There’s no way to pussyfoot around this. Brad Bingham, the welder at Kent Eriksen Cycles, frustrates me. He has won the best TIG-welding award for each of the last five years. No one else exhibiting at NAHBS has been nearly as successful. The best TIG-welding award is, as a result of Bingham’s unparalleled excellence, is the most boring award to give.
That last statement deserves some explanation.
The thing about Bingham’s work is that he’s always a step ahead of the competition. We were able to find the start and stop point for only one weld on the bike he built for the best TIG category.
The point to this rant-ette is that as long as Bingham enters a frame for best TIG weldding, he’s likely to continue winning. Could I restrict him from entering the category? I could. But that would be a disservice to the awards and the builders. My job as a judge is to recognize the best work at the show. That’s entirely independent of whether or not someone has won previously. So while I’d love to recognize some of the other amazing builders who TIG their frames, my job isn’t to recognize all the good work, it is to recognize the best work.
And Brad Bingham is the best TIG welder working in the bike industry. He took the Merlin stack-of-dimes and turned it into a stack of cards. We might as well just put his name on the award for next year.
That Bingham didn’t bead-blast the finished frame, thereby disguising this bike’s heat affected zone, was a significant step in us recognizing his frame for what it was: exemplary. We do what we can to encourage all the builders to do this, but it doesn’t always work.
Now, al that said, I need to recognize the entrants in the category because this was the best competition we’ve had since Charlotte. There was one frame with no decal or head tube badge that also hadn’t been bead-blasted that demonstrated incredible work. I hope to find out who produced that frame today. I never found out. I was doing something else when it was picked up.
Dave Kirk won for best fillet brazing. He brought a stunning frame with thin webs between the tubes like those between your fingers. I’d seen a couple of photos of this frameset on social media ahead of the show and knew it would be a contender. When we arrived in the judging paddock, it was clearly the superior frame, despite the quality of the other entrants.
What I couldn’t see in in the photos on the Internet was how he managed to create those thin edges by using small pieces of sheet metal. He tacked them in and then began adding brass.
What these photos can’t show is Kirk’s incredible control. His ability to apply brass perfectly symmetrically is something even exceptionally skilled builders struggle with. So aside from the webs he created, the symmetricality of these fillets was something that other builders would admire. Finally, in almost every builder’s work you’ll see the occasional pit or pinhole. They are like a cavity in a tooth, just a tiny little void. They are a sign of a tiny issue in heat control. I believe I found only one in this frame. That might be a record among frames I’ve seen.
Alchemy won best layup. Where best fillet and best TIG welding had clear winners, best layup was incredibly difficult. Alchemy was facing off against Argonaut and Argonaut provided a frame with three cutaway sections so that we could look inside. The best layup category has never seen such stiff competition.
Ultimately, what gave the competition to Alchemy were a few factors. This disc brake mount was integrated beautifully into the chainstay, and while the Allen bolt heads would protrude on the underside of the chainstay, because there was no recess in the mount—understandably, given that would mean removing carbon fiber from the frame—the mount itself was elegant.
The other thing that Alchemy did that I’ve found extraordinary was its use of plies of carbon fiber in a decorative fashion. The model name and logo were both cut from carbon fiber. Additionally, small rings and stripes were added to give the frame the guiding hand of a graphic designer.
This isn’t new to Alchemy or even unique to them. I was disappointed I couldn’t see more inside the frame, I’ve seen plenty of work from Alchemy to know they do work superior to an Asian sweat shop. Also, I want to add that even though the competition really came down to Alchemy and Argonaut the presence of another A company—Allied—gave us the far stiffest competition we have seen in this category.
I am disappointed to report that we received no entries in the competition for best lugs. It’s here that I must acknowledge that the construction categories ask a lot of a builder. If you want to impress people, painting a frame and building it into an entire bike is the thing to do. There’s no denying this. But if you want to prove that your work can measure up against a guy like Mark DiNucci or Dave Kirk, you need to be prepared to show your work.
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