If you mess around with bikes long enough you may well consider building your own bike. Imagine the satisfaction of choosing your own components that really suit your riding, assembling it and riding it and knowing that it is a true one off that you built yourself.
Building a bike up from scratch is a lot easier than it sounds, however you will need a reasonable to high level of bike repair and maintenance experience, here’s a bike that I built up one wet Wednesday afternoon.
This was a new mountain bike build, using some new components plus some bits from a “donor” bike. I had chosen a steel frame from On One, purely because I had always wanted one and liked the slim tube retro look. The frame I chose was the “456” so caled because it could take a 4″, 5″ or 6″ travel fork without upsetting the geometry. This is the kind of bike that would really suit my riding style.
The key to a successful bike build is to get organised- make sure you have allowed sufficient time, around 3-4 hrs of steady methodical work, you will get quicker as you get more practiced.
Make sure that you have all the components that you need to build and you have all the specialist tools that you need, for example;
- Allen Keys
- Screwdrivers with Torx bits
- Mallet or hammer
- Adjustable wrench
- Zip ties
- Headset press (you can make your own)
- Cable cutters
- Pliers, long and short nose
- Crankset pullers or specialist tool (Hollowtech)
- Grease and lubes
- Latex gloves unless you like the oily fingernail look
- A radio or some tunes
Personally I like to lay out all my tools on the bench and the components so I can see what I am looking for, the last thing you want is to be rummaging around in the toolbox or running down the cycle shop to buy the bits you have forgotten.
OK, with everything laid out, the radio on, a cup of tea to hand and a nice warm workshop let’s get to work…
A good quality workstand will always make things more comfortable, sure you can build a bike without one but your back won’t thank you for it. With the bare bike frame at the right height fit the seat clamp, pin and saddle. It sounds obvious but seat posts come in a variety of different sizes, make sure you have the right one for your frame. This being a steel frame and an alloy seat post I lightly greased the post before inserting, this will prevent the post seizing in the frame at a later date – a problem you really don’t want.
Fitting the cups for a new headset can seem a bit daunting the first time you do it, the cups must be fitted square and parallel and if you get it wrong, can ruin the frame. It is not difficult and with care and thought can be done, if you are in doubt your local bike shop should fit one for you for around £10, maybe for free if you buy the new headset from them.
If you are doing it yourself you will need a headset press. These are upwards of £30 to buy and unless you are regularly building bikes is not something you use that often. I made my own from bits from the local hardware store for less than £3. It is just a long coach type bolt with some hefty square washers, it does the job just fine.
When fitting the new headset cups, ensure that the headtube is free of excess paint and swarf and then smear both the headset cups and inside the headtube with grease. Fit each cup one at a time using the headset press, checking carefully by eye as you tighten the press to ensure they are going in square. If they are not, stop! Undo the press and start again. Do not be tempted to just tighten away and hope that it will sort itself out – it won’t. just take your time and they should go in nice and easy, I am a bit sad and like to mahe sure that the logos on the top and bottom cups line up.
With the headset neatly fitted it is time to turn our attention to the Crankset. This one is a Shimano Hollowtech II crankset. It requires a special tool to fit it but it is quite easy to fit. Some bike builders recommend that you “face” the frame with a special tool to ensure that the surface where you fit the bottom bracket are perfectly square. On this frame I did not bother, and generally do not, (mainly because the tool to do it is £200) again a local bike shop could do this for around £25 if you want.
Assemble the bottom bracket and crankset as per the manufacturers instructions paying special attention to the tightening instructions, being careful not to overtighten. Also pay attention to the manufacturers instructions regarding the spacers that come with the chainset, this is important to achieve the correct chain line I have fitted a nice set of Crank Bros Eggbeater pedals to finish things off.
From here it is pretty easy, you have done the hard part and it is just a matter of fitting the components as you go. On this build I used a set of forks from the donor bike, but if not it is simple to fit a new set, just be very careful when you cut the steerer tube on the forks, as if you get this too short it is bye bye forks. This is certainly a time to practice the old saying check twice and cut once.
Once you have the steerer tube the right length fit the star fangled washer that comes with the headset and assemble the headset as per the manufacturers instructions, adding spacers to suit your required bar height. iI used a Cane Creek S3 because they are great value and I have one on all my bikes so can interchange spares if need be.
With the stem and bars fitted, it is time to fit the brakes. In this case a set of hydraulics from Shimano. First fit the rotors to the disc specific wheels, using the Torx fittings provided with the brakes, some rotors are uni-directional so pay attention.
Next fit the calipers to the corresponding lugs on the frame and fit the levers, attaching the tubing to the frame using the appropriate frame lugs and zip ties or specialist fittings. Always read the manufacturers instructions and follow them.
Next, pop on the wheels and see if everything spins nicely and nothing is rubbing.
You now need to fit the rear derailleur and front shifter and then shifters for the bars, again I took these from the donor bike. If you are buying new many internet sites offer an entire groupset including chainset, shifters derailleurs etc. It can be cheaper to buy this way.
Fit the chain and again check that everything runs smoothly
The last bit is to run the cables to the front and rear derailleur, this is the mark of a good bike build, there is not much worse than seeing big, loopy cable runs or too tight a run that will not run smoothly in daily use. Think it through and make it tidy.
From there it is just a simple matter of tuning and adjusting the shifting and have a good look around to see that everything works as it should, then you are off for your first cautious test ride.
Here she is ready for the first ride, I took her out for a tear up round the local woods and can still remember the grin from ear to ear. She is still going strong 4 years on, although she is on her third set of brakes (much beefier rotors), third set of Hollowtech bearings and 2 nd set of wheels. We have had hours of fun riding throughout the UK, downhill silliness in Wales, Suisse Normandie and the Pyrenees.
Cost wise you probably won’t save much or any money over buying a complete bike, especially when discounts are taken into account by bike retailers. What you will get is a custom spec that you chose to suit you plus the satisfaction of knowing that you built the bike that you ride, you can’t put a price on that.
As with any guide this is intended to give an overall view as to how to build a bike, it is no substitute for specialist knowledge and skills. If you are in any doubt seek the skills of a specialist bike mechanic. Building a bicycle is fairly straightforward but mistakes can be dangerous. No responsibility is taken by the author for any incidents, accidents or harm caused by following this guide.
Remember keep safe, always wear a helmet and keep on riding.
Once you have built your bike you can protect it and transport your bike in one of our bike bags