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What I learned on my foray into custom bike builds

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What I learned on my foray into custom bike builds

Old 05-28-15, 12:54 AM
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jade408
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What I learned on my foray into custom bike builds

I posted a few weeks ago about engaging in a custom build based on a Soma Buena Vista frame, and now I am going to share my newbie experience on getting a bike built from the frame up.

Cliff Notes:
Have clear goals on your build, figure out what you can compromise on, be patient and choose a builder in tune with your desires.

Full version:
I started shopping for a new bike, after entertaining mixte dreams over a few months. And realizing my current bike was making it hard for me to enjoy certain trips.I bike around town for convenience. I hate circling along for traffic. I also bike because I feel bad about using my car for short distances. And walking over a mile is inconvenient when you have places to be. I probably wouldn’t have taken to biking, if there weren’t so many close destinations that were not well served by transit for me. I have loads of stuff in my 3 mile radius, but lots of those places suck to get to by bus (lots of transfers or no service).

So my bike, while perfectly mated to my style and lifestyle choices, wasn’t performing well. And by well, I mean on my hills. And I knew I wouldn’t be able to get past the last hurdle to becoming an everyday cyclist until those hills were manageable.

I had already figured out how to tote stuff by bike. I found a place for my purse. I even figured out the outfits and which of my clothing wasn’t bike friendly (not much).

After chatting up a few folks at my LBS, it looked like my problems wouldn't be solved by gearing. It was geometry. In a nutshell, the cockpit was cramped and I had toe overlap. Not great when there are lots of super steep short inclines on the last few blocks home. So getting a new bike seemed like a better option.

Stock bikes, available didn’t seem to meet my needs. Either not stylish enough, or missing key features. I probably could have hunted down a vintage bike that would have worked, but those hipsters love their mixtes and I am impatient. I’d rather get something new.

And I wanted to use it forever and make it work for me! The stock frame felt like an easier platform. The Buena Vista popped up on a few reviews and it appeared to meet my riding and aesthetic needs.

Going in I knew a few things:
1. I wanted an internally geared hub, and more gear range than I had
2. I wanted the “dutchie” accessories: a chain guard and fenders
3. I had a dynamo hub to reuse
4. I wanted a mixte frame and a great color
5. I wanted racks front and back

Sounds easy right? I had a budget, and I needed to up it about 10% to get all my stuff in. As we were working through my needs, I realized there were all sorts of little upgrades I had done to my bike that were lifesavers I needed to be on the new one.

Lesson 1. Wow, bikes have a lot of parts!
My builder sent me over a quote/list of parts based on what I requested. And all the other stuff needed in the build. Most of which I had no idea what it meant. Like there are the brakes, and the levers. There are multiple types of gear shifters.

Lesson 2: Getting your parts can take forever.
Sadly my project took extra time due to the port strike affecting the west coast. And my builder only has a small store. So most stuff I wanted needed to be ordered.

Lesson 3: You may have to adjust your vision a little.
When I took delivery of my bike, the builder put a temporary basket while waiting for my rack. I had ruled out the basic wire basket, as I had a nylon on that worked great. Turns out it looked terrible with my frame. I now have a wire basket, and it is working well, thought I am half tempted to get something slightly larger. I had also picked out grips that were no longer available, now I have cork ones that look awesome and are comfy.

Lesson 4: Don’t be a control freak!
I had a specific vision for my bike (looks wise). But I don’t know enough about bikes to spec out every detail. So I setup some high level goals. We reviewed the choices and I took suggestions and asked questions on the stuff I was confused about. And then added more questions about the merits of different configs to evaluate them. I know I am a person who asks tons of questions since I like to understand everything. But I also had to give up control on all the details.

Lesson 5: I had no idea you could customize so many little details.
The most fun part for me has been figuring out all the little stuff to make my bike look great. I had no idea you could choose the color of your cable housing. Or how many grip options exist. And grip ends. And pedals. And fenders. And chain guards. I just found out you can do a custom head badge too! Wow! So many accessories to choose from.

Lesson 6: There are lots of little things you can do to tweak the fit.
Once I got my bike we adjusted the obvious - seat height. We also changed the handlebar angles, grip angle (I have ergo ones), and brake lever positioning. Stem height is another area that makes a difference. And the width of your handlebars. I got a narrower bar which feels far more maneuverable. I have narrow shoulders, and never considered how much that makes a huge difference in comfort. When in doubt, check your handlebars!

Overall, even though I spent a bit more than I initially thought (woohoo for tax refunds!), I am super happy overall. My perfect around town bike is complete. It seems far more flexbile for other ride types than I anticipated (longer rides here I come).

And it is more lovely than I anticipated. I wasn’t sure how these details will come together, but it turned out to be a stunner. I knew I had a winner when I dropped my bike off to the bike valet on the first ride and the first comment was “nice bike!” My friend's bike-y boyfriend approved with one caveat. "Where are your toe clips?" And my dynamo lights are such a lifesaver, no way I'll go back to rechargeable lights.

Now that is has been a few weeks, I think I have dialed in the positioning pretty well. I have mastered getting on the bike (a little harder than my old loop frame bike). I have been riding a lot, racking up 140 miles this month so far (a record for me) and I have changed my commute to ride to the train instead. It adds a couple minutes but adds flexibility on the way home. I've continued riding to errands on the weekend but have upped my radius. And I am planning bike outings with friends and coworkers! The new bike has made it easier for me to integrate more biking!

The new bike passed the ultimate test last weekend. I went to a festival with friends. On the way there, we all left at different times, most taking Uber, and I rode over. I arrived about 5 minutes after the uber riders. On the way home, we parted ways, I pedaled off and they walked to the car and drove back to a friend's place. I beat them back! I was locking up my bike as they pulled into the parking space! Biking wins!
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Old 05-28-15, 06:31 AM
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All that and no pictures?
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Old 05-28-15, 07:53 AM
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How utterly cool! I hope the bike turns out to be all that you are anticipating.
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Old 05-28-15, 08:42 AM
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Originally Posted by jade408 View Post
I bike around town for convenience. I hate circling along for traffic. I also bike because I feel bad about using my car for short distances. And walking over a mile is inconvenient when you have places to be.
This statement perfectly sums up why most people would benefit from having a commuting bike. Driving a car short distances is not only annoying, but also bad for the car. Walking is just... slow. Running can be too strenuous. A bike can get you where you need to go quickly and without much effort if you so choose.

Very cool story. Glad you found a bike that suits you!

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Old 05-28-15, 08:53 AM
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So an Individualized Parts pick, not a custom Frame made for you, Right?

Given.. ' Build' has several Meanings .. Soma Brand, is owned by Merry Sales Imports .


Her C&V post seemed to harbor the picture..

Last edited by fietsbob; 05-28-15 at 08:58 AM.
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Old 05-28-15, 10:14 AM
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jade408
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Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
So an Individualized Parts pick, not a custom Frame made for you, Right?

Given.. ' Build' has several Meanings .. Soma Brand, is owned by Merry Sales Imports .


Her C&V post seemed to harbor the picture..
Correct! Parts pick. Custom frame would be way out of budget and I wouldn't want to park on the street.

On paper it seems petty ill-advised as I am not super bike smart. But I learned lots in the process. And test rode several bikes, and I knew what I liked from my current bike and the ones from my teen years and early adulthood.
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Old 05-28-15, 10:15 AM
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Originally Posted by corrado33 View Post
This statement perfectly sums up why most people would benefit from having a commuting bike. Driving a car short distances is not only annoying, but also bad for the car. Walking is just... slow. Running can be too strenuous. A bike can get you where you need to go quickly and without much effort if you so choose.

Very cool story. Glad you found a bike that suits you!
I was skeptical at first but it turns out most of my trips can be handled by bike! My car is getting little use.
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