Once you have got the cycling fever, you might want to build your bicycle from start to finish. This is fun, but can be an expensive process depending on your taste and budget. There are custom builders who can take your measurements and preferences to build your own bike, but it is not half as fun or satisfying as building your bicycle. This article will show you how to build your own bike by selecting the components and assembling them in a custom way.
Deciding to build your own bicycle is just the first decision you will make. There are dozens of decisions you will have to make about the frame, style of bicycle, components and fit.
You can take a couple of initial routes at this point. You can do the research the research into the components, which in some cases is part of the fun. The other path is to sit down with a local bicycle dealer to seek their advice and help buying the parts. The advantage of doing the research yourself is that you are not limited to the parts or bicycles a local bicycle dealer can get for you. Most bicycle dealers carry a limited number of bicycle and part brands, but they will be able to build anything for you if you deliver them the parts. Decide what's best for you and make trips to multiple bicycle shops to check out parts. If you are building your own bike on a budget, try buying discount bikes and using them for parts.
Start with the frame. What material are you going to use? Going the custom route means you want something that is distinctive usually, which means carbon fibre or titanium. Carbon fibre is lighter and allows for more design options. Titanium is usually stiffer and can mean heavier, but not by a lot. Local bicycle publications can be a good place to shop for a frame. Usually someone selling a frame only is trading up themselves so you can get something more exotic for a good price. There are also online retailers that will sell you a frame only or a frame and the component parts you want. Make sure you have the right to return a used frame if you go that route and that you inspect if very carefully before accepting it.
Next is the component or build kit. There are three primary makers of bicycle components: Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM. All have their characteristics that make their products unique and have a range of products to fit any budget when building a your own bike. This is an area where new parts are essential. The difference in new vs. used is usually not a great deal of money, so new is the way to go. The parts you will get from a component group are: both derailleurs, brakes, shifters or controllers, crank set (crank and bottom bracket) and chain.
Wheels are next. Wheels should take up be nearly 1/2 of that budget because they make the biggest difference in performance other than overall weight and the frame. The type of wheels you select are dependent on a few factors. First, which component group did you select? Shimano and SRAM use one kind of freewheel-rear wheel and Campagnolo uses another -- this is due to the hub set up. There are also some brands that are exclusive to that set up and there are some manufacturers that will make both types, but it is a factor. Next factor is what type of riding are you going to be doing? Triathlons could mean one type of wheel set or lots of climbing could be another kind of wheel set. Aero wheels are popular now and have higher performance characteristics, but also could be significantly more expensive. What material would you like to have in the wheels? Carbon fibre or titanium will be lighter but more expensive. Carbon fibre wheels also will require carbon fibre safe brake pads. You also need to decide whether you want to use tubular or clincher wheels. Tubular roll faster, but require a professional, glue and time to change the tyres. Clinchers are in general easily changed if you have a flat.
Tryes are also part of the wheel selection process. Spend more money on tyres and less on tubes. There is very little difference in tubes, but significant differences in tyres. Is rolling speed or grip more important or a combination of both? The tyres need to match the wheels with regard to clinchers or tubular.
Selecting a saddle is purely a matter of fit. Some professional cyclists use the same saddle for years and refuse to change. As one columnist put it, it's you rear end so you'll know what is best. Try at least three saddles with different shapes or geometry to find the one that's right for you. You will also need a seat post that is compatible with your frame.
Clipless pedals are the way to go, but there are different shapes and styles which will also determine the cleats you need.
The last components you need are handlebars, handlebar tape and pedals. Handlebars with curved ends or drops, have the same basic shapes, but might have slight variances on grip.
Assuming you decide to build the bicycle yourself, you will need specific tools and a stand. The tools you will need to have at a minimum are: a complete set of Allen keys, flat head and Philips screw drivers, pedal spanner, cassette locking tool and chain whip, chain breaker, crank puller and bottom bracket tool, as well as a cable puller and cable cutting tool.
The easiest place to start is to install the tyres and tubes on the wheels. Next put a small amount of grease on the rear wheel or free hub where it meets the cassette and install the cassette. Be careful to make sure all of the spacers and components are installed as intended. Next use the cassette locking tool to secure it to the hub.
Next attach the seat post and saddle to the frame. You will need Allen keys to accomplish this. You have the option of cutting the seat post to remove weight, but only to a certain point to ensure it will stay secure.
Secure the handle bar to the stem and the stem to the steering tube attached to the fork. If the head tube does not have a head set you will need to install one. You may need to install spacers to raise the handlebars to a comfortable height. The steering tube is another part that can be cut to the a right size if you wish.
Attach the shifters or controllers to the handlebars. You will use an Allen key to snug them to the handlebars. You will probably want to adjust them slightly later in the process. The exact location is a matter of personal fit and comfort.
Attach the brakes through the frame. There is a front brake set and rear brake set. Brakes are secured to the frame with Allen keys. Once installed move the adjustment lever all the way down.
Next install the crank and bottom bracket. There is are specific tools for this. First install the bottom bracket using a bottom bracket spanner. There are different types of spanners depending on the type of bottom bracket and whether or not the bottom bracket has external cups or not. Next install the crankset. Again, there are specific tools that are needed depending on the crankset.
Next install the derailleurs. This is largely a matter of attaching them to the frame. They will need to be adjusted later, but install them on the frame.
Measure and cut the chain after running it through the deraileurs and chain ring. The best way to measure the chain is to use the large chain ring and the largest cassette cog then add 2-3 additional links. You will need a chain breaker to cut the excess chain links and finish the installation.
Install the brake cables and then the derailleur cables. The controllers and brakes will come with detailed instructions on the correct methods to install the cables. You will need to adjust the high and low limit screws on the derailleurs to help ensure the are working properly.
The last step is to adjust the fit and tune the controls to make sure everything is comfortable and works as intended.
Install the brake cables. Your brake and shifters will give you detailed instructions on the correct method. This is also the case with the derailleur cables. After you get them installed you will want to set the upper and lower limit screws to dial in more precise shifts.
Make sure you components are all compatible as you decide and buy them. You need to decide if you want to make all your own decisions or to seek the help of a local bicycle shop. Making the component decisions can be complicated, but assembling the bicycle is very complex. Minimally, you should take a bicycle maintenance and building class if possible. To save money on parts, you could buy a couple of discount bikes for parts -- just make sure they are in working order.
Making decisions on your custom bicycle is fun and will truly make it your bicycle. Make sure you know what you are doing if you are going to build it yourself. A middle ground between buying an off the shelf bicycle and building one yourself is to decide on components and get the professionals to assemble it or to help you assemble it. It is a good idea to get a knowledgeable friend or professional to check behind you for performance and fit.
Tips and warnings
- Make sure you components are all compatible as you decide and buy them.
- You need to decide if you want to make all your own decisions or to seek the help of a local bicycle shop.
- Making the component decisions can be complicated, but assembling the bicycle is very complex.
- Minimally, you should take a bicycle maintenance and building class if possible.
- To save money on parts, you could buy a couple of discount bikes for parts -- just make sure they are in working order.
- Making decisions on your custom bicycle is fun and will truly make it your bicycle. Make sure you know what you are doing if you are going to build it yourself.
- A middle ground between buying an off the shelf bicycle and building one yourself is to decide on components and get the professionals to assemble it or to help you assemble it.
- It is a good idea to get a knowledgeable friend or professional to check behind you for performance and fit.