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Building a Touring Bike in Portland, OR - Where?
April 8, 2012 2:54 AM   Subscribe

Biking the west coast and across the USA - want to have a bike built in Portland, OR: where to go? What to build?

Starting in late July, I'll move as far south as San Diego, and then head eastward until I hit New York.

I need a sturdy, well-built bike that will give me a minimum of trouble on this trip - in addition to being a smooth, excellent (and pretty!) ride. My preference is to work with a smaller shop to really have it individualised, but I would like to be on the road within 5 days of arriving.

Right now, I know nothing of bikes, but I have been eyeing the Rivendell Atlantis, if that's any indication of my preferences.

Helpful hints for bike builds / parts are also welcome!
posted by flippant to Travel & Transportation around Portland, OR (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am in Eugene, and I used to build bikes in Portland. There are a lot of shops to choose from and here is where I would start if I was attached to having it made in the city of Portland.

The only two that I can vouch for are local to Eugene. Co-motion cycles and Green gear.

Co-motion makes some good bikes, my friend rode his most days for over ten years and never complained. Finally got stolen.

Green gear may seem funny.-They make folding bikes. But they make really good custom-fitted folding bikes and the customers used to send us pictures from all over the world. One guy has a mission to ride his bike friday in every country in the world. I believe he is currently working on the islands. The bike packs down into a suitcase and when you unload it, the suitcase becomes a trailer for your stuff and it rides about the same as a bigger bike, except lighter.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 3:13 AM on April 8, 2012


It seems more than a little weird that you 'know nothing of bikes,' but you want to have one custom-made so you can ride it for thousands of miles. Can you clarify?
posted by jon1270 at 3:16 AM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Citybikes Co-op, Portland's worker-owned bike shop!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:17 AM on April 8, 2012


If you need a bike ready to go within 5 days of arriving, you'll need to call up the bike shop at least a month, probably 2 or 3 in advance and start working on what you're ordering. Also, especially for a bike you're touring on, you will only know if you've picked a good bike by riding it and feeling out the frame and components for yourself. You're taking a big risk ordering a bike type you're unfamiliar with sight-unseen.

When I bought my touring bike, I took about 6 months from the start of serious research to bringing it home. I waited for the Trek 520 to be market-released with 48/36/26 for the crank and 11-32 for the cassette (low gears are key for touring) and never looked back. Thousands of hard-riding miles later, it's still an excellent commuting bike and it's going for another tour this summer.

If you truly know nothing of bikes, find a bike shop or bike-minded friend where you are now and ask them to show you how to change a flat tire, lube a chain, get the chain back on the gears, shift, mount a pannier, use hand signals, ride with traffic, etc. You'll need all those skills. Enjoy the ride!
posted by thewestinggame at 4:22 AM on April 8, 2012


5 days is not long enough to custom build a bike (any parts they do not have in stock are going to have to be ordered...and just going with what they have in stock is a craps shoot); your best bet is to buy a bike they have in the shop that fits you well, is made of high quality parts and to spend as much time as you can with the shop to show you how to maintain your bike. That's going to keep it on the road a lot more than any "customization" will.

If you know nothing about a bike, you'll need buy a set of tools, learn how to replace an inner tube, replace a damaged spoke, fix your chain and how to tune up your gears and brakes. A bike that is going to be ridden for thousands of miles will also need regular greasing and, even if it gives you minimal problems, will require a lot of tuning up.

A bike is only as reliable as its rider. If you don't know anything about bikes, you can't buy a replacement for a little knowledge.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:06 AM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


+1 Rodrigo. There are points on your route where a breakdown you don't know how to fix could put you in a dangerous situation.

You also almost certainly don't need a custom bike. The people who need custom bikes are the ones who have used off-the-rack bikes and found that, because they have unusual body proportions or extremely specific needs, they need something else. Either that or they're suffering from overstuffed wallets.

A disproportionate number of people riding the Trans-Am do so on a Surly Long Haul Trucker. They're a good deal, solidly built, and designed for carrying a lot of gear.
posted by adamrice at 6:28 AM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know how 'custom' you're looking to have a bike made for you (just componenets, or a custom made frame?).

Oftentimes, for those smaller bike builders that you're talking about, can have a backlog of a year or longer.

That said, if you're really looking for true custom bike, Greg over at Millholland is an amazing bike builder I used to work with. He is an amazing builder, and i don't know for sure, but he might be able to bump you up in the queue for a chunk of coin.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:30 AM on April 8, 2012


I ride a Surly Long Haul Trucker as well. It's a dream on a long tour and I love it. It is not the only good touring bike, but everyone seems to recommend them, therefore people like me buy them, and then people like me recommend them, and so on. They're also pretty affordable - only around $1000.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:57 AM on April 8, 2012


You have a number of decisions to make, and I also think 5 days is really not giving the shop enough time even for a custom assembly, let alone a full custom frame.

Some considerations:
Do you want bar ends, like the Trek 520, or integrated brake-shifters? Which kind of brifter do you prefer, Shimano or Campanolo? Bar ends take a bit of getting used to, but they are much simpler than combined brifter. That said, my tourer has Campy shifters on it and they've lasted more than a decade.


What kind of seat do you want? This is really important for comfort on long rides. It's a very individual preference and can only be figured out by trial and error, in my experience. Ride a seat for an hour, see if you like it.

Similarly, do you have a preference for a shoe and pedal combo? Bare pedals, cages, or clipless cleats? Shoes And pedals are another major point of discomfort. Bad shoes create "hot spots" and some people need more range of motion, "float", on their pedals for knee and ankle comfort than others. Many tourers prefer Shimano SPD clips because there are a wide variety of shoes which can be fitted with them, many of which work well enough as walking shoes off the bike. SPDs have less float than other designs though.

Are you credit card touring (staying in hotels and B& Bs) or camping? That dictates what pannier setup you will want and what racks you will need. For CC touring, I usually just have a rear pair and a handlebar bag. This saves a lot of weight on the bike.

What kind of cardiovascular shape are you in? The more you can train pretrip, the happier you will be on road.

I don't want to discourage you---touring is amazing fun, but there are some things you need to work out now, seat, shoes and pedals particularly, that a shop can't really decide for you without some trial and error. The more time you can spend testing these things now, the better.
posted by bonehead at 8:58 AM on April 8, 2012


The folks over at Crazy Guy on a Bike will be able to give you more specific advice. Try their forums; they're excellent.

The lead time on a Rivendell Atlantis was months, last I heard - they actually custom make each tube in the frame to fit your individual measurements, so there's no way you're going to get one in 5 days. I toured with a buddy who was riding one and he loved it, said it rode like a dream, but it also cost him three times what my Long Haul Trucker cost me. I had to special-order my LHT (I'm short), but the lead time was only about a week. All in all I spent about two weeks test-riding touring bikes at my LBS's (I tested out all the usual suspects - Trek 520, Bianchi Volpe, LHT, whatever those touring Cannondales are) to be sure that the LHT was what I wanted.

If you read "this is how you tour" websites, you'll come across the same advice over and over again - get a good, supportive saddle and ride enough to get used to it (and get it used to you) before you tour; get quality racks and panniers so they don't fall apart in the middle of the desert; don't try to tour with a racing geometry, which it sounds like you have well in hand; have a shoes-and-pedals setup that you can live with for long periods of time.

Something else that you will see come up, over and over again, is the advice to do a "shakedown tour" of a day or so before you leave for real - get some miles in and test out your gear before you head out into the wild blue yonder. It would be pretty terrible to get your new bike, head for San Diego, and realize in Eugene that your bike was assembled incorrectly or is the wrong size; these are the kind of problems only an LBS can fix for you, they generally take days if not weeks, and now you're days of riding away from the LBS that might do these things free with your purchase. Even riding a couple of days on a saddle that's wrong for you, because you're days from the next bike shop, can be excruciating.

As far as specific gear goes, it's totally dependent on who you are and how you like to ride. I rode from Minneapolis to Washington, DC with a bunch of folks that ran the gamut; on one end of the spectrum was a dude who was riding his old crappy mountain bike with a slightly taco'd wheel, nylon platform pedals, and a Jansport backpack to carry his stuff, and on the other end was a guy riding an Atlantis with Tubus racks and Ortlieb panniers and Schwalbe Marathon tires and SPD shoes and basically everything else that folks will tell you to get for touring. We all made it there (even the other guy who attached his bar bag with a chain of 20 plastic zip ties).

I, personally, wouldn't tour without a granny gear (triple crank) if you paid me. I would pay a very high ransom for my well-broken-in Brooks saddle (don't get any ideas, locals).
posted by yomimono at 9:45 AM on April 8, 2012


Err. If you know nothing of bikes. how in the world are you going to determine what you need custom on your bike?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:16 AM on April 8, 2012


I just bought an Atlantis last week. It was one of the last frames the bike shop had in stock, and even then the bike isn't going to be ready for another couple of weeks. What I was told is that, since Rivendell moved all their Atlantis fabrication back over to the USA, the profit margin isn't there for the dealers anymore - my impression was that you're not going to be able to find an Atlantis in a bike shop very soon. You'll have to deal with Rivendell directly, and their lead time is many months right now.

Finding a custom frameset by July is probably impossible. The local builders around me all have waitlists of up to a year. Getting a ready-to-go frameset and having a bike shop build it up for you may take between a week and a month, I think. Depends if you want things like custom wheels, which will take longer.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:33 AM on April 8, 2012


Actually, I changed my mind - you may be able to pull of an Atlantis with your timeframe if you change your plans slightly. Rivendell is quoting 8-10 weeks for the bike right now on their website, so if that's true here's what I would do:
-Call them up tomorrow and order the bike. They'll help you kit it out.
-When it's ready, pick it up at their shop in California.
-Rather than biking from Portland to CA, spend a week or so riding it around the greater SF area to get all the kinks out.
-Continue to San Diego and beyond as planned.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:39 AM on April 8, 2012


Err. If you know nothing of bikes. how in the world are you going to determine what you need custom on your bike?

Also, OP, if you really want a well-built street bike, I hope you're ready to spend an absolute fortune. (There's a bike shop near my school -- I've seen used bikes regularly go for 5-6k.)
posted by lobbyist at 12:49 PM on April 8, 2012


If you are inexperienced at building bikes (or having them built) consider that anything you have built now will effectively be a prototype, because you don't yet know enough to be sure of the decisions you are going to make about its design and construction. Buying something off-the-shelf, however, means you're getting something with a reasonable expectation that most folks are going to find it perfectly adequate for the job. With this in mind, I'd consider one of several well-made touring bikes available.

Surly Long Haul Trucker
Salsa Vaya
REI Novara Randonnee
Jamis Aurora
Trek 520
etc.

These will perform just as well as any custom job unless you have (and understand through experience) very particular and specialized requirements, or you're very unusual in some way (a disability, perhaps, or you're very tall or short).

Spend the money you save by buying off-the-shelf on thingfs that really matter on long bike tours - comfortable shoes and pedals, quality bags, lights, good tires (the bike brands almost always skimp) a good cycling jacket, etc.
posted by normy at 1:35 PM on April 8, 2012


I rode cross-country on a $300 used bike with a few modifications. I spent a long time watching for a bargain on a used touring bike, but it did the job.

The big things you need on a long-haul touring bike are a strong frame and racks for hauling panniers, a comfortable riding position with multiple hand positions for long days in the saddle, and very low gearing to haul all your gear over mountain passes.

I agree with the poster above that you should buy a stock touring bike and make minor changes according to your personal preferences unless you have a very good reason to do otherwise. If you want a bike with an individualized appearance, you can paint patterns or put stickers on it, change the bar tape, or even get the frame custom-painted to your taste, and all of these things are far cheaper than having a frame custom-built.
posted by akgerber at 1:43 PM on April 8, 2012


Oh, you might want to take some break time in San Diego, as well. Even taking your sweet time, getting down the West Coast will probably take you a month, and the weather in broad swath of desert east of the Coast Ranges gets a bit hot for bike riding.
posted by akgerber at 1:46 PM on April 8, 2012


akberger is right. When I passed through that part of the country riding the Southern Tier, the daytime highs reached 110°F. And the Yuha Desert is a 70-mile stretch with no water stops.
posted by adamrice at 7:15 AM on April 9, 2012


Thank you for all the replies. First of all, a clarification: a lot of you seem to use custom(-ised) with quotation marks. I never wrote customised. I don't need a custom-built frame with unicorn handlebars. I wrote individualised in the sense of having a choice of certain components, chosen for increased comfort or durability, less fuss, aesthetics, etc.
It seems more than a little weird that you 'know nothing of bikes,' but you want to have one custom-made so you can ride it for thousands of miles. Can you clarify?
I have touring experience with a mountain bike - to the point where I know I don't want one for this tour. I might have been a little facetious saying I knew nothing. More accurately, I know nothing of the availability of bikes in Portland, OR or stateside, or what is considered good in your neck of the woods.
If you need a bike ready to go within 5 days of arriving, you'll need to call up the bike shop at least a month, probably 2 or 3 in advance and start working on what you're ordering. Also, especially for a bike you're touring on, you will only know if you've picked a good bike by riding it and feeling out the frame and components for yourself. You're taking a big risk ordering a bike type you're unfamiliar with sight-unseen.
Yes, it seems that's the central dilemma. Do I go for something off-the-shelf I can take for a spin before I buy, or do I "fit myself" using the vaunted Rivendell "Pubic Bone Height"-method (or the like) and gamble.
A disproportionate number of people riding the Trans-Am do so on a Surly Long Haul Trucker. They're a good deal, solidly built, and designed for carrying a lot of gear.
Yep. This seems to be the common consensus. They have several resellers in Portland (including REI), but seem to have increased in cost from $1000 to $1250. I am lucky enough not to be particularly constrained by a budget aside from what I feel comfortable using, but the most important things are fit/ride comfort and durability. I don't mind paying for quality.
Are you credit card touring (staying in hotels and B& Bs) or camping? That dictates what pannier setup you will want and what racks you will need. For CC touring, I usually just have a rear pair and a handlebar bag. This saves a lot of weight on the bike.

What kind of cardiovascular shape are you in? The more you can train pretrip, the happier you will be on road.
About 50/50%. I will bring equipment for sleeping outside, but nothing for food preparation; when the going gets extremely hot and sweaty, I'll cool off in a h/motel where available.

Balance issues aside, I am hoping to get away with only back panniers and a handlebar bag. I am fairly adept at packing light (for backpacking, but nonetheless).

Cardiovascular shape is fine. My longest distance covered on a bike in a day is just north of 200km.
Something else that you will see come up, over and over again, is the advice to do a "shakedown tour" of a day or so before you leave for real - get some miles in and test out your gear before you head out into the wild blue yonder.
Great idea! I'll definitely set aside a few days to do a short shakedown.
If you are inexperienced at building bikes (or having them built) consider that anything you have built now will effectively be a prototype, because you don't yet know enough to be sure of the decisions you are going to make about its design and construction. Buying something off-the-shelf, however, means you're getting something with a reasonable expectation that most folks are going to find it perfectly adequate for the job.
Good point.
Actually, I changed my mind - you may be able to pull of an Atlantis with your timeframe if you change your plans slightly. Rivendell is quoting 8-10 weeks for the bike right now on their website, so if that's true here's what I would do:
Have heard good things about (and love the look of) it, but unfortunately I am travelling with a friend for the first six weeks, and he is working with a very limited amount of time. Besides, there are things in Oregon we want to see. I realise none of this is optimal, but nothing ever is.
Oh, you might want to take some break time in San Diego, as well. Even taking your sweet time, getting down the West Coast will probably take you a month, and the weather in broad swath of desert east of the Coast Ranges gets a bit hot for bike riding.

akberger is right. When I passed through that part of the country riding the Southern Tier, the daytime highs reached 110°F. And the Yuha Desert is a 70-mile stretch with no water stops.
I definitely will rest. I am taking 4 months to do this, so I'm not making it a race.

Will be going NE from San Diego trying to minimise the long stretches of nothingness that normally come with deserts.

Again, thank you all for your input!
posted by flippant at 8:35 PM on April 9, 2012


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