Should you get a custom bicycle?
That is a brilliant question, and one that doesn’t have a cut and dried answer.
While a custom-built bicycle is not a necessity to most, it may be for riders with special needs, extreme proportions, or those looking for fit, quality and performance.
Aren’t they expensive?
Probably far from affordable in your mind. But if you consider some of the ultra high-end carbon or titanium stock bicycles for sale today, it just might be a bargain.
Let’s take a closer look at the reasons you should treat yourself to a custom bicycle.
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You Have Specific Riding Needs
While a stock bicycle may fit you just fine, you live in a geographical zone that presents a challenge to stock bicycle frames. You’ve burned through 3 carbon ones already and the manufacturer is no longer honoring their guarantee, but you still want a carbon frame.
It’s time for a custom build with a fine-tuned carbon layup to achieve the high-tensile strength where you need it.
Maybe you’re planning a trip around the world, or across the country, and you’re in search of an extra beefy steel frame with equally durable braze-ons to handle the total weight of the gear, bags and extra parts you plan to bring.
A bike capable of handling your baggage and being comfortable on such a quest is not typically found on any shop floor, so a custom bike is your best option.
The ideal bike you may need for whatever adventure or riding habit you have in store could require the geometry from one style, design elements from another, and componentry from yet a third. Your demands fall into a niche that is only served through the custom process.
The following is a perfect example.
I have a girlfriend who is an avid cyclist. She had two boys and while they were young she wanted the three of them to be able to ride together. Not only was she looking for a bicycle built for three, but she also wanted it to break down easily for travel.
A custom build was the answer, and she still has the bicycle today.
You Can't Find What You Want
You’ve swapped out stems, handlebars, and cranks on stock bikes with no real fit improvement. And you’re sick of making concessions, or worse, being in pain, and it’s detracting from your joy of the sport.
Any rider who does not fall into the bell curve of sizes deemed sufficient for the masses by large bicycle manufacturers is perfect candidates for a custom-built bike.
Here’s a story from my past experience working at the bike shop.
A professional basketball player came into the shop where I was working. He was looking for a bicycle, any bicycle, that he could ride as part of his off-season training. The guy was a mountain and no bicycle we had in the shop or available from the major brands was going to fit him, so I steered him toward a custom build.
The bike was massive, close to 68cm. He required not only a custom frame but a seatpost, fork and cranks too. In the end, the 700c wheels looked almost miniature compared to the rest of the bike, but it worked and he was elated. We fitted many of his teammates after that, too.
Cyclists that are too short for road frames out of the box with 700c wheels are more common. Sadly, this often occurs with women who are already often penalized regarding the quality of stock bike offerings on the market.
There are fewer, but women do want bicycles of equal caliber and performance that fit them. If this is you, take matters into your own hands, go custom.
You Want to Look Different
Every one of your riding buddies has the same bike brand in a similar color palette. If you aren’t someone who follows the crowd and they all look the same to you, a custom bike is a golden ticket to expressing your individual personality.
A personalized paint job is the calling card for any custom build, and since you’re starting from scratch, the options are limitless.
While the need for marketing is understandable, the size of frame logos is getting ridiculous.
Who wants to be a rolling billboard?
Not me, so I doubt you either.
Roadies are already paying top dollar for stock road bikes, and it irritates you to have paid heavily only for the brand to use you to promote their products.
Perhaps you are a fan of a specific comic book character and you want it all over your bike. British racing green is your favorite color, or you want a bike to match your car.
Do you want your name painted in big letters along your top tube?
No decals at all, or a more subtle representation?
It’s up to you. A custom builder can make your dreams a reality.
You're Willing to Spend More
Think of a custom bicycle as a tailored piece of clothing.
A garment off the rack might be perfectly acceptable, but the pleasure, fit and quality of a custom-made anything is more to your liking. It just fits and looks better, and makes you feel great.
While it definitely costs more, it’s money well spent for a bicycle, made for your dimensions only, that you’ll have for a lifetime.
Other than the labor that goes into a custom build, it’s the materials that make up the brunt of the cost. Be it carbon, titanium, Columbus, or Reynolds tubing (steel is real), 6061 or 7005 alloys, and even wood these days, your choice not only determines how your bicycle will ride, but how much you’ll pay for the pleasure.
It may not be as expensive as you think.
You’ll find some pricing very competitive compared to stock models. While there are many custom builders out there, here are a few real-life examples.
- Baum is a popular Australian builder : From $6,810 AUD
- No22., a US builder that has several made to order models. From $4,899 USD
- Moots makes titanium road, gravel, MTB, cyclocross. From $7,546 USD
- Condor Cycles, a UK based bespoke builder : From £4,184
Costs vary based on the material, paint, and components chosen, and foreign exchange rate. So consider them ballpark starting points.
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You Can Wait
The adage says good things come to those who wait.
Getting a custom bicycle can be a long process. It takes time to get measured up, decide if you want lugs or not, choose your material, components, color, and any decals.
Handmade production time and delays can take up to 12 months or more. No worries, you’ve got nothing but time on your hands.
Some custom frame builders create only a handful of bicycles a year, so the wait can get long, fast. This is especially true for those with an established reputation.
Delays can be years due to word of mouth and the success of their product. Newer makers with less notoriety may fulfill your order in a reasonable time frame.
You Enjoy the Process
You may just want to treat yourself to a custom bicycle because you’re a big fan of equipment and you love the process. Perhaps you’re new to cycling and a custom build is a perfect journey for you to go beyond the basics and deep-dive into the technical nitty-gritty.
There’s so much to learn about every step of the process, starting with body measurements, the table jigs and choice of lugs (or not), to the different welding techniques, heat treatments, anodizing, painting, decal, and clear coat application. You’re already impatient for the big reveal of your new soulmate, but that’s the fun.
Many of today’s trends were born in custom builder’s shops. Think back to the start of the MTB movement when old beach cruisers were adapted to tackle the slopes of Mount Tam. It’s back in vogue today, but for years it was difficult to find a quality cyclocross bike, so hardcore fans turned to custom options.
Earth-friendly cargo and work-specific bikes like the Bullitt started out as the brainchild of avid cyclists that were sick of polluting and sitting in traffic. They wanted another option over a car to do deliveries, errands, and grocery shopping. This green trend has become a staple of many local retail shops and larger package delivery companies.
For many riders, a custom bike may be nothing more than a personal reward for achieving a certain turning point in life like retirement, an anniversary, or a professional accomplishment.
Do we really need to justify treating ourselves to such a fine bicycle?
You work hard for your money and deserve it, so don’t think twice.