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It's important to play to your strengths. Building bikes isn't one of mine.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in life is that by nature I am not what you might call a hands-on sort of bloke. You want something written, ridden, photographed or talked about? I’m your man! You want something built or fixed? I’d strongly advise you to look elsewhere.

So when I bought a half-price Cannondale SuperSix Evo hi-mod frame the other week, after realizing that all I’d need to turn it into a fully functional climbing and descending beast on which to tackle the Pyrenees this summer was a groupset and a few finishing bits and pieces, there was never any question of me building it up myself.

Lacking the knowledge, patience, time or tools for the job, I went straight to my local bike shop – Rule 5 Bikes in Brighton – and asked the ever-amenable owner Paul if he’d build it for me while I watched him, took photos and then blogged about it. After muttering something about the inconvenience of finding a clean T-shirt and tidying up his shop, he agreed.

If you ever get the chance to watch a good mechanic build a bike for you, take it. Seriously. For half a day I watched with growing excitement as my bike slowly took shape. Actually I’m not sure ‘excitement’ quite captures it. There was a deep-seated sense of contentment building inside me as I watched all those meticulously engineered bits and pieces being skillfully brought together to create something so much greater than the sum of its parts – something with which I knew I’d develop a profound and hopefully long-lasting relationship.

I lost count of the number of times I found myself saying: ‘I am so pleased you’re doing this and not me…’ as Paul added fork, bars, brakes, bottom bracket, cranks and gears to my new frame. Of course he made it look ridiculously easy – almost too easy at times. I heard myself blurting something like ‘Measure twice and cut once eh Paul?’ with a forced chuckle as he calmly prepared to saw through the steerer. But of course he already had measured twice and of course the length was perfect and the cut as clean as a whistle.

Even if I’d owned the array of specialist tools required to put it all together - and knew how to use them - there would have been times when I’d have given up and sought help. The rear brake cable, for example, is internally routed and the frame came with a thick cotton guiding thread poking out of each end of the top tube to help you feed the cable through. But Paul had to find a way of doing this without the help of the thread after a ferrule came off (I think…I’d drifted at this point). After some frame-stroking with a magnet and a few abortive attempts to poke through a new guiding line, Paul had to remove the headset and tease out a little plastic thingy at the back of the frame with a Stanley knife blade before eventually managing to persuade the cable to appear. I wouldn’t have had the courage to take a blade that sharp within ten feet of my new pride and joy!

And then, in the time it would have taken me to read half an instruction manual and scratch my head, it was all done. The cables were in, the derailleurs calibrated, the surfaces treated with the right preparations (I had no idea there were so many different types of grease!) and the bolts tightened to their designated newton-metre values. It was time to ride my immaculate machine for the first time.

As I gingerly pedaled off towards what turned out to be a PB trial run up Ditching Beacon, it struck me that I’d never felt so attached to a new bike so quickly before. Of course that could be because it’s the most exotic bike I’ve ever owned but it might also have something to do with the fact that I was there to witness its construction (I nearly wrote ‘birth’ there…time to calm down a bit, perhaps). If only building the fitness and strength to warrant owning such a thoroughbred machine could be done in such a pleasurable and vicarious way.

Lifelong lover of most things cycling-related, from Moulton Mini adventures in the 70s to London bike messengering in the 80s, commuting in the 90s, mountain biking in the noughties and road cycling throughout. Editor of Simpson Magazine (www.simpsonmagazine.cc). 

14 comments

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2 Wheeled Idiot [432 posts] 4 years ago
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I agree that watching a good mechanic twirl Allen keys and quickly but proficiently build up a bike is very impressive, however I think everyone should at one point build up a bike from scratch...I recently rebuilt my road bike and upgraded to the new 105, I got racked off, had a strop and it took me two days (the front derailleur is a PITA to set up, but works brilliantly), but the sense of achievement at the end was incredible...  16

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redscouse [21 posts] 4 years ago
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plus 1 for Paul at rule5 top fella and LBS

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littlemig [13 posts] 4 years ago
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Paul always does an excellent job on my bike. Great bike shop.

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Martin Thomas [385 posts] 4 years ago
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Iamnot Wiggins wrote:

Remind me to rib you for the dinner plate on the back wheel at the next Saturday club run, Martin! At the top of the Beacon obviously because that's where you'll be waiting for me!

Them's fighting words! Shame I don't know who you are... Anyway, I will take all the ribbing you've got as long as I've got a nice easy gear for my sixth day in the Pyrenees in June!

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trekker12 [42 posts] 4 years ago
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Building bikes is one of the joys of cycling. I'm quite mechanically minded so I agree that helps to some extent but bikes are simple machines really and building them is really a case of bolting parts on in the right order then tweaking until it works perfectly.

Unfortunately a modern frustration is the plethora of different standards and high demand of special tools you may only use once. So on my last build the press fit parts where done by my LBS - but I did the rest.

Knowing how it went together may also help in a roadside emergency too.

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Batchy [414 posts] 4 years ago
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Well a good set of bike tools suitable for diy/home use can now be bought for around 50 quid. I now do 99% of my bike building and maintenance. It is far more satisfying to build up your own machine and sometimes it can be a better job. Mind you I have had loads of trial and error experience over the years and have accumulated all the various tools at some expense. Modern bikes are relatively easy to assemble with simple sealed bearings and a torque wrench does not require the skill of a rocket scientist to use. Now wheels are different kettle of fish, one of these days I'm going sus out a decent wheel building course !

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Matt eaton [741 posts] 4 years ago
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Could have shaved some weight by cutting the steerer down by 32.27mm rather than 32.25mm. Otherwise looks like a good build.

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BikeJon [211 posts] 4 years ago
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trekker12 wrote:

Building bikes is one of the joys of cycling. I'm quite mechanically minded so I agree that helps to some extent but bikes are simple machines really and building them is really a case of bolting parts on in the right order then tweaking until it works perfectly.

Unfortunately a modern frustration is the plethora of different standards and high demand of special tools you may only use once. So on my last build the press fit parts where done by my LBS - but I did the rest.

Knowing how it went together may also help in a roadside emergency too.

Yep, I'm in this boat too. I've built nearly every bike I've had (which is quite a lot of bikes) and was fiddling with bike parts before I was a teenager. It was tough on cheap bikes and bad designs back then but it's easy now. It doesn't feel much harder than operating an Allen key. I know there is more to it than that but it's still not difficult. I don't trust anyone else to even touch my bikes these days!
I've never paid for a service before but gather they are quite expensive. So you can save yourself a good deal by just learning some basic skills.

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DrJDog [481 posts] 4 years ago
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Impressive weight for WTS? and SRAM Force.

I probably have about the same eventual bar height, but I prefer to have a flipped stem and fewer stackers so that there is less leverage on the steerer. Doesn't look as good, but I think it is stronger overall.

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Martin Thomas [385 posts] 4 years ago
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DrJDog wrote:

Impressive weight for WTS? and SRAM Force.

WTS = wheel tyre system, yes? In which case, no. I switched the Mavic tyres for Conti GP4000s II 25s, which probably makes the weight even more impressive! I've now added a couple of cages and a Syntace seatpost, which took the weight over 7kg, sadly. It's still nice and light though.

Fair point on the stem flip. I'm hoping to dispense with at least a couple of spacers over time but we'll see how good I am at sticking to my exercises before sawing any more off the steerer  1

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Tintow [44 posts] 4 years ago
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This is probably a noob question but I'll ask anyway. In photo 18, the bar tape is being wrapped clockwise on the right hand side (as you sit on the bike)
I recently needed to replace my bar tape and, on a popular bike video channel, a big point was made about wrapping anti-clockwise on the right, clockwise on the left (to avoid it loosening?)
Is there a 'correct' way to do this or is it personal preference?

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userfriendly [625 posts] 4 years ago
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Tintow wrote:

This is probably a noob question but I'll ask anyway. In photo 18, the bar tape is being wrapped clockwise on the right hand side (as you sit on the bike)
I recently needed to replace my bar tape and, on a popular bike video channel, a big point was made about wrapping anti-clockwise on the right, clockwise on the left (to avoid it loosening?)
Is there a 'correct' way to do this or is it personal preference?

Good one. Allow me to refer you to some insightful reading on the Park Tools website:

http://www.parktool.com/blog/repair-help/handlebar-tape-installation-dro...

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Martin Thomas [385 posts] 4 years ago
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Tintow wrote:

This is probably a noob question but I'll ask anyway. In photo 18, the bar tape is being wrapped clockwise on the right hand side (as you sit on the bike)...Is there a 'correct' way to do this or is it personal preference?

An excellent point. I hadn't noticed. I'm going back to Rule 5 to demand a refund straight away!

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Tintow [44 posts] 4 years ago
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userfriendly wrote:

Good one. Allow me to refer you to some insightful reading on the Park Tools website:

http://www.parktool.com/blog/repair-help/handlebar-tape-installation-dro...

Thanks Userfriendly, that offers a good explanation - next time I'll try that change-of-direction tip  1