Saving Money on a Custom Build

June 26, 2010


Building a bike from the frame up can be exciting. It gives you the opportunity to fine tune the bike to your specific needs, and can give your bike some additional character to set it apart from others. The problem I often run into with building bikes from scratch is that the price can quickly get out of hand. To help maintain a reasonable budget for a custom build, it's important to spend money on key components, and hold back on more trivial parts. Here are some examples I have put into my own builds.

Where to Spend Money:

1. Wheels: As far as components are concerned, your wheels are the biggest workhorse on the bike; skimping here can lead to problems, and more money, down the road. Look for good hubs with sealed cartridge bearings, a wider box-section touring rim, and a solid 36-spoke count.

2. Tires: Some extra money on a tough tire will go a long ways, pun intended. Continental and Schwalbe both offer some very durable tires ideal for touring.

3. Saddle: You're going to spend a lot of time in the saddle, so you might as well apply some money and thought here, as well. Brooks and Terry saddles are what we tend to see most often, but it really comes down to a personal preference.

4. Sealed Bearings: Any time you find yourself looking at a component with bearings (bottom bracket, headset, hubs, rear derailleur), be sure they have sealed cartridge bearings. This is pretty common nowadays, but it's a good thing to double-check, considering sealed cartidge bearings hold up well against the elements.

5. Brakes: The difference between a high-end brake and a low-end brake isn't noticed immediately; it's over the long haul that you'll see the difference. High-end brakes, such as the Paul Touring Canti model, feature a greater number of adjustment options, along with longer-lasting, quality springs.

Where to Save Money:

1. Generic Components: Looking at the handlebar, stem, and seatpost, there's no reason to spend a lot of money here. Instead, spend time making sure you get the proper length bars and stem for a good fit on the bike.

2. Downtube Shifters: Not only will downtube shifters save you money over STI style shift/brake levers, they will last much longer.

3. Chain and Cassette: If you have a Shimano drivetrain, don't be afraid to look to SRAM here. Their chain and cassettes are compatible with Shimano components, and often cost a few bucks less.

4. Front Derailleur: Definitely a small place to look, but there's no reason to spend much here, especially if you have downtube shifters. Shimano Sora and Tiagra are both good options.

5. Pedals: Whether you're looking for clipless or toe straps, you can find a good deal on pedals. Wellgo is a good clipless brand, and you can usually find great prices on platform pedals and toe straps.

While a custom build won't always save you money over a stock bike, these tips should at least help keep your budget in check. The big benefits you get from a custom build include a better mechanical understanding of the bike and a superior fit, by choosing the appropriate length bars, stem, and crank arms, along with a saddle that suits and seats you well.

Photo by Josh Tack.


TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.


Anonymous June 28, 2010, 3:53 PM


A very useful post, and a good guide to priorities that could be applied to adapting an existing bike for touring, as well as building a new custom ride. I would add only a couple of comments:

1. The need for a good-fitting, comfortable riding position requires little money, but is absolutely critical for long-distance riding. Pedaling a loaded bike all day in a bent-over "aero" position will leave your shoulders and arms aching, and may eventually rupture one of your cervical disks.

2. The need for proper low gearing on a touring bike is also a major priority. A triple chainring and a lowest gear of 21 gear-inches is a good place to start. I even use an XT mountain bike drive train on my road touring bike.

3. I agree with your listing of the bike's wheels as the best place to spend money, but I would recommend going further and getting a 40-spoke wheel set (sometimes called tandem wheels). 36 spokes on a 26" wheel would probably be OK. I'm also a huge fan of the Schwalbe Marathon series of touring tires -- they are virtually bomb-proof.

Keep the useful information coming, Josh!

Frank Moritz

ACA Tour Leader

Denver, CO

Anonymous June 27, 2010, 1:19 AM

Thanks very much for this post. I just started looking into building my own bike and this is an excellent starting point. Clear and well organized.


Anonymous June 26, 2010, 11:47 PM

i don't mean any offence to you, but this post seems so incomplete, why did you even write it?

Anonymous June 26, 2010, 2:53 PM

Nice summary; mostly I agree with your comments. One thing -- downtube shifters are definitely cheaper than STI's, but isn't it time to put to rest the notion that STI's aren't reliable? I have 10's of thousands of miles on STI's, never had a problem -- plus it's such a common part that (at least in the USA) I can't see how you'd ever be held up for long if you had to replace one. In any case, bar end shifters are just as reliable, and not that much more expensive (and definitely cheaper than STI's).

Anonymous June 26, 2010, 1:05 PM

Nothing ends a tour quicker than broken spokes and wheels. I think you are dead on. I should note i bought a Novara Randonee because the price was so good and then even upgrading to XT hubs in the rear wheel I still was under 1,000 dollars. Second if you are not fussy about labels changing the stem is often a 20.00 fix. After durable wheels I would say comfort or fit is the most important

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