The Frame Game

“Can you save money by ordering and installing your own parts?”

January 2016

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a trend for a number of people to order just a frame and fork. Some of these people already have a nice bike, but just want a new frame and fork that fits better, so they intend to move their parts from their current frame to the new frame. This approach can save some money.

The other frame/fork customer though, is still buying all new parts for their bike, but just not along with the frame/fork. Scouring the internet might make it look as if one could really save a bundle by building their bike this way. If this approach is for fun, then there is some value in it, but it is not really an effective way to save money. It may not look that way by just comparing ‘grouppo’ or ‘kit’ pricing to the cost of a full bike, but that’s not the full story.

Now, realize that we’re happy to sell someone just a frame….a frame and fork…a frame, fork and some parts…a frame and fork and a bunch of parts….a full bike with a few parts missing….or a full bike assembled and ready to ride. Any way you want it is fine with us. But, I thought you should consider a few things before making your choice.

Note: If you really want to assemble your new bike by yourself, we can sell you a full bike unassembled and you can have all the fun of putting it together. We’ve done this on occasion for people who own all the tools and possess the knowledge.

As you read on, there are more technical terms. If you have a solid understanding of the terms, and are already familiar with the different sizes, specifications, compatibilities, and why they all exist, then you are a candidate for ordering all of your own parts and building your own bike. If not, you will inevitably save money to order the bike as a full, or nearly full bike.

Continuing on…
This article works for just about any frame/fork combo, but let’s look at our Rodriguez Rainier Pro as a comparison. This is one of our very popular models.

I can find a SRAM Force 22 group online for just $700 pretty easily. Add that to a Rodriguez OX Platinum race frame and carbon fork at $1,899 and looks like one could be riding a Rainier Pro with SRAM Force 22 for just $2,600.

Now, of course $2,600 assumes that you own all of the tools and posses the ability to assemble the bicycle yourself, or paying someone else to do it for you. How much would it cost to pay someone else? About $250 is the going rate. So what? That’s only $2,850…..still well under the $3,900 of the full bike…right? Not exactly.

You’ve got to add wheels, tires, tubes and rim strips or you can’t ride it. To get a decent set of wheels with rim strips, tires and tubes online the cost is about $600 ~ $700. That won’t get you the 3-year warranty that we put on our wheels, but none-the-less, it is a set of wheels. Still, at $3,550 we’re still under the $3,900 right?

Anything Else?
Whoops, forgot the head set ($50), seat post ($30), stem ($40), seat ($50), handle bars ($40) and bar wrap ($17). $227 total. So, now we’re at $3,777.00. I’m sure there are a few more small things, but you can just go the the local bike shop several times and pick them up.

So, it looks like we saved a little money. After shipping charges for all of the parts (total of about $100), our net savings is $23. But, did we really save. Let’s continue.

The SRAM brakes that came with the kit are not compatible with the Rainier. The Rainier is built to fit wider tires and fenders. So, we need a set of long reach brakes. That’s about $55 online, so we’ll get them on the way, and later we can try to sell the SRAM brakes to recoup that cost. At this point we’re a little over the cost of just ordering the bike as a full bike. But, we must continue.

Need a second job…without pay?

Here’s some of the issues you’ll be dealing with:

  1. Did you order the right bottom bracket with your cranks? Often people order the wrong thing these days as there are many, many options. If you order the wrong one, then it’s time consuming to get it exchanged.
  2. Did you get the right head set? Again, many options here, and getting the wrong one is sometimes a problem.
  3. How about your front derailleur? There are several options here too, and the wrong choice will eat up your precious time to exchange this.
  4. Did you get the right seat post? There is no standard, and dozens of size options are available to choose from. This is a crucial measurement, and has to be exactly right. If you get one that’s too big, it just won’t fit in the frame. If you get one that’s a little too small though, it will fit and seemingly work fine, but will (I emphasize will) result in a cracked frame that is not covered under warranty. This is a fairly common issue.
  5. Did the exact parts that you ordered actually arrive? Very often, even if a customer did order the right specifications, someone in the warehouse shipped the wrong one (this happens to us all the time). If you cannot visually determine if it is correct upon arrival, then you won’t know until you try to install it. Again, more exchanges and delays. Hopefully the return window has not closed.
  6. Is your new frame compatible with your new crank set?

    This has been a frequent frustration for the frame/fork only customer. Believe it or not, many of the new cranks do not adhere to long held standards in bicycle frame design, and do not have any flexibility for adjustment. For instance, if you requested the frame design to accomodate really wide tires, chances are that your new Force crank set will not even work on your new frame. The chain rings will hit the frame, and there’s no adjustment in them. Many people think that this is a defect with the frame, but it is not. For the tire/frame/crank clearance to all work together, there are special considerations, and often a different crank set needs to be chosen. Our customers ordered just a frame with clearance for 35c tires were often discouraged to find out that the crank set they ordered will not work with tires that wide. For this reason, we often require your cranks to be present at the time of frame building. That way we can test fit them before we paint the bike.

    In the case of a standard race bike, this is usually not a problem. Most of our customers want something a little more custom though, and some trial and error is required to really have a handle on all of the incompatibilities in the bike world.

  7. Are your new wheels compatible with your new cassette? This is something that we run into once in a while now that 11sp is out. 10sp hubs are not compatible with 11-sp cassettes, and there are a lot of 10sp wheels out there for sale.
  8. What is your time worth? Many people don’t consider what their time is worth when taking on such an endeavor. Trying to take everything into consideration, and order all of the parts, dealing with errors, and the time to do the actual assembly all add up to a lot of time.
  9. What happens now if you (or your hired assembler) slip and scratch your paint while installing your parts? This does happen on occasion, even here in our shop. The difference is that we fix it free if we slip up, but not so in the other case.
  10. Lastly, what about warranty in general? If we assemble the bike with parts bought from us, then we also cover labor to remove, repair and re-install any parts that fail under warranty. This is something that we do as part of our ‘full bike’ purchase price, but is not covered by the parts manufacturer. If you purchased the parts yourself, then you will be responsible for any warranty parts exchanges and the labor involved. If the wrong parts were installed, they could cause non-warranty repair issues for the frame or fork.

Rather Hire a Pro?

Good news! Here at R+E Cycles, this is we do for a living, and we’ve been doing it for years now. All of our collective experience is used to design and choose the parts that work best for each bicycle we build and the customer that will be riding it. So, think about what you do for a living and how long you’ve been at it. If you were to hire someone to do your job, would you choose an enthusiast with no real industry experience, or would you rather work with a professional with a lifetime of knowledge in their field?

Can you save money if you buy the frame/fork and then hunt down all of the parts yourself? It’s important to consider all of the above before deciding that, but for most people, the answer is no. One thing for sure though, you can certainly save time and frustration by ordering the whole bike.

Thanks for reading – Dan