NAHBS 2013: Bishop Bikes

The best road bike of this year’s show

Former bike messenger turned frame builder Chris Bishop has worked hard to hone his craft, and the fruits of his labor are starting to pay off. His classic steel road frame was selected for Best Road Frame at this year’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show.

Bishop is a self-described perfectionist with four previous NAHBS awards to his name: Best Steel Frame, 2011; Best Steel Frame, 2012; Best Fillet Construction, 2012; Best Lugged Frame, 2012. The Baltimore, Maryland-based builder is best known for his road, track and sportif frames, which are typified by paper-thin lugs, flowing fillets and impeccable finish work.

In an exhibit hall awash in candy paint and polished lugs, Bishop’s road bike has an understated elegance; it just looks good. Close inspection reveals that this was no simple build, more hours than Bishop would have liked went into creating this impressive bi-laminate steel frame.

Bi-laminate construction in a nutshell

Bi-laminate construction is an old method joining the tubes of a bicycle frame together that is going through a resurgence in popularity. It came about at a time when bicycle frames were either lugged or brazed. Lugged frames were more fashionable, though lugs locked the builder into a relatively standard set of geometry numbers. Combining fillet brazing with partial lugs gave builders the freedom in terms of design and geometry that came with brazing, while retaining some of the aesthetic elements of a lugged frame. 

Part lug, part fillet, all style

“All of the lugs are bi-laminate in a different direction and cut from scratch—even the seat stays are sleeved to match,” Bishop said. “We even went with a paint scheme that followed the construction of the bike.”

The chain stays are made from KVA stainless tubing

The design process

Like many of the bikes on display at the show, this one was already spoken for. It was built for Micheal Firn of Brooks.

Firn first fell in love with Bishop’s work at NAHBS in Austin, specifically the MS track bike Bishop showed off that year. “We shook hands last year [at NAHBS in Sacramento] and said ‘let’s build a bike for this show,’” Firn said.

He flew to Baltimore for a fitting with Bishop, who is a Serotta-trained bicycle fitter. Over dinner and drinks they hashed out the details of the design. “I really wanted a ‘modern classic,’ a bike with a classic silhouette, but with details that are unmistakably modern,” Firn said.

The juxtaposition between classic lines and cutting edge components was a common theme this year

Sweating the details

The attention to detail and special touches that make Bishop’s frames lustworthy come with a steep price tag. A frame comparable to this one will set the buyer back $5,000.

“It seems like a lot of the bikes I build are pretty labor intensive. It’s the niche I’ve carved for myself…for better or for worse,” Bishop joked.

Case in point: a built-to-match nickel-plated quill stem was not enough. 

Bishop felt a custom interface for the head of the stem’s expander bolt would look cleaner than the head of an allen bolt, so he machined a custom interface and a custom tool to match. “You can use any red-handled spanner, but a custom spanner tool is cooler,” he said.

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