Building Bikes

Greybeard asked if I had ever built a bicycle from the frame up, and the answer is yes. I can lace spoked wheels, check the alignment on the frame, reface the surfaces on the bottom bracket and head tube, and install all the components and get it right.

It is a joy to have the opportunity. Most of the assembly work in a bike shop is low end mountain bikes and cruisers. Most of the repairs are pretty straightforward.

A couple of times a year, a full build like this came along. In my day, high end bikes meant Reynolds 531 tubing, a lugged frame, pretty paint. It meant working with the customer to select the components, measuring and fitting the customer to the bike. Frame size and geometry is the first thing, then it’s crank length, stem height and extension, handlebar width and drop, saddle type and position, gear ratios on crankset and derailler.

When one was finished and you turned it over to the customer, and they were truly satisfied, it was a fine moment. Bicycle building like that is a craft, a mix of skill and artistry.

Another, closely related, skill is full rebuilds. Taking a bike that has seen a lot on miles and rebuilding it, replacing some components and bearings as needed, cleaning, and bringing it all back together, a mix of old and new.

I remember one very clearly. I had a customer bring me a Schwinn Paramount. You might not have known that Schwinn built anything like a Paramount, but they did, in small numbers. Beautiful high end bikes, outfitted with the best components of the time. I completely stripped the bike and verified the frame alignment and the customer sent it off to be professionally repainted. While it was gone, I built him a new set of wheels, cleaned and checked all the components, replaced the headset, chain, derailler pulleys, freewheel cluster and bearings.

When it all came together, he took it home. He was back in the shop two days later and when I saw him come in I was concerned something was wrong. He walked back to where I stood and said, “It’s better than new. Maybe it’s the wheels, I don’t know, but this bike never rode like it does now, and I just came in to thank you.”

That was a fine moment, and it really didn’t have anything to do with running a business or making money.

One thought on “Building Bikes

  1. That limited edition, collectible paramount is a beautiful thing. I've never seen any paramount in person, though. Just read about and seen pictures of.

    I should put up a post on (re)-building my bike, but not tonight.

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