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David Fiedler

Building Up a Bike vs. Buying a Complete New One

By March 2, 2010

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Okay readers, here's your chance to share your opinion and expertise. I received the following email from a guy named Steve who is asking for advice on upgrading his bike:

Recently I have become a huge fan of cycling and I love it. In August I purchased a Raleigh performance hybrid and in September rode a century. Since then I am typically riding 75+ miles per week and already have nearly 1k miles on my bike.

I would like your advice on the best way to upgrade my bike into a road bike, of course without "breaking the bank." I am really considering building up a bike rather than buying a complete bike new. Would you be able to offer insight on a good frame I can build around? I would use some components I have now, and then upgrade as I go along. Does this approach make sense, or should I just sell what I have and start over?

What are your suggestions for Steve? Any thoughts about which way he should go? Share your insight and experience here about building up a bike or buying a complete one new.


March 2, 2010 at 9:47 am
(1) Phil Gould says:

I love to hear stories about people like Steve who have embraced cycling with such passion. But I cringe at the thought of selling any bike, let alone a Raleigh. I apprenticed for 2 years in a bike shop to learn the mechanic trade so for me it would be a no-brainer – I’d build. But not knowing Steve’s level of competence, I would just say that the experience of building his own bike could vary anywhere from frustrating to rewarding. The fact that he’s asking about frames make me wonder if he wouldn’t be better off buying. But if building his own bike saves enough money to be able to keep the Raleigh, I’d recommend that as it keeps many more riding options open to him. That’s my take anyway. So, best wishes either way you go, Steve.

March 2, 2010 at 2:51 pm
(2) Joe Schaar says:

I am VERY handy. I love to build. I build up starter bikes from “parts”/salvage for begineers. However, building is not always the cheapest route but you get exactly what you want.

If you like the frame and some other components that you already have, I’d say upgrade the parts that disappoint you.

If it is a different bike you are looking for; normally you get more bang for your buck by buying. The expection being if you have very specific desires, as noted above, and the skill build, then build is the correct route.

In any case, it is a great problem to have.

March 2, 2010 at 6:05 pm
(3) Jim Nariel says:

Yes I think to build a bike is very commendable and its a great article and look forward to the next one

March 2, 2010 at 8:35 pm
(4) Juan Gear says:

Build it, if you know what your needs are, Can not buy off the rack my self.
Bars, saddle, stem, tires, grips, seat post, pedals, at the very least. Group is most likely missing some pieces, might as well up grade the wheels, a place OE’s save money.

uh, uh, uh,,,,,,,,,that kinda leaves the frame

March 2, 2010 at 8:58 pm
(5) Morey McClean says:

I would caution Steve to be careful. Building/upgrading a bike is like dating a hot, high maintenance girl. It’s a never ending process that seems to take either lots of money or lots of imagination and will consume way too much time. My current bike is a frame I bought off ebay that I first built up with the components from my old Trek 1500. And, like a high maintenance babe, it has demanded constant attention and feeding as I go along. I’ve probably sunk about $1400 into this bike and spent hundreds of hours scouring web sites and bike shops for just the right piece or part. But my bike now is about as light as I can safely make it for my weight, is pretty good looking and fits me perfectly. And a new bike of this caliber would probably run me $2500. So, Steve beware, building your own bike can be very satisfying but can be addictive and expensive in many ways.

March 2, 2010 at 10:17 pm
(6) Tom says:

I don’t mean this to sound like a put-down or any thing close but if he has only been riding since August he probably doesn’t really know exactly which or what components he really likes. In our bike club several members have upgraded hybrids and all went on to buy true high end road bikes in the end. A few of those ended up changing saddles but most of them seem very happy with the bikes they bought and the components

March 3, 2010 at 6:04 pm
(7) CLBlood says:

If you build your own bike — and I never have — you end up with a bike and a set of skills. Do you want those skills? I prefer to do what I am good at and farm out the types of work that I am not good at. In other words, I am better off making money to pay a mechanic than becoming a mechanic. I read somewhere: “You don’t want to become that guy; you want to buy beer for that guy.”

Also, I agree with Tom; you need thousands of miles under your belt before you know what you want in a bike.

March 3, 2010 at 7:29 pm
(8) Larry says:

What I did – built up several bikes
What I recommend – buy a new bike

If you have good bike mechanic skills, building up a bike can be a very rewarding (and frustrating) experience.

If you buy a new bike, you get to take advantage of the buying power of the manufacturer. They can buy the components much cheaper than you can. Plus, you get the assistance of a local bike shop to help fit you, select an appropriate ride for your needs, and support you after the sale. Many may even change out saddles and stems to fine tune your fit.

March 4, 2010 at 3:19 am
(9) Sean L. says:

If you ARE competent, by all means give building a shot…. it’s been a very rewarding experience for me. BUT, if you aren’t sure you’re ready for the time commitment and possible costs, just shop for what you like, get the shop’s warranty for adjustments etc., and enjoy the ride!

March 11, 2010 at 11:16 am
(10) Gail says:

I am a commuter cyclist in Vancouver and I had a bike built up to my specifications. This was only because new bikes in Vancouver are easily stolen. I love the bike and it was a lot cheaper than a new one, but and have learned how to look after it.
But if you have the money and will never leave it out of your site, then go with a new one. You will never regret it!

March 12, 2010 at 1:06 pm
(11) Marco says:

Like our friend McClean said, I’d recommend shop ebay. You can get a fairly cheap bike with the kind of frame You want even if the components aren’t that great. With time if You like what You have, can upgrade to the components are right for You and Your needs. that’s what I did and I’m a happy camper so far!

March 13, 2010 at 5:49 pm
(12) gregg says:

Are you changing out the handlebars? Drop bars may not work with your geometry of frame.

March 31, 2010 at 5:28 pm
(13) Jose Vela says:

In regards to this, I have to agree with many of the comments about building a bike, It can become addictive. I did this and the result eas abolutely great, it took a good amount of time, it took patience to find the right pieces, now I have a great looking bike, it has just what I want it to have, and i really enjoy it.
I have to say that I started from an old steel frame mountain bike, and turned it into my very own version of a road bike. The geometry is not what the experts in cycling would say is the adequate for a roadie. I do not care about that, I have the bike I want, it runs very good and I feel great when i ride it.
remember, biking is not about looks or fashion, it is about enjoying every second.
Best regards.
Jose Vela

April 5, 2010 at 8:42 pm
(14) Scott Selle says:

There are a lot of reasons for building up your own bike, but saving money is probably not one of them. Yep, we all hear the stories from the guy who built a $3500 29r for $2200 … but believe me, the guy who built the $2200 roadie for $3500 isn’t talking! You can save money on last year’s bikes, and by working with your LBS based on budget … try stopping in and telling them your budget is X, and you’d like to understand what they have available before you go online … and they will probably work with you … or at least appreciate the opportunity to earn your business with their best deal. Happy trails.

June 12, 2012 at 9:45 am
(15) Claude says:

Build the bike if you have the patience. Some people may argue to pay the mechanic or become one. You buy a good frame complete bike, then you end up changing the components anyway. I have only been truly riding for almost two years. I had an old steel frame bike from 1996; a Motiv Groundpounder. I have swapped out some “rusted” components and tuned up and lubbed the bike and it works fine. Last summer, I decided to build a bike. i got hold of a decent aluminum frame, shopped patiently over ebay and online bike shops and after 4 months time, working a little on weekdays and some weekends, finally got a bike that really flies! I have ultegra and Dura Ace parts and the bike is wickedly fast in my opinion. I am not a pro at all, but the pride in seeing the final result is so satisfying.

September 26, 2012 at 6:35 am
(16) Andrew says:

I have been cycling most of my life. I used to buy a new bike every 18 months when the components wore out from too much use. That was before cycling was cool here in Australia and when you could still buy a decent bike for $500 – $800 (only 6-10 years ago).

However, now a basic bike starts at $1,200 and anything decent sits in the $2,500 – $4,000 mark. That means new bikes are way out of my price range.

I currently have a 1996 Trek OCLV 5200. I paid $150 for my local bike shop to strip the components off a 2005 Giant OCR3 and put them on the Trek because the Trek frame is perfect for me while the Giant frame was too small. Now I am just going to upgrade those components that are wearing out or that I’m not happy with (rear derailleur, chain, cassette, brakes and tires).

Like someone else said, these are things that need replacing over time too.

My second bike is a MTB. It’s a recycled bike that I bought for $250 a few years ago. It’s got mix-matched components and a fully rigid steel frame. Like the Trek road bike, this bike needs some components replaced (the same components).

This compromise between buying and building seems most sensible to me. Buy a second-hand bike that has a sound frame, front derailleur and handlebars. Then after you ride it for a while, just replace the consumables. This way you’ll be able to learn some skills and collect tools so that you can build a bike later.

September 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm
(17) Michael says:

I think it really depends on what you use it for. Per example if your using the bike to go from a point A to a point B and you live in a big city, there`s a big chance that it gets stolen when you lock it somewhere, in that case i think restoring an old bike will be ideal. If youre buying it to train everymorning with; maybe buy a decent bike or buy one second hand since it’s cheaper. Just make sure that you like what you bought if you’re about to buy it. For people who have specific needs like mountain biking and they like a fork or another component that they think important, in that case build it up.

September 28, 2012 at 8:27 pm
(18) hb says:

Do it yourself. A bike that was assembled by yourself feels way more personal than something you bought off the rack. The whole DIY upgrading experience is very rewarding as well.

February 24, 2013 at 4:33 pm
(19) Madboy76 says:

Build vs. Buy?

Number one thing to consider, do you know what you are doing in building a bike? If you even have a doubt, the answer if weighted toward the negative.

Things to consider. Not all parts and frames are compatible. You must know what is compatible, what is not, and what will require a special part.

Compatibility is better than it used to be, but still requires knowledge.

I love building bikes, but it is not an easy breezy project. If you know what you are doing and have some spare components (or a frame) that you are ready to utilize, it can be quite a money saver to buy the other parts from Ebay or craigslist, beg, borrow, or …… well never steal.

If you are buying everything new, I don’t think you will ever save money building.

Other cautions. I don’t consider myself a bike snob and ride two modest aluminum/carbon frames. However, I cringe when I see a really nice frame with junk components or vice versa. So I would advise to keeping the quality levels similar.

Bottom line – If you don’t meet the criteria above, buy a pre-built bike.

March 3, 2013 at 6:22 pm
(20) gamejel says:

So, I rebuilt my old school Schwinn 564. I went through the bike shop to buy parts and seek advise. The work I was able to figure out with a minimal amount of common sense and some utube videos. About $250 later, I have a well tuned piece of machinery. (Sprocket and cassette not replaced. It has the oval sprocket and I feel it gives me a lot of power. Maybe not true though).
My friend bought a brand new scott for about $1,000. My bike is one pound lighter, his has better components, but I’m still the one in front pulling.
So then I rebuilt a Trek OCV 5500. Brakes and shifters needed tuning. New Rims, tires, tubes (bought discounted, but new from swap shop. Not the bike shop this time. Half the price.). Some other changes here and there. Total price when finished is about $275. Once again, one pound lighter than brand new bike and components are similar.
When I enter the bike shop for really just a derailler adjustment now I still refer to myself as the guy with the dinosaur bikes, but I think it was worth it.
I also like to know that IF it’s true that a brand new bike is that much better than what I have…the day I get on a brand new bike I’ll be that much faster.

April 26, 2013 at 4:35 pm
(21) Paul says:

If you have the time and want to be creative, then building a bike from scratch is a very rewarding achivement, and will require investment in a few tools to make assembely/disassembley easy or not.
But if you just want a bike to get on and ride, then, just buy!
The thing about building a bike yourself, is, you get what you want rather than what the shop wants to sell you!

November 9, 2013 at 12:22 am
(22) James Rosenthall says:

I would wait until the new years stuff comes in or is due in..in Australia that is about now.
You can shop around tell them what you have to spend. ..right now there is amazing deals on 2013 stock.
Having said that I love the idea of recycling an old bike but I don’t have the genius or tools for that.
Good luck.

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