It all started when I bought my first real mountain bike in 1997, first it was the addition of the anodized purple components, then grips, then riser handlebars (with compulsory cross brace), then different qr axles, then tyres etc., you get the drift. Luckily the trend of using purple anodised components eventually died out, however, the need in me to upgrade and swap components is still very much alive.
Maybe I am a sucker for marketing hype, but after a while, once you learn about the benefits of the latest groupset or suspension fork, or possibly have doubt that the kit you are using may not be the best for you, you cannot do without them. You could call it custom tuning. You could call it insanity messing with a formula that the bike maker specified.
Whilst writing this, I thought about my bike history since I started riding mountain bikes in 1997 *. Maybe I have owned more bikes than many people have had relationships. As well as building the best bike possible, the enjoyment I get out of speccing, problem solving and building these bikes is immense. Obviously there is some pride involved but I also get immense satisfaction once they’re finished and ready for the inaugural ride.
* see bike list on separate page
This probably drives some of the logic behind my bike addiction. Many of these bikes were bought as frames on ebay or from friends, and the components normally lasted longer than my ownership of the frame. The best components follow you from bike to bike. In more recent years once the fox forks and xtr groupset had won me over, my bike buying and building philosophy has changed somewhat. I now look for end of year bargain bikes at discounted prices, with the lowest spec components possible. Primarily I just want the frame, but these bikes are often less for the entire bike than you would pay for the frameset. Unwanted kit is either offloaded on ebay or trickled down to bikes for family members.
This concept is the complete polar opposite to what a lot of people do. They want the best bike, and think that their hard earned cash is better spent on the top of the line model possible. Best components, best fit, strongest, lightest, best function right ? Not totally wrong, but also not as right as people think.
Every bike manufacturer builds bikes at a price point. This point and the desired position in the market against the competitors is what drives the total selection of components. Many OEM or own brand components may also be used to save money. That is great if you want a bike at a certain price point with a few comprimises built in.
I personally want the best bike I can possibly build. This includes the lightest bike, with the best suspension, brakes, gears, most comfortable fit and the best suited to my every need. Even the top of the range bikes will not tick all of these boxes. Many people do the same as me although they often end up with complete frankenbikes. I try to make my builds look standard, more of a development of rather than a total makeover.
Occasionally I want to perform a modification that is not available in the market to be purchased or for the bike I own. These mods usually follow an idea I have been given by seeing something on a brand new bike or component. Examples of these are frame protection using highly malluable aluminium flashing, or diy internal cables on frames that did not originally have this.
This approach is not for everyone. Many people are happy with their bikes in stock form, and even replace the tyres with identical ones that the bike came with originally. They tend to buy a bike and not change any components (including stems or handlebars) because they think that the bike manufacturers must know what they are doing. If they do not use a shorter stem or carbon bars, why should I ? And that is fine.
Another thing I often do is put a better quality and often slightly longer fork on a frame than it comes with. People often talk about warranty with this mod, but most frames are designed to use a maximum crown to axle length. Beyond this and the leverage of the fork is too much for the frame and could introduce addtional stress to the head tube/downtube junction. The crown to axle length varies greatly between fork manufacturers (as can crown offset with some brands). I normally work within this figure, but often end up with an Evo or SX type bike build (longer fork travel than rear suspension travel). On at least two occasions I have done this at the same time I have read that the sponsored athletes are running the same set ups on their bikes. Low and behold, one or two years later the bike brands produce their own version of this setup using an identical frame that I started with !
I told a friend this recently who wanted to build an Anthem 27.5 in the same set up that I run with a 120mm fork (100mm rear). I do not think he believed me when I said hold back and see what Giant do. In the 2015 line up they have produced an Anthem SX, which looks mighty similar to what I had a year ago. He ended up buying one and loves the bike. The best thing is, he can have the build that was how this bike should have been created originally, the same as my own, but his is stock as opposed to my own very custom version 🙂
A year ago, I bought a road bike to use for commuting and training. I managed to keep it standard for a while, with just gel inserts on handlebars, new saddle etc. Then came the pro lite wheels and ideas for future upgrades. Realising that this bike frame would only take me so far the latest project idea came along. A disc brake shod carbon road bike. After research I knew what I wanted. Bottom spec bike bought very cheaply with huge discount, and now the upgrades and component research / speccing begins. The only difference this time, is I have to be cash neutral as we have a baby on the way :). Lets just say that Ebay and Gumtree are getting a good workout at the moment
My advice – You certainly dont have to modify your bike to enjoy it. However, if you want to brake later, go faster, steer quicker, grip more, be more comfortable, and the list goes on, then don’t be afraid. Research, ask questions, work out if it fits and buy it. It will stop you wanting that next bike for longer if you can make your current steed the bike of your dreams.
Happy riding !