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  1. #1
    Southern Grrl globe9's Avatar
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    Female Newbie Wants to Build a Bike--I have a question.

    Hi everyone,

    I ride a Marin Hawk Hill Mtn bike, but have recently become very interested in getting a decent frame and building my own mtn bike. This would be a hobby and a learning experience. I can't even change the tires on my Marin now, so I would like to learn a lot more about bicycle mechanics. Some people might see this as a bit extreme, but I think it will be fun.

    I am not very mechanically inclined, but I am a quick learner, however I tend to do well with step by step instructions. Is there a website somewhere that has instructions on building a bike STEP BY STEP. Like starting off with an empty frame. The first instruction would be step 1: install " " whatever component should go on the frame first. Then "once step 1 is installed, move on to step 2, which would be install this".

    Am I making it too simple? Is is possible to build a bike this way? I do realize I'll have to invest in tools and a stand and I'm prepared to do that. I'm also in no rush to build this bike, like I said, it would be a hobby and eventually I hope I end up with a sweet product.

    Thanks to all for any advice suggestions!
    --Marin Hawkhill

  2. #2
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    I just assembled a bike for the first time and this is the order I took

    1. headset/fork
    2. cassette on rear wheel
    3. bottom bracket
    4. right crank
    5. left crank
    6. pedals
    7. rear derailleur
    8. front derailleur
    9. seatpost
    10. saddle
    11. stem
    12. handlebars
    13. shifters
    14. brakes
    15. wheels
    16. chain

    (ride bike around for a bit)

    17. headset spacers
    18. cut steerer.

    Really though I don't think there's a right or wrong way to do it. My major bit of advice would be to leave the fork uncut until you are sure what height you need the handlebars at.

  3. #3
    Senior Member capwater's Avatar
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    Vast majority of parts do not need to be done in any particular order. Whether you put the cranks, brakes, deraillers, etc on first matters not. Now it ain't gonna be cheaper by any means to do it this way, but you will learn a ton. Best reference available is www. parktool.com

  4. #4
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    I recommend getting and reading one, or better two, maintenance and repair books before you do anything else. Bicycling Magazine's "Complete Guide to Bicycle Repair and Maintenance" is a good one and Lennard Zinn's "Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance" is another. Park Tools "Blue Book" is also recommended but I have no personal experience with it. Sheldon Brown's Web site and the Park Tool web site are extremely useful too.

    As noted the order of parts installation usually isn't important but there are exceptions. Installing the bottom bracket and crank should be complete before installing the front derailleur since the chainrings are used to set its height and alignment.

    Finally, you will need some bike-specific tools so your first build can be expensive. After that, the tools are free.

  5. #5
    Small Member maddmaxx's Avatar
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    Often it is better to do the first build as a "swap". That is, start with a doner bike and move the parts over to a new frame. This way you get to see how the part was installed and you learn a lot about the job as you take the part off.

    This is usually done as a first upgrade to an existing bike.

  6. #6
    Ferrous wheel
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    We also have a bike co-op here in New Orleans, Plan B in the Marigny. You could volunteer there and gain some hands-on experience.
    One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach -- all the damn vampires.

  7. #7
    Who farted? Ka_Jun's Avatar
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  8. #8
    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    Along with all the great stuff already I'd like to suggest that you start by working on your present bike first. Work your way through servicing all the parts of your present bike and it'll be a great way to learn where you get to see how it's supposed to look and feel before you take it apart so you know what you have to do to get it back together again.

    If you're in a city or larger town I'd also suggest you check out the local library. Our own here has a couple of great books on the whole thing of servicing your bike and pictures of some of the steps.

    And if you don't have a way to do it get a digital camera and learn to post good quality small pictures here on the site. That way we can help you out as you run into tough spots.

    For starters you'll need a kit of some of the bicycle specific tools. Park makes an all in one kit that's very nice. I think it was Jenson that had a similar kit of the bicycle specific stuff that you then add a set of allen wrenches and regular combination metric wrenches to and you're all set. Tools for doing this stuff will set you back around $100. A bike stand is also highly recomended but you can live without one as long as you have a way to lift your bike off the ground to work on it. If you're in an apartment that won't fly so you'll want a folding stand so you can put it away between sessions. And a tarp or rubber matt to catch oil and grease droppings that goes under the stand.

    While you're servicing your present bike stem to stern and learning as you go you can shop around for deals on the parts and frame for your next bike.

    And why another mountain bike? What about something a little different like a cyclocross bike or a 29'er or a commuter special or a single speed or whatever? Variety is the spice of life you know...
    Model airplanes are cool too!.....

  9. #9
    Senior Member Thumpic's Avatar
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    bunch of intructional videos on "you tube" too...........
    Thumpic....

    Green is the new "CHEAP"

  10. #10
    Senior Member Joshua A.C. New's Avatar
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    I started by taking apart a bike and putting it back together. It was a piece of crap, but I got it for $20 at a yard sale, and then my friend could ride it around for a while when he needed a bike. I didn't solve the crap problem, but I learned a bunch. I also made the bike worse than it had been in one way (it turns out that leftover part *was* important...).
    Joshua A.C. Newman,
    Passionate lover of construction

  11. #11
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    I learn how to work on a bike by buying a Bianchi road bike, one that was intended to be easily torn apart and put back together. I started with a few parts at a time so that it allowed me the time to purchase the neccessary tools for each procedure and the chance to ask questions from those who are or were knowlegeable about this endeavor. I read bicycling articles on maintenance and sometimes learn from watching LBS working on one of my bikes when I couldn't fix the problem I was having. After 15 years of doing this I then began to assemble my first bike by lacing my own rims and installing all the parts from ground zero. I now have built three bikes from acquiring the frames and parts independantly and I love it, I have also built 11 rims by now: some for road, some for mtb, some for cyclocross, and some for touring. By assembling my own bike I have learned a lot about the value of keeping a bike tuned at all times. And I now have extended my experiences to helping those who have need of my skillful hands and creative problem solving. It sounds easy and it is if you have the desire and patience to tinker with a bike. That's my two cents. rwun

  12. #12
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by penexpers View Post
    I just assembled a bike for the first time and this is the order I took

    1. headset/fork
    2. cassette on rear wheel
    3. bottom bracket
    4. right crank
    5. left crank
    6. pedals
    7. rear derailleur
    8. front derailleur
    9. seatpost
    10. saddle
    11. stem
    12. handlebars
    13. shifters
    14. brakes
    15. wheels
    16. chain

    (ride bike around for a bit)

    17. headset spacers
    18. cut steerer.

    Really though I don't think there's a right or wrong way to do it. My major bit of advice would be to leave the fork uncut until you are sure what height you need the handlebars at.
    A couple of nits to pick

    Seatpost first since that's what I clamp in the repair stand. I usually put the saddle on at the same time since the post looks weird without a saddle on it

    Stem and spacers may have to be installed with the fork and headset. For threadless, you can't keep the fork in place without them.

    I usually put the chain, derailers, shifters and wheels on close together since all that stuff needs to be installed and adjusted together.
    Stuart Black
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  13. #13
    Senior Member
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    I would strongly echo the sentiment of learning on a beater. I'm trying to learn as I go, and I've definitely screwed stuff up. Fortunately, I've managed to mess up my 15 year old beater, and that's OK.

    If you want, get a used cheap-o off of Craigslist, take the thing apart, and see if you can put it back together.

  14. #14
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    Making your first excursion into bike mechanics by building a good bike from parts is a bit like making your first attempt at automobile repair by doing a complete engine rebuild without ever having learned to change the oil filter. I guess it can be done but it's not a recommended approach.

    I completely agree that working on your current bike and/or rebuilding a beater is a necessary learning experience before tackling a job that can lead to expensive mistakes.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    Stem and spacers may have to be installed with the fork and headset. For threadless, you can't keep the fork in place without them.
    What I meant here was to install the bottom part of the headset first, then build the bike up and ride it around a bit. There will be a bit of movement in the fork but it's a good way of making sure you can get the handlebars at the right height. You can add remove spacers at this point. Then when you are happy with the height, you can get the fork cut and install the star nut and the rest of the headset.

  16. #16
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by penexpers View Post
    What I meant here was to install the bottom part of the headset first, then build the bike up and ride it around a bit. There will be a bit of movement in the fork but it's a good way of making sure you can get the handlebars at the right height. You can add remove spacers at this point. Then when you are happy with the height, you can get the fork cut and install the star nut and the rest of the headset.
    If I understand what you are recommending, it's a good way to ovalize the head tube and/or damage both the fork steerer and headset. Riding with the top cup and bearing of the headset missing is very much a bad idea.

    The proper way to fit a threadless fork if you don't know the correct handlebar height is to install the complete headset, install the fork with the steerer too long, add spacers, the stem and enough spacers above the stem to allow the top cap to set the headset preload. The starnut (or better, a compression plug) can be installed at the right level below the top of the steerer as it can be driven in further if the steerer has to be shortened. Tighten the stem clamp bolts to hold the adjustment and ride the bike to see how it feels.

    After you ride a bit and determine exactly where you want the bars, you place spacers under the stem as appropriate, cut the steerer to the right length (repositioning the starnut as required) and add any top spacer, top cap, set the preload and tighten the stem clamp bolts.

  17. #17
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    The cool thing about the custom build is that you can get exactly what you want. The bad part is that it wil be more expensive than buying a complete bike. You may end up with a homebuilt used bike that costs more than something you could have bought new with "better" components. On the other hand, if you have a vision in mind, there is no replacing scrounging and getting it put together.

    Two of my bikes are this way. I probably could have bought a very nice new bike for how much I have spent keeping them period appropriate.

    Donor bikes are great ways to get parts for cheaper than if you bought individually.

  18. #18
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by masiman View Post
    The cool thing about the custom build is that you can get exactly what you want. The bad part is that it wil be more expensive than buying a complete bike.
    Absolutely correct but the current discussion isn't about economics, it's about mechanical expertise. My take is that the OP doesn't have the experience or tools to conduct the project she is proposing.

  19. #19
    DRF aka Thrifty Bill wrk101's Avatar
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    I would pick up a cheap bike at a thrift store or garage sale, and tear into it. Clean it up, reassemble, flip it, and then you are ready for the "big" project. Also, be sure to spend some money on a good bike stand. I bought a used PCS-1 (Parks) with a wheel tuner attachment. Cheaper stands are worthless in my opinion.

    You will see work stands on Craigs List (best deals usually) and ebay (decent deals).

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
    Absolutely correct but the current discussion isn't about economics, it's about mechanical expertise. My take is that the OP doesn't have the experience or tools to conduct the project she is proposing.
    Ya, agreed. I was only offering it as a "full disclosure". She did mention buying tools and that there was no rush. I was not sure if she had zeroed in on a particular classic gotta have ride or just wanted her next ride to be nice and also wanted to make it a full on mechanic experience. In any case kudos to her. I only meant to let her know about what she could expect with the different avenues after the mechanic skills are addressed. I.e. does she want to risk potential mistakes on a nice ride, or learn on a beater for cheap.

    Quote Originally Posted by globe9
    Am I making it too simple? Is is possible to build a bike this way? I do realize I'll have to invest in tools and a stand and I'm prepared to do that. I'm also in no rush to build this bike, like I said, it would be a hobby and eventually I hope I end up with a sweet product.

    Thanks to all for any advice suggestions!

  21. #21
    Senior Member
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    Good reference material is a must, so let me tell you what I use.

    I use sheldonbrown.com along with Barnett's Manual, a four-volume tome on bicycle mechanics.

    The two are complementary. I feel like you might really like the Barnett, since it breaks everything down into step-by-step procedures with a scientific level of precision. The illustrations are breathtaking, and there are probably well over a thousand of them. It's also quite comprehensive for (modern) stuff, though for older stuff like overhauling a three-speed hub you'll have to look elsewhere. The problem with Barnett's is that it can verge on robotic and incomprehensible, and he really misses the forest for the trees and general issues like part compatibility, substitutions, choosing appropriate parts for a build, etc. Sheldon Brown is more heuristic and can be much clearer (for example, I much prefer Sheldon's directions on wheelbuilding). He's a Rosetta Stone of bicycle mechanics' lore. But he doesn't cover every nook and cranny of the bicycle.

    Barnett's may be hard to find in hardcopy; it recently went out of print. When I ordered mine from Amazon in December, they backordered it for eight weeks and then admitted they couldn't get any more...so I got it for a higher price from barnesandnoble.com. It seems even they are out now...but there's a electronic version you can buy if that floats your boat. Personally, I'm a fan of having my hardcopy with its grease-resistant pages...it's a perfect Saturday afternoon when I can sit in my apartment sunroom with Barnett's open to the correct grease-resistant page, rebuilding a brake caliper or something.

    Working on bikes is HUGE fun, since you can actually get into the guts of a useful, efficient mode of transportation down to the very last bearing. The sense of accomplishment once you get the bike working is extraordinary.

    Good luck and welcome to this hobby!
    Last edited by FLYcrash; 04-04-08 at 02:49 PM. Reason: typos, etc.

  22. #22
    Go vindicator's Avatar
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    While you don't need a phd to build a bike some experience would help you greatly. It would probably be better to learn some common tasks like adjusting your gears and brakes. The tools required: allen keys, hex wrenches, cable cutter and cable stretcher could run you anywhere from $50 to over $100 depending on what quality or brand name you go with. It's a good way to save time and money.

    Quote Originally Posted by spider-man View Post
    We also have a bike co-op here in New Orleans, Plan B in the Marigny. You could volunteer there and gain some hands-on experience.
    This is a great idea. The local co-op runs classes for beginners and covers the basics ( gears, brakes and flat tires). They also let you rent out a stand and tools and for a couple extra bucks more an experienced mechanic will help you carry out your repairs. I'm sure yours offers something similar. It would be a good place to learn from an experienced mechanic and also use their tools to install the bb and headset cups and other parts that require bike specific and thus more expensive tools once you're ready for your build.

    A bike build or rather the knowledge required is not acquired overnight. Read a book, read it a couple of times give it time to sink in. Do some online research. Come here and read some of the threads and ask questions. Take your time.
    Punctuality is the thief of time.

  23. #23
    Senior Member limeylew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spider-man View Post
    We also have a bike co-op here in New Orleans, Plan B in the Marigny. You could volunteer there and gain some hands-on experience.
    This is a GREAT suggestion.

    You beat me to it. :-)
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  24. #24
    Go vindicator's Avatar
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    I forgot to mention that a co-op is also a great place to meet other bike people.
    Punctuality is the thief of time.

  25. #25
    Senior Member Novakane's Avatar
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    If you can find a junk-bike either in the trash or at a local bike-dump, stripping it down and rebuilding it is a great way to learn - without the costly expense of breaking a part on an expensive system.
    Check out the aforementioned parktools.com and sheldonbrown.com for instructions on disassembly and re-assembly of the bike.

    Keep in mind some parts such as the bottom bracket will require special tools that you would need to purchase if you plan to build the whole bike from scratch.

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