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.
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.