The Best Finish award is arguably the most subjective of the bunch. Sure, we can point to objective details like elaborate masking or multiple colors that suggest many hours of work, but at a certain point all that gives way to the impression that an appearance strikes. That said, we the judges have to separate our personal taste from the work that may not be what we’d buy. Every year I run into one or two people who think that I simply pick the stuff I like; I figure that’s going to happen no matter what, so I just go about my business.
Complicating matters with Best Finish is that even ultra-austere titanium bikes are often graced with incredible paint jobs, so the number of bikes worth considering is second only to Best in Show in terms of scope. What amazes me, however, is that no matter how many entries we receive for the category, several rise to the top rather quickly. While I had to make five passes as I weeded out bikes in the Best Road Bike Category, with Best Finish, we were reduced to five bikes almost instantly. From there, we narrowed the field to three and that’s when it got hard.
The bike (frameset, really) we settled on was from Rudi Jung at Black Magic Paint. The frameset was from Chris Bishop (full disclosure: I own a bike from Bishop), but the finish comes with a helluva story. It seems that days after Jung received the frame from Bishop, Rudi was in a motorcycle accident involving a deer. Ripped a number of nerves out of the right side of his spine, paralyzing his right arm. I’m unclear on whether he expects to regain full use of the arm. The crash was bad enough that it was touch and go for him. So the bike sat, natch. And it sat.
Bishop is a pretty chill dude, but it was painful for him to have a frame sit, unsold, with a painter for months and months. When Jung finally made it back into the booth, the right-handed painter had to spray left handed. The finish on the bike is so good I’d never have guessed that he used his non-dominant hand. Imagine being any sort of visual artist and needing to use your non-dominant hand. Unthinkable.
The frame and fork are ultra-distinctive thank to Rudi’s decision to give the top tube, fork and chainstays a wood-grain design. When I first looked at it, I wasn’t certain if it was meant to be a topographic map sort of thing or wood grain, but after looking a bit more, and consulting with Jung, I did come to the conclusion that it was meant to be wood grain. As good as all that was, it was Rudi’s decision to use variated gold leaf in the Bishop logo that was completely mind bending. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I say that as someone who has seen bikes with gold leaf—all but one by Brian Baylis, to be sure.
The variated gold leave gave off a rich cherry red, the orange of tangerines with occasional sparkles that tended toward gold. It’s the sort of thing that would have graced some psychedelic album cover in 1968. Bishop normally uses a head tube badge, but on this frameset Jung painted the badge, which riffs on the Maryland state flag (Chris Bishop lives in Baltimore). That’s five colors inside of two square inches. Jung told me it took a while to figure out how to do the masking as well as what order to lay down the colors. It’s just the sort of bike that will attract attention any time it is ridden.
Each year show president Don Walker selects one bike for his President’s Award. The last couple of years I’ve been helping him to cull his list, which isn’t an easy thing, given that every bike on the floor is eligible. While I can’t say for certain what his final criteria are, he has shared with me that he likes to award it to a bike that he doesn’t want to see go unrecognized. At a certain level it’s a measure of what he appreciates, but on a much deeper level, he really just likes praising a great bike.
This year’s winner was a titanium bike from Enigma. What made the bike so special, aside from it being a very clean-looking bike with great welds, was the fact that everything on the bike save the saddle and the handlebar tape had been painted in the same shade of blue. This bike takes monochromism to an extreme length and the result is fantastic.
I’ve seen accents painted on components before, but this bike was a rare creation. The levers, bar, derailleurs, stem, rims, seatpost, stem and cranks were all painted this blue, and because it’s translucent, the branding for Campagnolo and Enve come through.
Making sure that the blue anodized headset from Chris King matched the paint is a level of attention to detail that you don’t see on every bike. The Enigma head tube badge is pretty dynamite, too.
Every year there’s a bike that blows me away, something I hate to see go home empty handed, and this year Don chose a bike I’d had my eye on.