Engineered Bikes have given us the low down on how to choose a right builder for your bespoke bike! Check them out at stand H4!
Having a custom frame or bicycle built is a big step both financially and emotionally. How can you be sure you’re making the right decision? We asked David Fong founder of Engineered Bicycles for his top tips to help make sure you find the right builder for you.
1. How does it work – what is the builder’s process for building a bespoke bicycle?
All bespoke frame builders will have slightly different approaches to production processes, so this question is important to ask, even if you have had a frame built before.
What are the stages of the process and how long are they expected to take? What decisions do I need to make and when (think basic specification, paint design, components and finishing kit)?
Building a one-off bicycle is time consuming and often involves a relay of many pairs of skilled hands meaning a lot of time is spent waiting in line. Builders may have waiting lists and the right materials for your build may have a lead-time associated with them too. Achieving that perfect paint finish also requires skilled hands which are also subject to wait lists. Designing the functional details that make the bike work exactly as you want it needs time and attention too.
Make sure you have an understanding of what the long lead-time items are and what the risks to completion within the expected timeframe may be. This will make sure you set realistic expectations from the start.
2. Does the builder offer bike fitting? How does it work and what are the qualifications of the fitter?
Most builders will be willing to work with a customer’s bike fit data, or match the geometry of an existing bike. Some also provide bike fitting services – but as with many things, bike fitting covers a very wide spectrum from a very basic “parameter & rule” based fit to more advanced fit systems, often based on a dynamic assessment.
The quality of a fit is also very much dependent on the experience of the fitter, and the fitter’s understanding of you, your history (injuries, joint and back problems, etc.) and the type of riding you intend doing.
It is very important to make sure the service on offer suits your needs. Does the fitter have first-hand knowledge of fitting for the type of riding you intend the bike to be used for? What qualifications does the fitter have and how much experience? What questions is the fitter asking you to give you confidence that they understand your history and potential underlying issues that might affect the fit.
The bike fit is the basis of your made to measure bicycle, so is vitally important to get right – particularly if you’re planning long days in the saddle. Have no hesitation in considering a 3rd party bike fit if you feel that the builder’s in-house capability isn’t right for you.
3. How will my bicycle be designed and what experience is this based on?
Understanding how a builder approaches frame design is important to give you confidence in the final product.
What design process does the builder follow? What information does the builder ask of you to design the frame? How is the material, tubing and joining method selected? How does the builder assure themselves on the suitability of the design before committing to metal?
The design will often be based on intuition and experience so find out how long have they been designing bicycles and what is their track record? It’s also worth asking if they hold any relevant professional qualifications (e.g. mechanical or structural engineering, or similar technical qualification).
4. How does the builder ensure the safety & integrity of their frames and is a warranty offered?
You want to be confident that the bike you receive at the end of the process is fit for purpose so find out what the builder does to verify the integrity of the finished bicycle.
How does the builder satisfy her/himself that all the frames have the required mechanical integrity? Does the builder undertake testing according to established standards (e.g. ISO) as part of design validation?
With this in mind, find out what the builder’s warranty policy is and how they address product liability.
Again, experience is key here, so think about the 10,000 hour rule and don’t be afraid to ask who will be holding the welding torch (or epoxy tub) and what their level of experience is too.
5. Am I right to want my bicycle made from <your preference here> and what material choices are available?
Steel, titanium, aluminium, carbon fiber, bamboo – the list is long – and each of these subdivides into many possibilities!
Possible frame materials are vast and the subject is a minefield of fact, opinions, pseudo-science, bias and emotion. Ask what knowledge/experience the builder has to correctly select material and understand the pros and cons of different approaches? If your bike is built from the correct material for the job, it will perform better – so make sure you are satisfied with your builder’s recommendation and your choice.
Once settled on a material, ask how does the builder determine the most suitable tube-set, or combination of tubes, and the joining method (fillet brazing, lugs, TIG welding, bonding, etc.)? And what is the basis for the builder’s recommendation? Ask if any other materials were considered in this process to be sure you understand the alternatives and are getting the best possible solution for your needs. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with technical terms, just make sure you’re satisfied with the reasoning behind the approach.
6. How can I assess the ride quality of the builder’s bikes?
While it is arguably cheeky to ask for a test ride when considering a bespoke bicycle, it is reasonable to get assurance that a builder can translate your requirements for ride characteristics into a frame design. Riding a similar bicycle by the builder can tell you a lot, but also look to any reviews or feedback from experienced riders that might give a good, unbiased view.
7. How do you transform my idea of how I want my bike to look into an awesome, show stopping paint design?
An increasingly important part of many bespoke builds is achieving a truly original and individual design that’s personal to you. It’s also something that requires a lot of skill, creativity and understanding.
A great relationship and meeting of minds with the designer is important to achieve this, so get a feel for how they approach their paint designs. Make sure you understand how their thought process works, what your options are and how involved you need to/can be.
One thing to be aware of here is how simple or complicated your paint design is and if it impacts on your final bill. Those chameleon paint finishes don’t come cheap you know!
8. What will it cost and when is payment required?
The big question. Firstly, make sure it’s clear what is included in the base price and what are additional costs. Get this clear from the start. Some builders will charge for made-to-measure as opposed to a standard size. Others may only include the most basic paint finish with a limited range of colours in the price with a full custom design and finish charged as an extra.
When it comes to handing over your hard-earned cash, all builders will differ but most will require a deposit upfront, if not the entire value.
9. Is this builder right for me?
There is a dazzling array of different types of cycling, and bicycles most suited to these ways of riding. There are few builders, if any, who can cover the full spectrum.
Make sure the builder understands what you want to do with your bike and how you want to ride it. What questions is the builder asking about you to understand how the bike will fit into your cycling universe and what gap it’s filling? How receptive is the builder to your questions and ideas on the details that are important to you?
Check if the builder has a suitable track record to produce a bike that will fulfil the role you want it to. What similar bikes has the builder produced in the past? See if you can speak to the owners of these bikes to gauge their experience of working with the builder and the bike itself.
Finally, a bespoke bicycle is a very personal thing and, in a way, you’re asking the builder to package part of you into a bicycle. A collaborative working partnership is essential to this. The builder needs to be on the same wavelength as you to ensure a meaningful exchange that will eventually to lead to your dream bike. You don’t necessarily have to become best friends but you must feel comfortable that you can openly discuss ideas with each other.
These 9 questions cover an awful lot of detail. Keep in mind that ultimately this is about YOUR ideal bicycle so it is for you to decide the priorities.
That said, bespoke bicycles are all about the details, so while it may seem daunting, doing a little research up front will pay off in the end as riding a hand crafted, one-of-a-kind bicycle that perfectly fits your needs is one of the best cycling decisions you will ever make!
Hopefully these questions will help guide you make the best choice. They’ll certainly be great conversation starters with exhibitors when visiting the show!