Chris Bishop established himself early on as a must-follow builder among the slim lug sect, winning award after award for his soldered steel creations at NAHBS. It’s hard not to be a fan of a craftsman who plays in the space of existing traditional lugwork, pushing them to extremes through filling in lug joints, sculpting high shorelines, and tapering down almost to the tube surface for desired effect. Each Bishop frame truly has its own spirit, and the evolution in style of this builder has been really fun to watch over the decade he’s been building under this name.
For this interview, Carl Schlemowitz, an experimental builder on the production level, questions Bishop, an established banner holder for the new wave of single builder, one-off frame shops.
CARL: Your photos are incredible, both of the finished product and in process work. Do you take your own photos? If not, then who? Can you share any photography tips or tricks?
CHRIS: I take all of my process pics and have used several cameras, the best of which was a low-end Canon SLR, and I probably used about 5% of what it was capable of. I always feel like a terrible photographer and rely completely on auto focus, so I don’t have much advice. I never spent the time to use filters or processing features until I started using my iPhone primarily for Instagram pics, but most of the time, I just post the pictures as-is.
For my complete bike builds, I use my friend Keith Trotta who does wedding photography, but he is also a cyclist and into bikes, and I think he does a really good job.
CARL: Your frames combine immaculate lug work, micro details and custom fabricated elements. Which parts of the process do feel you enjoy or identify with most, the hand work, machine fabrication, or torch? Conversely what torments you?
CHRIS: I enjoy all of these aspects of building bikes, but probably the lug work comes most naturally. I have become much better at balancing each task. After some overuse injuries from repetitive filing, I now mix up my day with a little of everything, so that I don’t get hurt and burned out. Polishing stainless steel is the one thing I hate the most. It is never ending and dirty.
CARL: Can you share your opinions on contemporary industry trends or innovations as they pertain to road bike frames? Tapered steer tubes? Thru-axles? Discs?
CHRIS: I have been riding bikes pretty much my whole life and have seen enough things come and go that I am always a little weary to jump on the bandwagon too soon. It is also very expensive for a small builder like myself to tool up, so I like to see how things shake out. For example, disc rotor sizes, tapered steerer sizes, disc mounts, etc. However, it seems like many of these technologies have started to find a road bike standard. Believe me, I keep up to date on what’s going on.
Disc brakes on road bikes have seen a lot of trials and tribulations over the years, and with Shimano finally putting the Dura Ace title on a disc road group, I will be trying a disc road bike in the coming year so I will have real world feedback. But I will say the weight penalty and the fact that forks have to be much stiffer and less forgiving to support the braking forces with disc brakes have been big drawbacks for me. I have lots more to say on all of this, but it would take pages. If anyone is interested, they can get more on my opinions at the bike show.
CARL: It’s no secret you used to be a bike messenger, but please indulge me by answering a couple of questions that may bring up some long repressed memories. Did the movie Quicksilver play any part in your decision to become a bicycle messenger? How many car windows have you broken, are you aware of what an automatic center punch can do, or is that more of a NYC messenger thing?
CHRIS: I actually had never seen Quicksilver until I was already a messenger, so I was already in too deep. I started my messengering career on a GT RTS-2 full suspension mountain bike, which was probably the worst messenger bike possible. I never broke any windows, just a side view mirror once, and I actually stopped and gave the lady my info and paid for it even though I felt it was not my fault. I was feeling karmically fragile after a few bad events and thought that was cheaper than the unknown. I never owned a center punch until I started building frames. Starrett is by far the best one ever.
CARL: Do you see yourself offering single speeds or mountain frames in the future? 29er? 27.5+?
CHRIS: Even though I did a lot of BMX and mountain biking when I was younger, I prefer road and gravel riding these days. There are a lot of great builders of custom mountain bikes, and I think they’ve got it covered.
CARL: Baggies or lycra? Tubes or tubeless? Pizza?
CHRIS: If I am riding my bike around town or commuting, I just wear shorts, pants, or jeans and a breathable top—wool, Gore-Tex, windstopper etc. For long road rides, I wear bibs and a jersey. Tubes. Who doesn’t like pizza? I am pretty traditional and like tomato sauce; no white pizza here.
CARL: Do you use pins to secure your lugged joints as part of your frame building process?
CHRIS: I do not pin my lugs, but I do pin internal plug-style drop outs, fork crowns, and side tack seat stays. I pin the drop outs and fork crowns at the furthest point from where you are introducing the filler material (brass or silver) so that once it reaches the pin you know it has complete penetration and acts as an indicator since you can’t see what is going on inside the tube. As for the side tack, it holds the seat stay exactly where you want it so it doesn’t move while brazing.
CARL: Where would you go for your ultimate cycling vacation?
CHRIS: This is a hard question, but I would like to go somewhere exotic where I could do both gravel/dirt road riding as well as nice smooth paved ascents and, more importantly, descents with good food and people. I have always wanted to go to Australia and New Zealand. I went to Thailand some years ago, and would love to go back there as well.
CARL: Do you listen to music while at work? If so, of what genre? Have you considered including the greatest hits of a frames’ fabrication playlist with the delivery to your customer?
CHRIS: I could live without my milling machines before my stereo because I could always go back to using half round files. Music is a constant in the shop for me. I listen to a pretty wide range of music but prefer noisier underground stuff. I grew up in Baltimore listening to hip hop and punk, post punk noise, and Math music. Some of what I would include in a playlist would be: Ultra Magnetic MC’s, Jungle Brothers, BDP, Big Black, Slint, Fugazi Lungfish, Jesus Lizard, Unsane, Wire, MF DOOM, J live, and Blue Print, and more… I’m not sure how my customers would feel about the mix.
CARL: Now that you’ve been grilled, was there anything you would like to add?
CHRIS: I just want to thank Bina for putting on the Philly Bike show. I enjoy NAHBS, but it’s hard and expensive getting out to the West Coast and other distant locations for shows. Having a show in Philly is so much easier for me, and I don’t have to spend a lot of time away from my family. Bina and Bilenky have really made this show grow and thrive, and they deserve so much credit for making this show a success.
Stay tuned… tomorrow, Chris Bishop questions Eric Estlund of Winter Bicycles.