The Builder – An Introduction

The Builder is a new series being written by a US-based, custom bike builder. We agreed to keep their identity hidden, so that this regular column doesn’t present as an ad for their services, but rather as a way to educate people about how custom bike building works on all levels. It will be part technical resource, part peek behind the curtain. We hope you enjoy it.

Can we talk about custom bicycles? Please?

The term “custom” sure is thrown around a lot in the bicycle world. We’re not going to talk about all the different definitions here. We’re going to talk about custom bicycles that are made one-by-one, from start to finish, with the future rider’s name attached to them from the inception of each bicycle. The kind that when the builder(s) begin, it’s because a living person has initiated a very involved and personal (dare I say luxurious) process that will result in a bicycle, of which every single part, right down to the length, color, and material of the spoke nipples has been chosen with that person in mind.

The Builder is brought to you by Shimano North America.

This is the first writing in a series that will explore custom frame/bicycle building. We’ll talk about steel, titanium, aluminum, carbon fiber, and combinations of those as frame building materials. We’ll explore things like tubing diameter, butting profiles, and material properties. The tone will be decidedly qualitative … an attempt to describe all the things that seem to be missing from magazine articles and popular forum discussions that only scratch the surface of what’s happening with a custom bike.

We’ll mention things like head angle and bottom bracket drop, but only that they’re part of the personality of a bike. We won’t make decisions about what’s better or worse, just that they are on a VERY long list of things decided by a very skilled person creating something unique for the rider. We’re going to talk about the economics of custom bicycle building, and you’re going to be surprised. Finally, we’re going to take you through a day in the life of a custom bicycle builder. 

The process of designing and building a custom bicycle can obviously vary significantly from builder to builder. Many builders choose to narrow the choices available to riders in order to maintain process efficiency, inventory economy, or construction method proficiency. Let’s begin our journey through the process after the material (steel, titanium, etc.) and construction method (welded, brazed, etc.) is decided. We’ll talk more about those elements later. 

For the act of riding a bike, the sum of many factors come together to form the “soul” of the bicycle. During the build process, the first factors to be decided after material and method are how the bike fits the rider and the geometry of the bicycle frame and fork. This is where the commissioning of a knowledgeable and experienced bicycle builder starts to become a luxury and what is provided becomes as much service as product. Said knowledgeable and experienced builder will, using their unique approach, and peppered with their unique style, assess one’s background, experience, knowledge, physical characteristics, and desires. The builder will be the tour guide on a journey whose destination is a bicycle as unique as the human it was crafted for.  

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Join the conversation
  1. Dan Murphy says

    Looking forward to this

  2. Julie Snyder says

    Keep it coming! We’re listening. I’ve been watching (and participating in) the hemorrhage of cycle manufacturing for too long; I’m looking forward to understand the ethos of small US builders like you.

  3. TominAlbany says

    Oh boy Oh boy Oh boy…

    1. TominAlbany says

      And allow me to say that those purple, anodized spoke nipples are so cool!

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