At Gophr HQ, we’ve always got a few couriers hanging out in the office. So, we thought we’d ask them for their tips and tricks on building an affordable bike. If you want something reliable, fast and good value there’s no one better to ask. 


Some of our cycle couriers were on the fixed gear thing before it was trendy. Mario and James were in the hot seat for this. They’ve got about 20 years of riding between them, so they’ve gone through a lot of gear. 

Gophr 

“So, you’ve got roughly 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; it’s a 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 2nd-hand brand name frames there.

 

“Hipster shops like Cavendish cycles and Soho Bikes are good. They’ll also track stuff down for you from anywhere. My other tip would be to visit George at Full City. It’s good for a haggle; you never know what you’re gonna find. Most of it is 2nd-hand but it is 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. It 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 currently have, although I kind of want to go back to an edgier, twitchier ride which takes you back into LoPro territory.

 

“Other frames worth checking out are: Brother (around the £400 mark), 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. 

 

Gumtree is always a good spot to try and find a decent bike and sometimes parts. They’re usually 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 2 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. This 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. 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, who’s a gent. 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 used to be great for deals on parts and gear. But, it’s not as busy as it once was and a good proportion of people there have more money than sense. Ask around in 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, like sprockets and chains, etc. The main thing to bear in mind when buying the frame is to make sure you get a fixed gear or single speed frame. It should have horizontal dropouts. The main reason being that you will need 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 a 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. They were originally worth about £200 so I 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.”

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 because 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 2nd-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! 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 be expensive. Stu at Cycle Lab on Pitfield Street is the best wheel builder I know. I met him through BMXing years ago. He’s made my hexagonal rims round again. 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. 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. The other option if you’ve got deeper pockets is 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; they’re £20 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 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 ones are just not worthwhile; you’ll get loads of punctures.”

Mario 

“The other tyre you tend to see quite a bit are Specialized Armadillos which are more expensive 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 seat post nicked recently. I used to secure my Brooks down by tying it to the frame of the bike using a chain and inner tube. Clearly, I need to start doing it again. 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

“Protect your entire bike by wrapping old tyre tubes round it. This 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, my bike is geared near velodrome style really, so set up for a high top speed. But, because I’m always stopping and starting in traffic, sometimes I wish it was geared a bit lower so it’s not as tiring. 

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 makes the bike look less desirable for thieves and protects the paint job when you lock it up. Definitely use it on the top tube. Alternatively, is a canvas wrap which can cost about £20 but can be easily nicked.”

 

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

 

 

If you’re 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.

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 

“The problem with Mini Ds is that 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). Then they end up with their bike getting nicked. You can 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 a 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, if the original owner sees you riding along on their stolen bike, you might get a deserved punch in the face!”

 

 

That’s it. But, if you want more detailed information, go to the wonderful internet archive of cycling knowledge that is Sheldon Brown (it’s like a portal back to 90’s internet design). If you have any questions for our couriers please let us know in the comments and we’ll get an answer for you.

If you’re a bike, motorcycle, car or van courier looking for some work, head to our courier jobs page and we’ll get in touch with you ASAP.