Your Guide to Getting a Custom Bike (Part II)

What are custom bikes? Why would anyone get one? What can be customized? What is the process like? What is my experience helping riders with going custom? I break it all down in this two part post!

By Noa Deutsch 8 min read
Your Guide to Getting a Custom Bike (Part II)

Hello👋 - Happy Friday! This week, we will get into part II discussing all things custom bikes. If you missed part I, you should catch up on it below, as it lays the foundation for part II ↷

Custom Bikes - Part I
What are custom bikes? Why would anyone get one? What can be customized? What is the process like? What is my experience helping riders with going custom? I break it all down in this two part post!

But first… A bit of unrelated ‘housekeeping’.

About a year ago, I gave some of you who subscribed before a certain date a comp subscription with paid benefits for a year as a thank you. Now that the year is up, there are two things that can happen, depending on your account: 1) You’ll be notified via email 6 days before the renewal at which point you can decide if you would like to keep the benefits of a paid subscription or become a free subscriber. OR 2) You’ll be notified via email 6 days before the renewal at which point you can decide if you would like to keep the benefits of a paid subscription or become a free subscriber.

Now that that’s out of the way, lets get back to bikes!

In part II below, I am getting into the more practical, process side of things, as well as my experience with various brands:

  • What are the steps and what is my role in the fitting and consultation process?
  • What is the typical timeline?
  • What to look for when picking a brand / builder?

What are the steps and what is my role in the fitting and consultation process?

Keep in mind that these are the steps *I* take with the athletes I have worked with. They likely vary from one bike fitter to another and I know many bike fitters who very rarely work with athletes towards custom bikes.

The first step is obvious: Deciding you are going to get a custom bike! It could be a want (for whatever reason) and it could be a need (because of specific / unique needs). I went over these in part I, so I won’t get into it here again.

After that, it’s time to decide on what kind of bike you want, for the kind of riding you are into, and do a bit of research about various bike builders to narrow things down a bit to the ones that fit your needs, budget and timeline. Try not to go too deep down the rabbit hole at this point, as your fitter (pick me! 👋🤗) should guide you a bit more, as ideally they are experienced enough to have worked with a variety of builders and can help steer you in the right direction. If you are set on a particular builder/brand, that’s cool too and makes life a bit easier.

Then it’s time to get a bike fit! I do a lot of consulting with previous clients for what their next bike should be, where we use the data we gathered from their current bike to figure out what would work best for the new bike. That has worked beautifully for getting a non custom bikes over the years (including builds from the frame up), but for a custom bike I recommend coming in and getting on the fit/sizing bike to play and fine tune things so we can send the most accurate data to the builder.

By the time most people end up in my fit studio, they already know what kind of bike they want, but we still have a discussion around the fact that a custom bike is one that you will keep for a very long time - It is a heck of a lot more likely to be a forever bike, so you want to get a bike that will be appropriate for the majority of the riding you enjoy and see your self doing in the future. We also chat about what you like and dislike about your current bike(s) so we have a clear idea of what you are after before you get the builder involved, as that will make the process substantially easier and more straight forward.

We then go over your background, goals (now and down the road), injury history, etc… And we do a basic physical assessment and get you on the fit/sizing bike to start the process of finding the best position based on the information gathered. Once that has been done, the data can be sent to the builder.

Some might suggest getting parts first, but I don’t necessarily agree as I have seen people get pricey cranks for example, only to come to the fit and realize they need a different length… The same goes for stems and bars. Wait till the frame design is completed post fit, and only then go shopping, preferably with a list your bike fitter gave you. That said, let the builder know what groupset you plan on using to ensure compatibility. Some builders will make additional parts as a part of the build, like custom cranks, seatposts, stem/bar combos and more. This a collaboration between you, the builder and your fitter - work together as a team!

The data points that I share are the saddle fore-aft, saddle height (and/or saddle X/Y data), handlebar reach, handlebar stack. I also share the stem length, handlebar specs (reach and width), crank length and the saddle used during the fitting session for reference.

I always advise on the groupset, crank length, stem length/angle, handlebars (reach, drop, flare, width and material), saddle (although that is often dialed during an appointment on the actual bike), shoes, pedal system, seatpost (material and setback) and anything else that is relevant to the finished bike.

Once the fit is done and the data has been sent to the builder, they will create a CAD drawing, and send it to you and (hopefully) your fitter for approval. If needed, they will make additional modifications. It is a good idea to ask how many revisions are included as part of the process, but realistically, if the data sent to them is accurate, they are experienced and they listened to your needs and wants, you should not need too many revisions to get it right!

At this point, all you have to do is wait for the frame to get built, painted and then for the build to be completed (support your local bike shop, ideally). Once the frame is done and the bike has been built, you should take it back to your fitter to dial everything in and fine tune the fit, especially if you are using new shoes and/or a pedal system.

What is the typical timeline?

The timeline usually depends on the brand itself and how busy they are. Remember that these bikes are not mass produced - They are built just for you and that takes time and also depends on the level of customization you desire… So what is a typical timeline? It can range from 6 weeks to several years!

I find that most people who are looking to get a custom bike typically narrow it down to a few builders before they get started with the process. The reasons are usually because they love that brand’s work, what they stand for, their process and that the brand is able to cater for them with building the type of bike they want to ride, etc, which is why they are willing to wait (to a certain extent) to get their dream bike built. That said, if you want a custom bike from a particular brand, pay the deposit early on to hold your place in line, or in some cases, you’ll be able to work with a shop that purchased time slots for their clients in advance.

What to look for when picking a brand / builder?

I have worked with quite a few frame builders over the years, from really small brands to really big and well known brands, making custom bikes of various kinds, and some are a lot easier to work compared with others. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, but there have been a few cases where the builder simply did not listen to the rider’s needs and wants (and ego aside, to my fit recommendations), which made the process very frustrating for everyone involved.

So, one of the most important things when picking the brand you want to work with, is one that will listen to your needs and wants and be able to accommodate (within reason, of course, while keeping handling, intended purpose, materials used, components, etc in mind).

Then there is materials, Feel and finishing. Do you want Titanium? Carbon? Steel? A mix? What level of customization do you want? Do you want to customize the frame stiffness? Do you have weight considerations? How do you want bike to feel while you ride? Do you want additional parts made to order? What kind of finish do you want (ie. smooth titanium welds)? Different builders specialize in different materials and will go to different lengths to customize the frame, so choose accordingly.

Paint, which is surprisingly expensive, is another thing to keep in mind and builders will offer various options. If you want something truly unique, you may want to consider working with a painter after the frame has been built, if the builder is okay with giving you an un-painted frame (not everyone will be), like Velo Colour. Or, you know, get a Festka you (!!). In the case of Titanium, some brands do amazing anodizing, while others keep it fairly basic.

Cost is an obvious point of consideration, because we all have different budgets. Custom bikes will typically be more expensive than a mass produced frame, and for good reason. The bikes are all hand crafted to order and the more labor intensive the frame is, the more time and $ it will be, because time is money and no one should work for free. The cost varies between builders depending on their level of experience, materials, manufacturing process, R&D done, finishing and level of customization. Expect to pay $4,000 to $10,000+ (CAD) for the frame itself.

Location is luckily not really much of a consideration anymore since you can simply work with a local fitter who has experience helping athletes get custom bikes built and then send the data to the builder. Frames can be shipped from the frame builder to your local shop to be built and then you can go back to your fitter for fine tunning (do not skip this step).

I actually had one client who was travelling in Italy (without a bike), when he came across a frame builder he liked by chance. When he got back to Vancouver, he went through the fitting process with me and a year later, went back to Italy to pick up his new bike from that builder and rode it in Italy before returning to Canada with his new bike (yes, he brought it in to fine tune the fit when he got back).

Avoid working with a frame builder who only ask for information like your height, inseam, torso length, arm length, etc. While these could be secondary data points for reference, they should never be used to build a custom bike without proper fit data!

I contemplated sharing the best and… uhhh… no so great builders I have worked with, but instead I will simply share the complete list of the builders. Only two builders on this list were difficult to work with - One finished product was not great, but the other came through with a fantastic build in the end. Note that this list includes builders that used data from my fits, not fits I have done after the frame build has been completed (that would have made the list a lot longer). In no particular order…

Argonaut*, Bice, Mosaic, Festka**, Sturdy**, Bastion*, T-Labs, Moots, Pilot**, Dekerf, Landyachtz*, Naked*, Sarto*, No22*, Fiftyone, Enve, Seven.

  • * Multiple bikes from these brands
  • **In process now, I have not seen the finished bikes yet

Have you considered getting a custom bike? Do you ride (or have ridden) a custom bike? Why would you consider going custom, or why did you go custom? Comment below to share your thoughts and experience, or ask questions if you have them.

Please share this post with others, especially those who want to get a custom bike!

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