Are you tired of buying complete bikes and not loving some of their components?
Maybe the frame is ideal, but the fork and crankset could be of higher quality. You might also just be looking to build your dream bike from scratch.
Learning how to build a bike for the first time has a couple of tricks and secrets. If you’re one of those cyclists who love perfecting their bike and trying out new components, there’s nothing better than assembling it yourself.
Here’s a quick glance at how to build a bike:
- Prep the frame.
- Pass the gear cable housing.
- Cut and attach the fork.
- Install the brakes.
- Attach the derailleur and drivetrain.
- Put on the wheels and the chain.
- Install the seatpost, handlebars and pedals.
It’s really that simple, although it’s not necessarily easy, and you need to get the components ready first…
What Do You Need To Build a Bike?
What you’ll need depends on the type of bike, but these are the basic components for building a bike:
- Seatpost and saddle.
- Headset, stem and handlebars.
- Wheels, tires and tubes.
Learning how to build a bike starts with finding the right frame.
The frameset is the core of your bike, much like the motherboard for a PC, and influences every choice you make after that. Everything else will need to build on your frame choice, so make sure you have the right one.
You have a few options for frame materials, and which one you pick depends on your budget and your preference:
- Aluminum: This bike frame material is affordable, lightweight and won’t corrode easily. Even so, it isn’t the most durable and is harder to fix, while being rigid, transmitting every bump on the road to you.
- Steel: The classic steel bike is heavy and tougher to pedal than aluminum, but absorbs impact well. It’s often the preferred option for mountain bikers and won’t break as easily as aluminum or carbon fiber.
- Carbon: Perfectly suited for road racing, carbon fiber frames are super lightweight and absorb shock well. Carbon frames do tend to have a higher price point.
- Titanium: Titanium frames are a racer’s favorite. They’re lightweight and will last you a long time, but they’re very expensive. If money isn’t an object, a titanium bike will last you a lifetime with the right care.
There are three main options here:
- Mountain: May have suspension frames for extra comfort and a low seating position.
- Road: Tend to be lightweight and designed for speed, with an aerodynamic position and a low handlebar position.
- Hybrids: Thicker, heavier frame and a more upright position that’s designed for comfort.
Other decisions are mostly a matter of personal preference:
- Do you want a horizontal or sloping tube?
- Maybe you prefer a head tube that’s as vertical as possible for easier maneuverability?
Remember that your frame choice will have an impact on other components. Here’s what you should consider:
- Tube width: Your frame tubes need to have a width that’s compatible with your seatpost, fork and other bike parts.
- Brakes: Before you buy a frameset, think about the brakes you want on your bike. If the frameset is designed for rim brakes, you can’t adapt it to disc brakes.
- Tire clearance: Make sure that the tire clearance is big enough for the type of tire you’ll be using. If you intend to ride on fat bike tires, pick the right-size bike frame.
Before you buy a bike frame, it helps to have a clear concept of what you’re looking for.
Do you want a high-speed racer, or maybe a tough touring bike for a longer trip?
You can then consult a professional or the bike frame manufacturer to get their recommendations and make sure the rest of your gear is compatible.
Seatpost and Saddle
The seatpost needs to be the right size for your frame. Check the tube size and compare it to your frame before buying.
As for the saddle, you probably already know how important it is for your comfort on your bike. Bike saddles are usually designed for a specific discipline, and buying the right type of saddle can make your cycling more pleasurable.
For example, you wouldn’t put a wide, double-spring comfort saddle on a mountain bike because they’re made for different bikes and riding positions.
Many commuter and road bike framesets include an integrated fork, so you won’t have to buy one separately. However, when building a bike on your own, you also have the option to get the exact type of fork you want.
Maybe you want to combine a carbon fork with your steel commuter bike to make it lighter. Downhill riders may want a hydraulic suspension fork for better shock absorption on offroad terrain. Again, just make sure the fork fits your frame.
If you’re not sure about what fork would be the right one for your bike, it’s best to go with the one that’s recommended with your frameset. It will give you the best steering control.
Headset, Stem and Handlebars
The headset connects the fork to the frame and comes in many shapes and sizes. Some modern headsets are tapered, so remember to check the size and shape to make sure it’s compatible with your fork and your stem.
The stem connects the headset to your handlebars, and sizing is equally important here. It needs to fit both the headset and the handlebars and be long or short enough so you can reach the handlebars comfortably. Road bikes often have longer stems, while mountain bikes can have barely an inch or two.
One of the most crucial aspects of biking comfort is finding the right handlebars. Most of us have a preferred type, but the most common are straight and drop bars. You may want to go to a bike shop to get the right feel before you buy.
The groupset involves all the mechanical parts needed for braking, shifting and moving your bike forward. What’s included can vary, but there are some basics you’ll need to have.
A typical groupset may include:
- A derailleur or two for the front and back.
- The chain.
- Brakes, brake calipers and levers.
- Gear shifters.
- Cassette and crankset.
- All the necessary cables.
You’ll have to make sure all of these parts fit your bike frame, your specific needs and are compatible with each other.
Groupsets can take a lot of mileage, but they won’t last as long as the bike frame, especially if you cycle a lot. The good thing is that you can replace just the groupset. This can give your bike a boost in effectiveness at a much lower cost than buying a new frame.
Wheels, Tires and Tubes
You can buy your wheels at a bike shop or customize them. This is what you’ll need:
- Inner tubes, unless you’re going tubeless.
The hubs usually come in many different price and quality ranges, while the rims are either aluminum and lightweight carbon fiber rims.
The most important thing when buying wheels is finding the right ones for your purpose and bike type. Remember that they need to have the right size for both your fork and your frameset’s clearance.
You’ll also need the right tire type to match your wheels, as well as the inner tubes. Fast road bikes have thin tires, while mountain bikers have wide ones, but there are many options in between.
Do you like using clipless, flat or hybrid pedals?
Are your cycling shoes made for two or three bolts?
What Tools Do You Need To Build a Bike?
Apart from the basic tools you may have in your bike tool kit, you may need a couple more to build one from scratch.
The exact type of wrenches and screwdrivers you need depends on the bike components, but these are common:
- Torx wrenches.
- Phillips and flat head screwdrivers.
- Allen wrenches.
- Spoke wrenches.
- Chain link tool.
- Cable cutters.
- Pipe cutter.
- Cable routing tool.
How to Build Your Bike Step by Step
So, you’ve got all your bike parts, and you’re ready to get to assembling. Here’s how to go about doing it.
1. Prep the Frame
Lift the frame onto a bike stand if you have one or leave it in a comfortable position on the floor.
You can also use some tape or bike wrap on your frame to protect it from humidity and prevent corrosion. Make sure to do it with care and not leave any air bubbles between the frame and the bike.
If you have a mountain bike frame with moving parts, this is the time to check the bolts in your bike frame for lubrication. Take them out, apply grease if needed, and put them back.
2. Pass the Gear Cable Housing
If your bike frame has internal routing, as some mountain bikes do, it’s easier to pass the gear cable housing before you attach the headset. You have more room to work at this point, so it can save you a lot of time.
Passing the cable internally can be one of the more time-consuming parts of building a bike. If you get stuck, you can buy a cable routing tool with a magnet to get through it much quicker.
The cable routing tool can also be useful later for changing the cables when they stretch. Even if your bike has external routing, changing the cable’s inside can be a pain. The tool makes it a lot easier and quicker, so it’s a good purchase for any cyclist.
23. Cut and Attach the Fork and Headset
It’s time to measure and cut the fork:
- You’ll likely need to cut the excess material off the fork tube. To do this, first insert the fork through the frameset from below.
- Place the headset on top. Headsets tend to have many tiny parts, so make sure you’ve got everything in the right order.
- Measure the right length with the headset in place and mark it.
- Take the headset and fork off the bike.
- Use a pipe cutter to cut the fork, and file the edges, so you don’t cut yourself.
Now you should have a fork with the right length, and it’s time to attach it to the bike:
- Insert the star nut in the fork tube.
- Place the fork back on the bike.
- Put on the headset and the stem. Remember to put on some grease when you insert the fork and headset.
4. Install the Brakes
This is the perfect time to run your brake cables through your frameset if you have internal routing. You can also attach the cable to the levers at this point.
If the routing is external, run the cables along the bike and attach them to the frame with some zip ties, so they don’t move around.
5. Attach the Derailleur and Drivetrain
The derailleur and drivetrain are easy to install, but you’ll likely need to adjust them when your wheels are in place. Here’s how you attach them:
- First, attach your derailleur housing to the frame.
- Install the drivetrain, starting with the bottom bracket that attaches the crankset to the frame.
- Next, install the crankset.
- Attach the derailleur and the shifter.
- Pass the cable from the derailleur to the shifter.
6. Put on the Wheels and the Chain
When learning how to build a bike, remember that you’ll also have to:
- Attach the rotors and the cassette to the wheel.
- Then install it and tighten the bolts.
Next, it’s time to add your chain and cut it to the right length:
- Wrap it around the biggest sprocket and add a couple of extra links.
- Cut the chain with a chain tool.
- Close the chain, either with a new pin or a quick link.
- Rotate the crank arm to make sure the chain tightens.
You can adjust your derailleur and gears when the chain and the cable are in place. Also, adjust the cable housing length so it’s comfortable, but make sure not to cut the cable too short at this point.
7. Install the Seatpost, Handlebars and Pedals
You’re almost done!
Now install the seatpost and the handlebars. Remember that you’ll need to put the gear shifters and hand brake levers in place before inserting the grips.
You may need to cut the handlebars to make them just the right width for you.
In addition, attach the saddle and pedals at this point.
8. Finishing Touches
It’s time to finish up the work and make sure everything runs smoothly.
- Add any accessories you might have, such as a bottle holder or fenders.
- Tape your handlebars if that’s your style.
- Try out the bike to make sure the seatpost height is correct.
- Adjust the brake levers and gear shifters so that they’re in a comfortable position.
- Ensure all your bolts and screws are tight, that the wheels turn naturally and that the gears shift without effort.
- Check the calipers to make sure your brakes are centered, and adjust them if they’re not.
- Make sure your tires are inflated. Also check your spokes to see if you have any loose ones to make sure your wheels are in balance and true them if needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Cheaper To Build Your Own Bicycle?
It may be cheaper to build your own bicycle, depending on the parts you put into it. The thing about customizing a bike is that you can make it truly anything you want. Use expensive parts or ones you already have around your home, and all of those decisions will impact the price.
How Long Does It Take To Build a Bike?
Prepare for a couple of hours of work if you’re about to start building a bike. If you already know your way around your bike and know how to replace chains, tires or adjust gears and brakes, it will be easier.
Is Building a Bike Hard?
Learning how to build a bike isn’t necessarily hard, but it does take some work. The hardest part is buying parts that are compatible with your frame and the rest of your bike. Putting it all together is relatively easy, especially if you already have experience working on your bike and replacing parts.
The Bottom Line
Learning how to build a bike from scratch is the ultimate challenge for cycling fanatics.
Getting everything just right may take a while, and you may even end up switching something up as you go. Still, it’s hugely gratifying to know you’ll have every component just the way you want them.
You won’t know exactly how your bike will ride or what it will look like until you finish, but it’s worth the journey! Component by component, you’ll be able to put together the perfect bike, and you’ll learn more about how your bike works in the process.