Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Build you own bike - go on I dare you!

My self build De Rosa R838
I haven’t really posted much recently – there have been two very good reasons for this. Firstly the weather depressed me so much after a month of continual rain – and ongoing until this week, secondly and more importantly I have been building a new road bike and this is what I want to talk about today in the hope it may give a few more of you the conviction to try.

First of all lets deal with why. Why go through all the trouble of building your own bike when you can pop in a shop and buy one ready built? There are two reasons I strongly recommend this approach both tangible and intangible. The intangible is simply the satisfaction that you get from doing it yourself – despite the fear your LBS and posters on forums give people about building your own bike, it really isn’t that hard. Secondly (the tangible) why should you have to have a bike that has components that have been chosen for you?

I think it first best to talk about the tangible in more detail. When a bike is delivered in to a shop the company that built it has been driven by one very important factor – price point. As I trawled around bike shops I very soon noticed that on road bikes from £2,000 upwards the frame very often was of a much higher specification than the components. Why would you have a bike with a frame costing £1,800 plus with components 3 or 4 iterations down the scale (e.g. Sram Apex, Shimano 105 or Compag Athena? The difference between these and a higher level groupset may only be £200 – so you spend £2,000 - £3,000 and yet you immediately feel the need to upgrade – surely it would be better to spend and extra £200 and have a groupset you want?

Companies making the bike may want to put on cheaper components but it might take the bike above the £3,000 price point! Don’t take my word for it any honest salesman at your LBS will agree with me on this point. And then of course soon afterwards you feel the need to have a groupset that justifies your frame and you then go and blast another £800 of hard earned money to get that groupset, good for the shops though as you keep on spending and replacing parts before they wear out. It makes perfect sense to me, to start with everything how you want it (within your skill and price bracket). Even worse is when I have looked at some high end carbon bikes they have cheap heavy alloy seat-posts, and who is to say that the bars they provide as part of the spec are at the correct drop for you, or the bar tape is what you like. The list is endless as to the items that you eventually replace. When i bought my first bike – I got what I thought would be a spec I would never need to change – within 2 months I was fiddling and changing a majority of the parts, eventually it became silly replacing items on a frame that did not warrant them..

Additionally, when you build your own bike it stands to reason it will not be your first bike, I had parts (saddle and wheels) that I had upgraded on my old bike – they where good quality parts and expensive – they would get very little use left on the old bike – so I simply transferred them to the new bike and put the original wheels and saddle back on the old bike (immediate £600 saving).

Another thing you are always warned when you buy a complete bike is that if you were to buy the parts individually they would cost a lot more – yes that is true but it doesn’t take a genius to source parts at well below the list price on the internet. For example the frame I bought cost me £800 – it’s list price was £1,700. The difference was that I bought an ex-display frame, not used on the road but it did previously have the original parts attached. I had serious doubts about buying a heavily used carbon frame second hand and I am nowhere near brave enough to buy direct from China / Taiwan which seemed like a lottery. Additionally I wanted a top quality carbon fibre not something built with cheaper materials – the only way I could guarantee this was to buy a known frame / build.

All in all by careful buying I saved around £1,400 on list price for the items I bought – because I was waiting for the insurance cheque for the personal injuries I received in a crash (this paid for the bike with some cash to spare) it gave me time to investigate the exact parts I wanted and time to find the best price (lots of eBay hunting and waiting).

As for the intangibles – building the bike was incredibly therapeutic, I really enjoyed the experience of building the bike and even found myself taking more time than was necessary just because the experience was so rewarding. All the items I bought came with very complete manuals and fitting instructions. Generally the process I followed was:

  • Choose the best product for me – reading many professional and customer reviews
  • Wait and take my time to get the best price for a new part.
  • Watch a u-tube on how to fit the product
  • Read the manual
  • Install the item
  • Un-install the item
  • Re-install item getting it inch perfect

I also bought some additional tools I needed like a 2 torque wrenches, chain tool and proper wire cutters (mostly on eBay where I saved a lot) – I already have many other general items like spanners, hex keys etc. If you take your time and fit things with care I believe you do a better job then a skilled technician, mostly because the bike is your pride and joy and you will not accept even the slightest error (for example I adjusted my break leavers and bar tape about 5 times before I was happy with the set-up). The only item I didn’t install was the BB30 bearings – the tool to do this was about £90 (cheapest I could find) so it made sense to pay the LBS £10 to fit it. The other advantage of DIY bike build is there is now nothing on the bike that I don’t know about and understand in-depth. I can fix just about any issue now – though I still am not so hot with the front derailleur!

Obviously I would not recommend building you own bike if you have not had a shop bought one first – you need to know what you want and about how you cycle before deciding on the parts that best suit your needs.

Next post will be about the bike itself what it has on it etc. But I can recommend if you have the time / desire and are not in a rush, take the plunge and build your own bike, you will not regret it.

1 comment:

  1. It has an extended frame and forward pedaling which make it an exceptionally comfortable cruiser for taller people.

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