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For gravel/road (40/60): steel vs titanium

Old 06-14-21, 07:52 PM
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Jburrow
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For gravel/road (40/60): steel vs titanium

Hello all!

I am cross shopping several bikes and shops. My wife and I would end up riding 60-70% pavement and 30-40% gravel and trail. We might do some light bike packing also.

We are both fans of Giant with regard to Carbon - our LBS is a giant dealer. We have looked and studied for a while now and determined that we would love to go with a semi-custom/custom option: breadwinner, Waterford, and Gunnar have our eyes.

however, we also liked the idea of entertaining titanium. But, I do not know if there is anything better or worse about a titanium bike vs a high quality steel one.

We do think there is merit to the whole planing idea Jan puts out. Something with some liveliness is ideal - nothing too stiff but not too squishy.

our budget stretches from $4k-$7k on the extreme end for completed bikes.

thoughts on titanium vs steel? And, if indeed titanium is optimal (if that is your opinion), what shops should we look at? Mosaic and Moots are on the radar.
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Old 06-14-21, 08:01 PM
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<------Well I'm a bit biased.

Any of the above will make a drool worthy steed. The nice thing about ti, you don't need to worry about mucking up paint or rust etc. Going custom--you're looking at $4,000 just for the frame or frameset. Don't get me wrong, $7K is a lot of money--but given normal pricing and COVID supply-issues, finding parts to build with parts at any price will be a problem. I built my ti groading rig back 3 or 4 years ago now. It tipped the scales at $5K after all was said and done--and that was with a budget ti stock frame.
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Old 06-14-21, 08:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Marcus_Ti View Post
<------Well I'm a bit biased.

Any of the above will make a drool worthy steed. The nice thing about ti, you don't need to worry about mucking up paint or rust etc. Going custom--you're looking at $4,000 just for the frame or frameset. Don't get me wrong, $7K is a lot of money--but given normal pricing and COVID supply-issues, finding parts to build with parts at any price will be a problem. I built my ti groading rig back 3 or 4 years ago now. It tipped the scales at $5K after all was said and done--and that was with a budget ti stock frame.

yeah the TI options seem a bit much on the money end. But, it is worth considering for us I suppose. I know both steel and titanium, if taken cared of properly, will last for years and years to come. We want comfort but also the ability to perform and push ourselves at events and races (though our goal isn’t to be competitive but to challenge ourselves).
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Old 06-14-21, 08:15 PM
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I think ti is great, but you can get one hell of a steel bike for a lot less than $7K. If I had that kind of budget, I'd talk to Sycip, Independent Fabrications, Chumba, etc.
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Old 06-14-21, 08:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Rolla View Post
I think ti is great, but you can get one hell of a steel bike for a lot less than $7K. If I had that kind of budget, I'd talk to Sycip, Independent Fabrications, Chumba, etc.
i have heard good things about IF and Chumba. I have not heard of Sycip.
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Old 06-14-21, 09:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Jburrow View Post
i have heard good things about IF and Chumba. I have not heard of Sycip.
Jeremy Sycip is in Santa Rosa, CA. Wonderful builder, amazing attention to detail, really nice to work with. I have one of his singlespeeds. I have two or three friends who own Chumba Terlinguas -- I have ridden them several tiimes, and they are just outstanding bikes.

With your budget, you won't go wrong with any of the choices out there, but both of those companies are run by really great people, and that counts for something.
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Old 06-15-21, 07:30 AM
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Originally Posted by Rolla View Post
With your budget, you won't go wrong with any of the choices out there, but both of those companies are run by really great people, and that counts for something.
Yeah, I agree that being “good people” is worth something, too, but given how hard it can be to find that out before a purchase, I’d emphasize your point that, given the OP’s budget, they can’t go wrong. It’s so true that building a good bike is not really hard; sticking to proven recipes, a builder has to go out of their way to muck up a frame, really. The cool stuff is in the innovation, details, and style.

To the OP, I see there are two ways for you to go on this. First, since you don’t have the experience or preference to know what you want, go with titanium. It’s more prestigious and typically retains higher value at resale. The other way to go is to dive in and learn about what makes bikes different, what gives them value, and what makes them cool.

If you want to go the first route, because you haven’t given any criteria on which you’d base decisions, there are less expensive options than paying $4k for a custom frame and winding up with a $7k build.

For example, a Twin Six Standard Ti Rando can be spec’d with SRAM Rival hydraulic and HED Emporia wheels for about $4.2k, so right on budget, or you can spec them even less lavishly and come in comfortably under $4k. https://www.twinsix.com/collections/...33446644744289

Similarly, you could go with a basic Lynskey GR300 titanium build with Shimano GRX 600 2x11 for $3.8k or spice it up to taste and move north of $4k.

Another Ti option on the value end is Ribble’s CGR Ti, which they offer in build kits as low $3.4k, though you’ll need to add ~$200 for shipping from the UK. Again, spec’ing up is no problem. https://www.ribblecycles.co.uk/ribble-cgr-ti/

You already have Moots and Mosaic on the high end of Ti, so to give you three options there, I’ll add the T-Lab X3, from a boutique builder out of Montreal. You can spec their stock geometry and a Shimano 105 build kit in a basic finish for $4.6k, or do it up and push your $7k budget as much as you want. https://t-lab-bikes.com/bikes/x3/build

If you want to go the second route, tell us something more than 60/40 road/gravel, and we can start throwing more ideas out there for you. Do you want ultra-modern style or more traditional looks, for example. Do you prefer stability or sharper handling? Luggage capacity? Suspension? Racier or more comfy? That kind of stuff.
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Old 06-15-21, 07:45 AM
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Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
Yeah, I agree that being “good people” is worth something, too, but given how hard it can be to find that out before a purchase, I’d emphasize your point that, given the OP’s budget, they can’t go wrong. It’s so true that building a good bike is not really hard; sticking to proven recipes, a builder has to go out of their way to muck up a frame, really. The cool stuff is in the innovation, details, and style.

To the OP, I see there are two ways for you to go on this. First, since you don’t have the experience or preference to know what you want, go with titanium. It’s more prestigious and typically retains higher value at resale. The other way to go is to dive in and learn about what makes bikes different, what gives them value, and what makes them cool.

If you want to go the first route, because you haven’t given any criteria on which you’d base decisions, there are less expensive options than paying $4k for a custom frame and winding up with a $7k build.

For example, a Twin Six Standard Ti Rando can be spec’d with SRAM Rival hydraulic and HED Emporia wheels for about $4.2k, so right on budget, or you can spec them even less lavishly and come in comfortably under $4k. https://www.twinsix.com/collections/...33446644744289

Similarly, you could go with a basic Lynskey GR300 titanium build with Shimano GRX 600 2x11 for $3.8k or spice it up to taste and move north of $4k.

Another Ti option on the value end is Ribble’s CGR Ti, which they offer in build kits as low $3.4k, though you’ll need to add ~$200 for shipping from the UK. Again, spec’ing up is no problem. https://www.ribblecycles.co.uk/ribble-cgr-ti/

You already have Moots and Mosaic on the high end of Ti, so to give you three options there, I’ll add the T-Lab X3, from a boutique builder out of Montreal. You can spec their stock geometry and a Shimano 105 build kit in a basic finish for $4.6k, or do it up and push your $7k budget as much as you want. https://t-lab-bikes.com/bikes/x3/build

If you want to go the second route, tell us something more than 60/40 road/gravel, and we can start throwing more ideas out there for you. Do you want ultra-modern style or more traditional looks, for example. Do you prefer stability or sharper handling? Luggage capacity? Suspension? Racier or more comfy? That kind of stuff.
Thank you for the detailed response. Indeed, more information is needed.

My wife and I aren't really into the whole "Rivendell" look - that classic, traditional look. Lugged frames look cool, but I know a good TIG welded frame or bronze jointed frame works well with a slightly cleaner look. We like the clean look.

Personally, I prefer a bit of both. At the moment, I ride a longer chain-length bike, and it is stable. Which is nice when descending down inclines, but I wouldn't mind a bit of sharp handling when needed. We aren't planning on doing to much of the technical trail stuff - we aren't, and we are not pretending to be, mountain bikers. We have tried that, and we didn't really enjoy it. Perhaps we could try it again? But, we wouldn't mind a small forest trail to connect between gravel and pavement routes.

My wife wouldn't mind luggage capacity, and I wouldn't mind a little bit of it. I would mainly want a front bag mount - she would prefer front and rear panniers as an option. I would only ever run front ones with a saddle bag. We don't really want suspension - rather have it built into the frame for the damping effect. As stated, we subscribe to the benefits of some flex vertically and fore/aft. Thus, we do prize comfort, but we don't want sluggish bikes. We already have those.

I hope that this helps. As you say, we could buy into the market cheaply first and built up from there. I keep reading horror stories of weld cracking on Ti frames, and I know Moots and Mosaic have fantastic quality welds.

For the steel route, we hear nothing but praise about Waterford/Gunnar, Pegoretti, Cicli, Breadwinner, Speedvagen, etc. Given that we live in the Deep South and my family is just a day car ride away from the Chicago/SE Wisconsin area, Waterford/Gunnar, plus their reputation, looks appealing to us.

My main concerns were the benefits and drawbacks of steel over Ti, and Ti over steel (high grade steel in this case e.g. Columbus Spirit/Life, Reynolds 853/953).
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Old 06-15-21, 08:09 AM
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Old 06-15-21, 08:16 AM
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Sometimes I waver, but I decided that I'm never going to learn to build Ti frames, so I only have steel. Unless I buy a production bike, in which case I go with aluminum. I think material is overblown. I do like the fact that Ti doesn't rust and doesn't need paint. I have considered having one of the Chinese contract builders make me a Ti frame. There are risks, but it also can be rewarding.
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Old 06-15-21, 01:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Jburrow View Post
however, we also liked the idea of entertaining titanium.
That could be quite a party.... Check the Lynskey GR300 if you decide on Ti. https://lynskeyperformance.com/gr300...cable-routing/
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Old 06-15-21, 02:04 PM
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I like the look of the All-City Cosmic Stallion Titanium, and all the All-City character details that come along with it. Only sold as a frame set, though, so a build could go over budget pretty easily.
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Old 06-15-21, 03:13 PM
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For a complete titanium framed gravel bike, a good option would be a Bearclaw Thunderhawk. For the frame only, you can buy from Bearclaw or for much less money, from Waltly a frame that looks suspiciously like the Thunderhawk. Path Less Pedaled YouTube channel has a review of the Thunderhawk. I bought one for my wife and she loves it. She runs 650b x 44 and 27.5 x 2.8 on the same set of rims, pavement and gravel, depending. Plan on two sets of wheels for quick changing.
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Old 06-15-21, 04:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Jburrow View Post
My main concerns were the benefits and drawbacks of steel over Ti, and Ti over steel (high grade steel in this case e.g. Columbus Spirit/Life, Reynolds 853/953).
Since you have neither very specific nor particular demands, there are no drawbacks or benefits to one of those materials over the other insofar as performance or durability goes. Assuming equivalent design and construction competency, either material will produce an excellent bicycle likely to exceed any of your expectations. And even though I might have numbered lower buy-in cost as a relative advantage for steel, you've already defined your price range and it's sufficient to consider machines in either category. More than differences in build quality, performance, or reliability, at $4 - $7k, you're shopping for component spec, style, and prestige.

As for weld cracks on Ti, I'd say put that out of your mind, because there is absolutely nothing that I've ever seen in my 35 years of paying attention to cycling, pointing to any more an endemic frame failure problem with Ti than steel. Trotting out Mosaic as an exemplar of weld quality is pretty meaningless, as they've only been around about 10 years; how many bikes have they made that are even 5 years old? In any case, that you can find, on any given day, an abundance of 20- and 30-something year old Ti Litespeed frames on eBay says more about Ti durability than whatever Mosaic's record may be. Heck, there are 3 ~20yr old Airborne Ti bikes on eBay right now, and I'm fairly sure Airborne was as cheap as Ti got back in those days.

Regarding your thoughts on steel, you've indeed got a list of credible producers, spanning a great stylistic and philosophical range (neverminding that Pegoretti is dead; we'll assume, for discussion purposes, that a Pegoretti is a Pegoretti even without Pegoretti). If that's an acceptable range for consideration-- though I doubt you'll get a Pegoretti with rack mounts for sub $7k; ditto Speedvagen-- there are literally dozens of such builders across the globe, so the world is your oyster in that regard. With the favorable exchange rates, maybe a South African Mercer, a Canadian DeKerf, or a Colombian Scarab are worth adding to your list.

Actually, my head just exploded from all the possibilities, so I'm leaving now.
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Old 06-15-21, 04:44 PM
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Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
Since you have neither very specific nor particular demands, there are no drawbacks or benefits to one of those materials over the other insofar as performance or durability goes. Assuming equivalent design and construction competency, either material will produce an excellent bicycle likely to exceed any of your expectations. And even though I might have numbered lower buy-in cost as a relative advantage for steel, you've already defined your price range and it's sufficient to consider machines in either category. More than differences in build quality, performance, or reliability, at $4 - $7k, you're shopping for component spec, style, and prestige.

As for weld cracks on Ti, I'd say put that out of your mind, because there is absolutely nothing that I've ever seen in my 35 years of paying attention to cycling, pointing to any more an endemic frame failure problem with Ti than steel. Trotting out Mosaic as an exemplar of weld quality is pretty meaningless, as they've only been around about 10 years; how many bikes have they made that are even 5 years old? In any case, that you can find, on any given day, an abundance of 20- and 30-something year old Ti Litespeed frames on eBay says more about Ti durability than whatever Mosaic's record may be. Heck, there are 3 ~20yr old Airborne Ti bikes on eBay right now, and I'm fairly sure Airborne was as cheap as Ti got back in those days.

Regarding your thoughts on steel, you've indeed got a list of credible producers, spanning a great stylistic and philosophical range (neverminding that Pegoretti is dead; we'll assume, for discussion purposes, that a Pegoretti is a Pegoretti even without Pegoretti). If that's an acceptable range for consideration-- though I doubt you'll get a Pegoretti with rack mounts for sub $7k; ditto Speedvagen-- there are literally dozens of such builders across the globe, so the world is your oyster in that regard. With the favorable exchange rates, maybe a South African Mercer, a Canadian DeKerf, or a Colombian Scarab are worth adding to your list.

Actually, my head just exploded from all the possibilities, so I'm leaving now.
thanks for your input. I apologize as it seems I annoyed you more than anything else. Again, thanks and sorry for your troubles.
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Old 06-16-21, 10:45 AM
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I'm not sure what the benefits of TI are over steel, other than the cool looks.
It seems to me that it depends on the design and build more than anything else. One can make either material very stiff or very compliant - and if its not what you are after, its no good.
My frustration with TI is that its hard/impossible to get a test ride to see if it meets your needs.

The gravel cyclist has some good info on Lynskey (although I'm a little wary of all the people here who have had cracked frame issues with them).
https://www.gravelcyclist.com/tag/lynskey-gravel-bike/
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Old 06-16-21, 11:48 AM
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Just ran across this use case:

"I had a new Lynskey GR 270 exactly 2 yrs ago. While I liked the geometry and tall stack, I found it a very stiff ride - particularly at the front end due to the ultra stiff Lynskey fork and head tube shape. I sold for that reason. You'll want to look for a steel or ti frame and fork using as small diameter tubes as you can find and a straight (not flared) head tube.

That forgiving "vintage ride feel" is more about tubing diameter than it is material."
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Old 06-16-21, 11:53 AM
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Originally Posted by chas58 View Post
Just ran across this use case:
I appreciate the links and feedback!
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Old 06-17-21, 11:47 PM
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I haven't read the thread, but the answer to the question posed in the thread title is:

Yes. Or carbon fiber or aluminum
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Old 06-18-21, 07:46 PM
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I have a Lynskey that cracked after a little more than a year and they “fixed” it. I put the word fixed in quotes because I now have a weld around my seat tube.

Cracked seat and top tubes

Repair. Weld quality looks good, but who wants an extra weld in such a visible place.
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Old 06-18-21, 08:32 PM
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It's very common to have a weld there on a Ti frame. Maybe not that obvious, but it's there because they use a seat collar.
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Old 06-22-21, 09:16 PM
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Ti vs steel....I've had off the shelf and customs of each. I don't really prefer one material over the other.

Concerning ride quality, what it all comes down to is what diameter tubing the frame is made from (larger diameter tubing gives an exponentially stiffer frame), tubing wall thickness (thinner is lighter and gives a more compliant ride, though this is far less important than tubing diameter).

I like ti because it won't rust, there's no paint cost, nor paint to scratch Also, for the same "planing" ride quality, a ti frame will be more dent resistant.

I like steel because it can be less expensive and I like the look of thinner tubing and steel will still hold up well for a very long time. Builders like Speedvagen and Gunnar do make beautiful bikes, but if they are using larger diameter tubing - which it looks like in their pics, then they're going to ride pretty stiff.

I'd suggest that you look at smaller steel and ti custom builders because you might find a better value and a builder who will build what you want and not what they want. I went with Mike DeSalvo for a ti frame last year. He builds custom ti and steel bikes and is commonly featured at large gravel bike shows (he's an instructor at United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, OR). His prices are very reasonable and way less than the big name players like Moots (you're probably paying an extra 1-2k just for the Moots, Speedvagen, etc name). There are probably a couple of top notch custom builders in your area as well - I thought I saw an article on a builder in Arkansas or Louisiana this spring (on Radavist?).

Another idea is to get a custom steel frame built by someone local or inexpensive and ride it for a year or two to get an idea of what you like and dislike about it in terms of geometry and sizing and looks. Then take that info with you and incorporate that into your more expensive dream build bike. You'd hate to spend 5k on a frame and have it not be perfect.
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Old 06-22-21, 09:38 PM
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I've had 2 custom ti frames built. First was essentially a ti version of a mid '80s Japanese sport bike. Fit has always been an issue for me and having a bike that is simply jump on comfortable with an ordinary stem and that is also as comfortable on rough stuff as a much more flexible steel frame but as stiff and fast as a modern oversized steel frame.

2nd bike is a fix gear with a purpose, to mimic the geometry and fun of a steel fix gear I put together from really cheap stuff. Most fun bike I have ever owned.

With steel you cannot do more than match two of the lighter, stiffer, more comfortable of ti (assuming both are done well - any material can be built badly). And pushing the tube diameter to get the weight down and stiffness up leads to steel tubes that are easily dented.

Edit: Oh, on builders, another: TiCycles in Portland. If you can convince Dave Levy you are serious and have done your homework, he'll build you anything. He has his trademark details but is not wedded to them if they compete with your vision. And yes, he knows titanium. He started 27?, 28? years ago, making him one of the very early ones. I saw his clean welds 1996.

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Old 06-23-21, 06:42 AM
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Originally Posted by nellborg View Post
Ti vs steel....I've had off the shelf and customs of each. I don't really prefer one material over the other.

Concerning ride quality, what it all comes down to is what diameter tubing the frame is made from (larger diameter tubing gives an exponentially stiffer frame), tubing wall thickness (thinner is lighter and gives a more compliant ride, though this is far less important than tubing diameter).

I like ti because it won't rust, there's no paint cost, nor paint to scratch Also, for the same "planing" ride quality, a ti frame will be more dent resistant.

I like steel because it can be less expensive and I like the look of thinner tubing and steel will still hold up well for a very long time. Builders like Speedvagen and Gunnar do make beautiful bikes, but if they are using larger diameter tubing - which it looks like in their pics, then they're going to ride pretty stiff.

I'd suggest that you look at smaller steel and ti custom builders because you might find a better value and a builder who will build what you want and not what they want. I went with Mike DeSalvo for a ti frame last year. He builds custom ti and steel bikes and is commonly featured at large gravel bike shows (he's an instructor at United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, OR). His prices are very reasonable and way less than the big name players like Moots (you're probably paying an extra 1-2k just for the Moots, Speedvagen, etc name). There are probably a couple of top notch custom builders in your area as well - I thought I saw an article on a builder in Arkansas or Louisiana this spring (on Radavist?).

Another idea is to get a custom steel frame built by someone local or inexpensive and ride it for a year or two to get an idea of what you like and dislike about it in terms of geometry and sizing and looks. Then take that info with you and incorporate that into your more expensive dream build bike. You'd hate to spend 5k on a frame and have it not be perfect.
thank you for your advice and reply. I did indeed check out that builder in Alabama. Not too far from where I am! I believe the brand is Wild Card. Looks like beautiful bikes.

Since I am not terribly difficult to fit, I have considered going with an off-the-shelf CF frame and building it up. Have eyeballed the Open U.P. However, having a steel or Ti custom must be nice. And, Open isn’t cheap. Wild Card seems to be similarly priced but custom. Just wondering if for someone like me who isn’t terribly difficult to fit on a bike needs to spring for custom or stick with production.
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Old 06-23-21, 08:23 AM
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Merely being custom-made is no guarantee of anything: it takes people who understand and know stuff to make a good bike.

A buyer needs to know what they want and how to communicate that to the builder.

A builder needs to know their materials, understand geometry, and have the experience to meld the myriad variables to a desired outcome.

I think getting a bike to fit is the easiest part of getting a bike to work for someone. Seats can be adjusted up/down and fore-and-aft, just as bars can, and that’s just not a big deal, IMO. Getting the frame and geometry underneath the rider to work right for the rider’s expectations and ability is the genius part of bike design, and not the kind of thing I’d trust to an inexperienced builder nor be willing to pay a premium for to a builder just producing the same thing I can get “off the peg” for less.

Custom is great when the buyer knows what they want, can’t get it in a production bike, and the builder can deliver those things. It often works out and often doesn’t.
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