NAHBS 2015, Part IV

NAHBS 2015, Part IV

My initial post on the category award winners was unfortunately brief due to other demands on my time while serving as Chief Judge for the awards. It’s hard to have two jobs and one day. Now that the crush of the show is over and I’m back home I can go into some detail on what made each of the award-winning bikes just that.

IMG_9687Kent Eriksen Cycles has received an award for either best TIG welding or best titanium construction for each of the last four shows. We saw stellar work from Quiring, Moonmen, Steve Potts and Kish; indeed the overall quality of TIG welding was stellar. However, Brad Bingham’s work has few peers. There are few welders who can go toe-to-toe with this craftsman; Seven Cycles’ Tim Delaney is one of the only people I know of who could give him a run for his money.

IMG_9688In addition to asking that all entries be unpainted, we’ve also asked that the frames not be bead-blasted or have any other surface treatment that can hide issues with the welds. Eriksen is the only manufacturer to deliver frames with minimal cleanup and the fact that they can do this and demonstrate such a tiny heat-affected zone definitely helps in our consideration.

IMG_9690This weld is a perfect example if the incredible consistency and fast work that Bingham does. What I find even more amazing is that he can do this in tight quarters.

IMG_9689What makes the difference between winning this category and being an also-ran can come down to doing clean work at the bottom bracket and chainstay bridge.

IMG_9698No. 22, you may recall, is the phoenix that rose from the ashes of Serotta. This team worked on Serotta’s welded frames. When people have remarked, “Oh, it’s great to see all those guys are still working!” I’ve had to point out that Serotta’s builders who worked on the lugged frames have yet to find new employment, to my knowledge.

IMG_9699The Broken Arrow was No. 22’s entry in best cyclocross bike. Like last year, this category was arguably the most difficult to judge because so many of the entrants were so well considered. IMG_9701At minimum, each of the entrants had to show incredible construction, and the Broken Arrow help set the bar high in that regard. The welds were among the best we saw in this category.

IMG_9700Entrants in the cyclocross category covered a broad range of styles, from single-speed to all-road usage to pure race machines. Any of those styles could have won; we didn’t have any bias for one style over another. That said, any choice that could sacrifice performance in a race situation, such as running cables down the down tube or under the top tube, did cause us to ding the bike. Among the many features we appreciated in No. 22’s Broken arrow was that you’d be able to shoulder the bike comfortably.

IMG_9702Other things that make a difference for us are elements like replaceable threaded inserts for the disc brake mount and the use of through-axles.

IMG_9714The Retrotec fat bike that won for best mountain bike was less interesting for the fact that it was a fat bike than the workmanship in it. The way Curtis Inglis capped the fork blades was both beautiful and unusual.

IMG_9715For a rider who lives in a place with a real winter, the front rack increased the bike’s appeal and usability. While I have my doubts about the notion of a fat bike daily driver, I suspect that there are riders in the great white north who would put this to use for more than just recreation.

IMG_9716Curved tubing was as common as disc brakes on road bikes. Some was done well, but there’s more to curved tubing than just making sure it isn’t kinked. The Retrotec had a sense of proportion that other fat bikes have lacked and the sweep upward of the seatstays and top tube from the dropouts to the head tube was a curve that recalls the golden mean.

IMG_9725The builders behind Repete are from the Czech Republic. I heard some criticisms that they didn’t talk to many people, but in their defense, I heard them speak very little English; they deserve to be praised just for making the trip to the U.S. The road bike that won had a level of attention to detail that culminated in a look that was so perfect, so total, it recalled some of the bikes I’ve seen Tony Bustamante at Velosmith build. The predominantly flat black bike sported a trio of glossy stripes on the fork and chainstays that recalled the three bars in the “E” of Repete. Theme and variation.

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Complementing the black were occasional splashes of a chrome-like paint. They appeared on the inside of the chainstays, the inside of the fork blades and on the 3T bar. That they painted the bar and the stem is indicative of the length they went to in their pursuit of a bike that wasn’t just a collection of parts but a singular creation. We all agreed that even the parts pick was so perfect that even the nitpickers wouldn’t be able to find a single detail to criticize.
IMG_9727We liked that rather than just painting over all the parts wholesale, they recast the branding according to the bike’s paint scheme.

IMG_9737The Black Sheep tandem had a truly ridiculous amount of workmanship invested in it. The fork took an unusual approach to a springer design in that it used only titanium and included no pivots. I’d have had some reservations about using titanium in a tandem fork, but the through-axle will prevent the wheel from twisting out of plane.

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This is one of my favorite head tube badges out there. It’s not reason enough to give an award, but it is indicative of the level of care and craftsmanship that went into the rest of the bike. IMG_9739

It’s rare that you run across a stoker stem that matches the frame. An adjustable ti stem made for a more cohesive look to the bike. IMG_9740

This was a travel tandem and used these jointed connectors as well as S&S couplers. In-line welding of couplers and other joints is often what kills an entry’s chances. I’ve seen more ugly welds on travel bikes than I care to count. IMG_9742

Shimano’s new e-bike system called STePS will help bring first-rate e-bike technology to lower price points, though custom bikes like this mountain bike from SyCip Cycles won’t be confused with price point offerings. SyCip built a bash guard around the motor to protect it in the event he dumped the bike. IMG_9743

The STePS battery is big and impossible to disguise; even so, SyCip’s built was straightforward.
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Adding a rack to an e-bike isn’t exactly experimental and I can see how some observers might question the outcome. The challenge was that none of this year’s collection of entrants was particularly experimental. The question to me, as a judge, is less why this bike won than the overall value of the category.

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2 comments

  1. Tman

    Wow, from the picatures there looks like some serious gappage of the miters and undercutting of the welds on that Erikson frame. Yes, I know pictures can be mis-leading.

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