According To Bill
AFTER 43 YEARS of building custom bicycles in Seattle I may have a few too many opinions to share. I hope some of them might be useful.
I HAVE BEEN TOLD A SIMILAR STORY SEVERAL TIMES. It starts out by the person telling me that the bicycle I built them X years back has performed so well that it is "the best thing they have ever done for themselves". When they elaborate they say something like it was a great investment in their life. Many are returning customers that felt together we made all the right choices on the previous bicycle. They are sure we are going to do it well again. I have a customer that after 150,000 + miles told me that there was nothing wrong with his bicycle he just wanted a new one. After 25 years of riding almost every weekend another customer decided it was "new bike time".
A NEARLY UNRIDEABLE BICYCLE came into the shop. Of course it was rideable, just not nice to ride the way the customer rides. The customer routinely rides 100-200 mile events. This bicycle a custom built carbon frame 42cm was just to stiff for it's 5'3" 110 lb owner. The frame was way overbuilt, the fork too stiff not enough rake, a 50 mm stem, stiff carbon bars, deep V rims with too many spokes, to small of tires at to high a pressure, and over 22 lbs. This bicycle just isn't going to be enjoyable long term.
A NICE BUT INAPPROPRIATE BICYCLE came into to the shop for fender installation. The owner thought it would be a good wet weather training bike. Sure it had disc brakes. But the clearence with 700x 23 tires was about 5mm through the crown and stays. No room to safely install fenders. A wet weather capable group ride bicycle will have clearence for 28mm tires and fenders.
THE BOEING EMPLOYEES BICYCLE CLUB invited me to speak at their annual banquet sometime back in the mid 1980's. I brought an example of my work and took questions about it. It got around to the burning question of the day. "What did I think about these new aluminum frames? Well of course I went off on aluminum frames stating that they would prove uncomfortable to ride and would likely have a shorter lifespan than the current steel frames being produced.I said aluminum frames would eventually be seen as unacceptable to the enthusiast riders. The give and take got a little lively and then the club President took the podium. He said to enjoyment of us all "it's a good thing the Boeing Company doesn't share Mr Davidson's views on aluminum". We all got a good laugh and then settled down to dinner. I have been waiting now for the invite to speak about WHAT I THINK ABOUT CARBON FIBER FOR BICYCLE FRAMES. but I'm not holding my breath.
I HAD A CUSTOMER TELL ME why he had us build him the new bicycle. He said "you took the risk out it". He went on to say buying a bicycle has become very complicated today and that he trusted my advice and approach. It was a nice compliment I thought. I frequently do advise the selection of components that I have great faith in. Those heavily used 25 year old bicycles that are brought in are are a testimony to my process.
WRONG BIKES ARE COSTLY. Riders buy new ones because they dislike the current one. Valuable cycling days are less enjoyed on them. It's the old adage rearing up again, "buy nice or buy twice". One of my favorite customers came in with her brand S touring bike to order a new titanium travel bike. "We bought these 5 years ago and wished we had bought custom bikes from you just about ever since". We bend over backwards every time she needs service on the bike.
I HAVE BEEN TOLD SOME AMAZING THINGS by customers about their bicycles. Many made me smile. There was the young racer that won 27 times in the season. He thought the bicycle had something to do with it. I never corrected him. One women said she surpassed her PB by 9 minutes on her training ride course. I didn't ask about her old bike. Another woman said "this bike saved my life" well you do get in condition and you meet the nicest people out on rides, so I think I knew what she meant. I had a customer buy a commuting bicycle and proceed to lose 150lbs. So they thought they deserved a titanium Dura Ace as a reward for a job well done and got one.
ARE CUSTOM BICYCLES EXPENSIVE? Well yes and no. Taken over the period of your likely ownership they are usually cheaper. Custom bicycles fit you better, perform better, they are built with better components. We have bought for our customer, parts to overhaul a 30 year old hub. I like to reward good companies with my customers component business. Yes, it's back to that old adage again, "buy nice or buy twice".
A RACER BOUGHT A DEDICATED WINTER TRAINING BICYCLE. It was a steel frame, cable disc brakes, fender clearances , custom wheels and Shimano Ultegra parts. After struggling and watching his teamates struggle trying to make a worn out race bike into a trainer he decided to end the misery and build the ideal bike from the ground up.
CUSTOMER THOUGHT PETER SAGAN'S BICYCLE WOULD BE perfect for him. But then he realized after a season on it that he wasn't like Peter Sagan. So the twitchy at lower speeds, overly stiff frame and wheels had to go. His new bicycle is a titanium all road design and has had 700x25c to 35c tires on it in the last year. Be happy.