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September 1, 2016

Considering a Custom Bicycle: Pros and Cons

As we are in the custom bicycle business, we get a lot of questions about the pros and cons of buying custom. And to keep things up front and transparent, let us state for the record that there is little in this brief review that is, shall we say, unbiased. Nevertheless we will attempt to answer the most frequently heard questions here. 

1. Why should I go through the trouble of buying custom when I can buy from a local bike shop today?

Pro: We encourage clients to test ride as many bikes as possible from local bike shops, and if they find what they are looking for, with a good fit, to go ahead and buy it. Bottom line, if you want a bike today, a dealership bike shop is the way to go.

Con: Bike shops are dealerships that stay in business by selling brand bicycles in volume. You are likely to hear that brand X is the best brand for you, and that the fit is just fine, you only need to get used to the bike. Fact is most shops are restricted by manufacturers from any but the most minor fit modifications. Finally, you will pay a premium for mediocre components, as this is how manufacturers keep their suggested retail prices reasonable.

"Bike shops are dealerships that stay in business by selling bicycles in volume. You are likely to hear that brand X is the best brand for you..."

2. If it is not a custom built frame, then how it is custom?

Pro: Evo does not build bicycle frames. Frame building is a time honored tradition and a unique skill set in the world of custom bicycles. The products are both unique and expensive, often more than an entire comparable bicycle. Evo builds custom bikes that are (1) precisely fit to your physical parameters and abilities, (2) fitted with components that work for your budget and your cycling goals, and (3) at a price point similar to comparable dealership bicycles.

Con: Even in the digital age of production with so many sizes and styles of frame to choose from, it is possible there may still be none that precisely fits you. In this case, we will recommend one of the semi-custom frame builders doing outstanding work today. But this situation is extremely rare.

3. Why is a custom fitting different from a traditional bike shop fitting?

Pro: The fit process at Evo is integrated into the build. We begin with frame fitting to determine the best possible frame size and geometry for your physical form and riding style. Then the bike is structurally assembled (few components, steer tube uncut, etc.), and another fitting performed to fine tune things like height and angle of the handlebar, stem length, and crank arm length. We'll also dial in the riding position you need to meet your cycling goals. 

Con: There is nothing wrong with a "fit studio" fitting from a bike shop. While impressive, the result is a set of static numbers that are then used to find the "best match" of the dealership's bicycles. Frame goemetries are selected by manufacturers and they are all different. The bike shop cannot send you to another dealership for a different brand of bicycle.

4. Which frame material is best: aluminum, steel, carbon or titanium?

Pro: Asking this question is a very good first step. The answer depends on the kind of cycling you hope to do on your new bike, and on the ride quality you desire. Weight is another important consideration.

Con: There is no "best" material. The decision is more about ride quality, budget and cycling goals. Manufacturers today offer road and hybrid bikes in aluminum because it is a low-cost material and good for the bottom line. Carbon is more costly, but also stronger and lighter than aluminum. Except for entry level models, road and mountain bikes in recent years are almost exclusively carbon frames. Touring bikes are still primarily steel frames, but the new Reynolds steel alloys are dramatically lighter than the old steel. As for ride quality, we describe carbon frames as midway between steel and aluminum, offering the better qualities of each.

5. Are imported carbon frames poorly made cheap knockoffs? 

Pro: This would be a another good question if framed a bit differently. The fact is any bicycle frame may be poorly made, and a poor choice. But we have heard a lot recently from certain industry promoters about the cheap carbon frame "knockoffs" coming from China. For bicycle components as with many things, it is best to stick with reputable suppliers. Beware of branded carbon frames coming from China or anywhere but the named manufacturers, as many of these are counterfeit products of dubious quality.

"This debate is much like the early doubts about generic pharmaceuticals. Do you avoid generic drugs?"

Con: First, almost all carbon bicycle frames are imported, and almost all are from China. China is the world's largest supplier of aerospace composite materials; bicycle frames are merely byproducts of the aerospace industry. Quality carbon frames are designed using "generic molds" and materials based on the most successful manufacturers' bicycles, and mostly come from the very same factories as their name brand counterparts. So why are these so much less expensive? Well, there is the cost for paint and graphic designs, and the costs of marketing and distribution. This debate is much like the early doubts about generic pharmaceuticals. Do you avoid generic drugs?

January 10, 2015

Vintage Bicycle Old or New?

When is an old bike no longer just old, but vintage? What is necessary in order to attain the status of vintage? And who decides? According to Quora.com, there are roughly 100 million bicycles in the U.S. and one billion worldwide. How many of these are vintage bikes? And how many more may be stashed in garages, basements or barns, dating from the time of our grandparents, and not counted?

A little research into vintage bicycle circles quickly turns up certain controversies regarding what makes a bike vintage, or not. First, a bicycle must be at least 30-50 years old in order to be considered "vintage." Newer models, as in this website, are sometimes classified as "retro" or "classic," depending on the bike's status, popularity or uniqueness. Second, a vintage bicycle must be original, or as close to "original" as possible, with few if any modifications or upgrades. Third, if a vintage bicycle is restored, then it must be restored mechanically as a fully functional bike, that is, one must be able to ride it in a fashion not unlike its original riders. Finally, a bicycle may be considered vintage without restoration, say for example, a heavily rusted 1950 Raleigh Lady Sport.

"So 'vintage' and 'restoration' are like estranged bedfellows when it comes to old bicycles. They interact only hesitantly and never quite certain of the desired outcome."

The process of restoration also comes with controversy. If a vintage bicycle is "restored" properly, then only original components and parts may be used, or alternatively, all original parts may be rebuilt or reconditioned and returned to the finest operational and aesthetic standards. This definition excludes such repair options as upgraded components, replacement body work and paint. Yes, that's right, a vintage bike may not be painted if it is to retain its "vintage" status. Restorers and collectors want to see the patina of original factory paint, even if it is rusted, pitted or discolored with time. So "vintage" and "restoration" are like estranged bedfellows when it comes to old bicycles. They interact only hesitantly and never quite certain of the desired outcome.

1950 Raleigh Lady Sports Tourist, before and after 2014 restoration.

Are there any exceptions? Well possibly. New replacement ball bearings? A few new spokes? New tires? A bolt here or there? Maybe.

"After all, when the bike was 10 or 15 years old, and in need of repair, no one yet thought of it as 'vintage' - it was merely old." 

Of course the real problem is determining what is "original?" A bicycle that is, say, 64 years old may have been serviced or repaired dozens times, including replacement parts and other vintage forbidden fruit. After all, when the bike was 10 or 15 years old, and in need of repair, no one yet thought of it as "vintage" - it was merely old. So serious restorers refer to manufacturer specifications and catalog illustrations in order to separate the vintage from the oddball replacement parts, and then return the bike to its original "off the factory floor" state. At the risk of trampling on hallowed ground, let me just state that this is a dubious practice at best.

Let's summarize. A bicycle is vintage because it is old and in "original" condition, or close to it. And presumably it has seen a lot of riding, in most cases this will be true. A lot of riding means repairs and possibly upgrades to keep the bike rolling. The bike was not "vintage" when it was new. It is only considered vintage later, after serving a long life on the road. Following me? So then the very idea of "vintage" is related to how much use the bike has seen, and how various technicians along the way have had to repair or replace equipment as needed. Perhaps a better way to think about restoration is to recondition a bicycle so that it retains all of its vintage history and becomes operationally functional again.

"Vintage history" may include repairs and replacement parts provided along the way. For example, a bike technician in 1962 needing replacement parts for a 1950 Raleigh would have likely used 1962 components. But it is also true that "vintage history" includes wear and tear from normal use, including rust and faded paint, bent wheels and damaged fenders from minor mishaps. Does it not follow that "vintage history" may also encompass the process of restoration itself? What is the difference between a 1962 replacement part installed in 1962 and the same part installed in 2014?

"What is the difference between a 1962 replacement part installed in 1962 and the same part installed in 2014?" 

By the way, the most conservative restorers may take years to restore a vintage bicycle to its most pristine, original condition, and at considerable expense. But even the most diehard restoration enthusiasts will admit that some old bikes have been abused and forgotten, rusted and broken, and are unlikely candidates for restoration in the purest sense. Yet all of these bikes are vintage, and who is to say which shall be reclaimed from the dump and restored as a functional bicycle?









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Verified Terran Owner:

"The first time I had this bike on the trail, I realized why custom built matters. The bike is a work of art. It accelerates like a rocket especially our of turns and climbs like a mountain goat."

Verified Lumin R Owner:

"I definitely appreciate Vic's professionalism and expertise as a bike builder. My experience with him during the entire process was pleasant and seamless! He communicated effectively during every stage of the build as well as the overall process through to completion. My custom bike is a treat to ride and race!! I will definitely reach out to Evo when it's time for the next bike build."


Restored 1950 Raleigh Lady Sports Tourist
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