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At Gophr HQ we’ve always got a few couriers hanging out in the office so we thought we’d ask them for their hints and tips on building an affordable bike. If you want something reliable, fast and good value there’s no one better to ask. And they were on the fixed gear thing before it was trendy. Mario and James were in the hot seat for this. They’ve got close to 15 years of riding between them so they’ve gone through a lot of gear. If you have any questions for them or the rest of the couriers who work with us please let us know in the comments or via the medium of the Twitterverse and we’ll come back to you with an answer. If it ever takes off we might even make it a regular thing.  

Gophr So, you’ve roughly got around 500 quid to buy parts and build a bike. Where do you start?  

Mario …start with the frame obviously

 

FRAME

 

Mario First port of call would be eBay for me. You never know what you’re gonna find there but there are some real gems available. If you find a GT track frame; buy it. Or a Cannondale aluminium classic. Cinelli is ok but wouldn’t be my preference – bit expensive and a magnet for thieves. You can also get frames on eBay that are manufactured in the same factory in China as Cannondales and are effectively the same thing. They sell the stickers separately so they don’t get into trouble. It’s pretty much the real thing, sold under the table.

Other than eBay, check Brick Lane Bikes: they’ve got a good selection of 2nd hand frames. Although their own branded stuff is okay, I’d go for the second hand brand name frames there.

Cavendish cycles and Soho Bikes are good, those kind of hipstery shops. They’ll also track down stuff for you from anywhere although it might take them a while to secure. My other tip would of course be George at Full City: good for a haggle, you never know what you’re gonna find as they have tons of bits and pieces. Most of it second hand but you know will be properly checked for reliability and durability.

A Leader Classic frame is my go-to frame for around £250. The Leader LoPro is more of a track frame but still good, doesn’t have any holes drilled in it for brakes so if you want those and a ride that’s a bit more forgiving then go Classic. That’s what I’m currently running have although I’m kind of wanting to go back to an edgier, twichier ride which takes you back into LoPro territory.

Other frames worth checking out are Brother around the £400 and Charge which you can get lower end versions of if you are on a smaller budget.  

James Yeah Brother is good, you might be able to pick one up for around £400 or less. If you are going aluminium I’d suggest Dolan which you can pick up new at the entry range for around £200 quid or second hand for around £50 on eBay if you’re lucky.

Gumtree is always a good spot to try and find decent to good bikes – and sometimes parts – being sold by people who don’t necessarily know what they’re selling. I guess it’s only really useful if you know what exactly you’re looking for – I got two bikes for around £150 in the past but you do stand the chance of getting ripped off as it’s Gumtree. Check it before you ride off, if you don’t know what you are looking for go with someone who does. The first courier bike I bought came from Gumtree and I didn’t know what I was looking for which had me finding out the brakes didn’t work halfway down the road. I had to cycle across London with no brakes and by the end of it I was pretty certain I’d make it as a courier!

George at Full City. Go to him if you need anything really, you won’t find anyone in London with more knowledge of bikes and everyone in there is very welcoming and will take really good care of you.

If you’ve got loads of money go to Cloud 9. The owner is called Adam, he’s a gent and they have a great selection of stuff that you can you can actually see and feel for yourself. There are some great bike shops in London but some of them are a bit like museums where you can’t really touch anything and there’s little variety.

LFGSS isn’t as great as it once was for deals on parts and gear as it’s not as busy as it once was apparently and a good proportion of people on there have more money than sense. Ask around on there anyway as it’s worth a go and the people I’ve met have been really nice. I generally try to avoid buying anything new, unless it has to be new like sprockets and chains etc.

The main thing to bear in mind when buying the frame itself is to make sure you get a fixed gear or single speed frame, it should have horizontal dropouts. Main reason being that you will need to to pull the rear wheel back over time as the chain ‘stretches’. If the frame doesn’t have horizontal dropouts you won’t be able to move the rear back to tighten it up over time. Also, get a short frame with short rear triangle and a nice and short stem if you wanna whip your bike around a bit, which is better for traffic.  

This is what a horizontal dropout looks like

 

FORKS AND BARS

 

Mario My preference is for a straight bar with super chunky grips, I bought mine from a mountain bike shop and then just chopped them down.

Fork wise I paid £40 for Pro-Lite carbon forks from Brick Lane cycles which were worth about £200 so got a good deal there. Easton carbon forks are also highly rated and I have a set of those too which I bought from another courier for 40 quid. I’m selling them, if you want them get in touch.

James I’m not a fan of carbon forks, I crash too much to have them and when I do it’s like having shards of glass pointing up at you. Mario Yeah, if you ride brakeless just buy a cheap front-end cos you’ll be writing it off soon enough.

James True. It really depends on the quality of the carbon fibre, you get what you pay for I suppose. Bar wise I’ve tried all types but I’m currently on drops which I got for a tenner out of the second hand basket and they’ve been fine so far. I use BMX grips on those as I find they’re comfier and last longer than bar tape.

 

WHEELS

 

Mario Build your own, yep. Rims, spokes, hubs and nipples. Build them yourself or go to someone who knows how. At Condor cycles you can pick your own hubs and bearings..

James There’s a real art to wheel building. It’s easy to learn and hard to master. Personally I don’t really go near it and getting it done can get expensive. Stu at Cycle Lab on Pitfield Street is the best wheel builder I know. I met him through BMXing years ago and he’s made hexagonal rims round again for me.  The easiest route is to just get an all-in-one solution like Halo Aero wheels, 85-90 for the rear wheel, 80 for the front. They’re of a good standard. Loads of couriers use them.

Mario I build my own wheels because I want to choose the most durable hubs. I need the lightest rims for speed but if you want it to take a beating on the kerbs and on the road get yourself a heavy set of rims. With super heavy rims you can hit black cabs all day, which you probably will because you can’t stop. They’re not the best for learning how to skid either – you’ll never stop yourself.

Main thing to remember: get a good hub and protect your bearings. Avoid System-Ex hubs – forget anything with exposed bearings as they won’t last 5 seconds. You’ll spend your time replacing them as water gets at the bearing cartridges and destroys them. Personal preference is Goldtec.

James Goldtec are definitely a good choice. The other option if you’ve got deeper pockets are Phil Woods Hubs. Loads of money but they roll, and roll, and roll.

Mario …yeah, they’re ridiculous. If you buy Phil Woods make sure you don’t clean them or someone will nick them pretty sharpish. Couriers who have them make sure they are caked in shit so they are unrecognisable.

 

See the red bit? That’s an exposed bearing cartridge. Avoid these.

 

TYRES

 

Mario Everyone buys Schwalbe Marathon tyres, 20 pounds each – buy them at the start of the year and don’t change them. They ride slow and are heavy but you never get a puncture.

James Yeah, a lot of people use them because of their durability but they’re a like sponges. It’s like riding in treacle. Good for comfort and punctures, but bad for speed.

Mario Then you’ve got Gatorskins by Continental which are a little more expensive and slicker which means faster with less grip

James … but they have to be the ‘Hard Shell’ ones as the normal are just not worthwhile as you will get loads of punctures.

Mario And the other tyre you tend to see quite a bit are Specialized Armadillos which are more expensive again as they’re light and covered with Kevlar.

James When I started riding Armadillos were THE go-to tyre but they changed the compound so they’re not half as good. I’m running Schwalbe Durano Plus at the moment. They’re a good compromise cos I think I’m getting old.

 

SADDLE 

 

Mario For the seat just get a BMX seat – it’ll outlast you and possibly even your grandkids. Those things could survive an apocalypse. I like Specialized seats but I break them all the time and have to change them constantly.

James I used to buy Brooks, but now I go Pro Logo ‘cos they’re really comfy. Brooks saddles will eat your shorts and they’re guaranteed theft items. Every pikey knows they’re worth money. They’ve gone up in price by about £50 in 5 years and you’ve gotta wear them in like a pair of shoes. So Pro logo all the way for me; bloody comfortable, nice material, doesn’t look too flash and wears well.

I’ve had my saddle and seatpost nicked recently, I used to do this with my Brooks but clearly I need to start doing it again, which is securing the whole lot down by tying it to the frame of the bike using a chain and inner tube. By using the inner tube around the chain it protects it from the elements and stops it from scratching the paint on the frame. You can also tension it with the inner tube so it doesn’t rattle as much. It doesn’t look great but it does the job.  

A saddle lock option you can buy off the shelf. You can make your own with a chain and inner tube.

 

MORE TIPS 

 

Mario …I’ll build on that; protect your entire bike by wrapping old tyre tubes round it, stops it from getting scratches and hides desirable brand names – I haven’t had a bike stolen for 9 years – wrap black tape over the branding too.

Gear your bike low, in high cadence so you get quick acceleration. Personally, mine is geared high but because I’m always stopping and starting in traffic so sometimes I wish it was geared a bit lower so it’s not as tiring. My bike is geared near velodrome style really, so set up for a high top speed.

James When you buy a new bike it’s worth taking the stickers off if you can. If you can’t, use gaffer tape which has the added bonus of making the bike look less desirable for thieves and protects the paint job when you lock it up. Definitely use it on the top tube. Alternative is a canvas wrap which can cost about £20 but can be easily knicked.  

A canvas top tube wrap made by a company called Tunnel Vision, set up by Marco, a London bicycle courier

 

If you are not prepared to commit to fixed gear but you want to try it out get a flip flop rear wheel so you can literally turn the wheel around to change it from fixed gear to single speed in minutes.

A personal opinion on frames; you don’t want aluminium you want steel: steel is stronger, aluminium is has more flex, is generally weaker and dents easily.

Mario You’ve got that completely the wrong way around

[Gophr – this kicked off a whole argument around the which flexes most, steel or aluminium – Mario was in the steel camp …can’t remember how it ended but not sure it was resolved]

Gophr And what about locks to secure this bike you’ve just built?

 

LOCKS …AND SOME GENERAL ADVICE ON LIFE

 

Mario Kryptonite Mini D all day long. The Hiplock Mini is also proving popular; I have one of those at home too but don’t really use it.

James Problem with Mini D’s you need to look for somewhere to lock them, so a lot of people end up frustrated and free lock them (locking the wheel to the inside of the frame) and end up getting their bike nicked. You can also open them up pretty easily with a scaffolding pole anyway. You used to be able to open them up with a biro. My preference is for Abus cable locks, they are a nightmare to cut through as they’re too big for bolt cutters – you probably shouldn’t quote me on that as some thief might end up proving me wrong. On the upside they fit comfortably around your waist too.

With any lock you should be looking to spend at least 70 quid. It’s not worth skimping. And FFS don’t buy quick release anything.

One last thing: please don’t ever buy a stolen bike, or parts; putting aside the huge amount of bad karma, it keeps the stolen bikes parts industry going. Plus, you could be riding along one day on your stolen bike, enjoying your day, before being interrupted by the original owner who you won’t recognise, coming out of nowhere and deservedly punching you in the face.  
 

That’s it. Another tip we got afterwards from the guys; if you want more painstakingly detailed information go to the wonderful internet archive (quite literally, it’s like a portal back to 90’s internet design) of cycling knowledge that is Sheldon Brown    

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