Ever dreamt of building your own custom bicycle from scratch? Whether it’s an old school MTB gravel conversion, a badass road bike, a flashy fixie or a cruiser that would bring you back to 1970s Chinatown, here are some broad principles that will help you in your journey to build your dream custom bicycle.

Step 1: Set a budget

You are the master of your custom bicycle build, so you can do anything you want with it. That said, cost can easily rack up so it's important to be disciplined about how much you are willing to spend on your dream bicycle. If it’s a high performance road bike, you should be prepared to budget a little more. On the other hand, if you want to build a chill cruiser, you can still spend on quality components but you would be spending significantly less.
In order to stick to your budget, it's good to make compromises and splurge on areas that you think are most important. For example, you may want to spend more on all the contact points between yourself and the bicycle such as the saddle, grips/handlebars and the pedals. You would also definitely want to splurge a little on the wheelset (if your budget allows), because we all know that a high quality wheelset can make a bicycle feel like a different monster altogether.

Step 2: Research, research and research

Once you start digging into the bottomless pit that is the bicycle parts world, you’ll start to notice that there is not one standard but thousands of “standards”. For bottom brackets, you have English Threaded standards, Italian standards, press fit standards and many more. The same goes for most other components such as wheelsets, cassettes, tyres, cranks, brakes, shifter and derailleurs, headsets etc.

It’s important to take measurements (if you have your frame or frameset with you) or take note of specifications (if you have a frame or frameset that you are eyeing). Before deciding on components.

The worst thing you would want to do is to order a component from the internet and wait 1 to 2 months for it to arrive only to find out that it doesn’t fit your build.

Other than youtube, the Park Tool Website and Sheldon Brown has been the best resource for some time to help anyone embarking on their very own bicycle project.

Step 3: Start building (or disassembling)!

Building a bike up from scratch can seem like a huge challenge, but it’s really not if you break it down into smaller segments. Set aside a few hours at a time to assemble each part (if it’s your first time doing so), and suddenly the gargantuan task of building a bicycle becomes easily manageable “mini-projects”.

For example, you can allocate a Saturday afternoon to installing the crankset and derailleur, another day to setting up the wheelset and cockpit, and another slot of time to tuning the derailleur after the shifters are installed.

Take things one step at a time and don’t be discouraged. It’s a slow but deeply satisfying process and before you know it, you’ll have a beautiful bicycle built by your own two hands to cycle. Few things in life are more satisfying.

Step 4: Take your bike out on a test ride

Congratulations! Now that you have successfully assembled your bike, hold your horses because it’s important to test your bike to make sure that it’s safe to ride. As usual, we recommend going to a quiet small road or to a relatively empty park or carpark. Try shifting gears, braking, accelerating and doing anything you would normally do on your bicycle.

You may run into issues such as a loose headset, or gears that aren’t shifting correctly. Be patient and take the time to slowly fine tune these elements. Once you find that your bicycle is safe enough to ride, you can start taking it out for longer distances, such as a trip to your friend’s house or the mall. This doesn’t mean that the testing process has stopped though. You would most probably find yourself making small tweaks such as shifting the seat position or angle or tuning the pull of the brakes. Overall, do note that testing and fine tuning your bicycle will be a long drawn process especially if it’s your first built. That said, you’ll really grow to learn every unique feature of your bike and that will make it all the more special to you and enjoyable to ride.

Step 5: Take plenty of photos and brag about your bike to everyone

Now that your bicycle is assembled and tested, don’t forget to take many photos to upload to social media so that you can show the world how awesome your bicycle is! It’s one of a kind and nobody has anything quite like it.

If you’re addicted to building your own bicycles or are interested to learn more about starting your first build, leave a comment below and share with us about what bicycles you have built.

April 12, 2022 — Douglas Koh

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