I've been on a quest to get a custom bike built for the last two years and I'm proud to say my project is finally complete. Why did it take me two years? It wasn't the budget or my interest in getting the bike built. For me it was all about finding the right builder to help me complete my vision. The builder had to be one that was more than just an accomplished frame builder. They had to be one that I could connect with. That truly understood what I was trying to accomplish. In my opinion, getting a custom bike built is as much about the person building the bike as it is the finished product. Below is a quick summary of my build and a few tips I learned along the way.
On my adventure to get my first custom bike built I was introduced to a few custom builders that for one reason or another I just didn't feel like I could work with. I don't know if it was personalities or my own high expectations but I never quite felt comfortable starting my bike project with any of these builders.
Tip #1: I suggest that you get a rough idea on what build you want to do and have a list of expectations that you want from the builder and to start doing your research to find the right builder.
Tip #2: Don't settle on the first builder you meet. A custom bike should last you a lifetime. There's no reason to rush into things.
As mentioned earlier, it took me about two years to find the right person to do my build and when I finally met him it was in a totally unexpected place. This summer I was working the Fyxation booth at the Downer Classic Crit Race when I was introduced to a guy named Paul Reardon. It turns out Paul is the owner of Blue Steel Fabrication out of La Crosse, Wisconsin where he does everything from patching cracked frames on older bikes to building bikes by hand that are truly one of a kind. After talking for a while Paul and I really hit it off and we started a discussion which evolved into us putting together the plans that finally led to my custom bike getting built.
Paul started Blue Steel Fabrications about 4 years ago and while it's not his full time gig yet, he hopes that he can eventually make Blue Steel his full time profession. Paul has been in the bike industry for over 20 years and is still very passionate about cycling and about the work he creates. He definitely makes sure that it’s exactly the bike you want and he's willing to teach you things along the way. An example of this was how it took us about a month just to figure how the seat tube would look when connecting it onto the seat collar. He would send me a picture of a sample every few days to see what I thought. After a few samples and some conversation we figured out the final product. It was this attention to detail that defined this project.
Tip #3: Don't be afraid to ask to be involved. Don't just have someone take a few measurements and a down payment and 8 weeks later send you a new bike by FedEx. Ask questions. Learn as much as you can.
Everyday conversation was normal for us, Paul would send me pictures of what he was up to and how things were coming along. I never felt out of the loop or curious about what was going on which is a great feeling since I live three hours away from his workshop. I always wanted to build my own bike from scratch, but knew I would never have time to learn how to do it myself so with my custom build I really wanted to see how bikes were made and to maybe do a little hands on work with my bike in the process. I was able to get out to La Crosse twice during this project to see Paul while my bike was being built which made me feel like it was truly my bike. While on these visits he taught me a little about brazing and I was even able to help out with some aspects of the build.
Getting a custom bike isn't the type of thing that happens everyday so its good to find a builder that you can collaborate with and discuss the ideas that you have for your bike and what your overall vision is. Hopefully the builder has been around the block a few times and can use that knowledge to take your ideas and turn them into a bike that blows you away and far exceeds your expectations. Working with Paul was a great experience that I would recommend to anyone and I really feel fortunate to have worked with him on this project.
The evolution of the build was great to see and I highly recommend you do it as well. Going from an idea in your head, to a blue print, then picking out the tubing and finally seeing the final product being made was an awesome experience. I am very thankful I got to meet Paul and am stoked I was able to be a part of the build along the way.
The cost of the bike you see above for frame and fork was $1,400 without paint. The bike is made with Columbus SL Steel tubing, Cinelli Lugs and Llewellyn Stainless dropout. To see what Paul is up to or to reach out to him visit is Face Book page at: https://www.facebook.com/BlueSteelFabrication. Check back to see the bike after it's painted and fully built to ride.