The construction categories are, in some ways, the toughest categories to judge, even though they often have the fewest entries. There’s a fair dollop of subjectivity to what makes for the best mountain bike or best cyclocross bike. But with the construction categories, it’s fairly absolute: the builder either did exemplary work, or did not. To make sure that we were being as fair as possible, as well as to make sure that we had the best possible information to work from, I instituted some guidelines a few years ago that request builders submit bare bikes. No paint, no bead blasting, no anodizing; essentially just a frame straight out of the jig. You can clean off flux and/or flashing, but we wanted a complete absence of sexy.
That hasn’t worked out all that well. There’s a simple reason why: Consumers want to be wowed with a fancy paint job and a killer build. They want the builder to paint them a picture with the bike. So any interest to win an award in a construction category comes up against the need to impress the audience. That these two outcomes are at odds is unfortunate.
For a couple of years we turned bikes away or just didn’t judge the bikes that didn’t conform to those guidelines. That wasn’t a dynamite outcome. So this year we accepted bikes that had paint, and just did our best.
Best Lugged Frame
We had several stellar entries but Peter Weigle’s lightweight randonneuring bike was nearly a shoe-in. We began looking it over and neither Tom Kellogg not I could identify the make of lugs. Given how long and thin the points are I knew he had worked the lugs extensively, so I sent one of the volunteers to fetch Peter.
The question may have been obvious, but we had to ask: Did you lengthen and reshape these points? Naturally, the answer was yes. There is literally no one else on the planet with the gift for reshaping lugs that Peter possesses. I’m sure he could draw the curve of the golden mean with his eyes closed while holding a pencil between his toes. The shoulders of the lugs also had a very smooth, if brief transition. Yes, he added a tiny bit of brass there as well.
And that bottom bracket shot that leads the post off? He did all the same work on the BB that he did to the rest of the lugs. It’s one of the most beautiful bottom brackets I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t understand what generates the level of drive necessary to do work that demanding. If I worked the way Peter did, I’d post every other week … maybe.
This fork crown is probably barely recognizable to the people who cast it. He hollowed it out and removed material to lighten it while simultaneously giving it a wholly more elegant look. Yes, this bike is painted, but we know the quality of Weigle’s work. There wasn’t a single shortcut on this bike. His conscience wouldn’t have permitted it.
Chris Bishop turned in this unpainted track bike that gives a window into the window that Weigle did on his bike. Many of the points were lengthened, all of the points were thinned and a variety of fillets were added to give the lugs a more elegant shape.
There are but a handful of guys on the planet who do this work and Bishop is one of the most ambitious of this youngest generation of builders. That he added ridges to the fillets is a nod to Mark DiNucci who first did this just a few years ago. What I find particularly revealing in this shot is how little he added at the side of the lug, just enough brass to help make that transition more gradual.
While this shot isn’t as sharp as I thought it was, it does capture how Chris lengthened the point on this down tube lug. You can see the first fillet at the shoulder of the lug and then part way down there’s a clean line and a second fillet added. The line is where Chris chopped off the old point. He then added more material, shaping it into the point he wanted, and then adding brass, shaping it and finally thinning the point. There’s more work in this one lug than some builders put into an entire frame.
The reason this bike didn’t win, despite the fact that he didn’t have it painted was due to the tire clearance at the wishbone seatstay junction. It was simply too minimal. We were concerned about how much metal was holding the whole thing together (though it did look beautiful), but the bigger concern was that there just wasn’t enough tire clearance—it was on the order of 3mm. Any flex at all in the wheel would have resulted in the tire rubbing the frame, and because he can’t control what wheel is in the bike, we had to ding it for that. Doing so was painful.
Best Fillet-Brazed Frame
Again, a painted frame won. All the submissions for this category were painted. Fillet and layup are the two categories where paint does the most to disrupt the judging. A little bondo plus paint can disguise any failure on the part of the builder. In the case of Chris Bishop, who won the category, I’ve seen enough of his work bare to know that his work is consistent and deliberate. He controls heat well and when you run your finger over his fillets you feel nary a ripple.
A fillet-brazed bottom bracket, or lack thereof, is where many builders will just automatically lose the category with an entry. With the use of a traditional, lugged bottom bracket, the builder has announced that fillet-brazing the BB was just too much damn work. And yes, it is more work than arguing with a toddler. Joining four tubes to the shell and getting every one of those joints heated to perfection and then smoothed like the transition at the bottom of a concrete swimming pool requires a special kind of ambition.
Chapman Cycles was one of the revelations of the show. I’d never even encountered Brian Chapman’s work before and I’ll tell you I feel cheated. Holy cow. The tag line to his site is perfect: modern frames for vintage souls. Nails his brand identity and aesthetic. I see bi-laminate or half-lug head tubes with some regularity. It’s a thing, as we like to say. However, thinning the lug to a narrow strip of material running between the top tube and down tube was a truly fresh take. It’s touches like this that the judges look for. We’re constantly asking ourselves what they did that was creative or different.
Given that bilaminate construction was an existing theme in this bike we didn’t ding the Chapman for plugging the chainstays into the bottom bracket. Honestly, I can’t recall the last time where a bike used bilaminate construction in the bottom bracket. To see a design element be reflected in that way showed a deeper design aesthetic at work.