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By Ford Kanzler

This mechanic/racer reveals his secrets for building real quality bikes on the cheap. "Build your dream bike, don't just buy it."

(Visit the author's handy, comprehensive list of on and off-line sources  for reasonably-priced, often hard-to-find bicycle parts. List follows article.)

Thankfully, most of us don't have more money than brains. Which is another way of saying some of us can't run out and buy the latest new techno-cycling creation or vintage quality masterpiece at the drop of our wallets. Two- three- or four-thousand dollar bikes aren't for everyone. You may find one hanging at a garage sale, but it's not likely. However, the bike you imagine having may be more attainable than you think IF you have patience. I don't mean if you wait, someone will roll up on a full-suspension Santa Cruz or all-Super Record Masi and say, "Here you go. Have a nice day." No, what I mean is going the alternate route of finding and assembling what's needed, instead of buying the new, complete bike of your dreams. This probably appeals only to people who intend on keeping their bikes for a very long time. For those who must immediately gratify themselves with the newest, latest fad items, this isn't your path to bike satisfaction.

You can start anywhere. Have a vision of what the whole bike will be. Be prepared to even use second-choice components for a while to complete the bike so you can ride it while maintaining the goal of creating the eventually-completed vision. Consistent attention, shopping on and off line, particularly among bike folks, will get you some great bargains and move the project along.

When I planned my dream mountain bike in 1997, I wanted a Klein. I also knew I didn't and wouldn't have the bucks to buy new. I looked around and kept my eyes open for several months until I found the ugliest, most abused Klein frameset you've ever seen. It had been to war! But it was straight and was just $50 at a garage sale. I carefully stripped the paint and set it aside.

Many weeks went by until I found a beautiful used Mavic/XT wheelset from the local shop. I'm a great customer, so the owner sold them to me for $100.

More weeks passed. I picked up a couple of new items, like an XTR titanium cassette for $65, way below cost, on a closed-out bike parts website (www.chucksbikes.com). I swapped online for an extra wheelset in exchange for a near-new XT deraileur pair. A new Avocet O2 Air Ti seat ($80 new) and XT V-brakes were $25 each on www.mtbr.com. I even paid retail, less 10 percent, for a new chain, cables and grips at the local shop. Cruising a bike shop in a nearby town I found new Kevlar tires in a dump bin for $12 for the pair. The fork took the longest. It was a Judy Downhill from a racer the shop owner knew. I'd been putting the word out with the bike folks I knew to be on the lookout for a good suspension fork. It was used in great shape and only $100.

During this same time, I'd sent the frame out for polishing ($80) and located a set of Klein decals ($10). It all came together from a box of parts to a bike one week, when I found a new Kris King headset for $50. You may know they're usually double that. It had been nearly a year of looking, swapping, buying, but I had what I wanted at well below half of what a comparable new bike would have cost. The local bike shop told me it was easily a $1,500 bike if they had one on their floor. Time had been on my side. The bike was exactly what I wanted and I'd built it on a budget no one believed.

Time and patience are what's required. You need to have some money. But only a little at a time. Not big wad all at once. It's really a much more creative and fun alternative to going into debt at 15 or 18 percent on your credit card. Sure, you can get the bike you want right now. Then you wind up paying for it twice in interest. To paraphrase John Muir, "any fool can go into debt." The slow accumulation of parts, the searching, the trading and dealing are all fun parts to this approach. Build your dream bike, don't just buy it.

Sources for Good Online Deals on Bike Parts
(Mostly Roadie)
Provided by Ford Kanzler

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