Part 3: Selecting a Builder

April 1, 2007

I’ve been in love with very many bikes over the last few years. I’d be extremely pleased to own a Pegoretti, as I love bikes that very few other people have. Uniqueness is a good thing for me. Prior to deciding on the custom route, I was seriously considering the Colnago C-50. I just think it’s a beautiful bike, I love the fact that it’s a Colnago, and it’s an amazing bike for handling, probably perfectly neutral. However, I ultimately realized that I’ve been riding the wrong frame for several years. My current Wilier is about a 53 or 54 (it’s hard to tell with the sloping top tube). Being a 6 foot tall guy, that’s a pretty small frame. This approach was taken from watching pros on TV riding small frames, but also the fact that I’ve been ok with a very large drop from saddle to bars for a very long time. Knowing that I’ve been riding the wrong size, I decided the best thing was to go custom. In my case, going custom would most likely still allow me to have my bike that few other people would have, preserving at least that desire.

One could argue that I could have just gone in for a sizing and gotten the right bike. That’s probably true, but I think there’s more going on with my riding style that can’t be addressed. More later about this and how the frame builder actually designed the bike around me rather than just finding the right bike size.

Frame Material: Frame material was possibly the consideration that I struggled with the most. I was pretty sure I didn’t want the weight penalty of steel, even though the penalty is fairly minor these days. Aluminum has been beating me up for years, and I honestly don’t consider the material to be something that I’d care to own for the next decade. To me, aluminum is too fragile and to be honest, I’ve been there for a few years, so it’s time to move on to something new. So that brought my decision to carbon fiber or to titanium. Carbon fiber was always an option due to weight and it’s ability to dampen the ride. If I went with CF, I would have gotten the C-50 or gone with a custom builder like Calfee or Parlee. Ultimately, I went with titanium. In my estimation, it’s a lifetime frame if you want one, it has ride qualities that are the closest to steel with a much smaller weight penalty, and it also has great ride characteristics. While it’s not going to feel like my old Ritchey, it will provide a great ride and still give me a 15ish pound bike.

Reputation: I’m not going to name the builders that I didn’t select. Basically, I headed over to where an active community of cyclists gathers and often give great advice. Here I learned about the leaders of custom made bike frames and got down to a good short list of individuals who had impeccable reputations for titanium. The process for me was simple, I called each of them up, and had a brief conversation to decide who I was comfortable with. From there, it was not as much about who I thought could get me the best frame, but who would give me the best value. I say this because I had decided that each of the builders I had on my short list would give me a frame that would exceed my expectations. By the time I was done with interviews, I had absolute confidence in build quality, the fact that the beads (welds) on the frame would be perfect, and the frame would match my needs. When you’ve downselected to a few builders that are all leaders, it’s hard to use those qualitative aspects to make a decision unless one builder absolutely makes an impact on you when you have the conversation, over the others.

Cost: Builders like Lynsky didn’t make my short list. Mostly because in looking through their website, the cost of a titanium frame was going to cost quite a bit more than other builders. I really wanted to spend less than $2000 on a bike frame, and ultimately I’ll be a bit over that for paint and some extras. Based on all the vendors that made the short list, I found that Carl Strong really had the best value for a bike considering reputation and also my ability to comfortably communicate with him. You can get a regular titanium frame for $2400 or double butted ti for $2800.

At the end of the day, reputation would have selected any of the builders I called up. Strong won because I really liked speaking with him, I loved the “design and fabrication” section of his website which give a clearer picture of his shop than any interview can, and he provides a great value for the money.

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