do you think that IRL events like these would be a draw for your customers?


I love this idea! I’m a big fan of race events that aren’t really race events and bike shows that aren’t really bike shows. I think Hope Cyclery’s Higher Ground event last year ended up being a bit of that - lots of folks on custom/bespoke/small-batch bikes and good camaraderie all around. Not so many builders, but the Crust folks were there which was fun to see!

What I’d love to see:

  • Low barrier to entry - it doesn’t have to be “builders get in free” but it would great to remove as many financial barriers as possible. Even a show like PBE is pretty prohibitive for a new builder starting off.
  • Specific “show” and “ride” times - it’d suck to have to choose between standing at a booth and racing/riding.
  • Social-paced rides - I love endurance cycling but it’s not a great place to make friends. Would be neat to see some specific events that are open to folks of all abilities/paces.
  • Demo fleet - For the builders that can afford it, it would be rad to normalize having demo bikes to try out. As far as I know, this doesn’t really exist outside of visiting folks’ shops. Ideal would be to have some industry sponsors to shell out $ for equipping the demo bikes.

I personally wouldn’t make it out to Napa - just too far to travel from the rust belt - but it seems like a great time/location. May might be a touch late in the year to unveil a new product for the summer season, but definitely better than fall/winter imo.

As far as drawing in customers, I think that would depend on a lot of factors. From most folks I’ve talked to, attending NAHBS or PBE rarely result in a direct conversion of sales. It’s a great place for folks to enter the “marketing funnel,” but almost no one is buying bikes or placing pre-orders off the show floor. I could see that builders having demo frames could instill a lot more buyer confidence and help drive direct sales and “impulse purchases.”

Were I to attend, I would see the most value in being able to ride the bikes of other builders and have fun building community together. Talking online and sharing photos is great, but being able to do back-to-back laps with different bikes is an incomparable asset to R&D.


Would definitely be into something in Napa. I’m not far away in Sacramento.


I’m on the east coast. I love PBE ( 3 hours away) and the now retired builders ball.
I think something in the central USA would be good so it’s equal travel for left and right coast. Just need good MTB and gravel for the builders and spectators.
Needs to be relaxed for the builders but the people spectating can get their fix.


Great feedback here, thanks so much Eva – that last point in particular stands out to me. I completely agree that there’s great R&D value in actually trying out and riding each other’s creations.

In regards to “drawing in customers”: I meant to ask what would be enticing for your existing customers to join you at the event. Like an owner’s club experience, or something along those lines.

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@Rufgo thanks for bringing this up! I was honored to be invited to this BBQ, but I was moving that weekend haha! I sent Carlos a follow-up on my idea (see below), still waiting to hear back.

Agreed. I love those shows and think they are important, but in my opinion, the in-person shows are take a big financial, time, and energy commitment.

Ideas: Retro-modern MTB Framebuilding Competition

This idea is not specific to any event. In fact, I was hoping that we this forum to get together and create our own events!

  • Host a themed framebuilding competition
    • Themes can rotate every year: retro modern, lugged, urban, gravel, futuristic
    • to be clear, even though its a competition, its mean to be fun
  • Multiple event + judged competition:
    • Race
    • Fun race
    • Judge’s choice
    • People’s choice
  • Hire a professional photographer
  • Invite a media member to cover the event
    • imo, this is the biggest reach for a small builder
  • Have a stock build kit
    • build kit is low cost to include more builders and “level the playing field”
    • extra points for recycled and used parts
    • industry sponsors to donate or subsidize parts (simworks, velo orange, shimano/sram?)

Some problems I am still trying to find solutions for:

  • how to make it a sustainable event?
  • how to fund it?
    • maybe we tack onto another event?
    • industry sponsors?
  • how to unite the east and west coast?
    • rotate between east and west?
    • host in midwest?

Bentonville Arkansas seems like the up and coming place for cycling. They are doing a lot to promote cycling.
I think the YouTube knife challenges are cool. A builder calls out other builders for a knife challenge and the builders build and users vote on the winner

Let’s build a retro early 90s bike with neon splatter pair. Go!

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If you want lots of vintage and weird bikes and a friendly vibe the pearl pass tour might be your jam.

Not easy to get to for anyone, really, though. And probably not great for selling anyone a bike.


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I’d definitely go to a show/ride/event in Napa, as it’s only a few hours south of me. I’d be mostly looking to spread awareness of my brand rather than bring existing customers, as I have pretty few of those so far - but I could probably entice some of them to go to an event like this. Can’t say I have any real suggestions for what I’d like out of an event like this, but I am very much in favor of it and would be willing to help make it happen.


As an attendee I’d like to see and feel welcome, not just an 500 euro booth sponsor, floor filler.
An event where there is interaction between visitors and participants with rides, and camping etc. Sounds like fun


In addition to hypothetical events and others in various formative stages, I hope this thread is also the place to talk about events that are really happening. I am pretty hyped about the new show Made that’s happening in Portland, OR in August. It is inclusive by design, offering a free basic (one bike) space to all builders and BikeFlights is offering discounted rates for exhibitors. But that’s August. I’d really like to attend something earlier in the year. What events are folks going to and excited about?


I’m always down for an excuse to hang out with like-minded folks and nerd out.
Of course, my geographical location makes that difficult being in the south-east. We’re fairly spread out down here. Although as big of a mecca WNC is for mountain biking, I’ve only ever heard of a couple of builders in this area. Pretty sure they’re retired now from what I remember.
Even PBE is roughly 10 hours away for me. The west coast is of course slightly farther. Haha

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Maybe we can host an annual event-agnostic builder/show competition that tacks onto existing cycling events:

  • Made (North West)
  • Grinduro (West)
  • Sedona/Prescot/Tuscon (southwest)
  • Pisgha (South East)
  • Colorado (Midwest)
  • Grinduro (Northeast)

That could be a cool way to unite the community: build cool bikes, travel the country, meet new friends, and ride different trails/roads.

I really liked this builder event/race/competition in France:

I forget how big north America is compared to Europe. Maybe we could have an online competition?


@Daniel_Y The Councours de Machines event in France is definitely on my bucket list for events to attend.

Following in that pattern, the 2011 Oregon Manifest was a unique and very interesting event that I’d like to see come back. Would anyone be interested in something like this?


Oregon Manifest is a great suggestion. Does anyone know more history behind it?

  • Who hosted it?
  • What happened to it?
  • How many years was it hosted? (I only found 2011 and 2014)
  • What lead to it’s demise?

A few references:

It’s not too late to pitch this to MADE!

Back to @RufGo’s original post. Seems like there is a lot of interest in events that you don’t stand around and talk to strangers all day. Regarding an event in Napa, I made a list of active norcal builders and got ~12, so if half show up, you would probably have a successful event.

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The Oregon Manifest was just before my time and it looked like a really fun event. Or those UK builders who did that klunker thing a few years back? Something more focused sounds neat.


I believe Jocelyn Sycip (Jay’s wife) organized the Oregon Manifest. I’ll ask her.

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Hey! I participated in all 3 Oregon Manifest (08,11,14) events and know a bit about it.

It was organized by Shannon Holt and Jocelyn Sycip, who both put a ton of energy into the event.
The last iteration in 2014 was also called The Bike Design Project and was limited to just 5 teams, PDX, SF, SEA, CHI, NYC, each builder in collaboration with an industrial design firm.

Without speaking for her, Shannon told me that she felt that her mission was complete after the last edition. At that point, we still expected the winning bike to be put into production, which is a story for another day.

All that aside, an annual theme’d buildoff seems like a fantastic idea.

Is there a decentralized grassroots version of this event that could be held in several regional locations simultaneously? Hosted by local shops?


Don’t forget the New England builders ball.

Looks like it back in the spring 2023.

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Jocelyn hit me back with this info:

OM was started in 2006 or 07 after Don Walker refused to bring NAHBS back to Portland. The city wanted a marquee bike industry event to encourage more bike industry businesses to relocate and also to claim title as most bike-friendly city in the US. Builders like SyCip, Rock Lobster, Retrotec, etc were invited up to Portland for that one. It was originally very Portland focused. I was hired in 2009 as the ED and ran it until 2016 w a big goal to make the event broader and more inclusive. We produced three events during that time - a six week series of events in 2009 w a custom framebuilder design challenge that became the main focus in subsequent years - 2011 and 2014. It was a beast to produce and fund.