I would have never thought about building my own bike. However, when Justin, who is a bike-genius, suggested it, I was more than happy to go along. Read on to find out his thoughts on choosing the components to build your own bike.
(Note – we are not sponsored by any of the brands mentioned. Although would be happy to consider if anyone would like to sponsor our ride or donate equipment.)
Building Your Own Bike – Start With The Frame
Hardly unsurprising, when choosing your frame, the most important thing to consider is the geometry of the frame. For example, if you mostly use your bike to ride in town, a smaller frame is more nimble. If you are planning to use your bike for longer rides, you must get a frame that suits your physique. That way you will get a more comfortable riding position and it will also give you more pedal power.
Another thing to consider is the material for the frame. Most bikes come with either an aluminium or steel frame. Aluminium frames are, obviously, lighter than steel frames but just as strong. The last option is a carbon-fibre frame. These used to be very expensive, but the prices have come down. Bikes with a carbon fibre frame are like the race horses compared to working mules. Because of the price and the frame being more rigid, these frames are generally used by more experienced riders.
Choosing The Brakes
Brakes have developed a lot from standard calipers to cantilever to v-brakes and now disc brakes. Cantilever brakes are easy to tune and very reliable. They look better and are easier to set up than v-brakes that are the most common in new bikes. People say that v-brakes are more powerful, but in my experience they work the same. I also think that aesthetically they look very busy.
The latest development in brakes are the discs. They are like brakes on a car or a motorbike. When they first came out, they were very expensive compared to v- or cantilever brakes. Since they have become more popular, they have also become more reasonably priced. Disc brakes are my favourites. They are more pleasing for the eye because you can’t see the calipers on the frame set. They are also more effective and reliable, especially in wet weather. You can get either cable or hydraulic calipers.
Picking The Gear Set
The number of gears you want depends whether you are planning to use your bike around town for shorter rides or if you a planning to cover longer distances. It is not necessary to have lots of gears if you are just riding your bike around town. You simply would not get the chance to use all your gears. The Santander bikes only have three gears and that’s absolutely fine for short distances. However, if you are using your bike for long rides, especially ones that include a lot of climbing, you’ll want more range to help you keep a steady cadence and get up those hills.
I have always used either Sram or Shimano gears. Sram and Campagnola cover a more niche market and only do a limited number of group sets (a group set includes breaks, shifters, cassette and crank). Shimano has a wider range depending on your budget.
What I would love to have on my bike, though, is DI2. They are electronic shifters. With them, changing gears is so much smoother. They are the future. I have tried them on a turbo trainer and they are just wicked. I have ridden behind people with DI2 gears, and the sound and speed of shifting gears is simply sexy. However, they are still very expensive (price is in several hundreds of pounds). Read more about advantages of DI2 gears here.
Wheels, Tyres and Inner Tubes
When building your own bike and choosing the wheels, it is useful (once again) to consider the purpose of your bike. Standard, heavier steel rims are fine for shorter rides but for longer distances you want lighter wheels. Aluminium wheels are lighter and therefore better for longer journeys. They are your good all rounders. Carbon fibre wheels are the lightest option and used, for example, in time trials. When picking your wheels, it is a good idea to get quick release ones as they make fixing roadside punctures a lot quicker and easier.
For tyres and inner tubes, I have always liked Continental. The width of the tyre depends on the weight you plan to carry so for touring, you’ll want wider tyres. You also want to choose tyres with a tread pattern that gives you more grip on different surfaces. If you want to use your bike mostly on tarmac and go for speed, then slick tyres would be your choice. Cyclocross tyres are for those who want to go off piste and ride on grass, mud, sand and other soft ground.
When it comes to inner tubes, avoid cheap deals you might see online. We recently ordered a set of inner tubes at a very reasonable price. The price felt almost too good to be true and turns out it was. Two out of the four tubes split on the seam the first time we pumped them up.
The Pros and Cons of Building Your Own Bike
The biggest pro of building your own bike is that you get to choose the components you want, budget allowing. You can also get your bike customised in many bike stores, but often that will cost you extra. Another pro is that you get to know how the different components work and fit together. Useful knowledge, especially on longer rides when you might run into problems that need fixing.
Cons – I can’t really think of any except that of course it takes a bit of time and dedication.
We would love to hear from you if you have built your own bike. Share your experiences in the comments. Equally, we would like to hear from you if this post has inspired you to do so. All other comments and questions are welcome, too.
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