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?