I’d been riding an Airborne Seeker for a year or two when I tried out my first full-suspension mountain bike. It was a damp, chilly day in early spring, and a local shop was hosting a Niner demo. I showed up as soon as I could after work, but the only bike left was a too-big R.I.P. 9 RDO–a bike I would never be able to afford. Yet even under those less-than ideal conditions, I fell in love. Tangles of roots that had taken every ounce of concentration to ride through on my hardtail melted away under Niner’s plush CVA suspension. But it was a one-sided love affair, I realized as I drove that mud-splattered beauty back to the shop. The bike I’d strapped so tenderly to my rack cost half as much as my car and way more than my modest paycheck could ever justify. I let go of the idea of ownership as reluctantly as I returned the demo, but I couldn’t shake it completely. In the months that followed, the dream of floating over gnarly singletrack on a smooth, full-suspension bike would pop up periodically as I wrestled my hardtail over a particularly technical section. But for that season, it remained just that: a dream.
Until my husband found a used R.I.P. 9 frame, that is. I’d never built a bike before, and the closest I’d come to servicing one was changing a flat tire, but the siren song of my dream bike drowned out all practical considerations. A few weeks later found me sitting in front of my Christmas tree, clutching that beautiful black-and-red frame to my chest and grinning like a little kid. Yet in the back of my mind was the dawning realization that what I’d pulled from that oversized cardboard box was a long way from being trail-ready. What followed was an adventure.
Should you ever find yourself in that exciting-yet-intimidating situation, here are a few tips, based on my experience:
1. It will cost more than you think.
No matter what you do, this will be a more expensive undertaking than you originally anticipated. I thought I was okay at first, since I bought the frame used off a Facebook classifieds page (from Strava-stalking, I knew the seller had ridden it hard, because his times were way better than my own).
In keeping with this thrifty theme, I figured I could pull a bunch of components off my current bike; I’d measured everything out, so I was pretty confident I could make it work by only buying a few things new. Spoiler alert: I was wrong. The only parts I ended up using from my old bike were my cranks and brakes. So in your estimate of how much your new bike-to-be will cost, be sure to do your research thoroughly and build in a little extra. You’re going to need it.
2. You will learn a lot.
Second, you will have a steep learning curve ahead of you (unless you’re a total gearhead to begin with). It’s one thing to know how to ride a bike; actually getting your hands greasy while building one is completely different. The ability to clear logs and tumbled rocks doesn’t do you any good when you’re trying to press in the headset of your bike-to-be… on the third attempt.
3. It will be an endless work-in-progress.
With this adventure, you will be taking on a project that will never, ever end. Because even after you have a bike that’s completely rideable and technically “done,” you’ll be seeing potential upgrades and flashy modifications everywhere you look. You didn’t think you needed a dropper post… but JensonUSA was running an irresistible deal. And if you splurged on those new tires, you could go tubeless and shave off that little bit of extra weight. And don’t get me started on the little things, like bright red grips to match the frame, or “You Are What You Drink” top caps….
4. It will be one of the coolest things you’ll ever do.
Despite how the reality of building a bike might differ from expectation, it is one of the most fun and rewarding experiences you’ll ever have. When somebody eyes your bike appraisingly at a trailhead, you’ll get a rush as satisfying as any that comes from riding, because that’s your handiwork they’re admiring. When you park it outside a shop and the owner compliments you on it, you’ll feel an almost parental pride in what you’ve accomplished. And from that point on, it won’t matter how many ridiculous bikes you demo, because they won’t tempt you away from your build.
At least, not until you see the next used frame for sale….
I couldn’t agree more with this article. I built my first bike last fall and couldn’t be more pleased and satisfied with the result. Youtube and the park tool website are your best friends through this process.
Very nice article Kate! I agree that no bike feels more like your own than the one you build! However, if you are ok going with an imported Chinese frame and cockpit components, a bike build from parts will actually almost always be cheaper than a retail bike off the shelf. It just takes lots of awareness and dedication, as you say!
Great article Kate! I’ve built serveral bikes including my curent FS and SS. My wife is currently riding my previous build. My first bike build was much like yours. A used frame, a boutiqe FS, that I could never afford new and yes I too switched parts and added new and spent more then I should have. But it was mine, not another like it. Thats what I love about it the most.
Well put,… I’ve been building and repairing bikes for 30 yrs, at least,. And I recently after almost 13 years. Built a new bike and restored 3 old ones…
It is the only way I’ve ever done it I only ever bought a complete bike 2x before and I ended up customizing those so much I rebuilt them completely …
It is a super good vibe to know your ride inside and out top to bottom…like no one else can…or cares to…