I spent Friday in an area cordoned off near the photo booth with Nick Legan and Jeff Archer giving the prettiest bikes ever to descend on Charlotte, North Carolina, the ferrous equivalent of a physical. No rubber gloves were required, thankfully. The level of work we saw, even on the bikes that didn’t win, was extraordinary. My next few posts will concern award winners and the details we saw in these bikes that made them so special.
This frame from Eriksen won for best TIG welding. The frame arrived after the other frames meant for consideration and we were already into our deliberations and thought we were looking at a winner at the point the Eriksen frame showed up. As the point of the awards are to recognize great work, not how well you follow directions in a great big convention hall where communication isn’t perfect, we were happy to add it to the conversation.
The shot above is a great example for why this bike won. Not only was the weld bead incredibly small, it is consistent even in spaces that must have been murder to reach. That one weld was probably enough to secure the award, but it is important to note that every weld on the frame rose to this level of quality.
In writing the criteria for the submissions to the construction categories (best TIG, fillet, lug and layup), I made clear that we wanted to see naked bikes—no paint. But what I didn’t stipulate was that with titanium frames, shot-peened finishes should be avoided. Every one of the ti frames, save this one, was shot-peened, and that process hides the size of the heat-affected zone. Shot peening isn’t criminal, but we appreciated the level of transparency that Eriksen offered by presenting a frame that was essentially straight out of the jig. The HAZ was tiny and we couldn’t find a single spot where a weld might have been contaminated.
As I understand it, Kent focuses on mitering tubes; he rarely welds himself, and that’s been true for some years. When we arrived to present the award, the first thing he did was call his welder up (whose name I didn’t get in all the excitement; I’ll add it in the comments because he deserves the recognition) and then hand the award to him. And handing the award to someone else decreased his excitement not one whit.
Best layup was a challenge because so many different methods were used to create the submissions. In nearly every case the layup work appeared stellar, but while most of the submissions were complete bikes, Ben Farver at Argonaut Cycles brought this bare frame over. This was significant because it gave us a chance to look inside the frame and see that there weren’t spider webs of resin or foam used as filler at those tight bends in the bottom bracket.
I can say with no reservation that everything I’ve learned from product engineers in the bike industry about what constitutes exemplary construction for a carbon fiber frame was present in the Argonaut frame.
When you consider that Argonaut doesn’t just construct the frame well, but also offers custom sizing, custom geometry and custom layup, the frame nosed ahead of the other entrants. Very few carbon builders are offering this level of customization. Offering all that and presenting a sub-900g frame (for a 56cm frame) is an achievement worthy of note.
We also loved that the unidirectional carbon was wrapped in some locations to add decorative touches, like these darts on the seatstays.
Argonaut machines the top of bottom of the head tube for precise bearing alignment. To make sure that the UD carbon doesn’t fracture or split during the machining, the head tube gets a 3k weave wrap.
The lines of the frame and proportions of the elements please the eye.
I’m not a big fan of seat masts, generally, but when custom layup is a feature of your construction, you can begin to make a compelling case for a seat mast.
We had only one entrant in the fillet category. In my judging criteria, I’d written that if we had fewer than a half-dozen entrants we reserved the right not to present an award. The other judges and I were troubled by the fact that it is hard to have a competition with only one entrant. However, this fat bike presented by David Wages at Ellis Cycles quickly drew us in.
David is no stranger to NAHBS awards and he has distinguished himself among that cadre of builders as fluent in lugs as he is in swoopy brass. And with no other bikes to consider, we spent a bunch of time looking at the bike. Initially we considered that we simply shouldn’t give an award because there was only one entrant, and we, the panel, were disappointed to think that such superlative work might not be recognized.
But then we got over it.
When I think back on the very best fillet bikes I’ve ever seen, only a handful of those have been naked. Of those, this frame was an easy peer. Put another way, this is among the finest fillet frames I’ve seen in my life. Then, when you consider that many of the angles and joints found in this bike are unusual—due to the fact that this is a fat bike—the quality of the work rises just that much more. These aren’t joints he’s done hundreds or thousands of times. Not recognizing this bike for its achievement would have been a tragedy.
Finally, one technical note related to our new design. Thanks to the new site, if you want to see these images on an even greater scale, click on them and you can see these images in their full 1280×853 glory.