Buying a custom bike (1) I Need a New Bike

Buying a custom bike (1) I Need a New Bike

Post by David Corte » Sat, 29 Oct 1994 12:29:13

Summary: This is one person's experience of buying a custom-built bike.
It's a a long story (longer than necessary, some might say :-) so I am
posting it in chapters. See the end of this article for information on how
you can read ahead.

For a year I have wanted to replace my bike. It's 5 years old and doesn't
feel as crisp and precise as it did when it was new. That might be due to 8
ominous cracks in its top tube,  one at each corner of the two holes where
the rear brake cable runs in and out of the tube.

When I bought this bike I was not the rider I am now, physically or
mentally. I'd been commuting for a year, and had gotten fit enought to feel
the shortcomings of a 1970's Raleigh. But I knew next to nothing about
frame types, component groups, or gearing. So I bought this bike, a 1988
Miyata "Team" model, because its 600 Ultegra components were the prettiest
bits of metal I'd ever seen, and because, in a 5-minute ride around the
parking lot of the shopping mall, it felt light as a feather and as precise
as a scalpel.

Today I know that its crisp feel at low speed is due to aggressive,
criterium-style geometry.  The sales clerk didn't point out that the bike
was designed as a mount for a dedicated racer.  I'm not sure how I would
have reacted if he had. The Miyata spoke to my emotions. It wanted to be my
bike. (Some people, they say, get married in a similar frame of mind.)

I didn't even notice the ratios in its rear cluster . It had a 12-23
7-speed cluster. That was terribly over-geared for the strength of my legs
then (or now).  My commute was a flat 6 miles and I had no trouble with it
there, but the first time I went on a longish ride, the 42-23 "low" gear
got my attention right away.

A friend of a friend, a bike parts distributor, advised me on how to get
some lower gears.  I installed a Deore XT rear derailleur and
14-16-18-21-24-28-32 rear cogs.  These with the 52-42 front rings  make a
half-step setup. I soon learned to think of a shift at the rear as "one
step," while a front shift is "a step and a half."  When I want only half a
step (to adjust for a small change in grade or wind speed) I shift each
lever once.  Soon I learned how to keep a steady, fast cadence as the
terrain, the breeze, and my own energy level changed.

But the 14-speed setup just does not range widely enough. Going up the
local mountains I often long for something lower than 42-32. Had I been a
cyclist when I was 25, I might have thought 42-32 was low enough to climb
stairs, but not now at twice that age.

At the other extreme, I've learned a bit about descending. There are
descents where I could use a longer ratio than 52-14, because the fastest
spin I can manage will only push me to a bit over 35mph. Also, though the
Miyata's twitchy steering certainly keeps me wide awake on a winding
descent, I wouldn't mind a bit more stability.

Another thing I didn't notice in the happy glow of bringing home a new bike
was that the Miyata had no braze-on eyelets for mounting racks.  A rack is
essential for commuting, and on long weekend rides a small rack-pack is
perfect for holding food, camera, and extra clothes.  For five years I've
been using a rack supported on plastic cable clamps around the seat stays.
The clamps have rubbed off the paint, and they break every year or so. Once
I tried to install fenders, using even more cable clamps for anchors.  It
didn't work.

By now I had read enough magazines and books and ridden enough miles  and
seen enough bikes to have a good idea what I wanted.

First, a road bike.  I love the taut elegance of a road frame.  I've
learned road-rider skills -- stretching out in the drops when going into a
headwind, tucking on descents, and I enjoy riding long distances on
pavement.  But my new road bike must have:

* Quick, responsive geometry -- similar to the Miyata Team at slow speeds,
but more stability on descents.

* Light weight -- no more than 21 lbs (<10kg) before I mount the rack.

* Stiffness -- the Miyata has gotten soft-feeling in corners, probably
owing to those cracks in the top tube and to an unfortunate dent in one
chain stay near the bottom bracket.

* Triple chain-rings and an 8-speed cluster.

* Braze-on eyelets everywhere!

* Adequate clearance to run at least 26C tires and fenders, or even 32C
tires.  This is to improve wet-weather commuting, and also to permit
touring on a variety of road surfaces including dry dirt and packed gravel.

I never supposed that a satisfactory bike would be cheap.  But I'm a
well-paid yuppie, prepared to spend $2000 or more for a toy of good
quality.  So I started shopping, expecting to find 2 or 3 bikes to choose

Next chapter -- Don't You Want My Money?

[You can pick up the whole story in one file via FTP.  The server is and the file is /pub/cortesi/newbike.txt  That file contains
all the chapters so far, but the last one has not been appended yet.]