On purchasing a hand built bicycle
August 24, 2012 2:43 PM   Subscribe

On purchasing a hand built bicycle, similar to this one. I'd love some advice.

Really, that Pashley Guv'nor is exactly what I want. Except, those are impossible to find in the US, and I'd rather support a (more) local builder. So, here are my desires:

Extreme simplicity. I ride fixed, currently, and I want to switch to gears for commuting. No more than 6 gears; if I have a derailleur, I only want a rear one. And ideally I want an internal 3spd rear hub.

Good looking lugs. Yes a nice weld job is nice, but really, I want a steel frame with pretty lugs. Because of the looks.

Road or touring geometry... perhaps racing geometry? I ride aggressively, and I don't want some wiener geometry that puts me super erect.

I'm thinking 1500$ is my upper budget limit.

So should I just go with this Pashley? Holy hell it is gorgeous, and it fits all of my specifications. But I love to support local, and I'm in Chicago, and I imagine there has to be some great US bike builders that I could connect up with. Also, these Pashleys tend to get marked up to around 2500 by the time they get through US distribution, and that's is a little out of my price range.

posted by special agent conrad uno to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know that you can get a full-custom frame and components for under $1500 but I bet you could find a stock or used frame that you like and have a bike shop build it up like that Pashley.
posted by ghharr at 2:59 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

So, first off -- if you go with a local builder making the frame for you, you will likely have to pay at least $1200 for the frame. So that's going to be outside of your budget. What I would do instead is scope out Craigslist for a nice old bike frame in your size (ie. 1970s Raleigh with Nervex lugs) and then buy parts to add to it. Essentially,

Your basic build idea for a Guvnor clone

Sturmey Archer S3X 3-speed fixed hub
Nitto North Road Bars, with Sturmey thumb shifter on one bar and front brake on other using inverse brake levers
Brooks saddle
cream tires of some sort

This is basically what I did (1973 Raleigh Supercourse frame, S3X 3-speed fixed hub, V-O chainguard). Whole thing cost me around $800 when all was said and done. More updated image here.

If you want to go custom, though, I can't help with suggestions on local Chicago-land bike builders, but if you're willing to work with someone in New England, then I'd say Circle A or Peter Mooney would be worth contacting if you want lugged steel. And if you want to go all-out on it being a retro city bike, get the builder to add a chainguard , a front generator hub, and Lumotec Classic or Retro generator light.
posted by bl1nk at 3:02 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I read your list of specifics, almost point-by-point I'm finding myself agreeing, and thinking "yes, this is a bike I would want; and one that I've had a great time thinking about and building in my head a hundred times in the past year."

But when I look at the bike you linked to I find myself thinking "This is not that bike at all". It's not particularly simple, it's got a hopelessly upright geometry, and it looks like it'd a boat anchor.

Aesthetics are important for a bike, so I'm not at all saying what you should or shouldn't find attractive; but I'm not sure if you're looking for a locally-sourced, affordable clone of the bike you linked to, or looking for a bike that meets the specifications you listed.

I'm not sure of a bike that hits all of your listed specs... but one stands out that hits all except one: it's not lugged and it's not overly pretty -- but it knocks out of the park every other condition you list, and it retails for less than $500.

Mercier Kilo TT5. The site linked to is sold out of all sizes, but has a rundown of specs. There's a robust secondary market for these bikes, so you shouldn't have trouble finding some eBay/Craigslist/online vendor source for them.

They're not particularly "hip" bikes, but they're quality bikes. Great example of an unheralded "prosumer" grade product that has earned its loyal fanbase. I have no relationship with BD or with (any incarnation) of the Mercier brand, I've just known a ton of people who got the first bike they truly loved at the same time as getting the first bike they could actually afford, from the brand/model.

So, yeah. It meets and exceeds all your qualifications save one. I'm not sure of a bike that will meet all of them at your price point. Sorry for the rambling.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 3:19 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I too have a number of bicycle builders in my area, Marin and Sonoma counties in Northern California, and could track some down for you. Bruce Gordon is one who could definitely hit your aesthetic, but... not your price range.

And Seattle has Glenn Erickson, who does some spectacular cut couplers, but without the fancy cutouts those couplers alone add $300 to $1000 to the price of a bike.

On the other hand, if you can find a frame that's close it'll be a steel frame, and trivial for any framebuilder to braze things to, so as people up-thread are suggesting: Find the frame (if you don't worry about weight, hunt the garage sales, it should be cheap), build up the components yourself, and maybe have a framebuilder add whatever mounts and tweaks you want.
posted by straw at 3:24 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

For the Guvnor, try the US distributors (Belmont) or Canada (Fourth Floor; who might still have the jaw-droppingly-gorgeous chrome one on display). It is a very lovely bike, and its (old) grass-track geometry makes it long and low. You'd never want a fixie or an S3X on that as the pedal clearances are small.
posted by scruss at 3:45 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Chief by Heritage Bicycles is very close to your Guv'ner, made in Chicago, and under your budget. They use coaster brakes, but maybe they'll do a custom job with hand brakes.
posted by hydrophonic at 3:51 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Boulevard stocks Pashley. I don't know if they have that one, but I test drove a couple Pashleys there (I did not actually like them, to my eternal sorrow).
posted by crush-onastick at 3:59 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can find an old steel-frame bike with nice lugwork, little rust, and decent paint for less than $300 on craigslist if you look for a while. Then build it up to have what you want. Ebay is great for old parts. I see used internally geared hubs for sale a lot; if you can't find the kind of wheel you want, buy a used hub and have your local bike shop build a wheel around it. (Or you could learn to build the wheel yourself.) With a month or two of work, you'll have a bicycle that will suit your personal aesthetic and you'll know a lot more about how it works.
posted by unreadyhero at 4:44 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

hydrophonic, awesome, I just got off the phone with Heritage and I'm going to test ride some of their bikes tomorrow. They were super friendly, and they will build a completely customized bike for well under my budget.

All of these suggestions are excellent, thank you all! If Heritage doesn't pan out tomorrow, I like the idea of just building it up myself, based around a nice vintage frame from craigslist.

And crush-onastick, it was all Boulevard's fault that I decided to get a new commuter bike. They've got a Pashley in the window, and it was so gorgeous that I instantly fell in love... but it's like that guitar in Wayne's World. Perhaps she will be mine, but at 2800$, not any time soon. :(
posted by special agent conrad uno at 5:15 PM on August 24, 2012

I came in to suggest Boulevard as well. Pashleys are beautiful and I so much wanted to want one but they ride really upright. Give one a whirl before you get too tied up in the idea of it. There are local frame builders but they are going to cost way more than your budget. Good luck with Heritage, those are nice! Have you looked into Linus at all? My favorite Chicago bike blogger has a list of beautiful bikes that might be worth looking at for ideas.

Other Chicago bike shops with pretty bikes like the Pashleys to window shop at: Copenhagen Cyclery and J.C. Lind. I know Owen at Blue City in Bridgeport used to make steel frames, but you'd have to call to see what his prices are like. They also seem to carry bikes that aren't widely available so you might want to see what they have in the shop.
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:22 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd also shop around for the Pashley - I was at my local bicycle shop in DC today - http://www.bicyclespacedc.com/ - and they had the Guvnor for 1500 and something. Good luck!
posted by tkbarbarian at 12:46 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ok, so, updates.

I went to Heritage, talked with Michael, and ate a sandwich. Michael, the owner, is totally rad. Super friendly, really into helping. But I didn't like his bikes.. the weld seams on his frames were poor, and the components were not what I was looking for. I think he is doing a great thing, but I'm just realizing that I want a step above entry-level.

So I went to Copenhagen Cyclery. They carry Public, which is cool, but the dude working there sucked, so I promptly left. If I'm going to spend 1500$ on a bike, I won't deal with dickweeds.

So back to Boulevard. I'm really starting to like that shop; great people, cool vibe, good bikes. And they can custom order a Guv'nor, if that's what I decide on. They also will help me build a bike to my specs, if I source all the parts and frame and whatnot.

Now I'm trying to build it myself. I want a 3spd Guv'nor. But that is 1600, not including fenders and racks and a basket... and if I really got what I wanted, I'm now looking at 2K to do it new, from Pashley. So I think I can build it myself for less than that.

Thanks again, to everyone, for the suggestions. I'll update again once I figure out more.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 12:24 AM on August 27, 2012

It's a shame about Copenhagen. A super nice, really helpful guy used to work there but he left this year and the owners seem mostly interested in their fulfillment/online order/shipping business than the shop. They do carry a number of brands that you can't get anywhere else though.

I find Boulevard hit and miss (lately the guys have been really helpful when I've dropped in). My experience has been that they're even more helpful in the winter when business dies down. I'm so glad you found someone there to realize your dream bike! You can try Working Bikes if you're looking for an old one to bring to Boulevard to restore and West Town Bikes has bike workshops and shop open hours if you want to learn how to do it yourself. The guys in Humbolt Park who restore those old cruisers do powder coating (the awesome guy at Copenhagen was going to hook me up with them when I wanted a rack a custom color). Let us know how it turns out!
posted by Bunglegirl at 10:30 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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