Custom wheels

Bicycle enthusiasts drooled at the display of custom frames and accessories at the Southern Oregon Custom Bicycle Show on Saturday.

Feather-light titanium mountain bikes and ultra-sleek racing bikes handmade by builders in the Rogue Valley and beyond wowed attendees, who also were treated to a live frame-building demonstration and tours of the United Bicycle Institute, which hosted the event.

Custom bikes featuring everything from flashy paint jobs to ergonomic shifters and even bike-powered blenders were on display. Many of the builders were alumni of UBI, which teamed up with the Oregon Bicycle Constructor's Association to give a custom bicycle show a try in the Rogue Valley.

Organizers decided on the date because it coincided with the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb bike race, which took place Sunday, and they knew there would be a lot of cyclists in the area.

The event was the first of its kind in Southern Oregon, but other shows in Portland and the Bay area have enjoyed tremendous success. Even though Southern Oregon has a small population, the number of custom builders in the area is massive.

John Epsteyn of Lake Tahoe, Calif., was particularly impressed. "I've never seen anything like this," he said. "It seems to be the handmade capital of the world."

John Baxter, administrator at UBI, agrees that Southern Oregon is a hotbed for custom builders.

"This area happens to be a really great area for cycling," he said. "We have wonderful mountain biking here and great road riding." UBI was established in Ashland in 1981 and has been offering instruction in bike building for 20 years. Baxter said that cyclists who choose to have a bicycle custom made end up with a unique relationship with the builder and the bike.

"The frame builder takes the body measurements and builds the bike specifically for them," Baxter said. "They can make the bike specifically designed for whatever the cyclist wants "¦ In an era when most of the products we buy are anonymous, you have no idea where or how they were manufactured, there is a really nice human element in this process."

Some custom builders have found ways to adapt bikes to suit their own personal needs, as well as the needs of others.

Stephen Smith of AdaptiveBike, based out of Poulsbo, Wash., showed his specially designed shifter and brake system designed to relieve hand pain for riders with carpal tunnel and arthritis. The shifter allows the wrist to stay in a neutral position, and the strong middle fingers pull up on the brake lever while the thumb stays tucked inside.

"I developed this with the purpose to lower the barriers to physical exercise, so people are not in pain when they are continuing their quality of life," Smith said. "Twenty-eight million people suffer from carpel tunnel and osteoarthritis, and there is no reason why they shouldn't be able to do the things they love without pain."

One builder added new meaning to the term "multi-tasking" by adding a blender to the back of the bike so riders could make a smoothie while riding to work.

Meanwhile, Geoff Houghton of Ashland deftly circled the driveway in front of UBI on a giant unicycle with a grin to match.

He summed up the event perfectly: "It's just a lot of fun."

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