From BMX, to road, to mountain, in one way or another my life has always involved riding bikes. Where I grew up we didn't have a lot money. But we all had bikes. That meant in my neighbourhood if you were not in school, you were out riding somewhere. To us, a bike meant independent freedom. A way to go wherever we wanted. Decades later, I still feel this way about cycling and I'm still dreaming about a perfect bike. Soon I won't have to dream anymore. I'm beyond excited about this post. This begins a multi-part series that will chronicle my experience of building my custom dream bike. It's "The Perfect Project."
Over the past few years I've been fortunate enough to ride some beautiful bikes. All are a pleasure to ride. Each bike has had their own incredible traits and qualities, but none has been perfect. As much as I've loved them, they all have details I would change if I could. So what is the perfect bike for me?. It would be a bike that blends the best traits of my favourite bikes while foreshadowing my needs as life changes over the next 10 years. A tall task for any bike but why custom build it?
Through spending time in and around Blacksmith Cycle here in Toronto I've seen what comes out of the dream bike factory. It's pure joy. Let me explain. What's always struck me most is how happy and excited customers have been with the final product of a custom build. The response is unanimously in favour of custom built being the best way to a perfect ride. It's a process, a journey, a learning experience, and most importantly a rewarding experience that results in a bike that is truly a personal reflection of who you are. Without compromises. To get the perfect bike it must to be custom built.
My relationship with Blacksmith Cycle as a customer, a club member, and a friend of the shop goes back years. Two of the three bikes I'm using as references in the custom build have come from this shop. So the staff are familiar with me and how I ride. That relationship and knowledge base means there is no better partner for the perfect project.
The whole process started with a consultation between master blacksmith Mike Yakubowicz, the owner of Blacksmith Cycle, and myself. It was much more of a conversation really. Mike was genuinely interested in understanding my interests, needs, wants, and intentions in order to make a recommendation. During the consultation the conversation went in every direction with no stone left unturned. Before we ever talked about who would be building it, we walked at length about riding styles, geometries, materials, tube shapes, finishes, build components, and more. This was all about what I liked, and what I wanted my ride to be.
A solid partnership means that both sides are committed and prepared. The more clear and confident about I want, the better Mike will be able to help me. What I'm sure of is that I don't want to end up recreating one of my previous bikes with a better fit. I want something completely different. Something with a fresh personality. A bike that reflects both who I am and how I want to be riding. But I need to be open minded.
One thing that Mike pressed on about was that what I like and want may be different to what I really need. Over time I have become used to a few things and that didn't always mean they are right. That kind of insightful direction is why you work with an experienced custom builder. The personal attention and care is big part of the final product.
At the end of the consultation I left feeling like I had gotten closer to a definite direction than I had ever been before. Now we needed to get me into the shop for a fitting.
It was time start laying out the foundation for my custom built bike. In the week before the appointment I emailed Mike the fit and geometry information for my current and former bikes. These were for my Scapin (full review here), a Pinarello, and a Storck. Each have the same fit setup but are built around very different geometries. Hence why they all ride so differently. Sending these through gave Mike the opportunity to look them over with a fitters eye. When I got to the shop, together we looked past the numbers and at why these bikes fit me, why these bikes don't fit me, how the differing geometries make each bike behave the way they do, and why I like different things about each one. For someone interested in the details, this was incredibly enlightening. Once we covered where I was coming from it was time to focus on where we are going.
Like any good fitting session I spent some time riding my bike on the trainer while Mike checked out my positions and angles. However, what was different about this fitting is that rather than making adjustments to the setup on my current bike, Mike used the Juteau Cantin fit system to translate the changes into custom geometry. Once Mike was happy with the setup on the fit system I moved over and rode again. It felt great, but it needed refinement and that's the beauty of the Juteau Cantin Bike Tool 4. After each ride the setup was tweaked to get me closer and closer to where I need to be. Literally inching our way into the sweet spot for fit and ride characteristics. Mike was adding a little more stack, a little bit less reach, a little more slope, some more angle here, less angle there. You could literally see how the perfect bike was being shaped and forged. After about an hour we had it dialed. The new setup was feeling like the ride I wanted and so the rough measurements were done.
Before leaving, Mike walked me through the geometry he had designed. For a self professed nerd like me this was super exciting. Why? At first glance and compared to what I've been riding, the numbers seemed…. Interesting. Mike helped me understand how each angle and length would contribute to the ride and importantly, how this complete geometry would be working together for me, and only me.
Through the initial consultation and the fitting session I learned a lot. It's been one of the most interesting experiences I've had on or around bikes in a very long time. And it's all just the beginning.
The Next Steps
With a crisp set of geometry specs in hand it was time to engage the builder. Based on what I want and what he had designed, Mike recommended Mosaic Bespoke Cycles from Boulder, Colorado. The builder was sent the geometry specs to get their expertise and perspective. The next step is to have them interpret and tweak the design further. This includes selecting the tubing profiles and sizes that will compliment the geometry and help shape the ride feel. When they send back their revisions, we'll mock it up again on the Juteau Cantin fit system and refine once more until it's perfect. While we wait it's time for me to dream, to plan the build list, gather the components, and think about how I want to put my personality on the bike through finishing. There's a lot more to do.
In part 2 of the chronicle series I'll focus on why Mosaic is the perfect partner, what they've come back with, what we materials they are building with, how it differs from my current and previous rides, as well as what comes next.