For years, I have looked into various brands and possibilities for a custom road bike build, but it always seemed like such an extravagant or last resort kind of avenue to take. Surely, I could find something on a bike shop floor or we could build something from a stock frame that would work - or so I thought. After several attempts and many changes and adjustments to each bike I had, we finally started a serious look at having a custom frame built.
|*Images from respective companies linked below|
As luck would have it, one of the local bike shops just happens to have recently partnered with IndyFab. We have known the manager for a bit now and although a custom build wasn't something he was used to doing, one of the owners has completed several builds with IndyFab and was ready to take on the challenge.
I was still very unsure of what I wanted in regard to material. Initially, I thought titanium might be the way to go, but not being able to ride a bike made of titanium before it was manufactured was a little unnerving. Some people seem to really love their ti bikes, while other do not (although I've yet to read anything negative about the titanium Crown Jewel). But, after some discussion and back and forth, the consensus was to go ahead with steel.
In order to get a proper fit, lots of measurements were taken. Everything from arm length to body height and just about every other part of the body one can imagine was measured (side note: I learned one of my arms is actually almost 1/2 an inch shorter than the other - go figure). All of the numbers were sent off to IndyFab and communication between their end and our local shop got underway. I was told I should have the bike by the time the Tour started, and that was pretty much where things were left.
Several weeks later, I went into the local shop for another fitting on their trainer. The folks at IndyFab wanted to be sure that (particularly due to my wrist issues) the measurements were right for the frame before they made their cuts and started welding. Honestly, this was my first moment of panic. When I got on the trainer, everything felt wrong. The bars were far too low, I felt too stretched, and I worried they had mistaken my measurements for someone else entirely because it just felt so off. I began wondering if it was a horrible idea to have a custom frame built, knowing that I was putting full trust in a company I would never speak to directly.
As luck would have it, one of the shops' pro fitters happened to be in house while I was on the adjustable trainer. I still wasn't feeling as though things just were quite right in regard to fit, and he made a stop in to check on me. We went through an interesting experiment during which he had me sit up on the saddle without touching the handlebars and close my eyes while he made adjustments. Then, I'd open my eyes, get back in position and see how things felt. Ultimately, his help resulted in the bars being lower than I'd normally have them, but they were closer to my body to help keep a bend in my elbow. It was quite an interesting experience, actually, but my primary concern was that I would be comfortable in the end on the frame being built.
The one thing that kind of surprised me during this process is that the experience of a custom build was not exactly what I expected (though I don't know that I really knew what to expect either). Perhaps it would've been different if I'd chosen a local builder over one that is 2,000 miles away, or... maybe it would've been exactly the same. It's honestly hard to say as I don't have much of a frame of reference for custom builds. It was by no means a bad experience, but after the initial measurements, everything was kind of quiet. I'm not sure precisely what I expected. Photo updates of progress? An e-mail to let me know how things were coming along? I realize none of these things are required/necessary, but I suppose I thought there would be more chatter during the wait time (I even joked with a reader with whom I'd been e-mailing and who happens to live in NH that I should send him over to check on my build). Sure, I annoyed the local shop just about every week, but that's just part of the fun of dealing with me. :O) I don't think I was too much of a thorn in their side, and they haven't banned me from the shop yet (some gratis beer may have helped with that), so I think all is still well. Regardless of what was going on locally, I knew things were underway and I did my best to be patient as the frame was built.
After the tests on the trainer, I waited again. I had been told that I would get a call from the local shop when the frame had been shipped from IndyFab so that I could bring my parts into the shop (We had stripped the parts off of my former road bike for the new build). Then, when the frame arrived, they would build up the bike and have me come in to take it for a test. I waited (somewhat patiently) for a call. Then, we were up in Leadville as Sam prepared to participate in the Silver Rush 50 and ran into one of the bike shop employees who was also doing the race. We had stopped in a coffee shop, as had she, and as it turns out she actually sees all of the shipments coming into the shop. She made a passing comment about my frame arriving any day (so much for a phone call), and I was ecstatic to hear the news. Less than a week later, the whole bike would be in my hot little hands.
From the start of "real" information being shared to the date I picked up the bike, the total wait time was about 3 months. Really, a speck in time, especially for a custom ride. Of course, there are many factors that played into this, and in all reality, it could've taken much, much longer. I didn't want any fancy paint jobs (with fades, multiple colors, or special blocking - which is where a lot of time can be spent), so that helped speed things along. I didn't request lugs or anything that would require excess amounts of time either. What I did want is a well-constructed frame that would withstand the tests of time. I believed that simplicity would be my friend in this regard.
At this point, if I had it to do over again, I would, even knowing the price involved. The most difficult cost was giving up my most-comfortable-to-that-point road bike in order to fund the start of this frame/fork, which gave me a bit of anxiety during the wait time (and was a bit challenging in the midst of spring/summer training), but I think it was well worth it (or at least I hope). I think for anyone who has difficulty with fit, having the opportunity to build a custom bike is a great option, and I think IndyFab did a beautiful job.
Additionally, I can see very easily how this could become addictive. Who wouldn't want every bicycle s/he rides to be made specifically for him/her, or to his/her specifications? Of course... funding that sort of thing is a completely different story. Maybe when the money tree finally starts to grow? In the meantime, I am glad I waited to do this build because I am far more aware of what I need and want in a road bike. I'm not sure that would've been the case a few years ago. But... time will tell what the outcome will be with this bike. I went into it knowing full well that it could just as easily end up in disappointment or as a huge waste of money. Thus far, that doesn't seem to be the case, so I am very grateful.
Have you been through a custom bike build? What was the outcome? If you haven't done a custom, have you considered it? Who would you select to build your frame if you could choose from any custom bicycle artisans/companies?