For most cyclists, an off-the-shelf bike meets all the necessary riding characteristics. However, there is a small number of us that obsess over every angle and dimension of frame geometry. We know the exact tube angles and lengths, fork trails and rakes, that make up what we consider the ultimate performing bike frame. I blame spending too much time working in shops, a brief stint in the industry, and a general tendency to overthink.
A custom frame doesn’t have to be expensive. A custom frame, depending on the material used, can cost as little as a decent mid-range complete bike. Even the most exotic materials cost no more than a high end production carbon frame. If you happen to obsess as much as I do about things most people don’t even think about, a custom frame may be right up your alley. Choosing a custom frame will offer you nothing but options to keep your mind busy.
There is no denying the appeal of a Sagan Collection Venge or Colnago C64. Both are simply super cool. They also have the panache that comes with any flagship frame from a top-tier brand. If, however, you think the Colnago has too slack a seat tube in your size, or the Venge has just a little too long of a wheel base, a custom carbon frame may be the answer.
I’ve always liked John Slawta’s Land Shark bikes. His claim to fame was crafting the “Huffy” that Andy Hampsten rode to victory in the 1988 Giro d’Italia. While it’s difficult to determine specific pricing, considering how much other custom carbon builders charge, I would imagine a custom Land Shark to be in line with what you would shell out of an S-Works Venge or C64. An added bonus to simply having a custom carbon frame, Land Shark paint jobs are wild!
Before carbon fiber took hold of the professional peloton in the early oughts, titanium (ti) seemed to be the future of cycling. At a time when thin walled, oversized tubed aluminum was the material of choice, the exotic alloy ti offered riders a more supple ride without sacrificing weight. Increased comfort leads to less fatigue to the rider over longer distances. For this reason, titanium still has a loyal following in the custom bike business. Ti custom frames can be had from builders like Moots for far less than a custom or high end carbon frame. A rider who habitually rides long distances may prefer a more relaxed geometry and the general ride characteristics of ti. A made-to-measure titanium frame is the perfect machine for such a rider.
Aluminum is a great frame material. It’s light, relatively inexpensive (especially when compared to titanium), and strong. Take a look at any of professional bikes of the mid-to-late 90s, and you will likely be looking at an aluminum frame. Pantani’s Bianchi and Cipolinni’s Cannondale immediately spring to mind. These days, builders such as Stoemper will build a custom aluminum bike that are tough to beat when it comes to a price to performance ratio. Is it just me, or is there something super cool about oversized aluminum tubes? Maybe I’m still stuck in the 1990s, when bike racing was full of crazy attacks and suicidal breakaways.
Steel is my favorite frame material. I like the ride, I like the history, and I like the complicated metallurgy of modern alloys. Steel frames have come a long way from the classic variations of 4130 chromoly that riders rode through the 1980s. There’s more to steel these days than the classic lugged frames of the steel classics. The Independent Fabrication Crown Jewel is a fine example of this principle. Not only is it a showcase of fine construction, and modern steel technology, it’s also the most affordable option of all the examples I’ve given. Steel frames aren’t all skinny tubes and brazed lugs anymore.
Sometimes, an off the shelf bike comes close to our desired dimensions. My 2013 Cannondale CAAD10 has 9 out of the 10 geometry specifications I like in a frame. This makes it incredibly close to my custom IF road bike, at a fraction of the price. It’s also the bike I turn to when it’s go fast time. As I already mentioned, it’s difficult to beat aluminum when it comes to a price to performance ratio.
When I know I have a long day ahead, or I might be heading off road, the custom bike is always going to be my first choice though. It rides like it was made just for me, because it was. That’s something that the custom bike will always have in its corner. There you have it, in case you needed another reason to put a deposit down on that custom made frame. Thanks for reading, and as always, keep the rubber side down!