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Custom frame builders -- which one is best?(18 posts)

Custom frame builders -- which one is best?jennyzue
Aug 13, 2001 11:13 AM
Hi --
I'm looking for people's advice/experience regarding custom frame builders. I am leaning towards steel (I'm more of a long-distance tourist than a racer), but am still considering the pros (weight, durability) and cons (price) of titanium. I am a light, 5'4" woman;
(I am currently riding a Trek carbon fiber bike that has never fit me properly, and a 10 year-old steel Bridgestone racing bike that is fairly heavy.)
I am looking at custom builders Seven, Serotta, Waterstone, and Strong. Any other suggestions? Advice? Previously, I have gone with the bike that feels best on a test ride, but of course, with a custom frame you don't get to ride it until you've already paid! So I am anxious to hear other people's experiences
Miss M loves her Rivendell.MB1
Aug 13, 2001 11:26 AM
As long as you can wait forever for delivery. Another good choice is Waterford/Gunnar their delivery is much, much better.
re: Custom frame builders -- which one is best?Cliff Oates
Aug 13, 2001 11:38 AM
I suspect you meant to say Waterford rather than Waterstone, and as a proud owner of one, I'm fairly partial to those. You might ask at your local shops or clubs to see if there are any good frame builders local to your area. I've always found the notion of a face to face meeting with the builder appealing, and you can probably get a pretty good deal by working with a guy whose reputation is local or regional rather than national.
An approximation at bestRoadster
Aug 13, 2001 11:56 AM
Serotta, Seven, Waterford, Strong, Sachs, Independent Fabrication etc. are reputable builders with excellent frames. The real determinant in buying custom is fit. Test ride as many of them as you can. I can tell you in my experience with owning a Serotta, Seven and Sachs frame that ride quality is more subjective than anything else. For instance, the Serotta CSI is an agile, responsive frame, as nimble and responsive as any I have ridden. But to varying degrees of refinement, the Seven Odonata is buttery smooth over roads, equally agile but ultimately more comfortable over long distances due mostly to the titanium. It's not something that you can quantify. It all about how you respond to the ride and aesthetics. Given the correct fit, each of these custom builders can produce a frame worthy of anyone. Whatever you decide, just make sure you confidence in the fit specialist assisting you. Good luck.
try Mercian...alex the engineer
Aug 13, 2001 12:01 PM
...they are a bit cheaper overall, and with the differential betwwen the pound and the dollar, they will be a much better deal.
re: Custom frame builders -- which one is best?badabill
Aug 13, 2001 12:17 PM
Landshark is another to throw into the mix. John is brazing a custom blend of tubing into a sub 3 lb frame that would be perfect for a light rider. I ride a shark built with deda zero uno. He will work with any steel you prefer, some builders only use 1 type of steel. Talk to a few builders and go with who you like the best, all you listed will give you a great frame. In socal Bill Holland is the king of TI, many riders love his frames.
re: Custom frame builders -- which one is best?jschrotz
Aug 13, 2001 4:39 PM
I'll second the vote for Landshark ( ). I've been lusting after one for several years now. You might also want to check out Richard Sachs. The guy has nearly attained a cult-like following. If you can afford a Seven, you can probably afford Sachs. However, if you ask Sachs to build your bike up for you as well, then be prepared to ride Campy. He won't hang Shimano on his frames. There's a builder in Seattle named Bill Davidson that makes some incredible titanium frames as well (he also does steel). You can check his stuff out at
Try Kelly CyclesBig Mig
Aug 13, 2001 12:24 PM, Chris Kelly builts beautiful custom and production bikes for resonable prices.
Cut to the chase....grzy mnky
Aug 13, 2001 1:35 PM
....go with Serotta. 25 years of expereince says that you can not go wrong. If there's a problem Ben and his company will make it right. People have even had new frames built for free when the shop messed up the sizing. Serotta didn't have to do this, but they did b/c they're committed to YOUR ride.

A friend of mine (also a 5'4" woman) couldn't be more pleased with her custom Serotta. There are many other highly skilled builders, but Serotta has been a worthy benchmark for many of them. Steel or Ti - it's your choice. Going through the fit process is a worthy excercise, but I need to add the "new" disclaimer: the quality of the fit depends on how well you know what works for you and how skilled the fitter is in picking this up. No it's not perfect, but it's a heck of a lot better than just riding around a parking lot - especially since many bikes are sized for men.
Try Diablo, very affordable for qualityChrisV
Aug 13, 2001 1:45 PM
I have a ti frame that Diablo imports, but he fillet brazes steel in a variety of tubing at an incredible price for the level of custom attention that you get. E-mail me at if you are interested and want more info!
Aug 13, 2001 2:43 PM
You're looking at several top frames, and along with the others mentioned here, (Landshark, Serotta, Indy Fab) you can't really go wrong. That said, I have TWO Waterfords, one custom road and one custom cyclocross, and I am VERY VERY happy with both. I've had numerous bikes over the past 15 years, but with the Waterfords, my search for the perfect bike is over.
Aug 13, 2001 4:19 PM
Bob Jackson Cycles stands out as the "original custom builder" having been established in 1935. Before Mr. Jackson's death, the business was turned offer to his partner Donald Thomas, who also is a master frame builder. Customer geometry and any color sheme AT NO EXTRA CHARGE. The construction is always the quality lugged way. The Arrowhead may be the most beautiful bike available today. Suggest you look at the following sites: {I think}. Best wishes!
Richard SachsHank
Aug 13, 2001 5:14 PM
probably the most highly regarded builder of steel frames in the U.S. Not cheap. Classic lugged frames. But I'd check around your local scene. Tons of great builders out there, and it's nice to be able to visit with the builder.
"Best" - is there such a thing?DMoore
Aug 13, 2001 5:22 PM
There are many that are terrific.

Some people (like me) love a beautiful, lugged steel bike for the sheer artisanship involved - the loving handwork, preferably by a single craftsman. On this list are Richard Sachs, Brian Baylis, Bill Holland (I have all 3), Columbine, Erickson, Spectrum (Tom Kellogg), Richard Moon, J.P. Weigle, Della Santa, Eisentraut and Bohemian. These are all one (or two) man operations, all of them producing bikes that are truly works of art. The quality of these bikes is stunning. They're very expensive, and the wait for some can be as long as a year. For a great article on bikes of this genre, see:

Then there are the smaller name, custom frame builders who abound. Some build lugged frames, or filet brazed, while some focus on the quicker TIG welding construction. There are many of them: Simo, Strong, Anvil, Steelman, Landshark, Zinn, Rex, Courtney, Bilenky, Lyon, Hujsak, and others. All build terrific bikes, but for the most part lack the fanatic attention to detail (and consequent price) of the builders listed in the paragraph above.

There are also a number of very well made, semi-production or limited production steel bikes. They are completely functional and well made, and their owners love them. These include Serotta, Seven, Rivendell, Waterford, Independent Fabrications, Ritchey and others. These bikes usually have a stock geometry, but can often be tailored to your individual needs. I've owned a Ritchey - terrific bike, but the fit wasn't quite right for me.

What's best? Well, how much do you want to spend?

If you want a true "name" bike (Richard Sachs, for example) you pay your money and wait your turn. Three years ago, mine took seven months. The bike will be worth every penny, I assure you. But more than likely, if this is the bike you want you'd already know it.

If you don't want to go top $, I would really suggest that you locate custom builders in your area. I live in Southern California, and have a number of builders in this area. I think there's a lot to be said for dealing directly with the person who'll be building your ride. You can get measured in person, and if there are any problems you can deal with them directly. You can also talk face to face about the ride quality you want, the different types of tubing and construction, etc.

Another thought -- narrow your focus to a few builders, and call them. Most frame builders love to talk about their bikes, and you can glean a lot from a few conversations with them. Tell them what you want, listen to their ideas of what you should get. It may be an eye opener.

There are SO many choices, and so many builders capable of building the bike of your dreams. Don't get hung up on finding THE best.

Remember the line in "The Right Stuff" when Gordo Cooper is asked "who's the best pilot you ever met?" After much hemming and hawing, he finally admitted "You're looking at him." After all my hemming and hawing, my final answer to "Which is best?" can only be "Richard Sachs."
"Best" - is there such a thing?badabill
Aug 13, 2001 6:07 PM
Wow! a Sachs and a Holland. You are a true cycle junkie:-)
The list goes onDMoore
Aug 13, 2001 6:58 PM
Don't forget the Brian Baylis, truly on a par with Sachs. And a Litespeed, Two Ciocc's, a Trek and a Santana (MTB). I've love to add Columbine, Richard Moon, Weigle, Mercian... And a Simonetti Scandium or Foco, just to stay in touch with the modern era.

Stop me before I spend again!
"Best" - is there such a thing?Cliff Oates
Aug 13, 2001 7:36 PM
Personally, I'd move Della Santa to your B list. I regularly run into a guy that rides one, but I don't think the quality is at the level of the Landsharks I have seen up close, and definitely not up there with my Waterford.

Moon and Columbine, on the other hand and based on these eyeballs popping out of their sockets, are art. I chatted with a guy riding a Columbine recently. Gorgeous bike, and the frame came in at 3.1 pounds in a 60cm size. $7,000 including the gold plated accents. He bribed his wife with a BIG rock...
The competency of the one who fits you.....tirider
Aug 13, 2001 6:34 PM the most important thing for me. All the bikes you've mentioned are superb but if the shop who fits you has a 16 year old kid doing the fit for a custom frame all is for naught. I live in the Seattle area and chose Seven over Serotta (both which I consider marvelous) because the local Seven dealer (John Gallagher) offered a personalized and time intensive service from his home shop. My Axiom now is an extension of my body. Had I purchased a Legend to the same specs no doubt I'd be just as ecstatic. I'd narrow down which frame material you want and keep a few manufacturers in mind and then find someone to fit you who takes the time to make you comfortable in your choice. It is a bit like choosing a doctor (well...I said "a bit").