The 2016 Philadelphia Bike Expo, held November 5-6, broke its exhibitor record with a 28% increase in custom frame builders showing their works compared to the previous year. Regarded by many of the small custom workshops as representing the heart and soul of the industry, this family-run event was founded in 2010 by Philadelphia framebuilder Stephen Bilenky and the staff in his shop, and is now managed by his daughter Bina.
One of the features of the Philly Bike Expo is a long promotional build-up, in which bikes from the expo floor are presented to custom enthusiasts around the world who were unable to make it to the November expo in Pennsylvania. The 2016 Philly Expo featured its widest range yet of truly fabulous custom bike frames. The personalities of the constructors who toiled over their creation are just as varied, as those that attended the expo could attest. This is the first of a few stories from the show floor.
Chris Bishop displayed a number of fully-built bikes and bare frames at last year’s Philly Bike Expo, including a road frame created in the spirit and with the paint job of the Eddy Merckx frames used by the 7-Eleven pro team 25 years ago.
Bishop’s mastery of design and finish, which is quickly apparent on his framesets, belies the fact that he has been a builder for under ten years. Even with the many awards and plaudits that have come his way since his debut in 2008, Bishop still supplements his frame shop income by working part-time as a bike messenger in his native Baltimore.
Bishop learned his craft by attending one of BREW Bikes builder Steve Garn’s workshops in the mountains of western North Carolina. Later, he attended another frame building class held by legendary Japanese-American builder Koichi Yamaguchi in Colorado.
Those two sessions represent Bishop’s formal training in framebuilding, but he quickly learned the secret of many other frame builders’ success: practice, practice, practice – to quote Yamaguchi. From 2006-2008, this is what Bishop did relentlessly, honing his frame building skills in the process.
“To me, bike building consists of a three-prong approach: the bike, the fit, and the ride,” says Bishop. One fully-built bike at Bishop’s booth was a road frame painted silver and equipped with a SRAM groupset. Bishop calls it his Signature Style frame. The carefully cut lugs, which include the Bishop trademark cutouts, are formed in what Bishop terms “American Style.” It is worth pausing on this point for a minute since in explaining this term Bishop pays tribute to some of his influencers.
“It’s something that some of the American builders were doing in the 1970s, it’s a lug with bronze fillets. Peter Johnson, Eisentraut, Mark DiNucci, Strawberry—those are the builders that developed this style. It’s a really cool looking aesthetic. Those builders have been big influences on me. After seeing some of their bikes I was really impressed. It’s a very simple looking lug, but it transformed the way the lugs look. Back in 2012, I won an award at NAHBS with an unpainted track frame that had these lugs, and since then there have been a lot of orders for this style.”
Bishop employs oversized tubing in his frames, but not at the seat tube. “The uber oversize tubes has that weird seat post, I don’t like to use that, and a 30.6mm oversize seat tube is not as comfortable as 27.2. So I use a tapered tube there,” he says. The Signature Series bike increases in diameter from 28mm at the join, to 31mm at the bottom bracket.
Paint is by Bryan Myers at Fresh Frame. It is a PPG Crystallance silver “Bling”. It is one of those dazzling paint jobs that are inadequately served by photographs, it has to be seen in real life for the full effect.
Bishop’s frames have such a classic look to them that the bike would look appropriate built up with Campagnolo Super Record or, in this case, with a modern SRAM Red group. It’s a harmonic combination of modern technology and classic design.
Readers interested in following the buildup to the 2017 Philly Bike Expo, November 4-5 may do so on the website. The expo produces an online newsletter too, and a signup form for that is also on their website.