There is something about assembling your own bicycle that makes riding it that much more fun. If you have the time, and the willingness to learn, you can search the classifieds, Craigslist, eBay, and especially garage sales and find something truly unique and often times cheap.
The easiest type of bike to fix up or just create, is a single-speed or fixed gear. They are much more simple bikes as both the single-speed and fixed gear…have only one gear. Fewer moving parts means fewer potential problems, which means you need to know less and can focus on just riding. The parts you will need to find in an actual shop to complete a build after you find a good frame and fork are typically pretty low cost, and easy to find. If you don’t want to take the time to search the streets for that rare bike you always dreamed of, then I recommend taking a trip around the internet to design your own ride.
In truth, while shopping local is the way to go if you are already well versed in bike maintenance and repair, if you just want choose colors and then assemble the parts, then buying from sites online offers you a much easier time. Rather than discovering how a rear wheel and cassette works so that you can either take one apart to make a fixed gear, or how to use a derailleur as a chain tensioner…you can just pick out an awesome looking (and typically extremely cost effective) wheel set built for a fixed gear or single-speed. Most often you will find what are called flip-flop hubs, that allow you to switch from single-speed to fixed gear just by flopping your rear wheel and moving the chain.
The largest and most costly and critical pieces to purchase when considering building a bike are the frame and fork (often they come together) followed by the wheel set. State Bicycle and PureFix are easily the best sites online to find a variety of different looking parts for your bike, including the important pieces mentioned above. State offers classy frames but more importantly a variety of wheels and even specialized forks constructed to withstand the occasional trick or two (known colloquially as fgfs gear). State’s wheel sets come in a variety of colors and include flip-flop hubs for the rear wheel. They come pre-built (which means they include the spokes already). This is surprisingly something that many companies will not do for you upon purchasing wheels. State also offers the ability to purchase just one wheel at a time if you like to mix and match. For your money, the wheel sets at State are about the tops for city riding.
Once you pick out your wheel set now you can head over to PureFix to gather the other important parts, including a frame. State offers a quality frame as well, though PureFix has a larger variety of colors, including a completely glow-in-the-dark frame. PureFix offers you the ability to have a couple other critical parts installed with your frame and fork when you order them. For around an additional $30 you can include a bottom bracket, which is what allows you to put cranks and pedals on your bike (slightly important) as well as a headset that allows you to properly install a fork (which is also mildly important). Side note, I use ellipses to represent sarcasm.
If you are feeling very creative and would like to step up the quality of your frame, head on over to Wyatt Bikes, purveyors of fine single-speed bikes. They typically only sell complete single-speed bikes, but if you ask nicely they will give you one hell of a deal on their beautiful, hand-painted frames. These frames have a brilliant look that will set your bike apart from those offered by State or PureFix. I currently commute to work every day on a Wyatt frame and not only do I get compliments on it constantly, but it really takes the abuse of daily riding well. The powder coated paint job ensures when I tie up to a rack I don’t have to worry about scratches. If you are willing to spend a little extra, Wyatt is your the choice for you when it comes to frames.
So you have a frame, fork, and a wheel set, and now it’s time to pick out the remaining pieces. Heading back to State Bicycle, you will find the best options for drive train set-ups. Obviously you need pedals and cogs, and State have you covered. This company even offers a variety of colors in their cranks and gears. Choose from their variety of options and bask in the glow of your decision. Heading back to PureFix will get you the rest of the way on your build. Pick up a break system, seat post, saddle, chain and handle bars of your preferred style (they offer a wide variety). PureFix even gives you the option of ordering tubes and tires for your wheels so you’ll be ready to roll.
Now all you have to do is assemble the pieces and enjoy your ride…
I know, I know, you don’t even know where to start! In the interest of not boring you to tears, I’m going to pause this discussion for another time when we can focus specifically on putting the pieces together. If you get excited and start working on your build on your own, feel free to email or tweet me specific questions. It is worth noting that both State Bicycle, PureFix, and Wyatt Bikes do all offer complete builds that require little to no work to assemble at all. If you prefer to do things the quick way, they all are quite fair in price. Whatever you do… stay out of the big box stores. Most people that assemble bikes for big box stores are paid by the bike depending on how many they assemble a day…so you can imagine that occasionally corners are cut to save time.