Brett Horton was asked by his wife, Shelly, to find a town bike "under $500" that she could use to ride with the couple's four-year-old son, Trevor. Most people would have simply purchased something at a local bike shop and been done with it, but not Horton, who along with Shelly co-owns and operates The Horton Collection in San Francisco, California – perhaps the most comprehensive collection of bicycle racing memorabilia currently in existence.
Instead, what transpired was a months-long process that ultimately escalated into not one, but two, truly bespoke "constructeur" machines built in joint collaboration with some of the finest bicycle companies in the industry.
Brett Horton's bike was built by Bishop Custom Handcrafted Bicycle Frames in Baltimore, Maryland with an "art nouveau" theme that included intricately carved new old stock Everest 'batman' aero lugs while Shelly Horton's mixte was made by Bilenky Cycle Works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with an "art deco" motif and lugs apparently inspired by a door in a train station. Legendary painter Joe Bell, who Horton says used more than 17 separate coats per frame, did the immaculate finish work on both bikes.
Unlike other bikes at NAHBS – even the most impressive ones – both of Horton's machine are truly custom in nature from head to toe, comprising not only bespoke framesets but with nearly every component built as a true one-off specifically for this project.
Much of the work was done by Phil Wood, including the custom aluminum hub shells housing Rohloff internals out back and Schmidt dynamo guts up front, chainrings, cogs, rear dropouts, pedal cages, and even special eccentric bottom brackets that fit inside standard-diameter threaded shells. Additional pending items include center-pull brake calipers, crankarms, and headsets.
Rims were specially fabricated by Italian producer Ghisallo using mahogany inlays in the beech substrate, special stainless steel half-clips were made by Ron Andrews of King Cage, and Brooks provided subtly-tweaked versions of its B-33 and B-57s leather saddles. Remarkably, even Italian tubing powerhouse Columbus tossed its hat into the ring, digging out some 'new old' stock but also cutting new tooling to draw the 14mm-diameter mixte tubes on Shelly's bike – along with proper "Citta Donna" and "Urbano" labels to make it official.
Remarkably, Horton says the inspiration for both bikes comes from a pair of vintage CLB chain guards, crudely stamped from sheet metal and originally intended for value bikes back in its day. From there, Horton had the original logos replaced with his own Horton Collection icon, the windows were deburred, and both pieces were finally polished to a high-quality finish.
Horton estimates that over 2,000 man hours have been invested into the his and hers town bikes and while the cost of the project would likely extend into the six-digit realm, in reality it's nearly impossible to put a monetary value on the time and materials most of the companies contributed to the builds.
Despite the fantastic current appearance of the bikes, Horton says they're still not done yet with some additional items still to come later in the season such as custom-bent bars made by Cinelli and proper head tube badges.
As for that original simple request: several months have gone by and Trevor is now five but Horton says that these bikes aren't meant to be "wall queens" and he and Shelly took the bikes for their inaugural ride on the Sunday after NAHBS.
"We intend to be reasonably nice to the bikes by sparing them the abuse of off-road riding through this year's show season," Brett Horton told us. "To preserve the "show" look, Phil Wood made extra pedal plates, chainrings and cogs which will be put on and removed as needed. After that, they become normal bikes that are used on pavement and dirt alike, lugged around on car racks, put on airplanes, and ultimately ridden into the ground as they were designed to do."