Building a bicycle for the first time (mistakes were made)

Buidling a Bicycle

Tired of having to use the same bike for trail riding and commuting, I decided to build myself a bike to replace my old yellow Trek 7000. The trouble is, I’ve never actually built a bike before! What could possibly go wrong? This post documents the entire process (from beginning to end) – mistakes and all.

Making the decision to build a bike instead of buying one

Since I wasn’t in a rush to get a new bike, and I certainly didn’t want to spend a lot of money on one, I figured that it probably made the most sense to build my own. Sounds fun, right? That’s what I thought.

More than anything, I knew it was going to be a learning experience for me. I already knew how to do basic maintenance, and I figured that anything I didn’t know how to do can be learned from watching YouTube videos and other online tutorials. I’d also need some tools, as I certainly didn’t have what I needed to build a bike from scratch. Here we go!

Choosing the frame

Since the purpose of this bike was going to be a commuter, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on fancy parts. But I did want a strong bike that can handle light off-road use such as curb jumping and light trail / grass riding, so I wasn’t willing to buy ultra-cheap parts in order to save a buck. This needed to be a strong bike that worked just as well on the road as it would on the trail. Therefore, I knew that it was probably going to resemble a cross bike more than anything else.

Anyway, I was pretty anxious to get started so I ordered the frame, fork, headset, and stem first. Here’s the detail of the frame:

nashbar frame specs
Screenshot from highlighting the details of the Aluminum Cyclocross Frame I purchased

Building begins

The frame, fork, and headset for my commuter/cross bike arrived first, and I was really getting excited about starting this build. The Nashbar Cyclocross frame is awesome, but I was slightly disappointed about the fork. The quality looked great, but it was really heavy. I guess I should have expected that when I opted for a steel version instead of carbon fiber, but oh well.

I was still excited so I  wasted no time in starting to put these pieces together. I also started to realize that I didn’t have anywhere near the tools I need to get this done, but nonetheless, I pushed forward with what I had.

I put the headset crown race on the fork first, and it wasn’t fun at all. The tutorial videos I watched on YouTube made it look like this was going to be easy an easy job, but I spent several hours trying to get that crown race seated properly with no luck.

For a while I even thought I purchased the wrong size, but I triple-checked everything and I did indeed have the right parts. It was so frustrating though, and I never was able to get it fully flush with the top of the fork (despite lots of pounding with a rubber mallet). Oh well – it was close enough and most likely nothing that won’t be noticeable by anyone but me anyway.

nashbar cyclocross frame
And so it begins. This is the bare Nahsbar frame on my bike stand.
bike nashbar frame
It’s actually a pretty good looking frame, and I can’t wait to see it with all the components on it!
bike nashbar frame welds
The welds aren’t totally beautiful, but that’s to be expected for a frame at this price point
bike nashbar frame close up
Everything was packaged quite nicely

Now that I had the frame, fork, and headset assembled, I quickly started to realize that this was going to be one good looking cross bike. That satin black Nashbar frame looks menacing, and I was anxious to see it with all the parts on it.

But the unfortunate thing was that I needed tools first (which added to the cost of this build). The biggest need was a headset press – I couldn’t do anything with this build before I got my hands on one of those. Unfortunately, headset presses are not cheap, and the thought of spending $150 on one for one simple job didn’t sit with me well at all. But I did it anyway, justifying the cost with thoughts of building more bikes in the future!

Park Tool HHP-2 Bearing Cup Press
Putting my new Park Tool HHP-2 Bearing Cup Press to work
Park Tool bearing cup press
Installing the headset was really simple with this Park Tool bearing cup press!
installing the headset with the Park Tool headset press
One last detail shot of the Park Tool HHP-2 Bearing Cup Press at work
bike nashbar carbon fiber seat post and seat
Installed the nashbar carbon fiber seat post and seat
seat post and seat
Close up of the seat post and seat installed on the Nashbar frame
steerer tube too long
Looks like I’ve got some trimming to do! Not looking forward to hacking off that steerer tube.
steerer tube assembly
The problem is that I don’t have the proper tools to trim it, so I’m just going to have to use a cheap hack saw
cross bike assembly
The bike is starting to come together now! There is a whole lot of detail work to do though.
seat post and seat
I really like the way the seat post and seat look from the rear
bike parts in living room
The disadvantage of building a bike in your living room: the mess builds quickly!

The cost of parts was adding up fast (and other issues)

This bike build has ended up costing me a lot more than I had originally planned. The total price of the build at this point was about $2300. I really didn’t expect it to be anywhere near that amount.

The good news is that I was pretty much done buying parts at this point – unless the wheels and/or bottom bracket caused problems. The crankset was scary tight – it missed hitting the frame by just a few millimeters on both sides, and that will only be if the bottom bracket keeps it spaced properly.

And what about frame flex? Was that going to cause clearance issues? As you can tell, I learned quite a bit about building a cross bike so far.

bike part boxes
Boxes and boxes of bike parts. I’m sick of buying parts!
shimano ultegra components
Installing the Ultegra shift and brake levers
shimano ultegra shift levers on drop bars
Both levers installed on the drop bars. Looking good!
bottom bracket installation
Installing the bottom bracket
Installing the bottom bracket
Installing the bottom bracket isn’t difficult, but you need the right tools for the job!
bottom bracket and crank assembly
The best part about installing the bottom bracket? It means the cranks are next!
building a bike in my living room
My living room is turning into a disaster area
building a bike in my living room
The closer I get to finishing this build, the less I care about trying to keep my place organized!
bike build almost complete
It’s starting to look like a real bike now!
steerer tube problem
I still need to hack off that steerer tube and wrap the bars
building a bike in my living room
The advantage to being single: there isn’t a wife or girlfriend in the world who would allow this sort of thing to happen inside!
bike build nearly complete
Finally, the bike is off the stand for the first time!!
cross bike build complete
It turned out pretty well, but I still have a lot of fine tuning to do before it’s inaugural ride
custom cross bike and Trek 7000
There she is, next to the bike she is replacing.

Despite the minor issues, things were coming together well and I was just about done at this point. Just a few minor things to tweak! I had never built a bike before so you can only imagine the sense of satisfaction I got whenever I added a new part (and it worked just as it should).

The inaugural ride

Once this cross bike build was finished, I took it out for the inaugural ride! I wasn’t sure if it was going to be very comfortable or not, but it ended up being pretty good. I had to make some adjustments less than a mile into the ride (glad I brought tools with me), but overall it felt great right from the start.

The biggest problem was that I didn’t bother getting the front derailleur dialed in, so I was stuck in the big ring. That wasn’t fun, and I had to fix it ASAP because I really needed the small ring for the hills here in San Diego. The bad part about that is that it involved shortening the chain. Yuck.

finished bike build
The bike turned out pretty well – I’m happy with it.
custom bike build from the front
The front end sits a bit high, but I think (hope) I’ll get used to it
custom bike build geometry
The riding position is completely different than my Specialized Allez Comp road bike
flat black custom bike build
I definitely like the all-black color scheme. It’s totally the look I was going after.
my custom bike build
The view from the back is the best IMHO
custom bike build details
All the components seem to work well together, though there is still a lot of fine tuning to do
disc brakes custom bike build
The decision to use disc brakes was the right one – they work really well!
rear disc brakes custom bike build
The rear brakes are in dire need of tweaking though – there isn’t much stopping power at the moment.
Front view
Front view
brand new custom bike build
Only 6.1 miles so far!
custom bike build cranks and pedals
The only “big” thing left to do is get the front derailleur working. It’s stuck in the big ring at the moment.

The 29er wheels and tires that I used on this build made this bike feel really tall. I’m not totally sure that I liked that feeling or not, as it kind of feels like riding a Penny Farthing or something. It’s a completely different feeling than my Specialized Allez road bike. The difference between the two is difficult to describe, but that road bike feels like a sports car, while this cross bike feels like a lifted truck. They really are different.

The only other issue is that the rear brakes were pretty much worthless due to the fact that I cut the cable too short during assembly. They needed to be dialed in a bit more.

Total cost of the build

I laugh thinking about when I first started this project. The goal was to spend about $1000, and build the bike over the course of 3 or 4 months. Yeah, right! I just got caught up in buying cool parts for it, and it ended up being nowhere near the commuter I was planning it to be. I ended up blowing my budget by a long shot (by $1300 to be exact), but I wasn’t discouraged. The $2300 it cost to build it was totally worth it.

However, I’m not going to lie when I say that I was upset with myself for building a bike that was too nice (and too expensive) to leave parked outside when commuting. Oops.

Final parts list:

Nashbar X Aluminum Cyclocross (Medium)

Cro-moly disc-compatible road

Cane Creek S-3 1 1/8″ Threadless

Nahsbar Carbon Oversize — 110mm

Nashbar Carbon – 31.8mm

Seatpost Collar
Nashbar Deluxe 31.8mm

Nashbar F1

Nashbar Oversize – 40cm

Bottom Bracket
Shimano 105 SM-FC5600

Shimano 105 FC5600 175mm

Front Derailleur
Shimano Dura Ace FD7803 31.8 clamp

Rear Derailleur
Shimano Dura Ace 7800

Nashbar Quick Release
Nashbar Bolt-on

Avid BB7 Mechanical Disc

Shift/Brake Levers
Shimano Ultegra

Conclusion and final thoughts

To anyone who looking to build their own bicycle in order to save a bit of money: don’t do it to save a buck! Do it for the love of the build instead. Buying all new parts and assembling them together is always going to cost more than buying a pre-built bike from a pro bike shop.

Despite the minor issues, I’m really proud of what I accomplished! I never thought that I’d be able to build my own bike from scratch, so it makes me really happy that I was able to learn some new skills while putting this bike together.

This bike ended up being better than I ever could have imagined – and I learned some really good lessons that I can apply to my next build (whenever that may be). I’ve also got a lot of new bike building tools that would be a shame to never use ever again!


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