Owen Byrne, April 2013
Over a year ago, I decided it was time for a new bike. I had been riding my current bike since 2004 and it was still going strong, but it was getting a bit scratched and the head badge had fallen off – which is definitely a sign that it's past its best.
I really wanted to get something special, the choices were either a very expensive carbon frame or a custom steel frame. I couldn't decide. Fortuitously, one day I happened to be passing the Bespoked Bristol framebuilding show, so I popped in and had a look at what some of the countries finest framebuilders were up to. That cemented the steel choice for me. I came home with plenty of leaflets and flyers and thought about it for a while, and what I thought was that there couldn't be that much to building a frame myself, so I did.
I booked myself onto a framebuilding course at Downland Cycles in Canterbury, which can be done by the power of the internet for some instant gratification which was then followed by 8 months of waiting. Long hard difficult waiting. On an old worn out bike.
The more geograpically aware of you will know that it is a long way between Bristol and Canterbury, so I duly booked myself into a B&B, and when the time came, I set off on my merry way via the modern locomotive on a cold wet winter evening. Given the current climate, I will point out for the purpose of clarity, that this cold wet winter evening was in December.
The frame building course takes 5 days, most of which is spent filing. The second biggest task is measuring, a fair amount of time trying to remember GCSE trigonometry, and a small amount of time welding – which is by far the most stressful. The tea flowed freely as we discussed the merits of different butt profiles – with perhaps the greatest lesson being not to set your tea on metal surfaces (because it will get cold quicker). With guidance from Bryan and Martyn, the week flowed like perfectly heated solder, until the point that I discovered that my back end was skew-whif by about 1mm. This mostly came about by the discovery that the middle of a bottom bracket shell is not necessarily the width of a bottom bracket shell divided by two (in other words – measure your 68mm bottom bracket shells to make sure they are in fact 68mm). After much consideration, we decided that 1mm probably wasn't going to be the end of the world considering that everything else was more or less spot on.
In the evenings, my coursemate Paul from the Electric Bicycle Network and I spent our time sampling the brews in the local hostelries of Canterbury, and I think we managed to upset some of the locals by sitting in their traditional seats in one of the pubs. However we were careful to ensure that we didn't drink too much so that we would have keen eyes and steady hands for the following days filing.
I also picked up my new carbon fibre forks during the week, after being handed what seemed to be an empty box, we proceeded to weigh the forks which were exactly 300g and the packaging that they came in, which also came in at exactly 300g.
Finally the frame was finished, and I set off on my way home, on the train again, now carrying an unpainted steel frame and a box of very light forks, desparately trying to remember to pick up everything when I got off at every stop. I proceeded to jam my new shiny frame in the ticket barrier at Paddington station, and almost collapsed in a state of dispair, but not only was the frame fine, I think it actually knocked that misalignment out of it.
So, that was the easy bit done. The hard bit was picking a colour scheme! I had already spent many long winter miles stewing on this one. During this process I discovered that I have owned a bike in every conceiveable colour already – yes, including purple with white and yellow spots, so elimination didn't help. Too many people already have black, I've currently got a blue bike, I'm not riding a Champs Elysees lap of honour so yellow is out, red is a bit angry and green is unlucky, so I gave up and plumped for plain white, safe in the knowledge that I could get it repainted later should artistic inspiration strike. Next choice was enamel or powder coat? Enamel is 100g lighter, but powder coat is cheaper and faster. Another tough choice!
With the frame safely off to the painters, my attention now turned to deciding which components to hang from this work of art. It may surprise you to know that I had also spent many long miles considering this already. Being of a scientific and orderly mind, it was only natural that I compose a spreadsheet to help with the task in hand, and with the help of my spreadsheet, and google, I set about cataloging the various components and options, along with their prices and weights, in readiness for collection of the frame, when on inspecting the finished product, final seleciton could be made for optimal visual beauty.
Ordering began, parts started to arrive and excitement grew, a bottle cage and headset from here, a seat clamp and handlebars from there, until finally I had amassed a great pile of boxes and bits, including some very expensive black and silver boxes from Shimano and a tasty pair of wheels from BW Cycling. I would also like to point out at this stage that, disappointingly, the number of free Haribos provided by Mr Wiggle is not proportial to the amount of money you spend.
With everything finally in place, I set about another bout of arduous waiting, this time I was waiting for a suitable day for the auspicious build. As with previous waiting, this waiting mostly took the form of training, or cycling round the roads in the cold and wet and dark on my old bike dreaming of sunny days ahead zipping effortlessly up over alpine passes on my trusty (not rusty) new steed. Finally I did so much training, that my immune system was surpressed enough to get a very bad case of man-flu, and I was out of action long enough to get so bored that I couldn't resist any longer, so out came the frame and all the bits and the building began.
Oh my god! How much fun is it to build a completely new bike with all new components from the ground up, there were empty boxes flying all over the kitchen, threads getting greased, bolts getting torqued for hours on end, with little shrieks of joy every time a gear was adjusted or a cable crimped until BAM, everything came to a full stop. An insurmountable problem! Disaster! All of my mental energy was suddenly focused on what could turn out to be the ruination of the project, a waste of all the time and effort and money! I was sweating, trembling, tearing my hair out! What colour bar tape!? Black or white? I couldn't decide. There is only one thing to do at times like this and that is take a break and sleep on it. So I did and I awoke fresh, sat bolt upright in my pit on Easter Sunday morning and exclaimed in a clear voice “BLACK” (to the consternation of my wife). Black it was and very soon later the tape was wrapped and the job was done. The bike was complete, the beast was alive.
Now at this point I should point out that I was still suffering from the man-flu and could barely speak without coughing up a small piece of lung, not at all helped by my earlier proclamation on bar tape colour. Luckily, we all know that one of the best cures for this affliction is to go for a cycle, especially if the outside temperature is below zero. So on with the lycra and out I went. The first sit was carefully measured, the first pedal strokes trepidatious, but nothing important fell off in the first few yards, so I cycled on.
That first ride was amazing, the bike sprung forth with every pedal stroke like a lamb recently rescued from a snow drift, it sailed along the road like a superconducting magnet floating on a sink of liquid helium. It went round corners like an electron on a trial run in a particle accelerator (i.e very fast and not about to smash into anything). It descends like Peter Sagan's popularity since he started touching podium girls. And it climbs like an angel rising up towards the infinite happiness of heaven above. Readers, it was amazing!
So there you go, the story of one new bike. For the technical among you, the main frame is made from Reynolds 853 tubing with 653 chainstays. The frame weighs 1900grams before painting. The final weight is just a shiver over 8kg and the price would bail out Cyprus. Now I'm off to do some cycling, on my trusty old bike what I built myself, and I shall be meditating on the colour and componentry of the next one!
And in one final piece of news, it now looks like the bike is going to be on display at this years Bespoked Bristol show.
More information on the framebuilding course can be found at www.downlandcycles.co.uk. I had a bike fit at www.bwcycling.co.uk, who also organised the groupset and wheels and installed the bottom bracket. The frame was painted by www.tjcdesign.com. I can definitely recommend www.harriethouse.co.uk for anyone looking for a B&B in Canterbury