Designing your own custom frame can be a journey of extremes, from passing fancy to all consuming passion. And don’t be surprised if your project takes you down a completely different path to the one you started out on. For Tom…. Well why don’t you read on and find out more.
What got you started down the route of having your own frame made, chap?
It all started with the theft of my 6 week old BMC Alpenchallenge; a belt driven, Alfine hubbed, super commuter. The two lessons I learned from this were; don’t leave your bike in the same place overnight and that shiny new bikes draw attention!
When the insurers finally paid out I decided the next bike should be something that wasn’t too flashy, that I could hide in plain sight. To some extent I succeeded, and to some extent I failed. Miserably!
My budget was around £2k, though this evidently swelled, and I eventually blew straight through it.
Nice, that sounds like my kind of build, one taken on without compromise. Tom burnt much midnight oil working out the exact spec that he was after, but was eventually able to reduce it down to:
- Flat mount hydraulic discs
- Belt drive (requiring a frame break, and either sliding dropouts or an eccentric bottom bracket)
- 12mm thru axels
- 142 mm spacing
- Option to run gears
- A tapered head tube (aesthetic reasons)
- As light as possible.
- Internal gear cabling/di2 routing (just in case)
But where to find such a machine? Who could Tom turn to for help?
Some forum searching led me to the idea of custom, and as anyone who’s ever seen them will attest, naked titanium tubes are just beautiful. Besides, titanium would be both light and comfortable.
While I was doing my research I discovered, and fell in love with, the bespoke titanium and carbon creations of Italian company Legend. I wanted to see if I could recreate their signature integrated carbon seat mast on my bike.
As it turns out only one Chinese factory could help me – XACD were showing off just such a carbon seat mast via their Alibaba page.
Nice detective work, it sounds pricey though, how much did XACD quote for your design?
Altogether they quoted me:
FOB XI’AN USD555.00/set 1set USD555.00
Extra costs of taper head tube: USD185.00
Extra costs of 142×12 dropout: USD95.00
Extra costs of integrated seat post: USD85.00
Extra costs of double butted tubes: USD100.00
Extra costs of opening system for the belt drive: USD85.00
Extra costs of ECC BB shell: USD95.00
Extra costs of internal cables routing for brake and gear: USD100.00
Extra costs of brush finish: USD50.00
Shipping costs(EMS express): USD165.00
This was nearly double what Titan or Waltly would have charged me but I didn’t want to compromise on the carbon seat tube now I knew it was possible.
A little bit of haggling with Alisa, the Sales Manager, brought the price down to $1350. And, as few people suggested that XACD’s quality was fractionally higher than the other two, I was pushed over the edge.
After which it sounded like the fun really started…
Yes! The next few months involved around 130 emails with the extremely patient Alisa Huo, involving 2 major redraws and about a half dozen minor tweaks.
It was here that I could feel my obsession really starting to take hold. I spent weeks trying to get the dimensions for a rear flat mount TRP calliper so I could make sure it would fit under the rear seat stay. I had conversations with Shimano themselves, Lightspeed, TRP, Gates, and many others asking about the minute details of fit, and compatibility; the worries about which practically kept me up at night!
Finally, finally, the drawings were agreed, and I was confident in my ability to obtain the parts, so the balance was sent and I began the wait. I initially estimated a 5-6 week build and delivery, though it ended up being closer to 7-8 weeks as XACD were very busy.
The frame is only one half of the story though, don’t forget the bits that go on it. (Tom didn’t!). During the search for a suitable rear hub Tom discovered Tune components:
Tune make stunning, drool-worthy, pieces of CNC that are all about the lightness. Their single speed rear hub was 12 mm compatible, and weighed a ghostly 220 grams. Then you find out they make much more than hubs, and that everything can be colour co-ordinated!
In the year or so that had passed between starting to think about this and pulling the trigger, the ‘gravel’ section of the bike market had really established itself. I drew influences from the larger tyres and more robust components to make a commuter/gravel single-speed hybrid that could handle whatever potholes, and even bridleways, I’d throw at it.
You still needed someone you could trust to put it all together for you though?
I had talked to a couple of local bike shops but I could see Luis at my local Cycle Surgery, in West Hampstead, had the same passion for the project as I had. He was my man!
A real labour of love! Apparently things took a little longer than anticipated to get together but finally… Gosh darn it lad, it’s a bike after all, how does it ride?
I’ve done about 5 miles so far I should think in testing, and so far I’m delighted. I mean really, really, delighted!
The Tune Hubs are the smoothest I’ve ridden on, combined with the 300 TPI handmade Challenge tyres and a well set up belt drive this bike is smooth and fleet!
It’s also stiff in acceleration and feels reassuringly solid as you hop off a curb. Nothing shakes, nothing rattles, and few vibrations make it though the titanium and carbon to your contact points.
It’s nimble with a very similar feel to my BMC carbon road bike; just what I was looking for. Total weight is around 8 kilos (17.5lbs), with the frame contributing 1.9kg (3.9lbs) of that.
Can’t argue there, I’m pleased everything turned out well considering the time Tom invested in it!
With hindsight I’m amazed it all came together! I’ll be the first to admit I obsessed over the details, but this was a bike built without compromise. It was a joy, but if you’ve got a long list of custom requirements don’t kid yourself that it will be either quick or easy. As I said, it has taken me between 15-18 months.
130 emails to XACD, to say nothing of the 200 I fired off to the other frame manufacturers, Gates, Shimano, TRP, Halo, Tune, Challenge and Fabric amongst others. (And my thanks to them all for their patience.) The multitude of international phone calls, and several profound eye-rolls from my girlfriend.
I also estimate around 400 hours of time in research. Yup. You could really get good at the guitar or something similar instead.
Finally, I’d like to add my thanks to Andrew at Spanner, for his sound and passionate council.
Ahh, now him I’ve head of, he does sound like a sensible fellow 😉
Wow, what can you say about a project like Toms’, especially as the results are so stunning!
OK, sure, taking a perfectly good titanium frame and cutting one of the tubes out so you can replace it with a carbon one is pretty silly, but hey, we’re talking art here!
I’m also a little surprised about the weight of the frame, the tubes are fairly chunky but I’d expect the double butting and carbon content to help. I’ve long suspected that tapered head tubes, and perhaps eccentric bottom bracket shells, could carry more weight than you might think.
In the grand scheme of things though I think we can overlook that when the final results are so stunning. I don’t think you can see how Tom could have done things better. By his own admission though I think he might have strayed slightly from his initial goal of making a stealth machine that wouldn’t attract the attention of the less reputable members of society!
Has Tom inspired you to have your own frame made? Don’t be shy now, do drop me a line via the contacts page and you can share it with thousands of other interested ‘net nerds…