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Home built vs. production frame?

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Home built vs. production frame?

Old 03-30-17, 11:50 AM
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Home built vs. production frame?

I was on a small group ride the other day and was talking with someone who has been part of the bike industry for years, and has built some frames. I'm flirting with the idea of building a lugged gravel frame for my wife and maybe one for me. I asked him if he thought that someone building a lugged frame, at home, who is new to frame building could produce something that is better quality, better riding than a mass produced frame. I was a little surprised that his answer - "No". He did make the disclaimer that someone who has been building frames for decades would make something that is superior. He also went on talking about expensive jigs, which from my reading, is not a necessity for a lugged frame but helps.

So this is causing me to pause a little. If my first effort, with properly selected tubing, and working carefully (I'm very patient, very detail oriented...no rush to get these built) won't produce something any better than something made in Taiwan, it sounds like I'm better off just buying a frame (according to him).

Did this guy speak the truth or is he misinformed? It did not make sense to me, and contradicts the increase in the number of custom frames and framebuilders I see around. I read in a few places that a production frame is designed for the worst possible scenario (heavy rider, abusive terrain, making the liability lawyers happy, etc.) so it may not be as light, lively, etc. as it could be for a lighter rider. This makes sense. It also makes sense that a custom frame with hand selected tubing and lugs tailored to the rider and riding (even if assembled by a novice framebuilder) would produce the best frame for that rider. So I'm a bit confused.

I was hoping to get some opinions from this crowd. For those of you who do this as a hobby and/or only made a couple frames, do you feel your effort created a better alternative than what you could buy?

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Old 03-30-17, 01:17 PM
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Iím certainly not a hobby builder since I was one of the 1st Americans to go to Europe to learn how to build frames after the 1970 bike boom but have plenty of perspective on the subject. I believe with the right knowledge a hobby builder can make a better frame for his specific bicycle position and riding style than almost any production frame. The exception would be if someone lacked the innate skills and wasnít sure what to do or how to overcome mistakes. Here are my observations.

A production frame is designed to fit people proportioned in the middle of the Bell Curve with the addition of some more compromises. Companies are going to use 700C wheels, they will design the frame so there is no toe overlap and that longer cranks will not hit the pavement while cornering. And they will overbuild so heavy people wonít break them. The most likely person to find a good fit on a production frame is somebody wanting a performance bicycle suitable for fast training rides similar to racing conditions.

For women these production compromises are exaggerated. Companies will use a steep seat angle combined with a shallow head angle to get enough toe clearance and still use 700 wheels. The fork probably doesnít have enough fork rake to match the shallow head angle either. Many women like to sit more upright to keep the pressure off of their crotch which results in them needing a shallower seat angle and not a steeper one. I could go on but this one example should illustrate my point.

Of the many students that have taken my frame building class almost none of them fit well on their production bicycle they brought to class. As a matter of fact they have almost always found the bicycle they were riding to force them into some compromised position. Once they have reestablished their position on some kind of fitting bicycle and actually built their frame around that new position, everyone has exclaimed what an improvement their class made bicycle was over whatever they rode before. Iím not saying just some found this to be true but almost everybody.

Of course I am going to suggest this as a frame building teacher but I believe the best way to start making your own frame is to take a class. This way you know if you have the interest and/or ability to make a 2nd one and if you donít you still leave class with a frame better than a production frame and the equal of many custom frames. I can make up the difference doing the hard parts when I see students that lack some skills. You will also now have a proper knowledge to make more and know what tools are necessary. It is only fair to mention that I notice a lot of students get themselves into trouble even after an explanation and demonstration. There is a lot to remember. I often wonder what would happen if I wasnít right there to bail them out.

The one thing a student canít do that I can do is braze really light heat treated tubing (for example .7/.4/.7mm). That to me is the ultimate ride. Occasionally I have had a student really want light tubing and let me braze those joints for them.
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Old 03-30-17, 02:00 PM
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Features and geometry - yes. You get to design it how you want if you're making it.

Execution - no. People who build production frames are professionals. Yes, quality varies, but at the mid- to high-end of production you are looking at career welders and fabricators who practice every day and have access to lots of fancy tooling. As a homebuilder you don't have the experience or resources to match that.
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Old 03-30-17, 06:40 PM
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some people do a really good job on their first frame, and make something that is better than many production frames. Those people are vanishingly rare, and I certainly am not one of those people. Almost 1000 frames later, I can make a pretty good frame.

There are usually compromises made on production frames for a lower level of skill. Because they have to worry about the safety of the first few frames someone makes. I assume the high performance frames are made by more experienced welders. OTOH, Trek sold my 4th frame.

I have always felt that someone that thought they were going to build their dream frame on their first try was not taking things very seriously. It just isn't that easy. And a lot of expensive parts have been ruined in the process, and many such people give up at that point. I think the bare minimum expenditure for someone with no experience and no specialized tools to build a single frame exceeds the cost of even a fairly expensive custom frame.
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Old 03-30-17, 08:33 PM
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I'll take a different tack with this thread and mention the combo of lugs and gravel bike. Knowing that categories/definitions are different from person to person I venture that finding pre made lugs that match the design of a gravel bike without some modifications is a question I might bet on, as in against the chance.

Most first timers I've met don't have the skill set to modify lug angles by more then a degree or two, especially at the Bb shell where there's four sockets at play. Most don't have the skills or motivations to make their own lugs either.

But can a first timer make a very suitable frame, very much yes. And without the expensive jigs and tooling so many feel is a must. In fact the use of fancy tooling can get in the way of learning techniques which will last a lifetime. Andy.
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Old 03-31-17, 05:47 AM
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I'm with Andy on the lugged gravel bike thing. I seriously doubt that you will find a bottom bracket shell that will give you the tire clearance needed for a gravel bike.

Your first frame is almost certainly not going to be a better quality than a production bike. That wasn't really the point for me. I just like to make things and I loved riding that first frame because I made it myself.
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Old 03-31-17, 07:26 AM
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if you go with a little longer chainstays, you might be able to get a 44mm tire in a lugged bb shell with only a little bending. But I think using a fillet brazed shell is a lot easier. I saw someone running 50+ mm tires in a lugged bb with short chainstays, but there was definitely bending involved.
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Old 03-31-17, 01:16 PM
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in the 70's I had learned the silver-solder drawing torch work in Jewelry and metalsmithing courses,
so I though Why not..? so I winged it..

I later (on a bike tour) met a guy in Nottingham, he built jigless frames ,

with a rack of half round files, & a bench vice with wooden tube gripping blocks.

for pro racers , and even prototypes for Raleigh..

(I still have my bike with the DIY frame and fork.)

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Old 04-13-17, 07:33 PM
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I think a first time frame can be as good, or even better than production. I knew going in it would be tough, but took it as a challenge to build a rideable first frame. I spent 2 years researching, reading, asking questions, and finally building. It turned out great and it's still my favorite ride 5 years later.

As a comparison, my Fuji steel frame I had was out of alignment by 3mm BB to TT and the HT was out the opposite direction from the ST. It was a reynolds 853 and weighed 4.2lbs for a 56cm. My first build came in at 4.0 lbs and is in alignment by 1mm or less in every direction.

Here's #3 I just finished, a gravel rig with lugged BB, so yes that can be done too, just use oval CS's and go long (443mm on mine). Fit's 44's just fine, here's a pic with 38's on wide rims.
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Old 04-24-17, 02:30 PM
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This forum used to be mainly composed of people trying the kind of builds you are talking about, and making a success of it in some cases. But most of the people attending here are now impressively qualified, so you tend to get the pro view, as opposed to the can do view. In '05 ish there were people who did the mapp torch and silver solder thing. I was working my way through every alternative technology available, which is a costly and pretty pointless endeavor. I don't know where you go to learn alternative methods. Sooner or later the status quo shows up.

There are work arounds for almost everything, but bike building normally does involve some very expensive tools you won't be able to offset within two frames. Various reamers for instance, unless you live near that mythical bike store that can't wait to run their precious reamers through your project, and assume some liability along the way.

1) I wouldn't consider putting my first or second frame under my wife.

2) You can make frames that outperform stock frames easily in certain categories. Fit, if you don't fit easily off the rack; Without changing anything too crazy you may have a long list of preferences for braze ons or other features you want on your frame. I have a particular ultra light kick stand I make and fit to the frame, for instance; You may be able to get sufficient advice to use appropriate tubing for your particular size and use. This is more likely if you are out of the fairly narrow band frames are built for; Better workmanship is not likely on your first frame unless you come with some skills.

A lot of the issues fall by the wayside if you are bonding a bike, rather than welding and brazing. Various wood, bamboo, or carbon designs can be easily made because there is very little distortion to deal with, and the heat doesn't deform pre-made parts.
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Old 04-24-17, 03:06 PM
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I guess I barely understand the "one and done" mindset that some people have with their first frame. You can buy a frame's worth of parts right now from Nova for just a little over $100. So why would you try to make your dream frame on the first try? I have to practice new framebuilding skills, just because I have a lot of experience doesn't mean that everything comes easily. If I make something new, I figure I'm going to throw (at least) the first one away. I have a growing pile of front racks in the scrap bin as evidence.
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