Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Frames: Custom, Stock, or Budget? Part II

Custom Frames: Considering The Differences

Today I want to delve into the mystery of custom frames and perhaps show why they might be a choice for your bicycle frame, especially if it's a 29"er. One of the factors that seems to make a custom frame such a mystery to a lot of folks is the price charged for one. How is it that you can buy a complete bicycle, made of steel with 29 inch wheels for under $500.00 and almost all custom frames cost more than that? The gulf of price between the two is bridged by the value each offers the consumer. Once you take a look at the differences, you can begin to see why things are the way they are, and you can better choose what is going to be right for you, the mountain bike rider.

This is especially true, I think, with the 29 inch wheeled bicycle because the geometries are still being experimented with, and up until recently, there were not a lot of choices available at your local bike shop. Custom builders have been inundated with requests to build 29"ers for these reasons and more.

In my view, there are really two different types of frame manufacture. One is production, where a designer comes up with a frame design to satisfy a certain criteria and has it manufactured in numbers of units for sale. Each unit in a particular size being identical to another. The other type is custom, where the design criteria is typically based upon an individual rider and his/her needs. Usually only one frame is produced that reflects this particular design criteria.

As you can see, this more personalized approach to building a frame is going to cost more than a "production frame" just based upon the economy of scale alone. I think most of us can agree on this. However; there is more going on than meets the eye, things like tubing spec, quality of joinery, and geometry that affect the quality of performance. Of course, this is true of any frame, it is just that these details are specifically tailored to the builders ideals and your personal riding style while being tailor made to your size. Things a "production frame", by necessity, has to compromise upon.

So, a custom frame costs more because it's "tailor made" for you, but it also will cost more for other reasons which usually include higher end materials, highly skilled labor, and more attention to details, especially in the finish work. Is a custom "worth it". Well, that is a highly loaded question that requires you to examine your expectations, your riding style, and well.......yourself!

I feel that I am a candidate for a custom based upon a few things. I have a good idea of what I expect out of a bike and what specific purpose I want to use a custom bike for. Secondly, I have a bit of a strange build to my body: long in the leg and shorter in the torso, so I often find that the compromises I must make to fit on a "production frame" are not acceptable all the time. Finally, I just really get weak in the knees for fillet brazing, and there just are not a lot of "production frames" sporting that type of joinery technique. Maybe you fall into one or more of these same reasonings for a custom frame, or maybe you don't. Custom frames are not for everybody and of course, the higher price is going to be a turn off for some based on money alone.

Tomorrow I want to take a closer look at "production frames" and why they may fit the needs of 29"er riders, or not.

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