How it started – Building a bike, Part 1

This post is part of a series on my bike build:

  1. How it started (this post)
  2. Frameset and forks
  3. Assembling the stem, headset and forks
  4. More assembly
  5. Mission accomplish

Last month I spent a week snowboarding in the French alps. With the end of the trip drawing closer, I found myself thinking what a lot of effort, a lot of money and lot of waiting goes along with these trips. Whilst they are insanely good fun I couldn’t help but think there must be something I can do with a better effort to fun ratio (see, I promised nerdiness). My thoughts were compounded by the fact that my buddy wiped out on the third day, basically writing off the rest of the week for him. Given all the traveling, time, money and effort all concentrated into one week, it’s a lot of proverbial eggs in one basket. And also… 51 weeks is a long time to wait for the next one 😁 .

So it got me wondering, is there something I could do closer to home that maybe doesn’t have the intensity or concentration of thrill, but that I could do frequently, without a massive outlay of expense and flying to a different country? I recently moved to Bath in the West of England. On our doorstep lies a ton of open countryside and so the most obvious answer is of course mountain biking. Not only are there trails locally, I’m also not far from Ashton Court in Bristol, the Forest of Dean, and Wales – all playgrounds for off-road cycling which I can reach within a few hours.

To buy or to build?

I had a gut feeling that a ~£1k budget would get me a pretty decent hardtail. From my initial research this seemed about right. My choice then was to look for a fully assembled bike, or to build one up myself.

My first job as a teenager was working at (look away now brand snobs!) Halfords, building and repairing bikes, so I kind of know my way round most of the components. I’ve also got a bike stand and fair amount of tools kicking around at home. So I thought, “why don’t I build this thing myself?”. Well, here are some things that put me off that idea:

  • SO MUCH CHOICE – seriously. It’s hard enough trying to compare fully-built bikes, let alone figure out every component, read reviews, making sure it’s compatible with all the other things I’ve bought, and making sure I don’t get ripped off.
  • My knowledge is nearly a decade out of date and the industry has moved on. There are new technologies, new standards, new best practices, new terminology. Two new wheel sizes?!
  • I’d probably need some expensive specialised tools (headset press, bottom bracket, cassette) and some generic ones that I don’t yet have (torque wrench).

Pre-built options

There are some really solid looking bikes out there for a grand, and I strongly considered the following:

One thing that really fucked me off while I was trying to research these bikes was the perpetual obsolescence of the models. I get it – the brands need customers, in order to generate customers the they need to generate hype via magazines and websites reviewing their gear. In order for magazines and websites to want to review something, it’s got to be "new". So brands are incentivised to discontinue whole product lines, stick new paintjobs on them, give them new names and market the hell out of them. I found a really sweet configuration of a 2016 Marin Nail Trail at an amazing price point, which had great reviews. All gone, and product discontinued 😠 .


So the obvious conclusion is that I’ve a decided to build this thing myself through a combination of:

  • my stubbornness and cynicism preventing me from wanting to buy a "2017" bike
  • there’s more likely to be 2015-2016 components in stock than entire bikes, and potentially some deals to be had
  • a little encouragement from Ben
  • the fact I’m a geek and like assembling physical things
  • spreading the cost of the build over a few months will make it feel cheaper and easier on the wallet than a single lump sum
  • building it myself from scratch means I’ll know exactly how to adjust/service it

Stay tuned for updates. I’m going to cover the build in great detail from purchasing bits to assembling it.


Ben Gourley

Ben Gourley