In the construction categories, because we require that entrants be shown as bare frames, we receive fewer submissions than we used to, but it also means that we are better able to see just how good a builder’s work is. There have been a number of frames that have mixed materials over the years, but this year in the fillet brazing category Steve Rex submitted a steel/carbon bike joined by fillet brazing that was lovely as a bride.
The fact that the top tube, seat tube and seatstays were carbon fiber meant that Rex had to work quickly and couldn’t keep the joint heated up all afternoon while he worked to make the fillet even and smooth.
Though not the most popular technique for construction, there are a number of builders who use fillet brazing as their primary technique for joining tubes. Against any of them Rex has proven consistently he is a master. His ability to blend techniques and materials in artful frames, plus deliver new work to customers week-in, week-out is why you see such deep penetration of his work in the Sacramento area.
The other aspect of this frame that as judges we found hugely appealing was that this bike wasn’t a pull-out-the-stops creation, some special bike just for NAHBS. This is a great example of just what Rex does. While ordinary seems an unfair word, it’s fair to say this frame typifies what he delivers to customers.
Ben Farver of Argonaut won for Best Carbon Fiber Layup. Argonaut was part of the group that worked to design the new T47 bottom bracket, which is found in this new frame, along with new compression-molded carbon fiber dropouts. The Layup Category, with amazing entrants from Holland, Appleman and Sarto was the stiffest competition of the construction categories.
The work on this bike was the perfect reminder why paint on a carbon fiber bike can be tragic. This frame has been sanded, no more, not even a matte clear coat.
Argonaut’s new dropouts offer disc as an option as shown with this flat-mount design. Small steel inserts attach to the carbon fiber dropouts to give the axle some purchase and to prevent wear to the dropouts, a really nice touch. The inserts come in two versions as well, for quick release and for through axle.
I thought for sure that this would be the year that someone would dethrone Brad Bingham at Kent Eriksen Cycles as the best TIG welder working in the industry. To his credit, Maxwell Kullaway did get a great run at it, but that’s why when we looked this frame over, we knew that Bingham would continue to reign as the best TIGer around.
In part he gets points just for presenting a frame that isn’t a simple design. With unusual welds for suspension components, we get to see just how consistent and able Bingham’s work is.
And it was in this yoke that we see the full extent of his talent. It also helps that Eriksen is the one builder that follows our complete rules for entry in the TIG category by not bead blasting or otherwise prettying up the welds. This is straight out of the jig. They show their work more thoroughly than any other company. There were competitors marveling to me at how much they respected the work Bingham is doing.
To me, that competitors for your dollars can come together and speak openly of the regard they have for one another’s work, is one of the very best features of what NAHBS does. It truly makes the community stronger.
It is, perhaps, not terribly surprising to announce that Mark DiNucci won the category for best lugged construction. When I think of all the entries we’ve seen over the years, I’d have to go back to the last time that NAHBS was in Sacramento to find a crop of entries that could present any real challenge to his supremacy in this category.
This bike, compared to the one he showed last year, is a more restrained creation, but still features some fillets strategically placed to create the particular contours he is going for. And compared to all the lugs we see that have little more than the casting seams filed off, the thinned points on these lugs represent dozens of hours that very few builders have either the ethic or aesthetic to shape. DiNucci told me there were more than 100 hours in this frame.
This frame features the 853 tubeset that he designs along with the lugs he created. There’s not another builder in the hall that can claim to have done all the CAD files for both a set of tubes and a set of lugs, and then brazed them into a frame. It’s a singular achievement. Also worth noting is the unusual convex seatstay plug that DiNucci created. No less than Cervelo founder Phil White noted to me just how unusual and original a shape that was. And that’s the thing about DiNucci’s work; it’s the people who really know what goes into first-rate work who tend to be the ones who marvel most at what he’s doing.
It’s not uncommon on our entries for best lugs to see places where there was a little drip of silver during the brazing process, or a little overrun, but DiNucci’s work is so clean it’s impossible to tell where he ever touched the rod to the frame.