Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Custom Bicycle (Part 3): Hope on the Horizon

If you've missed the first two posts in this series, you can find the first by clicking here, and the second by clicking here. If you're all caught up or don't care to read the initial happenings, feel free to carry on from this point.

Lest I scare off potential custom frame customers (which is not my intent at all), I should say that I don't think my experience is typical for custom built bikes. Most people I know or with whom I've spoke about their builds have had wonderful experiences, and the pains they had prior to the custom were mostly if not completely eliminated with geometry made to the riders needs or specifications. The problem was that I didn't think I could get to a good point with this particular custom. I had tried to push forward in the hope that one day it would simply be right, but at some point I had to accept that this wasn't working for me.

One thing I pride myself on is being able to own up to my mistakes. I guess I've made so many of them it's easy for me to accept that I'm not infallible. When it comes to bicycles this couldn't be more true. For those who know my history in adulthood with bikes, you know that I seem to think one thing will be ideal and then come to terms with a reality that is often quite the opposite. I've made my peace with making errors, but I really don't like losing money; and I have to say, having mistakes with new, and particularly custom bicycles is a costly endeavor.

In all of this, I had begun communication with other bicycle makers and a couple of days after I'd sent off my notes to builders, I received replies from each. I already felt better knowing that I was able to communicate directly with someone, rather than having a go-between. I didn't know if they'd be able to provide answers to what had gone wrong, but I knew that I needed to be able to move forward. During my electronic communications, one reply stood out among the others and I started conversing with the owner (Dan) of  R+E Cycles in Seattle. They are the makers of Rodriguez bikes.

As you may recall, a Rodriguez was on my list of potentials when I went with the original option, but because I am somewhat acquainted with the manager of a local shop and I really preferred having a local contact, it seemed appropriate to go with the IndyFab. As I was reading Dan's reply though, I felt relieved that someone seemed to understand what I was going through - even if the reply was mostly perfunctory at that moment. As we continued to chat, he wasn't judging me or condemning me for my choices, but rather offered up some thoughts on how he might be able to help. He also advised me to give my LBS the opportunity to resolve things, and perhaps even contact IndyFab myself. I thought this was admirable, especially for someone who could easily have fed into my emotions about the custom bike which would've made the situation even more tense. Instead, he wanted me to think about possible resolutions and come to rational conclusions.
One of the first images I received from Dan.
There was more conversation with Dan during the first three days of our back and forth than I had through the entire process with the other custom build (come to think of it, there was more discussion in our first day of emailing). Dan had me send information about bikes that have worked for me (at least somewhat) in the past, the current custom specs, and we chatted about what was working, what wasn't, and what I was looking for in a bike. I received links to articles to read, CAD drawings/overlays of bikes I've ridden and owned, and so much information that I knew I was heading down a much better path, even if there still wasn't a definite outcome or resolution.

The biggest problem now was that I knew I had to convince Sam that another custom bike was the way to go. Yep, I was at the point that I was considering a second build - scary as that sounded even to me. I liked the information I was receiving and the direction everything was heading, and it all made sense or paralleled my personal experiences. Through our conversations, I was finding a way to better explain what I wanted from someone who has the know-how and many years of experience.

I really didn't want to have the conversation about another build with Sam though because I knew that he was very much opposed to another long distance bike venture, let alone having another custom bike built, but I was convinced Rodriguez was the way to go. Surprisingly, Sam was pretty easy in this regard. I'd expected a bit of kickback, but after explaining the conversations I'd had with Dan, and providing some information about Rodriguez' policies, he accepted the reality that this was likely what I should have done in the first place. Without much of a battle, Sam was on board with looking at another build.

Of course, when I've had a not-so-great experience, it can be difficult to let go of my own doubt. Despite Dan's reassurance that he could see some issues with the geometry of the former custom for me (and I was already well aware of this fact), and even after all I'd read, I couldn't help but wonder if another build would really provide better results. I wanted to believe it was obtainable, but I have to admit I was terrified of another possible bad outcome. It helped that R+E wants their customers to be happy and will work with them if it isn't right, and Dan was more than convincing in his messages, but still the doubt clung to me like an annoying fly buzzing around my head.

At this juncture, I had put the former custom up for sale. I had to somehow fund the start of a new build, and of course it only made sense to let it go now rather than holding on to it and allowing it to age and lose more value. Just because the frame wasn't right for me didn't mean it wouldn't work for the right person. Plus, I know me, and if a bike frame sits around, I want to have it built up - even knowing that it will only cause physical pain. There was a lot of interest in the frame on the surface, but no one was ready to move forward with a purchase. I can't say I blame those who were looking. It's a lot of money to spend on something that might not work for the new rider either. It had to be the right person who would come along in order to make the set up work properly.

Even though I was waiting on the sale of the former frame, I made a decision to move forward with having the Rodriguez built. Our nicer weather was fading quickly - as in, it was pretty nearly over - and I knew I wanted to get the new frame underway. After having spoke with Dan for a few weeks via e-mail, the team at R+E was quick with getting my frame into the queue and I was told it would be just weeks until the new bike would be ready. Yikes! I sold off a few items to get the deposit I needed and prayed that the "old" custom would sell quickly.

As luck would have it, I didn't have to wait too long for the right person to come along to buy the frame. There was both a sense of relief and a little sadness watching the frame go off to its new home. It gave the whole situation a sense of finality, but I knew deep down it was exactly what needed to be done.
*Image from R&E Cycles
So many choices (and even more not shown)!
In the meantime, I set about picking a frame color. I'd asked if it would be possible to just clear coat the steel, rather than painting it, but was informed that they've actually tried this in the past and the frame rusted under the clear (bummer); and because I wasn't ready to watch a custom bike turn to rust before my eyes, I decided that I'd better make a decision on paint.

I am really, really, really horrible at picking paint colors for projects. One might think that it would be easier for me being a painter myself, but in truth, I love so many different colors and color combinations, and dependent on my mood, I can swing from loving something very subtle to something over-the-top bright. If you remember the (very long post on) the VW project, I stewed and pondered for a long time about what color to paint the Beetle. It is just paint, but I wanted to make sure it was something I would like, and after the failure with the former bike build, I was definitely against painting the new version purple (though part of me thought perhaps painting it a similar color would provide some redemption).

I had also debated whether or not to do a frame/fork only or to have R+E build an entire bike. Ultimately, I decided that I needed a fresh start and if they built it from the ground up, I would be speaking to people who would know exactly where we were starting, should something go wrong with the fit when it arrived.

As insane as this story sounds (and has been), I'm learning a lot through all of it - perhaps even more than I ever wanted to know. I'm not done with the process and am in the midst of waiting for the frame to be built, but I seem to feel a lot more at ease this time. I think it helps that I've had communication throughout the process, and if I have questions along the way, there is always someone who is able to answer in a timely manner, rather than having a go-between who may not necessarily get all the information to the parties who need it. There is a level of patience and information sharing that has been unparalleled in my experiences with other shops, despite the fact that we are geographically 1,300 miles apart.

I've  also learned that I couldn't see myself completing another custom build with a company that I am unable to speak to directly. I think for some folks (and maybe even the majority) having a go-between works out well. It provides a cushion and another source of information or another opinion. The problem was that the go-between didn't seem to be working for me, but rather assumed a lot and didn't provide any options or opinions along the way. The go-between also never provided specific information before final decisions were made. I made the assumption that because I had a connection with the local shop, things would somehow work themselves out, which is entirely my fault, and ultimately was the disservice or really the demise of the build in the end.

A part of my reasoning for not choosing Rodriguez initially was that I had read one short, insignificant review somewhere online that indicated that the person hadn't had an ideal experience with their bicycle. When I searched high and low, I couldn't find anyone who had anything negative to say about their IndyFab, and in fact, everything I found was glowing and recommended the company and their bicycles highly. While I cannot say that one company is better than the other (because I truly don't believe that), I should have known better than to allow one less-than-stellar opinion/experience to influence a decision so greatly - particularly from an anonymous source I don't know personally. It wasn't the only factor involved, but I know it played a part in the final decision.

I have no way of knowing what will come with the new custom at this point, so to judge or compare the tangible goods at this juncture is impossible. I could very well end up in exactly the same situation - with the very important exception that I know R+E will work with me to resolve any problems, even if it means (heaven forbid) re-making the frame. I will say that I have far greater confidence this time around and have high hopes for what is to come. With the information that has been shared by R+E, I've begun to understand that the issues I had with the first round frame weren't going to be resolved with a different stem, seatpost, or wheels, much as we tried.  I know I am particularly fussy about set-up and position, but it has been glorious to have a professional recognize so quickly why the frame wasn't working for me. In the end, I think this is what has been invaluable - the years of experience and work R+E has done with its customers to make sure the fit is correct for each rider.

So, this is where I leave you for now. Still a bit of a cliffhanger I am aware, but there will be a "part four" of sorts when the time comes to provide more information down the road. As the post title indicates, there is hope on the horizon, but without making the leap of faith and trusting that this will be a better experience, I wouldn't have the opportunity to know whether a properly built custom could be the answer I've been seeking. I have entered into this round understanding that there will be tweaks along the way and that likely no one could get it perfect out of the gate, but I think there is a far greater understanding between manufacturer and customer with this round. Whereas the first round I was worried throughout the process (justifiably so, as is apparent on this side of things), I find that I can simply let it go with this build, and trust that when there is a decision to be made, I'll be asked and/or guided to a proper answer - and then it's up to me to make the decision. At this point, that's really all I can ask for in a fresh start.

I am excited about what is to come. One of the benefits of being someone who often lives in the future is that I don't set up a nest in the past, the mistakes made, or dwell very long in what - if I really spent a lot of time thinking about it - could be viewed as quite a mishap full of physical pain, grief, and loss of money. As I've stated before, I tend to be someone who learns lessons the hard way. Mother can tell the toddler in me that the stove is hot, but unless I touch it for myself, there is always doubt in my mind and I wonder just how hot the stove is exactly. The new bike will arrive as winter weather is close to hitting, which means I probably won't get a ton of time to test things out; however, the future looks brighter with this round, and I'm holding out hope for a much happier ending with round two. Hopefully, the stove is turned off this time too - I don't particularly enjoy getting scorched.


  1. Very brave of you to try again! Not do much because of the money ... People spend loads on cars, far more on one car than you have spent on your bikes. I am amazed rather that the roller coaster of emotions, high hopes followed by disappointment etc has not put you off. Looking forward to seeing the new bike, am sure things will go much better this time round !

    1. I am hopeful that things will go better this time around, Stephanie. Thank you for the well wishes for round two, also.

      People do spend a lot of money on cars and other items, but this definitely wasn't one of those things I intended to turn around and sell after only a few months of ownership. I think it was ultimately for the best though (or at least, I hope). :O)

  2. I hope everything works out with future bike on the horizon, although I'm still sorry that the IF could not have been "the one." It was so pretty! But if it isn't right, then it's better to move on. I look forward to seeing the final product as well as what color you choose.

    1. It was pretty. I very much wish I could've forced it, but it just wasn't in the stars, I suppose.

  3. Yesterday I wasn't sure who I should yell at, but today I'm pretty sure it's the LBS. I'm so relieved that you were able to let go of the IF frame. That makes it feel like maybe there's no need for yelling after all.

    The new builder sounds wonderful, and I wish you all good luck with the new frame. I'm eager to see it and hear all about it.

    1. Want me to send you their phone number? ;O)

      I think I've made my peace with the situation. I need a little bit of separation time from the shop, but I'm honestly not nearly as upset as I probably should be. I think some blame can be parceled out across the board to all involved.

      I am super excited to get the new frame. I still haven't picked a stinking color though (and I asked for more choices that they might happen to have around the shop, because I'm apparently a crazy person!!). Looking forward to riding and sharing when it arrives. :O)

    2. That metallic kelly green gets my vote. ;)

    3. The LBS was not very helpful, when I look back at the interactions I was involved with, or heard about, I'm very dissapointed. For such a high time and money expenditure, they treated G.E. like she was just dropping by and buying a bike off the shelf. "Here you go, have fun", and no follow up from the owner, basically once they "assembled" the bicycle (no tuning, they just threw it together), they handed it off and it was our problem. It's the perception that consumers don't know what they are doing, and particularly women. Meh, I'll buy tires or jerseys from them, but the only other interaction I expect to have with them is out on the trail or road, where I'll smoke them.

    4. Rebecca, Every day I think I have it narrowed down to just a few choices and then change my mind. At some point (probably very soon) I'm going to have to make a decision and stick with it.

      Sam, I think that's the most disappointing part of this - no follow up at all (and of course, not tuning the bike whatsoever before giving it to me). We've been in the shop a number of times since the build, so there have been opportunities to do so with very little effort. I adore the people who work in the shop, but it's difficult not to be disenchanted with the outcome, at least somewhat.


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