It’s often said that a custom-built bike is like a custom suit. You get measured up for it, it’s made specifically for you, it’s more expensive than an off-the-rack model, and it just feels better. Really though, buying a custom bike requires a lot more consideration than a suit. When it comes to suits, you might have a couple, and the custom may be for special occasions. A custom bike though is likely going to be the only bike you have, and if you commute on it, you’re going to be on it everyday. It’s a suit that you might wear every single day of the year, for years to come.
And, the build time for a custom bike can be years too, though usually just a few months.
Custom bikes are not for everyone, but if one is in your budget, it's undoubtedly the best way to get a ride that fits you and your style of biking. The first step is finding a builder who makes bikes you like, and who you can work with to get the right fit. This will mean a fit session and some frank discussions, maybe even a ride together. Finding a builder near you will probably make it a bit easier. Be ready to describe in detail what type of riding you do, and what your needs are.
I spoke with a few frame builders who I really admire and put them in this rundown of custom bike builders around the U.S. that are doing it right. If you're in the market, check them out.
Bishop Bikes: Baltimore, Maryland
“My frames are classic lugged steel frames influenced by the French constructors of the 50's and American frame builders especially in California of the 70's. Fine details, carefully filed lugs thinned out and sculpted braze-ons. I build bicycles for riders who want a comfortable steel frame that is aesthetically beautiful and rides great, bicycle collectors and enthusiasts.” - Chris Bishop
Rock Lobster Cycles: Santa Cruz, California
“I think of my bikes as tools, something to be used to accomplish a goal, anything from a national podium to a run to the farmers market. I don't build bikes to win display contests, although I do like seeing what people can do aesthetically at the bike shows.” - Paul Sadoff
Breismeister Bicycles: Queens, New York
“I make race bikes for road, cross, gravel, and mountain. I also make touring and commuting bikes. All frames are steel. Most are fillet brazed, but I also do lugged frames." - Doug Breismeister
Chapman Cycles: Providence, Rhode Island
“The bikes I make are stylistically similar but they are custom built with a specific task in mind. They have a classic look with a lot of special handmade details but are definitely performance machines. I build for everyday commuters, tourers, and general bike aficionados. I also build a lot of bikes for people outside the standard size range.” -Brian Chapman
Igleheart Custom Frames and Forks: Portland, Oregon
Christopher Igleheart honed his craft at the legendary Fat City Cycles and now makes these entirely badass creations in Portland.