Friday, May 14, 2010

My First Custom (Part I)

I've owned eight bicycles in my life so far: the first two were hand-me-downs, the third was the greatest Christmas gift of all time, the fourth was the only mountain bike that I have ever owned, the fifth was a great tourer that I wish I never sold, the sixth was my first "serious" bike and the first (and hopefully only) bike that I ever got stolen, the seventh is my current every-day commuter and the eighth is the fastest little rocket that I have ever ridden.  All pretty different, but equally great, bikes in their own way.  All bought pretty much off the shelf.

Which, of course, brings us to number nine.

Number nine is going to be my first custom build - all components carefully chosen and then brought together by my own fumbling hands.  For a long time, this bike has just been an idea, but the idea is actually getting pretty close to being a reality.

I wanted a touring/cyclocross-style bike that allowed running wider tires, including winter studs, with fenders, but that stayed with 700cc wheels rather than the smaller mountain bike wheels. I looked at the Long Haul Trucker and Cross-Check from Surly, but ended up going with the Devil frame from Handsome Cycles.

Here is the frame without the fork.  I had my local awesome bike shop (Roscoe Village Bikes) install the crank for my Alfine hub drivetrain since I don't have the tools to chase and face the bottom bracket.  The Devil frame really is quite handsome - great lines with a very nice powdercoat paint job.  The frame also comes in a mixte, the She Devil.

I started buying parts for this bike at the beginning of last winter, including having a set of wheels built with an Alfine 8spd hub and a Shimano generator hub for the front.  Alex Tweedie, who owns and operates RVB along with his wife Lesley, had previously built up a rear wheel for my current commuter after having lost the valiant fight to keep my crappy stock wheel true.  That was my first hand-built, custom wheel and I am completely hooked.  That wheel has stayed true and ran smooth through the worst I have thrown at it.  So it was a no-brainer to have Alex build up the wheels for my new ride.  The new gorgeous wheels have been sitting in my home office along with a growing box of parts.  I sort of worked backward, with the frame being bought after a lot of the other major parts were purchased.

I have never tried to build up a bike before, and my experience with actual bicycle maintenance has been limited to changing tires, fixing flats and installing and swapping out accessories.  A bicycle isn't that complicated of a machine, but if you have never put one together from scratch before it is a little intimidating.  Also, the bike repair/maintenance books out there seem to assume a certain base level of knowledge - they probably make great reference books for mechanics or people who already have a general idea of a bike's mechanisms, but are a little bewildering for a complete newbie like me.

Luckily, Google is our friend.  A little web surfing came up with a bunch of great tips and tricks.  For example, for cutting the stem you often hear people talking about doing it with a hack saw, which carries all the worries of getting the cut straight and cleaning up the edges when you are done.  However, turns out that if you just bop on over to Home Depot and buy yourself a $10 pipe cutter from the plumbing supply section, it works like a charm - straight cut, clean edges.  The picture above is the headset stack assembled on the uncut fork stem, and the picture below is after I cut down the stem and slipped on the handlebars, shifter and brake levers.

All of this is taking me far more time that it probably should.  And certainly more aggravation that is strictly necessary. (Seating the headset cups to the frame involved copious amounts of banging, foul language and despair, and in the end only came together with the help of one seriously gerry-rigged setup that had no reason to work, but somehow managed to anyway.) But, I'm still enjoying the process, and am learning a lot about my bike's mechanics' that I never knew before.  I will probably always be the guy who takes his bikes in to the local shop to get everything tuned up professionally a couple times a year, but I already feel a lot more confident about undertaking maintenance tasks that go beyond the basics.

Next up is wheels, installing the brakes, routing the brake lines and seeing if I can get the shifter mechanism hooked up and adjusted correctly.

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