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  1. #1
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    How does someone check the reputation and workmanship of a framebuilder?

    I'm considering having a frame build from a one-man shop. The builder has a complete website and was very knowledgeable on the phone. I know what I want in terms of geometry and features, but the tubeset selection and overall quality is something I need to research.

    A google search did not provide much help.

    How can I do my diligence before taking the plunge?
    When I ride my bike I feel free and happy and strong. I'm liberated from the usual nonsense of day to day life. Solid, dependable, silent, my bike is my horse, my fighter jet, my island, my friend. Together we will conquer that hill and thereafter the world.

  2. #2
    Randomhead
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    that's really hard question to answer. I know a couple of guys I would recommend and nothing about many more. I see people start up and start selling bikes from very early on, which I think is a mistake for both parties. That's why a lot of people end up making a safe choice and going with one of the big names or someone that resells Waterford/Gunnars.

    That being said, Trek shipped my 4th frame in 1978, so going with a big name is not necessarily something that is going to save you.

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    Ask the builder for names and phone numbers of past clients. When you talk with them, ask if they know other customers. Talking with the new list of customers can help remove any bias from the list provided by the builder.

  4. #4
    Senior Member ftwelder's Avatar
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    That is sure a good question considering who you are asking. Part of a custom bicycle is a performance. If you like the stills, dug the video, you should enjoy the live show. Also, try bike shops in the builders area. My local BS' bring me jobs so I am pretty sure they like me.
    1886 Surrey machinists Invincible, 1900 Nashua, 1937 Raleigh Golden Arrow, 1938 Raleigh Silver Record, 1951 Armstrong tourmalet, 1970 Motobecane Grand Record, 1971 Raleigh Professional, 1971 Gitane TDF, 1972 Legnano Gran Primio, 1973, Peugeot PX-10, 1975 Roberts, 1984 Battaglin Giro, 1985 Grandis Speciale, 2012 FTW

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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by unterhausen View Post
    That being said, Trek shipped my 4th frame in 1978, so going with a big name is not necessarily something that is going to save you.

    That is a really good point. There are some folks out there who say over an over that one should make dozens of frames before selling/using any, when one knows that is not what is really happening, or maybe happened with them either, if one considers the history of US custom building. Of course, there would be a lot less to worry about if these newbies had a Trek to do the quality control. Another data point being the BF requirement that all new hires build a bike. Presumably BF feels those bikes are good to go. Of course using set-up stuff is 100x easier than working it all out for yourself.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Barrettscv View Post

    How can I do my diligence before taking the plunge?
    Main thing would be to get some feedback from other people who have his bikes. But even that raises the question of how they would know a good bike...

    Part of what you are paying for is the reputation. If you buy a bike from someone who does a good job, but does not have a rep, the hope is that one is somehow getting away with it. One got the quality bike, but did not overpay for it. And there is a point to that. But there is also the fact that reputation is part of the package. It ads to the pride of ownership, resale, and potentially the quality of the build. And it ads to the certainty of the decisions that went into making the bike.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    We are actually going through the same process of selecting a custom builder. Two builders are very well known; two of them not so much. One of them (a famous builder) recently declined to work with us because of a wheel size requirement. We wanted to use 26"-wheels instead of 650b or 700c for a travel bike with S&S couplers or Ritchey "break-away." That's fine with us as it would have defeated the purpose of a "custom" build.

    Deciding factors for us:

    * Does the builder have any experience building bikes in the specific category: road racing, touring, randonneuring, cyclocross, etc.?

    * Can he successfully build a frame meeting all of our requirements (features, aesthetics sensibility, etc.)? You might have specific requirements that may get the builder out of his comfort zone. If there are concerns about something or it's something he's never done before, take it as a red flag.

    * Builder should have a policy to reimburse you the deposit at any time if you're not happy with their design before they start building (i.e., on paper!) Some do require a deposit before they spend the time to work on this design. That's fine, but there needs to be an agreement that also protects you if you're not happy with what he'll present you. It's preferable to work with builders that will provide a free design before you make a deposit.

    * We've been interviewing various builders. We will also be buying all components/accessories brand new. We have noticed that once you get everything built up, the price differential for the frameset alone gets diluted into everything else... for us, a differential of ~$500. So, we've been forced to look into other things: what's his background, any positive reviews, awards, experience in the bike sports/industry, how long for delivery, color specifics (aesthetics), post-sale service/warranty? Will that frameset/bike be desirable if you ever need to sell it? People who know about bikes are not interested in buying a product that no one knows anything or very little about. Basically, unless this is a really good friend cutting you a nice deal, do consider spending the extra money if you need to go with someone with better reputation.

    * We still haven't spoken to testimonials, but we have been lucky to find a lot of good info online about each of them.

    A related anecdote...

    A friend of mine built a touring bike for his wife a few years ago. They narrowed it down to two builders. One was a local "unknown" builder who had been building frames for not too long (2 years or less - can't remember!) The other one was a renown and much larger custom builder who had been building bikes for decades locally and long-distance. The big drawback was that they were across the country. They ended up giving the opportunity to the local builder thinking they would be able to better control the building process. The frame turned out beautiful. It had everything they requested. They did a few credit card tours and the bike performed nicely. Once they started touring cross-country and down in Latin America, however, issues became quite apparent... from shimmy and wobbles at higher speeds, tires wearing out unevenly, to chain getting loose and other smaller issues. This was a complex build involving a Rohloff IGH. Looking back, my friend told me privately that if he had to do it all over again they would select the reputable builder across the country who had vast experience with the type of build they needed.
    Last edited by Chris Pringle; 12-31-12 at 08:32 PM.

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    "Once they started touring cross-country and down in Latin America, however, issues became quite apparent... from shimmy and wobbles at higher speeds, tires wearing out unevenly, to chain getting loose and other smaller issues."
    i'm glad you didn't name the builder because all those issues are BS. chain getting loose? what does that mean and how could that be the builders fault? tires wear uneven? tires wear unevenly on all bikes. shimmy and wobble probably had more to do with the load placement than the frame construction

  9. #9
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ride there View Post
    "Once they started touring cross-country and down in Latin America, however, issues became quite apparent... from shimmy and wobbles at higher speeds, tires wearing out unevenly, to chain getting loose and other smaller issues."
    i'm glad you didn't name the builder because all those issues are BS. chain getting loose? what does that mean and how could that be the builders fault? tires wear uneven? tires wear unevenly on all bikes. shimmy and wobble probably had more to do with the load placement than the frame construction
    I can see some reasons, from a builder's design and build reference, to why the above problems could happen. I wonder though if the communication between the rider and builder was as full as it should have been. I also wonder if the builder had much experience with the components needed to fill the order. Further I wonder if the rider had the understanding of the differences that third world and self contained touring places on the equipment AND the up keep of such. Andy.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by ride there View Post
    i'm glad you didn't name the builder because all those issues are BS. chain getting loose? what does that mean and how could that be the builders fault? tires wear uneven? tires wear unevenly on all bikes. shimmy and wobble probably had more to do with the load placement than the frame construction
    Ditto - if the frame/fork hit alignment specs, that's probably the only go-nogo test that would have caused a rejection had the other frame builder made that. Tell us when a tube joint falls, or what were the weight carrying intentions of the bike (documented) and how those were followed by the buyer. All of those points are just ridiculous and completely "feelings" and nothing more, not subjectively even points could bring up with any off the shelf builder for trying to negotiate a warranty claim.

  11. #11
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Visit the shop and Participate in the Building, hands on, works best for Me..

  12. #12
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ride there View Post
    "Once they started touring cross-country and down in Latin America, however, issues became quite apparent... from shimmy and wobbles at higher speeds, tires wearing out unevenly, to chain getting loose and other smaller issues."
    i'm glad you didn't name the builder because all those issues are BS. chain getting loose? what does that mean and how could that be the builders fault? tires wear uneven? tires wear unevenly on all bikes. shimmy and wobble probably had more to do with the load placement than the frame construction
    Nice first post here by coming out so confrontational and with an incredulous attitude. Welcome! Are you a builder?

    The issues had to do with frame alignment and compliance with a Rohloff IGH. I'm not a builder, but understand they (IGH) are indeed known to be finicky to set up. I'm guessing "ideal" chain tensioning wasn't allowed as part of the frame design. Don't know the details from our brief conversation longtime ago: whether they used eccentric BB, horizontal dropouts, etc. FYI, frame design/geometry can indeed cause shimmy on a bike, unladen or laden. Here and here are a couple of educational articles for you in regard to shimmy. While riding fully loaded, it is often caused by inappropriate loading the bike, as you state. After a year of touring, you'd expect them to have tried different set-ups. The bottom line is that lack of knowledge/experience on the side of the builder for this particular project became apparent when the bike was put to the real test. The good part is that the builder promised to make a few changes when they return home. The bike was originally custom built for a woman (his wife) for the purpose of fully-loaded touring: planned RTW tour.

    It is unfruitful to get caught up in the details of the story. Who knows what their builder really did! The moral is about carefully choosing a builder who's experienced with the job you need him to get done. I believe that bicycle frame-building is truly an art. Subtleties can indeed make a big difference!
    Last edited by Chris Pringle; 01-01-13 at 06:14 PM.

  13. #13
    Randomhead
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    I definitely think it's best to find a builder that builds the kind of bike you want. Even an experienced builder is a beginner on a style of bike he hasn't built before. I have heard of people complaining about this. Hopefully, most builders will turn down something like that, but you can't count on it.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Pringle View Post
    Nice first post here by coming out so confrontational and with an incredulous attitude. Welcome! Are you a builder?

    The issues had to do with frame alignment and compliance with a Rohloff IGH. I'm not a builder, but understand they (IGH) are indeed known to be finicky to set up. I'm guessing "ideal" chain tensioning wasn't allowed as part of the frame design. Don't know the details from our brief conversation longtime ago: whether they used eccentric BB, horizontal dropouts, etc. FYI, frame design/geometry can indeed cause shimmy on a bike, unladen or laden. Here and here are a couple of educational articles for you in regard to shimmy. While riding fully loaded, it is often caused by inappropriate loading the bike, as you state. After a year of touring, you'd expect them to have tried different set-ups. The bottom line is that lack of knowledge/experience on the side of the builder for this particular project became apparent when the bike was put to the real test. The good part is that the builder promised to make a few changes when they return home. The bike was originally custom built for a woman (his wife) for the purpose of fully-loaded touring: planned RTW tour.

    It is unfruitful to get caught up in the details of the story. Who knows what their builder really did! The moral is about carefully choosing a builder who's experienced with the job you need him to get done. I believe that bicycle frame-building is truly an art. Subtleties can indeed make a big difference!
    You are also saying, you don't know, and brief conversation. You could be right that design was the problem. But as often it is within the rider's control. Why? Because you found the Molton article, and every other article, anyone can google up proven specs, etc... Al lot of these articles are written as though bikes did not exist, and hey, here are some points to keep in mind when designing one in a complete vacuum. In reality all the specs are out there, and anyone can get them. So where is the mystery? So yes, if one completely ignored trail, problems could occur. Too much trail can cause various problems. These geometry issues, often come down to load placement, and load balance. One thing I have noticed on my bikes is that they shimmy when I start out on the trip with the bags perfectly equivalent in weight, bad plan. Shimmy can also occur from bad riding technique, and hand placement. I also have experimented with different load heights, and also getting the load back on the front wheel. Lots of stuff can cause problems.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by unterhausen View Post
    I definitely think it's best to find a builder that builds the kind of bike you want. Even an experienced builder is a beginner on a style of bike he hasn't built before. I have heard of people complaining about this. Hopefully, most builders will turn down something like that, but you can't count on it.
    Good point, though there are some folks who can make anything right off the mark, or even years before it catches on, and make it come out. Gates drives are an example, some did not work. But the parts took years to come out and folks were making very interesting versions with machined parts from in house, and pulling it off. There are people who are a lot better at things than others, and a lot more able to take a shot at something.

  16. #16
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    Right On Time

    I too am going to have a bike custom built next year, doing my homework now figuring out what builder, what geometry, what material, what compnents. There are five builders that interest me at the moment. Three are well known and have a great reputation, the other two make beautiful bikes and their compentence shows well in the photos of their bikes. The two lesser known builders bike's are more appealing to me visually and their offerings have unique features.
    Frame price across the five, just like Chris Pringle has discovered, are close, with one being about a grand over all others, another almost two grand, but when you start adding components it gets muddled. I won't make my final decision on price alone, if a builder seems like the right one, I'll suck it up and go with that one. But price is quite a range right now.
    Thanks to Barretscv for starting this thread. I hope more people, builders and customers alike, join in and share their thoughts and experiences. Spending six grand or better on a custom bike sight unseen is a confidence sapping exercise.
    One builder out of the five that is on my list has many great photos on his sight and there are a number of customer's reviews posted there too. He has a few NAHBS awards and was quick to respond to an email, all good things. But nothing after that. Internet searchers for reviews yield nothing, there is no way to contact past customers and although I'm not worried about resale, there is no name recognition. And yet a photo of his signature bike is the one that is a screen saver on my computer. So Barretscv, I feel your pain. It's a fight between your heart and your practical side.
    Good thing is that we have so many good builders to choose from, bad thing is that it makes it hard to pin just one down.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    ^^^^
    I'm glad to hear my experience and that of a few others is helping you in your choosing the right builder. That was exactly the point of my post!

    We are getting close to making a decision. We've narrowed our search to two builders with the following criteria:

    * Experience in building "long-distance" bikes and fitting
    * Aesthetics - Overall appealing presentation and color scheme. We are looking for a retro-looking bike reminiscent of the 70s. BTW, some builders (who seemed to price their frames reasonably) went crazy in pricing for a custom paint job - Something some have to outsource.
    * Lead time: who can build a bike within a reasonable time (by May for us.)

    We are doing another interview with one of them today.

    You mentioned a good point about how responsive they are to your initial correspondence, calls, etc. You must leave with the overall feeling that you'll be comfortable working with him over several months.

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