Building a Bike from the Ground Up; There’s No Compromise… When You’ve Got a Spare, Large Pile of Cash. Here’s What to Do If You Don’t.
I’m fond of, and have become good at taking a stock road bike and making it mine through upgrades. The tandem will stay the way it is – it’s fantastic and there’s no making it any lighter without buying a new tandem – it’s a big beast (though a carbon fiber fork in lieu of the steel fork…). My mountain bike, not much to change there, and the gravel bike is, well, a gravel bike, for God’s sake.
The road bikes, though, to this roadie those bikes are extensions of me. I have my personality and an immodest amount of cash wrapped up in those bikes. Now, as I mentioned in the Title, had I a spare pile of cash, I just may have gone big and been done with it as my Venge goes. The unfortunate side of going big at the start is that most will shy away from upgrades and lose some opportunity to give the bike character right out of the gate. Because I started small and built up with the Venge, it cost me a lot more to upgrade the bike but it was over a five year period, so the cost didn’t hurt as much…
Had I spent another $1,200 on my Venge back in 2013, I’d have started with a much improved wheelset out of the box, Ultegra components (I started with 105 but upgraded at a later date) and a saddle with titanium rails in lieu of chrome-moly. I’d have gotten standard Ultegra brakes and a vastly less flashy paint job:
I likely would have upgraded the handlebar to the S-Works Aerofly but I’d have left the SLK crank which would have saved about $600. So figure $4,700 for the Venge Expert as opposed to my Venge Comp that started at $3,100 and finished at close $6,000.
The Expert is nice, but the superiority of my Comp is unquestionable. The FSA brakes, while poo-pooed by some, are exceptionally grippy, light and a spot-on color match – and the brakes go with the carbon fiber-wrapped FSA stem. The S-Works crank and matching Aerofly handlebar add an air of exclusivity. The color scheme is unquestionably perfect. In other words, I spent about $1,300 more than I would have on the same bike, but through all of the upgrades I made my Venge a one-off custom rig.
The transformation of the Trek was even more pronounced, though a couple of the upgrades were purchased more out of necessity than of wanton gratification.
The King headset was installed because the old, stock headset was completely rusted and worn out – bad enough to cause speed wobbles at 40-mph. The paint had to happen because some knucklehead knocked my bike off a stand at a rest stop on a supported ride and
scratched gouged the paint on the top tube. The rear wheel had to go because it blew apart at the brake track. It was a safety issue (I rode for years on the old, heavy wheels that were OEM equipment from the Venge – then, once I upgraded the wheels on the Venge, I took the superior alloy wheels from the Venge and put them on the Trek). The saddle mast was changed because carbon fiber… and I couldn’t get the angle quite right on the post that came with the bike. But mostly because carbon fiber. The stem was swapped for aesthetics and to get me into more of an aggressive posture on the bike. The handlebar came from the Venge when I upgraded it. As well, when I upgraded the drivetrain on the Venge, the 105 components went onto the Trek. If you figured the cost of upgrading the parts that simply came from my other bike, you’re still looking at less than $3,500 for the bike – and that includes the new paint job. And I got an 18-1/2 pound bike out of the deal.
The Trek is even more “me” than the Venge. That bike was completely rebuilt from the ground up and I absolutely love it because I have so much into making it exactly what I wanted.
There are a few things that one must take into account when upgrading bikes like that, though. First, what’s the geometry at the back end of the bike? Will the frame even accept new(ish) components? The Trek was just modern enough to upgrade to newer components. A few years older and I’d likely be stuck having to cobble things together to make changes work. My old alloy Cannondale is a mess to upgrade because it’s an old 7-speed. The rear triangles had to be spread to accommodate modern wheels. Spreading an alloy frame is not advised as the welds and/or tubes can crack or bend. If that happens, you have to throw the frame away.
What handlebar width do you like? How about crank arm length? What about stem length (and rise/drop)? In terms of my Trek’s headset above, there were only two available at the time I needed mine – and I needed the shop to figure that out because I had no clue what I would have needed. Everything matters and you really have to know your way around to get everything right the first time. Or make friends with someone at the bike shop.
If you want the same bike everyone else has, then blowing a large wad of cash can get you a fantastically light, fast, beautiful steed. If you want to make your rig a custom, build smart… and from the ground up. I can tell you from experience, throwing your leg over a full custom rig that you built yourself is a great feeling.