I’ve had a quite a few emails from readers since I posted about my Woodrup Sportivo asking about the process of specifying a custom frame.
Now I have few hundred miles under my belt on this lovely machine, I feel it’s time to offer some thoughts on going custom which may be of help if you are considering a similar project.
Why do you want a custom frame?
Your requirements may be different…
Do you want the ultimate touring machine to carry you around the world?
Do you want a superlight titanium racer?
Do you want a sharp, individualist fixie?
Is the bike simply a tool or a thing of beauty… a perfect marriage of form and function?
The list goes on.
I think the latter question is important. Is the custom frame or bike just a pragmatic manifestation of a set of perfunctory requirements, or do you seek a deeper connection with the result. Will it mean more to you than something to clock the miles on?
In my albeit-limited experience, I found some builders were more engaged with the overall aesthetic than others. I needed to find someone who understood how important this bike would be.
Make a list
Even if you are in pursuit of that elusive ‘thing of beauty’, I think it still pays to start with a list of what’s important. Mine looked like this:
Comfortable ride, predictable handling (yet sprightly)
A frame that looks in proportion
Traditional look but with modern components
Pump peg on the stay
Two bottle mounts
No rack mounts
I realise this is quite detailed, but it’s the product of riding a bike for a number of years. I knew what I wanted.
Take your time
The financial investment in a custom frame can be considerable. While this weighed heavily on my mind, more pressing was the need for the result to be an expression of me as well as my selected framebuilder.
Consequently, I believe it important to take your time when selecting a builder. If you can, see their work first hand and speak to the person who will be lovingly mitring your tubes.
A trip to Bespoked Bristol is a worthwhile investment (and a great day out if you love your bikes). Failing that, do your homework on the web and visit some frameshops to discuss your requirements.
I spent three years thinking about who should build the frame (although lack of finance caused most delay) before making my choice.
Simply put: find someone who understands your requirements… and someone you trust.
I eventually selected Kevin Sayles at Woodrup Cycles for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I think Kevin’s work is superb and much of it is available online through his excellent Flickr site. Kevin is a real cycling enthusiast and, more importantly, a real bike enthusiast.
What really sold me was the hour and a half I spent in his frameshop. I took my old Thorn Audax as a starting point and it was no doubt helpful that Kevin used to build for Thorn (when they used to produce custom framesets).
This gave us a head start as to the kind of ride I was after. He could judge where the Thorn was lacking while sizing me up (Woodrup does not have a frame-sizing jig but prefer to see riders on an existing bike. They draw on experience if you have no current machine).
We then talked through details one by one. This too was an agreeable process. Kevin would listen to what I wanted and advise me accordingly drawing upon his considerable experience. He suggested the tubeset (Reynolds 853), the oversize top tube, recommended fork lugs, and ‘relaxing’ the geometry of the seat tube to better accommodate the short rails of my preferred Brooks saddle.
By the end of the process, he had a picture of the frame right down to decal colour, detailing and motifs (drawing down the seat lug point to the heart-shaped ‘S’ logo being a particular favourite of mine along with stainless rubbing strips on the head tube).
Be patient (!)
It’s gratifying that the skills of a good frame builder are in demand these days. Once you’ve placed your order, it’s highly likely you will have to wait. My wait lasted about three months.
Kevin kept me in touch with progress through pictures on his Flickr site.
The wait was a good thing in my view though…reassuring almost.
Despite investing time, effort and money in this project, I was still anxious about the result. I needn’t have been because my Sportivo is pretty much perfect.
I spent a while building the bike, recycling components from my Thorn and replacing others. It’s all middle of the road stuff (including MTB hubs!) but the overall result is sublime.
The fit and ride are superb. The bike feels immediately comfortable and everything is in the right place on the flats, drops or hoods – despite my posture problems. Tweaks to the geometry mean I can apply power more effectively – or so it feels.
The frameset is comfortable for hours on end and the ‘squishiness’ of my Audax is gone. Stand on the pedals and there is keener sense of power being transmitted to the wheels. The bike is no lightweight, but it climbs beautifully and feels very planted on steep descents (and there are plenty of those in these parts).
I am delighted with my Sportivo. Every outing feels special on this bike and I look forward to spending many happy years riding it.
The only potential drawback of going custom is that it forces you re-evaluate your other bikes. I’m certain I could specify a sweeter-riding yet still rough-stuff capable replacement for my Surly Troll if funds allowed.
Maybe one day.