2018 NAHBS: Best TIG Welding and Best Layup

2018 NAHBS: Best TIG Welding and Best Layup

There are competitions in which a competitor can be disqualified from future competition after winning too many times. I grew up in Memphis, a place whose water supply was fed by artesian wells. It won the national competition for the tastiest municipal drinking water so many years running it was tossed from the competition at some point. The city was pretty proud to be so successful they were disqualified.

I’ve always thought that to be a stupid intervention on the part of organizers. Imagine how basketball fans would have revolted if the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls had been disqualified from the NBA finals because they had won too many times.

When I look at Brad Bingham’s work, I often wonder if he isn’t a cyborg. 

Best TIG Welding
As judges we face exactly the dilemma above with Brad Bingham, the welder for Kent Eriksen Cycles and his own, new mark, Bingham Built. Bingham has won each of the last … does it matter? He’s dominant in a way that no one can touch. I’ve had any number of people tell me I should disqualify him from future entries because he’s too good or something. That idea strikes me irrationally unfair. His work has consistently shone as superior to other entrants. I can’t dream up any reason, any rational justification to disqualify him. So, it’s not much of a dilemma.

This seatpost is the sort of touch that consistently helps to put Brad Bingham over the top of his competition.

The best part of his entries? They are essentially straight out of the jig. The entries we get from other competitors are usually bead blasted or cleaned up by some other method. In other words, his competitors have an edge, and yet, his work is still better. I have no idea if the heat-affected zone around the welds of the other competitors is as good as Bingham’s, but it doesn’t actually matter. His welds start at 6:00 (bottom of the tube) and finish there as well, in the spot that is least noticeable. Where some builders might rivet in water bottle bosses or simply cut slots for internal cable routing, Bingham always welds everything, including his stem and on this year’s submission, the head of the seatpost as well. Until or unless Seven Cycles exhibits at the show, he’ll keep winning, because they may be the only company employing welders good enough to go toe-to-toe with him. We’re all fortunate that there’s more to a great titanium frame than weld quality.

The weld quality was exceptional, but we worried about the length of the lugs for the top tube.

The other finalists this year came from Moots, and Royal H Cycles. With Moots, as good as their work is, it is always docked because the frames come bead-blasted. The other finalist was new to us in our capacity as judges. Bryan Hollingsworth works for Seven Cycles and his welding was exquisite. The frame submitted was, in fact, a collaboration with Seven; they provided him with carbon fiber tubes (top, seat, seatstays) for his bike.

That builder Bryan Hollingsworth works for Seven isn’t much of a surprise. 

Our one concern with the frame was that the lugs for the top tube were exceedingly short and ultra-short lugs tend to focus too much stress in too short a span to give the frame a long life. This frame may last 20 years or more, but we don’t know that.

Nick Crumpton’s work is distinctive enough to be unique. 

Best Layup
Of the construction categories, best layup is arguably the hardest to judge, with or without paint. Over the last half dozen years, the entries have improved in quality dramatically. Some of the work that passed for professional in previous years wasn’t of sufficient quality for me to recommend to friends. Hell, this year the best new builder was so good I couldn’t believe he was new. I’ll get to that in another post.

I’ve seen a number of carbon fiber road bikes with disc brakes and only a handful have mounts that look this clean.

Like the other awards, we like naked work. We would prefer to see a bare carbon frame with no clear coat or other finish. Cleaning off the flashing after pulling it out of the mold is okay, but beyond that, we’d really prefer no finish to the frame at all. As I mentioned in another post, our stated preference for a naked frame comes into conflict with how most builders want to present their work to prospective clients. They want to be able to show off a fully built and painted bike. It is the most impressive presentation to many people. Due to this conflict, we allow builders to submit whatever they brought, but if the frame is covered in paint, it just won’t get far.

The work on the Appleman was impressive not just for the quality of the layup but also for the improvement in the lines of his bike. 

We also place a premium on how much work is performed in-house. That wasn’t always the case and it became a sore point with some builders, so we gave it some consideration and concluded that all things being equal, a frame that is made 100 percent in-house should stand above a frame that employs components built by outside contractors. This particular criterion isn’t something we could apply to builders of titanium, steel or aluminum frames; they all buy their tubing, but with carbon fiber, there are builders who start with rolls of carbon fiber that they build into frames. They deserve to be recognized for the extra work.

Our finalists for best layup were T Red, Appleman and Allied. At least, they were the finalists initially. Once Nick Crumpton understood that we’d had to relax our criteria to accept complete bikes in order to have enough bikes to judge the category, he submitted one of his and it bested all comers. Crumpton and Allied do all their work in-house. However, because the classic ideal of a frame builder is one artisan working alone to produce their singular vision, we give the edge to Crumpton for doing what roughly a half-dozen people do at Allied. Is the Crumpton actually better than the Allied? That seems unlikely.

The translucent finish to the Allied entry allow us to see the care given to layup. Wrinkles are what we look for; we watch for warping of plies.

T Red’s submission was very clean and showed some very precise fiber placement along with some careful use of black paint at certain joints. It’s a technique used by many companies and makes for a very attractive bike. The other finalist, Appleman was very impressive. It was a coupled bikepacking mountain bike and he used very minimal couplers to keep the frame looking elegant. Had he made his tubes himself—he sources his tubes from a friend who makes each tube exactly to his specs—I’m not sure Crumpton would have won. Appleman deserves an unofficial “most improved builder” award; the improvement in the quality of his frames since I first judged his work in Charlotte demonstrates that he is hell-bent on producing world-class carbon fiber frames.

One of the things we want to see in a great carbon fiber frame is a sense of styling, smooth lines that look organic. 

In many ways, the layup category is my favorite of the construction categories to judge. It’s the one where I’m most consistently surprised.

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  1. Tominalbany

    One thought regarding unpainted etc.

    I understand they want a bike that gets sales. That said, why can’t the builder just ‘grab a frame’ from the produced pile? In my mind, I want to know that the builder is ALWAYS doing a good job and not just showing what skills they have when they “try’ to make a show piece.

    If you ask for that kind of piece, sure, they can go through the ‘pile’ and find the best one or, they can make a special ‘show frame’ and not be honest. But, in my mind, leaving things unpainted is the only way to know what the possibilities could be.

    Also, one question: is faulting the size of a lug a measure of the welding quality? I’m not smart enough to know, though I certainly understand the benefit of additional mass to dissipate heat.

    Please don’t take any of this as second-guessing what is, no doubt, a difficult judging decision. I’m just offering this ‘layman’s’ perspective.

    Nice pics, by the way. These posts are always full of eye-candy!

    1. Author

      Great questions. The builders who are typically submitting bikes (if not frames) for awards don’t have a pile to choose from. Unlike even some makers like Moots or Santana, most of NAHBS’ exhibitors don’t produce stock frames that they just keep on hand. Each bike represents a client and trying to time a bare frame with a client’s desire to get on their new bike with the dates of the show is certainly a lot to ask. I get that. However, for those who make the effort, they are more likely to achieve success.

      Because a builder’s reputation rests on the quality of their work, I am willing to assume they are always trying to do their best. Sure, everyone has a bad day now and then (I once saw a frame cut in half at Richard Sachs’ shop; he wasn’t happy with how it was going), but a mediocre builder is highly unlikely to uncork a masterpiece for the show. If they were really that good, they’d be doing that kind of work every day, if for no other reason than they could charge more.

      With regard to your second question, technically, each of the construction awards is about the totality of frame building, not just their ability to join tubes. We stop short of paint, even when the builder in question is also the painter, as is the case with Peter Weigle. The upshot is that we want to see decisions that show good judgment. Those lugs are so short I got a shiver. The issue isn’t one of heat. The ti is room temperature by the time the carbon is bonded in. The challenge is that the region normally covered by lugs is reasonably high stress, which is why the vast majority of all lugs don’t end after a single centimeter. You want the tube to have some support.

  2. bryan hollingsworth

    hello! i want to offer some clarification on the joint strength of the royal h/seven cycles collaboration ti/c frame. the lugs are indeed quite short, but i was able to do this because the strength of the joint on this frame is internal. the carbon is sleeved over a titanium post that is several times longer (2.5″ long) than the short lug you see in the photographs. the surface area of the internal bond between the carbon tube and titanium post is equivalent to a traditional seven cycles ti/c external lug. initial fatigue testing done at seven indicates that this internal construction is every bit as strong as the external method. the use of an internal post allows complete freedom for what is an essentially decorative external lug. i wanted to play with how small i could make it, and mimic the look of the cast steel lugs that i love so much. in any event, there is a lot more “lug” to the joints on this frame than you can see from the outside, and i am fully confident in the strength of this frame.

    i do agree that the welds are top notch! another quick clarification on that- they were welded by mike salvatore at seven cycles. i work part time at seven building ti/c frames, and my contribution to this collaboration was the design, bonding, and finish work. a ti/c frame in a steel framebuilder’s booth was perhaps an unusual choice for this show, but i wanted to share this new design and collaborate with the company that gave me my start in the industry and where i’ve worked for ten years. i’m happy with the results and enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone for this project.

    1. Author

      Bryan, thanks much for checking in with us. Your post is a perfect example of why I created the builder info sheet. If we’d had more of this information at our disposal as the judging was taking place, it would have furthered your entry. That said, the collaboration aspect, specifically Salvatore doing the welds and not you is problematic relative to our desire to judge the work of the outfit submitting the entry. I’m not entirely certain how we would have resolved that question.

      Either way, the bike is really cool. Keep up the good work.

  3. Bernard Koscielecki

    There is no perfect weld made. Were the welds made in a positioner? Were the welds made in position, where the welder had to move to make the weld and then rotate the piece to continue. Starting at 6 and ending at 6 tells me that the piece was in a positioner.

    1. Author

      I’ve yet to run across anyone in the bike industry using a welding positioner. Traditionally, with double-pass welds like those we see submitted for awards, the frame is tacked in a jig and then removed from the jig so that the second pass can be conducted. Positioners, as I understand it, won’t work because trying to mount an entire frame, or even just a front triangle on a positioner is virtually impossible. That said, Bingham uses a pulse welder which, for the skilled welder, will improve the consistency of the bead.

    2. Carl Strong

      That is one of the things that makes Brad’s welding so amazing. I’m sure with the exception of the ST collar he doesn’t use a positioner. He is able to stop and restart the weld as he goes around the tube and does so without leaving a trace. We all strive for this, Brad is a master at it.

  4. Dion Goldsworthy

    Two years ago at NAHBS in Sacramento I was admiring an Eriksen Ti Bike that had won a best of category award. A guy walked up and asked me if I had any questions. I actually had a lot because I want to purchase one of these amazing Titanium bikes one of these days. The guy was Brad Bingham and he was so generous with his time, so much great info to share, and just fun to talk to about riding. Exciting to hear that he is starting something of his own. Obviously a great craftsman and a also great gentleman!


    Bicycle welds? Give me a break! I’ll go “toe to toe” with Brad. How about this for a competition weld: 4 inch Inconel pipe, 6g position. Must pass X ray and the toughest military codes on the planet. Or Monel or
    Manurite or Hasteloy or ANY super alloy! I would smoke his chili!

    1. Author

      You’re new, so I’m going to let this fly, but we have standards for comments here. We expect our commenters to be cordial and polite. Save the smack-talk for your buddies.

    2. Rod

      Love Padraig’s response 🙂

      I’m sure there’s better overall welders making marine or spaceship parts. Maybe part of the NA Handbuilt Submarine Show?

      Submit your bike frame for examination and awards. Otherwise this sounds like I really believe I’d have run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon.””doesn’t it?

  6. Aar

    I’m glad to hear that Appleman’s quality has improved over his Charlotte work. I like the creativity he puts forth in bike design and graphic treatment and would like to see his work in person again.

    Love Crumpton’s work every time is get to see it both in person and in pixels.

    1. Author

      In Charlotte, I would have called Appleman as aspiring builder; I thought he had a long way to go before really being a pro. He’s very pro now. Very.

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