Sunday, January 27, 2013

Building My Bike: #3 The Frame

I talked a little bit about ordering my frame in a previous post but things didn't turn out quite as planned so I'm going to write about the process of getting a custom frame and a little about the frame itself.

Based on my fit, we decided to go with a completely custom frame. I went to a dealer for Carver Bikes to order a custom titanium frame. Went went through the list of options and, since I am working with a limited budget, only chose a couple of them. I put down my deposit and they sent the order in. The frame was to be delivered around October or November. Great!

Some time had gone by and it turns out the order wasn't progressing. Why? Well, when you order a custom frame, the frame builder needs some all of them. How did the bike shop not know this? I went back and forth with the shop a few times but they would tell me one thing, somebody else would tell me another, and then I wouldn't hear from the shop. I took matters into my own hands and called Carver directly, speaking with Davis Carver himself. He was very helpful and told me exactly what I needed: basically, the geometry of a bike that would likely fit and we could use that as a starting point. I asked Jim from FinalFit what bike that would be and he told me that the Trek Domane, with a slightly different seat angle, would be that bike. I sent the geometry of the Domane to Davis, told him about the seat angle, and we were off.

He came back with a very detailed blueprint for a proposed frame. Now I saw why he needed the geometry. Length of tubes and stays, various angles. I have pretty much only ridden my old bike so I don't have experience with how these different measurements affect my ride so it was great that Jim could suggest the Domane. Given that it's made for Fabian Cancellara to ride in Paris-Roubaix, I am optimistic that it will be a comfy frame.

The blueprint showed that the seat angle was making the wheelbase too short so I changed the seat angle from my ideal of 71 degrees to 72 (Jim said we could still work with that) and lengthened the top tube by 1cm. Carver sent me a revised blueprint and I studied that for a while. I was having problems getting a response from Jim but, in all fairness to him, he was getting ready to move his business (again) and launch a new one so I understood. While I was debating whether to change the blueprint, Davis sent me an email...with pictures. The frame from the last blueprint was actually made by the guys in Taiwan! I asked Davis how much it was, since it wasn't quite right (wrong finish, maybe one more tweak to go (maybe)). He knocked a few hundred off. Sold! What to do about the bike shop, though?

During all this time, the bike shop had been not helpful. Not preventing anything but not helping me out. At all. I would get one story from Jim and Davis, and another from the bike shop. Interesting thing: Davis told me that, though the shop is listed as a dealer, they have never ordered a frame from him. However, the shop owner said that the last frame they ordered from Carver was several months ago. Hmm. Davis always treated me really well and the bike shop didn't so I am going to have to go with Davis on this. So, now that we had a frame and a discount price, how do we make that transaction happen? By cutting the bike shop out of the deal. They didn't earn whatever they were going to make, IMO, so I had no problem with that. I called the shop and, after a few back and forths, including a heads up to Davis that they were going to call him, the order was cancelled. Once I got my deposit back, I paid Carver Bikes and my frame was on its way. It arrived and has been sitting in my bike stand ever since, waiting to be assembled.

So what should you do if you're thinking about getting a custom frame and don't have much money? I mean, you could go first class with a more traditional frame builder but I don't have nearly that kind of money so that was right out. Based on my experience, here is what I would suggest:

  • Get a bike fit with a fitter who can recommend base frames for you based on that fit.
  • Discuss with your fitter what changes, if any, you should make to your base frame's geometry.
  • Learn about fork rake and trail.
  • Use a trail calculator to determine what fork rake you will need on your frame to get the trail you want. You may have to adjust your head tube angle as a result.

In my case, I learned about fork rake and trail after I had the frame. I will write about that a bit more when we get to the fork and headset. One thing I would have liked to have changed on the frame is the finish. I wanted a bead blast finish and the Carver logo in brushed finish. The frame is brushed finish and a sticker logo. I'll live. Another thing that might have been nice is a tapered head tube but that is just a hunch since I don't have any experience with them.

I have placed my order for the last part (the fork) so I will be posting about the assembly process soon.

No comments: