Brett Horton is one of the most well-known collectors of vintage bicycles and racing ephemera in the world. For the past 25 years he has amassed a unequaled collection of 15,000 objects and 20,000 photographs.
So, what happens when the owner of The Horton Collection wants a personal bike for him and his (equally bike-obsessed) wife Shelly? Today, NAHBS goers, and now the world, found out.
About a year ago Horton approached two builders whose work is as impressive as his collection: Stephen Bilenky of Bilenky Cycle Works and Chris Bishop of Bishop Bikes. The result of their collaboration are a pair of custom “constructeur” bicycles that have become the most talked about bikes of the show. Almost every part has been custom fabricated specifically for this project.
I talked with both Bilenky and Bishop about the bikes. I can tell the many variables and the timeline made this project both technically difficult and mentally draining (“stressful” is how Bishop described it). “He [Horton] approached me last year,” recalled Bilenky, who made Shelly’s bike, “It seemed like an innocent at the time, like any other project.”
Bishop, who made Brett’s bike, says the project was “stressful” but that he’s excited about how the bike turned out. “I put in two, 100-hour work weeks at one point,” he said. “It’s the little things that get you on a project like this.” Part of the huge time commitment for Bishop was a stunning, hand-forged aluminum stem. Inspired by legendary French constructeur Rene Herse, Bishop started with a single block of aluminum and then milled it out by hand to give it a rounded, finished look that’s rare for aluminum.
Other custom touches on the Brett Horton bike include a Brooks saddle with spiral-wrapped steel springs and “Horton” laser cut into the pedals. The Shelly Horton features custom panniers made by Laplander Bags from Philadelphia. Both bikes feature a custom-drawn tubeset from Columbus, wooden rims, and exquisite paint schemes.
One of the most eye-popping features on both bikes are the custom Phil Wood hubshells that wrap a Rohloff hub in the rear and a dynamo front hub.
When describing his bike, Bilenky, a builder known for meticulous details and artistic flair, used the word elegant. “I got the idea for the lug designs off an art deco train station door.”
Both men started with the vintage, 1930s chainguards that Horton brought to the project. Those chainguards sparked the aesthetic direction of the bikes. Whether the end result is your style or not, I hope we can all appreciate the technical prowess, aesthetic vision, and collaborative spirit that went into this project.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the 2011 NAHBS from Austin. See our latest images here.