How to build a custom bike

Written by martin malcolm | 13/05/2017
How to build a custom bike
Two-wheeled perfection (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Build your own bike from parts and you can create exactly the cycle you want, tailored to your height, build and needs. There are other advantages, too. Guardian journalist Robert Penn says a do-it-yourself cycle costs about a third of what you would pay in the shops. Self-builds also put you in control of quality. You no longer have to accept off-the-peg parts and specifications and you are free to create your own one-of-a-kind piece of two-wheeled perfection.


How to build a custom bike
Know your bike: routine maintenance (John Howard/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Spend time tinkering with an existing bike before you attempt to build a new one of your own. Simple jobs of ongoing maintenance, such as repairing a tyre, oiling a bike chain or replacing a brake cable, will give you a good grounding in the anatomy of the bike and how its parts work together.


How to build a custom bike
Seat tube: the stem below the saddle (Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Get yourself measured at a bike shop, to establish your "seat tube" measurement in centimetres. Find a bike frame in this size by searching online cycle supply firms. Check the frame you buy has its fork attached, ready to receive the front wheel. Heavier aluminium and steel frames are cheaper than lighter carbon-fibre ones.

Finish kit

How to build a custom bike
Cycle supply shop (Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images)

Buy a "finish kit" of all the remaining components from a specialist custom-bike supplier, if you don't want to track down individual cycle parts from other sources. Bike frames purchased with finish kits often come partially assembled. A finish kit may turn out to be cheaper than buying a lot of individual components.

Groupset and wheels

How to build a custom bike
Gears and chain (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Take your frame along, if you prefer searching out components from cycle shops, to ensure everything fits. Buy a "groupset" of the chain and its cogs, derailleurs for changing gear and cranks which fix to the bike pedals. You'll obviously need wheels. If you're buying secondhand, check the wheel rims. Reject them if you spot any cracks.

Headset and saddle

How to build a custom bike
Handlebars with grips (Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Buy a "headset," if you're searching out individual components. This comprises of the handlebars and grips mounted on a tube that fits into your frame. You will also need a saddle, mounted on a short tube that attaches to the frame. With these items, as before, check carefully to make sure they fit your bike frame before handing over your hard-earned cash.


How to build a custom bike
Set of bike tools (Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Use a bike repair stand to hold your bike frame while you work on it. You'll also need a set of bike tools. Putting together the bottom bracket of your bike, for example, requires a specialist tool. Bike stand and tool kit are both available from cycle supply shops and online stores.

No rush

How to build a custom bike
Look closely at the bike parts (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Take your time when you start to assemble your bike. Study how the various elements connect. If you're puzzled by how any particular parts fit together, look closely at an existing cycle to see how its mechanism is organised. Once you're sure what to do, it may take you over four hours to put your bike together.


How to build a custom bike
Oil: avoid seizing up (John Howard/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Work on one section of the bike at a time. Wherever metal will touch against metal, rub a little oil or bike grease onto the parts before fitting them together. Grease the threads of each connecting bolt in the same way. This prevents the mechanism seizing up and makes it easier to disassemble your bike in future.


How to build a custom bike
Bolt bike parts to the frame (Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Continue bolting bike parts to the frame. Check online video demonstrations of cycle building, if you hit any snags. You'll find some videos in the Resources section of this slideshow. Do not tighten bolts and fixings to the fullest yet, as you may need to take your bike apart again to change something.

Tighten up

How to build a custom bike
Tighten bolts and fixings (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Check over every part of your bike after you have fully assembled it. Shake every element hard to make sure it is secure. Tighten all bolts and fixings until they fit snugly.


How to build a custom bike
Tauten the brake cables (Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Make sure each brake pad is flat and centered in the rim of the back wheel. Adjust the brake fixings so the pads touch the rim. Pull hard on the brake levers to make sure the brake cable is fully stretched and taut.

Finishing touches

How to build a custom bike
Adjust the saddle (Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Pump up the tyres. Set the bike saddle at the correct height: you should be able to sit comfortably astride the bike and stretch your legs out fully without bending your knees. Give those bolts one last check and you're ready to go.

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