Artisanal steel, anyone? We profile custom builder Bishop Bikes

You’ll want to keep a tissue handy to wipe the drool off of your keyboard

Chris Bishop is one of the finest steel frame builders of the modern era, deftly blending the material’s classic aesthetic with more contemporary features and performance while infusing a level of subtle visual flair that two-dimensional images often can’t capture. He’s as capable of over-the-top artisanship as anyone but for his own personal machine, Bishop decided to go with a slightly more straightforward route.

Bishop brought with him to the annual Baller’s Ride a stunning two-tone all-road bike, replete with big Compass clinchers mounted on equally fat Pacenti alloy rims to tackle the event’s demanding mix of dirt, gravel, and pavement. From a distance, however, the profile couldn’t be more traditional road racer with its slender tubes, conventional rim brakes, and Campagnolo Chorus mechanical groupset – and that’s exactly how he wanted it.

The filing on this seat lug is immaculate. in particular, note how it tapers to almost nothing up top: the filing on this seat lug is immaculate. in particular, note how it tapers to almost nothing up top
The filing on this seat lug is immaculate. in particular, note how it tapers to almost nothing up top: the filing on this seat lug is immaculate. in particular, note how it tapers to almost nothing up top

You can feel free to pick your jaw up off of the floor now

“It’s more modern, with not as many little details, as some of the other more artisanal fully lugged frame-and-fork bikes I’ve done,” he said. “I usually do a Bishop cutout in the bottom bracket shell and little brazed-on brass tubes for the cable guides but this was my bike and I don’t pay well! My bike just has the little plastic Campy piece on there.”

From the start, Bishop set out to use a 27.2mm seatpost and conventional threaded bottom bracket here and carefully chose the tubing to suit both the desired look and performance characteristics. The top tube and down tube are custom formed by Reynolds while the down tube is True Temper OX Platinum. Out back, the seatstays are Deda Zero while Bishop opted for raw KVA stainless steel chainstays down below, which are not only more durable – there’s no paint to chip off, after all – but also gorgeous to look at.

“One of the most important things that I like to get dialed in is the ride quality for each rider by using custom drawn tube sets,” said Bishop. “The top tube and seat tube both taper from 28.6mm at the seat cluster to 31.7mm at the head tube and bottom bracket, respectively so a normal 27.2mm seat post can be used to absorb road shock over the larger diameter posts while stiffening up the bottom bracket and supporting the head tube for precise steering. I spend a lot of time and money on this because while I build lugged bikes, they are modern in design and materials. It’s what is not seen – geometry and tubing – that really makes a bike great.”

Note how the ends of the stainless steel guide tube are finished at the edges: note how the ends of the stainless steel guide tube are finished at the edges
Note how the ends of the stainless steel guide tube are finished at the edges: note how the ends of the stainless steel guide tube are finished at the edges

There's just a tiny sliver of polished stainless steel poking through

Finishing things off are tidy Llewellyn stainless steel dropouts and a fastback-style seatpost binder Bishop fabricates himself in-house. It’s elegant in its simplicity but also shows off his immaculate attention to detail with lug points that taper to virtually nothing for a nearly seamless transition to the seatpost.

“I miter the stays, I braze in a solid chromoly plug, and then I braze the stays on,” Bishop explained. “After the bike is completely built, I strap the whole frame on to a milling table and then I countersink, tap, and slot that seat cluster so everything is perfectly in phase. The first 10 times I did it, my palms were sweating every time! At that point, the frame’s done – and if I mess it up, it’s over. I think it has a really clean aesthetic and from the non-driveside, you can’t even see the binder bolt.”

The painted-to-match headset parts and stem make for a neatly integrated appearance: the painted-to-match headset parts and stem make for a neatly integrated appearance
The painted-to-match headset parts and stem make for a neatly integrated appearance: the painted-to-match headset parts and stem make for a neatly integrated appearance

The brazed-on headset cups effectively create an integrated front end

More awe-inspiring details reveal themselves as you look closer.

Up front, Columbus headset cups are brazed directly to the head tube lugs and then reamed to fit Cane Creek bearings, effectively creating an integrated front end – with suitable paint to match.

Likewise, the derailleur cables are routed externally but the rear brake housing is fed through the top tube with meticulously polished stainless steel ends, a thinner brass tube in the middle, and a full-length Teflon liner.

The bolt-on skewers aren't there to save weight; they just provide a more finished appearance than a traditional quick-release lever: the bolt-on skewers aren't there to save weight; they just provide a more finished appearance than a traditional quick-release lever
The bolt-on skewers aren't there to save weight; they just provide a more finished appearance than a traditional quick-release lever: the bolt-on skewers aren't there to save weight; they just provide a more finished appearance than a traditional quick-release lever

The tidy stainless steel dropouts come from Australian builder Darrell Llewellyn McCulloch 

“My painter did it by accident. He sands the paint in between coats and accidentally knocked the paint off one day so he decided to polish it. It was the best thing ever. That’s always a high-impact area for chipping so he addressed that and it looks good. I almost do it on every bike now, almost to the point where I should increase my price and just include it. I think I’ve done one bike with cable stops in the last year and a half. Everybody wants it.”

Interested parties should also be patient as such a thing also doesn’t come about overnight. Bishop only builds about 16 frames annually and the current lead time is hovering at about a year but as they say, good things come to those who wait.

For more information, visit www.bishopbikes.com.

James Huang

Former Technical Editor, US
James was BikeRadar's US tech editor from 2007-2015.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: Up in the Colorado high-country where the singletrack is still single, the dirt is still brown, and the aspens are in full bloom. Also, those perfect stretches of pavement where the road snakes across the mountainside like an artist's paintbrush.
  • Beer of Choice: Mexican Coke
  • Location: Boulder, CO, USA

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