Buying a new bike is a special day in the life of any bike enthusiast. Although it is very easy to get your bike in the local bike shop or even order it on internet there is something special about building your bike from the frame up. But is it a good idea to build your own bike? For an amateur mechanic like me there is nothing as rewarding as building my own version of perfection, but it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. We’ll look at some cons and pros and we’ll give you a bit of advice before starting this challenge.
Going custom: what do I need?
One of the main reasons someone builds from the frame is because they want to choose their own parts. Bike companies mostly offer their frames with a limited choice on parts and if you don’t like the combination used you’ll still need to invest in the desired components.
The first tip I can give is: make a list! List every component you’ll need for your build. For every one of us it means something different to build and customize your own frame. For some it means building a completely new frame with all new parts, others already have some items laying around in their parts bin or even a frame to use.
- Drivetrain (cassette, cranks, shifter, derailleur)
- Olives and barb for your brakes
- Dropper post shifter
- End caps for cables
- Brake pads
- Caliper spacer
- Zip ties
Keep in mind that building your bike with your desired spec will not be as easy nor as affordable as buying a complete pre-built bike. for the most part, this is true. Bike manufacturers buy most of their components in large quantities which gives them a better price from the component manufacturer than you buying the same component. For example a company like Canyon will pay less for the crankset they use on their frames instead of you buying a single crankset. But picking your own components also has it’s advantages: you can pick all the specific parts you want for your build. The bars will have the perfect length and sweep, cranks have the length you need, every part will be what you’ll want it to be.
If you want to save some cash you can also look for second hand parts. If you’re patient enough you can find some good deals on lightly used frames and components. But as I mentioned, it can take a long time before you’ll find every component you desire… The other option is transferring your top components to your new frame.
Once you’ve sourced all your components it is time for the next step: the technical challenge of putting it all together. This part scares many cyclists but in reality it is not that difficult and it is the fastest way to learn how to maintain and fix your bike yourself, it just needs a bit of patience. Adjusting your derailleur, sizing your chain, bleeding your brakes, installing your fork and headset… These are just a couple of tasks you’ll need to do regularly as basic maintenance. Not only will it be a great way of learning some mechanical skills, you’ll learn how every part of your bike is called.
If you’re not sure how to tackle a particular job, one of the best tools available is YouTube. There are many videos and tutorials on how to assemble your bike, so watch carefully and learn. And lastly, take your time when building up your frame. I know you’re impatient to ride your new bike, but give yourself the time necessary to get all the steps of your build correct.
To help you along we’ve listed the key steps to build your own bike:
- Bottom bracket installation
- Headset installation
- Routing shifting and brake cables
- Mounting cockpit
- Mounting and adjusting drivetrain components
- Mounting and adjusting brakes
- Adjusting touch points: Saddle height and position; handlebar height and position
- Wrapping handlebar tape on drop-bar bikes
- Mounting tires
- Don’t forget: post some photos on your Instagram!
Along al these jobs there is a saying: you need to have the right tool for the right job. Unless you’re somewhat of a home mechanic and you already have a couple of tools laying around, you’ll need to invest in bike specific tools. And some of these tools don’t come cheap and you will barely need them, unless you build a couple of frames a year.
There are of course tools you will use regularly and are a great value to invest in:
- Allen keys (hex and torx)
- Shock pump (for suspension bikes)
- Chain whip
- Cassette tool
- Chain wear indicator tool
- A cable cutter (one of the most important tools you can own)
- Brake bleed kit
- Plastic/nylon tire levers
- Cone spanners
- Chain pliers
- Torque wrench (a must have if you own a carbon frame)
As you can see, the basic list is already pretty long, although most of these tools are pretty affordable. With these tools you’ll be able to install most parts yourself. But there are still some more specialist tools you’ll need:
- Star nut installer
- Crown race setting tool (although a piece of plastic pipe can do the trick)
- Headset press
- Pipe cutter/carbon saw (cutting your fork or bars to the right length)
- Bottom bracket press or removal tool, depending on what kind of bottom bracket you have
- Cable routing tool
It is completely up to you how much you’d like to invest for bike tools and how much you want to do yourself but keep in mind that a quality headset press doesn’t come cheap. Specially tools from high end brands come at even a higher price. (Abbey bike tools, Wera, …)
But if you tend to maintain your own bikes, you can consider it a wise investment otherwise bring your frame to your LBS and they will gladly help you out for a small fee.
Lastly you’ll need to get acquainted with the bike industry standards. When ordering parts online you need to make sure they are compatible with your chosen frame and even with each other. Remember you can always consult the frames spec sheet on the constructors website.
We’ll note the most common standards you’ll have to take in consideration:
- Rear dropouts:
This is where your rear wheel fits in the frame. When buying a hub or a complete wheelset make sure it is compatible with your frame.
Older frames and entry-level bikes: quick release dropouts: on road bikes this is 130mm, for mountain bikes it is 135mm wide.
New MTB standard: 12x148mm wide, this is also known as Boost spacing
Super-Boost Spacing: mostly seen on downhill mountain bikes, although some brands use this standard. Your thru axle will be 12x157mm wide.
Road & gravel bikes: 12x142mm axle
- Seatpost Diameter
If you want to change your seatpost or, for mountainbikers, you want to swap your rigid seatpost for a dropper post make sure you have the correct diameter of your seat tube. You can measure the inside diameter of your seattube with a caliper or measure the old seatpost. Remember you can always buy shims for a smaller seatpost, but a seatpost that’s too large won’t ever fit… Some aero roadbikes do come with a dedicated seatpost in an aerodynamic shape.
Road bikes: Most commonly use 27.2mm, but some will have larger diameter seatposts.
Mountain bikes: Usually are 30.9mm or 31.6mm wide, but there exist some exceptions. To save some weight some XC models use 27.2mm posts. A few bikes even use 34.9mm seatposts.
- Steerer tube diameter
This is how your fork fits into the frame’s head tube. Your stem and handlebars clamp to the end of the steerer tube. There are three very common tube diameters:
Straight 1 1/8” steerer tube, mostly found on older bikes.
Tapered 1 ½” to 1 1/8”, most modern bike forks come with a fork wit 1 ½” at the bottom tapering to 1 1/8” at the top.
Tapered 1 ½” to 1 ¼” are commonly seen on road, gravel and cross forks.
- Brake mounts
Cantilever or V-brake calipers: These mount to two posts which will be on the fork legs and seat stays.
Rim brake calipers: These mount to a single hole located in the fork crown and a seat stay bridge.
Disc brakes will either have a Post-mount or I.S. mount. Depending on your rotor size you will require the appropriate adaptor or spacer.
- Bottom bracket
Lastly, the most complicated standard in the whole bike industry, a bottom bracket. There are so many standards, make sure your BB fits your crankset. The outer diameter of the bottom bracket is always the same, but the inside diameter depends on the brand of cranks you want to use. Most brands have their proprietary spindle width. Be sure to check what type of BB your frame is fitted and order the correct one. Bottom bracket shells are usually 68mm (road or gravel) or 73mm (MTB) wide.
Threaded BB: English threaded or more commonly known as BSA. As the words imply they need to be threaded in with the correct tool
Press-fit BB: the bearings are pressed into the frame instead of threaded. Make sure this is done correctly otherwise you’ll soon have a creaking BB. Some aftermarket companies offer a thread together BB’s for press fit frames. They supposedly are easier to install and reduce the likelihood of creaking.
Casette: your rear wheel freehub needs to match your cassette. Up to 11 speed cassettes need a HG-body. For 12 speed cassettes it gets a bit more complicated, Shimano uses their MicroSpline freehub and SRAM needs a XD-body for their Eagle cassettes (but only starting from their GX models).
Campagnolo has a proprietary freehub and cassette design.
Front fork axle: for mountain bike specific, make sure your front fork axle and wheel match. The modern standard, Boost, is 15x110mm wide.
Disc Rotors: two options, six-bolt or center-lock. Six bolts attach simply with six bolts to your hub, center-lock need a bottom bracket tool.
The last part I want to talk about is something we all hate to deal with, warranty. When you buy a complete bike you are usually dealing with a local bike shop or a significant bike brand, even if it is a direct to consumer brand. This helps you in two ways in parts that fail on your bike. First you’ll be able to go to the brand that produces the bike and work through them in some way to get your bike fixed. If they didn’t make the component that failed you can still get a history of where that part came from. The second way is through your LBS and the relationship you established with the purchase of your bike. Most LBS will stand up for their customers when things go wrong and do whatever they can to make things right. If you bought al your components separately, be sure to keep all those receipts and keep track who you can reach out to. And definitely make sure when you buy your bike frame it comes with a warranty.
Now go and build your own bike
If you always wanted to build your own bike, there is no better time to start than now! Building a bike seems like a massive undertaking but it’s a really rewarding and fun process. Custom builds aren’t for anyone and there are a couple of downsides but it’s something that needs to be experienced once in a cyclists life, even if it is just for the experience itself. There is no better way to have a one of a kind bike, your frame will be unique.