Editor’s Note: In this series, Grannygear introduces us to some custom frame builders and takes a closer look at the process of making and delivering a custom, handmade bicycle to a customer.
Part one: Off-the-rack: It’s a pretty good deal.
Every cyclist begins somewhere, usually at the beginning. Makes sense that way. Typically, a beginner cyclist walks into a local bike shop and buys a production bike from a major or minor manufacturer. It is considered an off-the-rack purchase, like buying a pre-tailored suit. In other words, the new bike is like all the others of its brand and model, only the size varies in a few key areas. Take for example, the make believe brand of scooters, Viking Cycles. They offer the discerning customer the newest model to hit the dirt, the Thor’s Hammer hardtail 29er. All of the Hammers have the same components and are the same color. Some will be longer and taller to fit larger riders. Some will be shorter and smaller to fit smaller riders, and so on. That is pretty much it as far as differences between the frame sizes. The frame tubes will most likely be the same in the shape, diameter of the tubes, etc. In some cases, in the range of sizes the angles built into the frame may vary such as seat tube angle and head tube angle but that is not always so.
And you know what? This approach works pretty well most of the time. It allows for cost savings to the bike manufacturer in that models are not too varied and tubing cuts, welding fixtures, and parts ordering are easy to forecast and set up. It works for the bike shop as they can offer a reasonable selection of sizes and have them readily available for sale. It works well for the bike buyer as the manufacturers typically do a pretty good job of spec’ing out the bikes. And, since the new rider has not the information or skills to design their own bikes, the hard work is done for them.
But, there exists an alternative to the ‘a few sizes fit all’ approach: The custom bike builder. Usually, by this we mean just the frame, not the whole bike, but that is out there as well. A custom builder offers his or her services as an option for those cyclists who need or desire a bike uniquely suited to their needs. You can get almost anything done within reason.
So, why a custom bike frame? If this off-the-rack bike works so well, why even offer the choice? It will almost certainly:
-Cost more than a preassembled bike, unless you are shopping at the high end of the off-the-rack spectrum, then it may not.
-Take longer to get once you order it. Off-the-rack is sitting at the bike shop or in a warehouse.
-Involves lots of decisions on your part…who do you want to have build the frame, how will you use it, what do you want out of it, etc.
Over the next few articles, we will delve into the realm of the custom bike frame. We will look at the possible reasons for choosing that route then we will ask questions of some of the best folks in the trade and listen to what they have to say and ask them why they do what they do. We picked builders who work in steel, Ti, aluminum, or perhaps all three. Some are established masters, some are the talented newcomers and no two are alike. You will want to hear what they have to say. Then, we will pick one builder and do a work-up for a custom frame order, going through the process of deciding how it should be built, the fit, etc, and then we will show the final result on paper.
Stay tuned, as we dive headfirst into the realm of torches, benders, files, welding rods and friendly shop dogs…the world of the small, custom builder.
Note: We are running this series on The Bike Lab as well.