Five Reasons to Buy a Custom Bike
We explain the top reasons for buying a custom bike.
The Case For Custom
Every Springtime we have a couple of weeks where every time we wander into the workshop, and get a jolt of nostalgia with another custom bike, that we made maybe fourteen years ago is up on the stand for Barna to imbue with his own brand of implacable love. And here is the thing. These very old bikes are inevitably in beautiful condition and loved beyond words by their owners. Every single one is etched with a subtle patina of shared: Etape's, Marmottes, holidays in the sun, friendship, descents in the rain and well-earned coffee-stops.
These bikes are vehicles for some their owner's most memorable moments of their entire lives. It is an incredible privilege and source of joy to have been part of that unfolding journey. That got me and Jules thinking about what is special about having a custom bike made for you. Here is what we came up with - our top five reasons to own a custom bike.
“Calling all perfectionists! A custom designed and built bike puts you straight in the bulls-eye. A stock frame will always be a few millimeters out in reach and drop, it is inevitable.”
1. A Custom Bike Will Make You Happier
Well to qualify, happier than any other bike can make you. A bold claim but empirically borne out over our fourteen year history. It just happens to be true that our happiest clients conceived a custom bike project from the ground up, around their own very specific needs and tastes. And where a client has a custom bike and also a stock bike, it is also universally true to say that the custom bike is the one that they love the most, and will therefore never sell. This one fact underpins the other four points below.
2. A Custom Bike Never Dates
How could it? Every project is intrinsically a one-off? Plus companies like Seven and Passoni devote their lives to considering, engineering-led iterative improvement. They don't feel the need to change year-on-year for the sake of grabbing market share or competing in a corporate pissing contest with their nearest rival. Look at the Seven Axiom SL, pictured opposite, that Phil tested fourteen years ago for Cycle Sport Magazine - there have probably a hundred rolling changes to their signature model since then. Hardly any that are visible! Read the test
Just maybe the most important reason of all. In the last decade-and-a-half the bike industry bequeathed its collective experience, reputation, culture and industry, to the Far East, and China and Taiwan in a spectacular miscalculation that they are only now starting to comprehend. All in the name of saving production and especially labour costs. For example - a decade or so ago, Pinarello's were handmade in a charming factory in Treviso in Veneto. An area where the production of Prosecco and bicycles were symbiotically connected. Happily Prosecco grapes still grow on the slopes of The Montello. Pinarello's, however, now come from further away - read our oped Chinarello piece. We believe this was a huge mistake to lose the provenance of a such an emotional product.
Custom bikes are not short-term projects, and it seems to become much more important to be connected to Boston, Milan and the good people that live, ride and work in these places.
Note - the only big companies that we know that retain a domestic factory are Trek and Cervelo, and for both of them only their premier models (SLR and RCa) are made there respectively.
4. Middle of The Bullseye
A custom project is by nature different to a stock project. With a stock bike you aim to get on the target as close to the bulls-eye as possible, given the sizes, geometries and components available. And sometimes you get very close. But you never, ever get right in the middle of the bullseye, it is just impossible. This level of precision is only possible with a full custom frame. Hence Pro riders all rode custom frames back in the day, well before the huge companies got involved and kicked them all out. But that is another story. And one that we will tell.
With a custom frame we start with a clean piece of paper (or CAD actually). Precision is inherently put at the centre of the whole Cyclefit and drafting process. Being in the middle of the bulls-eye means the bike feels hand-tailored to you and also allows for the greatest variability in case your needs change.
5. Tune The Ride
Working custom means that every aspect of the ride experience can be tuned to the rider:
* Tubing stiffness profiles - even butting can be individual
- Ride stability v's quick-handling
- Bottom bracket height
- Chainstay length
- Headtube angle
- Finish and paint
One of the first decisions is what your frame will be made of. A custom project brings exciting materials like steel, titanium and ti/carbon blends into play. This creates beautiful and subtle flavours that last a lifetime. Say it quietly but bikes from big-box manufactures, whilst incredibly light and stiff, can be a bit, err, dull?
So when should you consider a stock bike over a custom? For us it is very simple - you should choose a stock bike for three reasons:
- You are trying to build to extreme weight criteria - in almost all situations the very top-of-the-range frames that are innovated for the Pro Tour will be the lightest in the world. Trek's Emonda SLR for example is almost unassailable at 670 grams! The lightest frame we have ever weighed was a 54cm Cervelo Rca at 645 grams! By the way Trek make the Emonda SLR in Wisconsin and Cervelo makes Rca in its California facility.
- You are building to a tight budget. We think custom frames are incredible value when you look at the work and dedication that goes into them. But costs can escalate in line with desire. A highly personalised Passoni Top Force will always be on the pricey side.
- You are facing a time constraint - it takes about 4-6 weeks to make a Seven and 8-12 weeks to make a passoni (depending upon the time of year and build/finish spec). Some folk need a bike fast and for them a stock bike or frame will always work best.