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Question re. working with framebuilder on project

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Question re. working with framebuilder on project

Old 02-13-24, 08:44 AM
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Question re. working with framebuilder on project

Greetings BFers,

I'm currently working with a framebuilder on my first custom frameset, and the whole process has been perplexing and increasingly frustrating/saddening. The timeline for the build has been exceeded, and the builder seems genuinely disinterested in the project. I know how the process works or what it "should" look like (that is, what to expect) but I lack a true frame of reference as to whether my frustrations/thoughts are legitimate or just a typical aspect of working with a framebuilder/workshop and that I need to check myself and adjust my expectations.

Accordingly, I was hoping to ask for some advice on how I should proceed from others who either practice framebuilding and work with clients, or have been through the process of working with professional framebuilders themselves. I am grateful for all the thoughts that my esteemed fellow BFers might want to add here.

Though, I guess before I go into further specifics I will wait and see if you all think this is the appropriate place for this discussion, or if I might be better served posting this in a more general section (I'm mostly in C&V) or discussing via DM.

Thank you all in advance!!

Last edited by heidelbergensis; 02-13-24 at 12:38 PM.
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Old 02-13-24, 10:45 AM
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There aren't too many pro framebuilders in here and those pros that lurk probably aren't going to want to weigh in on your issues. I also wonder if you really want to air out your problems in a public forum?
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Old 02-13-24, 12:16 PM
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A comment in a recent thread mentioned a framebuilder whose client had, over his objections, insisted on having his custom loaded-touring-style frame built with extra-light-weight tubing. After his first ride on his new custom frame, the client complained that the frame was too whippy and asked for his money back. The framebuilder was forced into the position of having to say, more or less, "Too bad. I told you so."

I've read other comments over the years that gave various perspectives on the custom frame process from the builder's point of view. Problems mentioned included, e.g., clients asking for features that the builder considered poorly thought through, or initially agreeing to the builder's plan for the frame and then repeatedly changing their minds about the agreed-upon details, or just taking up an inordinate amount of the builder's time with frequent phone calls or emails in the expectation of endless consultations.

If you and the builder have already agreed on the details of the build, maybe just say that you'll be available if the builder has any further questions but that, otherwise, you'll wait for updates as the frame nears completion.

If any builders reading this thread have similar general advice concerning the best way for a client to work with a builder, I'd be interested to see it.
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Old 02-13-24, 12:21 PM
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unterhausen Your point is well-taken, and that's why I have and continue to be hesitant. That, and just out of principle. That being said, I am also coming to a point where I don't know how to proceed. I don't know anybody personally who is either involved with the industry or framebuilding "scene", or who has gone through the process themselves as customers, to understand if I'm in the wrong to feel frustrated. My natural tendency is to assume that I'm in the wrong on most things, lol, which is why this has simmered for so long as I've told myself to trust the process, that I'm being entitled or impatient, etc. My intention was more to present the situation in broad, anonymized strokes and be like, hey, does this seem normal to you guys, or are there some red flags here? But yes, it's probably not the wisest thing to do...
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Old 02-13-24, 12:34 PM
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Trakhak And yes! This is a great point. General advice on comportment and what to expect - e.g. the DO's and DON'Ts - when working with a framebuilder on a custom project.

Last edited by heidelbergensis; 02-13-24 at 12:50 PM.
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Old 02-13-24, 02:05 PM
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I've had to fire a customer/friend who I came to understand wasn't likely to be happy with whatever I made. That was a long time ago but a lesson I still remember. Could it be that the possible builder has sensed the same?

This topic has me quite interested in how you and the builder have gotten to this point. Can you give more details without indicating who the builder is? Can you say what is aspect the challenges have been from? (communication or understanding terminology, intended use WRT what the builder is fluent with, component or accessory must haves, preconceived notions not being heeded or addressed, timeline issues, transactional issues, other?). How did the builder want to deal with the rider fit needs, do they have a way to handle this long distance (and I assume they are not local to you)? There's a lot of info about you and how you and they communicated that doesn't need us to know who you went to. Without more details we can't give more than general advise ,of which common business sense is much of it, again IMO.

If you wish to go further but not air your thoughts in public feel free to PM me. I'll be happy to reply and give far more specific opinions and advise. Andy
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Old 02-13-24, 03:43 PM
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How much deposit money did you put down, and what were the terms? Are they written down? For example do they mention what happens if you pull out, any refund? When I was a FB, I was an hourly-wage employee and didn't have to deal with the money side, so I gladly ignored it, but I think the deal was you could back out with full refund up until we started cutting the steel, after which no refund. The deposit was enough to buy the materials.

That was a business that made lots of bikes, had done so for ~20 years, and was interested in staying in business, so we were careful to avoid the negative word-of-mouth you'd get from someone who felt ripped off. But we wouldn't bend over backwards for an idiot or someone trying to take advantage, we knew with all those years as a "top ten" custom shop (metaphorically, there's not really any such list), that our reputation could withstand the ravings of an idiot. People listening to him will "consider the source".

A smaller shop with a less-established reputation might do well to try harder, first at vetting the customers and not taking depostits from likely troublemakers, but most importantly, trying harder at communications. One super-important communication is "what does the deposit mean and what happens if you pull out?" If that was not spelled out, or not put in writing, then you might have a mess on your hands. Not writing that down is practical;ly guaranteed to result in some shouting matches.

Some of your bitter feelings about this might carry over into your enjoyment of the frame when it's done, so maybe you should just swallow whatever loss you have to take to back out now. And take what you've learned into your next interaction, should you continue down the custom track. Find a builder who's thrilled to make just the kind of frame you want. There are younger, hungrier FBs out there without much of a waiting list and whose prices are low, reflecting their lack of reputation or established fan base. Some of them are doomed to stay that way until they go out of business for being, how do I put it, um, BAD at frame building, so avoid those with no track record. The average consumer usually can't tell how well designed or constructed a custom frame is, so you have little to go on outside their reputation. The internet has given customers much more chance to cross-talk with other customers though, so unless the guy is really unknown, you can probably find other people with stories, good and bad, about the experience of ordering and riding. (Showing my age, almost all of my FB career was pre-internet.)

Putting a deposit on a custom is always a bit of a gamble, and I say this as a guy who only made custom frames for about 20 years, with a bit of production frames at the very beginning and very end of my FB career. I much preferred making customs myself, so I had a bias when discussing with people whether they should get a custom or an off-the-rack bike. Now, with my paycheck no longer on the line, my perspective has shifted and I see the wisdom in only buying bikes you can test-ride first.

Some people just gotta have a custom though, and you probably know if that's you. I don't judge! I'm way too much of a bike snob, too opinionated and idiosyncratic in my likes, to be satisfied with most production frames. I ride a '73 Schwinn to the grocery store, but it's been bugging me for a long time, so the next frame I build will be a grocery-getter. Just the Gates belt and sprockets for it cost more than that whole Schwinn, plus I'll have to paint it <ugh>. Then I'll have to put 3 locks on it at the store I guess — such is the price of being a bike snob.

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Old 02-13-24, 04:50 PM
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bulgie Thank you, Mark, for your thoughts here! I have DM'd a few of the people above, but I'd like to address some of the questions/points in your comment, too.

The project has been 'paid in full' as of one year ago. The initial deposit was a year before that. I was laid off and without a job for a period shortly after putting down the deposit, but continued regular payments as I could. On the whole, I think the issue has maybe been one of communication. Like you, I have idiosyncratic and very specific taste when it comes to bikes. I don't consider myself particularly demanding, actually not at all, I want to collaborate and defer to the decades of expertise this FB has - but I did try and provide material and flesh out the vision for the project. Maybe I overdid it at the beginning, but the enthusiasm was returned at the time. This project also meant a great deal to me; besides working together to create a "forever bike" with one of my favorite FBs, it was also the most money I had ever spent on myself. The past few years have also been difficult personally, so envisioning this project was a bright spot in that way. So, I have a lot of feelings here. But I'm afraid that I've ultimately come off like one of those blowhards or idiots you mentioned in your comment. Terms were discussed in our initial phone call, that planning for the build would commence after the deposit was received and then the build itself after the project was fully paid off. We discussed at that time that, if, for example, I paid in full and upfront, we would be looking at delivery within 6 months. Otherwise, the deposit would secure a place in the queue. So, maybe the extra time I needed to pay off the project took the project out of the queue and put it into limbo. I don't know, and at this point, it doesn't matter. A drawing was presented this past October and needed to be revised (still waiting on that), but we have not discussed materials or paint or any of the finer points of the build despite my reaching out to try and resume talks.

You're right about the bitter feelings tainting things - at this point, I get the vibe that it's mutual. And it's frustrating, because, as you mention, there are lots of "younger" or more modern builders/frameshops out there with all number of approaches: traditionalist/revivalist, modern, weird, janky, stupid, contemporary, whatever. I prefer older bikes and bike tech - "older" at least relative to my own age. What drew me to this builder was precisely that they were indeed of the old school - I still am in awe of the idea of getting to work with an artisan that I admire who has been building for decades and in the golden ages of steel bike production. But I feel like I miss the enthusiasm, engagement, transparency, and mutual regard that might come through working with other builders.

Thank you, again, for your thoughts!

Last edited by heidelbergensis; 02-13-24 at 05:04 PM.
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Old 02-14-24, 11:46 AM
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How many times have you met with the builder face-to-face?
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Old 02-14-24, 12:53 PM
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I haven't had the opportunity due to location, unfortunately.
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Old 02-14-24, 05:42 PM
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That's too bad. Apropos of nothing, Philly bike show is coming up in March. I can't decide if I'm going. Maybe.
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Old 02-15-24, 02:58 PM
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I would suggest scheduling some time to talk to your builder......email only goes so far (as I was told by a boss a while back)

My observation is that most established frame builders have a certain style, design and approach that works and are not "custom fabricators" that will do anything. Many do not really discuss details of tubes as they have tubing they work with

not sure if how much you want to specify works within the builder's sweet spot

is is possible your builder is super busy and just not a great scheduler?

My custom experience was good. I had followed the builder for years and had met him in person on a Cino ride. ( as it is easy to find if you look at any of my posts, the builder was Dave Kirk)

Process was

Put a deposit down, when your turn comes (no specific time frame is given but is was 6 months or so for me) then about a month to have a discussions, provide info, finalize design, tube payment, and the build took about a week. Then it got sent to Joe Bell for paint

Joe is a super nice person and paint was discussed with him several times as I had a bit of a challenging color request He is super booked, so the schedule was not a precise, but more I have the bike and will get to it soon, it is bubbling up on the work list, going to the booth now kinda schedule. I rolled with the vague schedule because I knew I was getting something special, Joe is real and that this is an artist thing.

final payment after paint done and bike in box to ship
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Old 02-15-24, 05:30 PM
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Payment in full before the frame is even started is not fair to the consumer. It puts all the risk on the buyer, when it should be shared to some extent. And business flows more smoothly when both sides are incentivised to perform.

Seems to me (and let me know if this is too simplistic), the deposit should be enough, but only enough to be fair, and no more. Too big a deposit takes away the FB's incentive to finish the frame.

"Enough" can be defined a couple ways, but the one I like is the difference in value between the custom frame and that same frame when it's not custom (for you). I.e. if the customer doesn't pay and the FB is stuck with the frame, he can sell it as a non-custom. If the deposit is large enough to cover that difference, including some for the FB's trouble in selling it and interest on his money that's tied up in it until sold, then he is "made whole". In a sense he doesn't care whether the original customer pays up or not, he gets paid either way. Just how much extra he needs to get paid to cover the hassle of having to sell it is a grey area, but I think this can work as a framework.

Some builders are in such demand that they can offer a less attractive deal and still get customers. Say you're not trying to grow the business; maybe you're even thinking of slowing down a bit, like easing into retirement. If you're building as many frames as you like, with your choice of work/life balance, then you're not interested in taking on any risk in order to sell more. Maybe you can put all risk on the consumer and still sell whatever meager output is your target. Some FBs do this I guess, but it seems more "free market" to keep the deposit policy fair for both sides, and just charge more. Instead of limiting your customer base to those willing to take on all the risk, instead limit it to those willing to pay X amount more. Benefit = more money for the FB. Maybe at the risk of having to sell a custom frame as non-custom sometimes if the customer flakes, but then you're still made whole by keeping the deposit.

I can see raising the deposit if the custom design is too far from the ordinary, making it too hard to sell "off the rack".

I had one customer who wanted a wacko frame with a 107° seat tube angle, aka 17° forward of straight up from the BB. Part-way towards a "prone recumbent", where his weight is partly held up by a sternum pad of his own design that he rests his chest on. He was going to race this in RAAM (yeah, right.). I had severe doubts and told him so, but he was adamant and willing to pay 100% up front, so I built it. Then he brought it back to be chopped and turned into a regular "wedgie" (diamond frame upright) because the position surprisingly didn't work. I told him I would do it, but it would cost a bit more than making a new frame from "virgin" tubes. There was almost nothing from the original frame that would result in time-savings over building a new bike. So the frame went to the recycler and we built him a new, normal frame — at full price of course since the misfire was totally his fault, not ours. Luckily he didn't blame me!

Not many custom frames are that wacko though, most can be sold as off-the-rack. Sometimes for almost as much as custom, because the buyer gets to skip the waiting list. Most in-demand FBs have people clamoring to buy one, so it shouldn't hang around long before finding a home.
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Old 02-16-24, 02:50 PM
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I don't believe in building whacko frames at all.

Sounds like OP wants a pretty normal frame. I'm not sure in this case if paying ahead is really a problem, some people have a long wait and are afraid to admit it.
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Old 02-19-24, 05:06 PM
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Hey everyone, sorry for not responding sooner. Lots going on here with work, and the wife and I were away this weekend for our anniversary.

squirtdad Your experience with Kirk sounds great - I wish mine would have been like this. My project is within the builder's wheelhouse. If anything, I approached them because I thought they would be excited by it, as it spoke directly to their past strengths and interests. No custom fabrication desired. Total deference to the framebuilder re. tubing based on my weight and size. I was even on the fence about having the frame be lugged. None of these details have been discussed two years after making the initial deposit and a year after paying the project off in full. I am still waiting on the updated frame drawing after the first draft was presented last May but needed revising.

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Old 02-20-24, 07:52 PM
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I would offer to go away in exchange for your money back. However, my opinion is nearly totally uninformed, at least by your actual situation.

But in general, like for small construction projects around here, no more than half up-front to start, with the balance due upon completion. Most people who make the mistake of paying all up-front around here learn that lesson along the way, unfortunately. My framebuilder in Santa Fe built me a fork, and powder-coated my frame and fork, for a $100 deposit. Granted, he had possession of my frame as collateral.

Our solar loan company paid our solar construction company the second half after the array was complete, but before it was hooked up, which violated the loan agreement. It has sat unused for four years now. Your money may have gone up your framebuilder's nose already. It is important for some financial incentive to remain, for performance' sake.
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Old 02-23-24, 04:52 PM
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Sorry to hear about your issues. I am just finishing up the custom frame process and my experience has been very good. The frame builder has been very professional, responsive and helped guide me throughout the whole process.
I personally would ask for my money back or if you really want to stay with the builder I would recommend a visit to the man’s shop and have him explain to you in person why he has not started on the project. I live on the east coast and the frame builder I chose lives on the west coast, but I felt the project was important enough to make a trip out and meet him in person. Glad I did, he is a super nice guy.
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Old 02-23-24, 04:56 PM
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Originally Posted by Fredo76
I would offer to go away in exchange for your money back. However, my opinion is nearly totally uninformed, at least by your actual situation.

Your money may have gone up your framebuilder's nose already. It is important for some financial incentive to remain, for performance' sake.
That would be my concern.
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