Handmade Bicycles: The Custom Experience- The Fit

Editor’s Note: Now that we have met some builders, Grannygear gets to the nuts and bolts of a custom build, starting with….The fit.

Over the last few articles, we have looked at the why’s and what’s of custom frames. We have heard from some of the best in the biz, whether it was in steel, aluminum, titanium or all three. So now the next step is obvious. We need to pick ourselves a frame builder and get fit for a custom ride.

To choose the builder, I listened to my own advice. I knew I wanted to replace the Karate Monkey as my SS ride. I wanted to stay in steel as far as the frame material. I wanted to choose a builder that I felt comfortable with. Fortunately, I have a friendly relationship with a one man shop that has been working in steel for a long time. In fact I have owned several of his frames over the years going back to the early 90s. He knows how I ride and where I ride. He is the obvious choice for me, but I will mention that if I had not had this rabbit in the hat, among the builders we highlighted, I would have picked Waltworks as a builder of choice, at least as far as being most aligned with my preferences on build philosophy.


Doug Curtiss of Curtlo Cycles, now a resident of Washington state, was a local So Cal guy. I have spent many an hour hanging around the ‘barn’ where he built the bikes and more time than that pedaling a result of his torch work down some local trail.

So, I already have an advantage going into the process of determining the perfect ride for me. And with that part over and done with, we will get this party started. I spoke to Doug and he agreed to do this mostly by email so we would have a written record for the article. However, we spent a bit of time on the phone discussing various thoughts on what I was looking for in the next bike. We are specifically looking at a singlespeed, geared capable, steel, softtail 29er.


I am coming from the Karate Monkey as a point of reference. I have been riding it for quite some time, first in a 1×9 geared configuration, and lately as a pure SS. It is a very capable frame, very versatile, tough as nails, and affordable. It is also pretty heavy, kinda’ short between the wheels, less than beautiful as far as frame shape/asthetics, and has poor standover. It has a L frame (21”) it has a 24.25” effective top tube and a short headtube. I ended up with 1” of spacers under the stem, a 6* rise 110mm stem, and 1.5” rise bars to get the relationship right. I also am not such a fan of the 72* head tube angle when paired with the 45mm offset of today’s newer suspension forks. It is just a bit touchy for me and for where I ride. I also prefer a shorter stem, 100mm max, and 90mm is fine too.

So what would I be looking for in a custom frame as far as the end result?

Well obviously the right fit. Based on the measurements taken from my existing bikes and measurements of my own body dimensions, and, factoring in my preferences formed over years of riding, Doug will come up with frame dimensions to suit the circumstances. I am liking longish top tubes these days.

The right attributes. I am not trying to get all racy here. This will be a raceable, but comfy, all day type of package. Where I ride, it is typically wide open and liberally covered with loose, rutted, techy-ish stuff, fast fire roads, etc. No dancing through the Alders for me. So, while Doug will be the ultimate say, I am suggesting a slightly less than typical 72* head tube angle to be used with a 80mm suspension fork, perhaps a 100mm. We shall see.

SoftailDoug's bike

Softtail anyone? I am not young. Even though the 29” wheels mute trail chatter, I would like a bit more cush if I can get it, so, I will take advantage of a feature that Doug builds, that being a softail frame with around ¾” of rear flex/travel. The goal is to be able to ditch the Thudbuster and run a carbon or Ti seatpost as well and be happy. Above is a pic of Doug’s personal ride. His has S&S couplers, an Action Tec front fork, and a Roloff rear hub on Paragon sliding dropouts. Trick. Doug is a big guy, so that bike looks like a 26er in scale. I think that is something like 26” toptube on there.

So that is about it. I want the normal things that folks want out of a custom frame: a correct fit, a certain handling result, and a type of design that is out of the norm for the production built bike, a steel softail. In the next article we will be showing how we measure the existing bikes I ride, measure me, and take that and add input to the builder as far as my preferences, dreams, goals and aspirations. Basically, I wanna’ be a star! Ordering a custom frame should make you feel special, since it is, perhaps for the first time when buying a bike, all about you!

Hang on, it is about to get fun as we break out the tape measure and plumb line in our quest for the custom frame experience.


No Responses to “Handmade Bicycles: The Custom Experience- The Fit”

  1. john903 Says:

    Great article, iam just now starting my process with Curtlo. In fact I just sent an e-mail yesterday about proceding ahead after a false start (money.) I am looking for a single speed with 1X9 capability in a cyclocros/comuter bike. I am curious how the measurements work out I would like to just go to his shop and be fitted, but I do feel confidendt and comfortable in his work and expertice. I live in the same state as Curtlo but the pass is closed until April sometime otherwise it is a 8 hr drive ti his shop, but it could be fun to visit in the summer. Thanks again and am looking forward to your article.

  2. Cloxxki Says:

    Exciting process!
    Doesn’t Surly call the XL KM a 22″, while it’s “really” a 23.4″ the way the reast of the world measures? I though top tube was (supposed to be) a bit more than that? I’m almost guessing you have an L KM there…better make sure if you have a custom based off it?
    I have the XL myself. As tall as a 60cm road bike, for reference. Even I have a modest seat post extention on this MTB.
    I can handle that short head tube, and the handling was awesome for 2003 when we needed 29″ers to not be dropped on tight singletrack. That 72d head tube angle doesn make it short bike. Shorter than some of my 26″ers that fitted even shorter, AND had shorter chainstays.

    If you’re going custom, are you considering to get more proportionate cranks to you L/XL body? 175/180mm cranks, whichever fomula you trust, are really more like M/L sized at best.

  3. Guitar Ted Says:

    john903: Just to be perfectly clear, Grannygear, who is the one being fitted for this series, is also the author here. I’ll make sure he gets the kudos for the work. 🙂

  4. Helgi Says:

    I love seeing bike builders’ personal bikes!

  5. grannygear Says:

    Cloxxki –

    I have always taken the stats at Surly’s site for size to mean center of the BB to the top of the seat tube,,,C/T…so measured that way it is pretty much a 22″ frame. If it was meant to be C/C, center to center, then it would be a 20″. However, I have never been able to get the 25″ eff TT out of it no matter how I measure it. All the bikes I have measured in the past come out to spec when laying on the tape to get the TT length. Makes me think I am doing it right, but maybe I am doing it differently then Surly does.

    I will be taking pics as soon as the rain stops, so if you see any errors in my measuring, let me know.


  6. Cloxxki Says:


    Might it be that you actually have a 20″/L KM then? That would explain the ETT reading coming short. A 20″ KM would be tall enough for most anyone. I’ve got freakishly long legs, but have considered one for this reason, as a drop bar bike with shorter reach and still sufficient seat tube height. Not having seen 1×1 or KM XL’s, it would be logical to see the L KM as an XL. Every other brand would label it an XL from height perspective, although ETT is that of an L for sure.
    Surly does use inches to indicate the KM’s height (MTB thing), but it’s really dimensioned as a CX bike, tall TT for carrying or old school aesthetics?
    Surly measures the ST from center of BB to top of top tube I think. All the ST that sticks out, they leave out, although their spec sheet does list the 60cm total height sperately I think. Most all other brands do measure that part of the top tube, and just measure up to where the seatpost gets exposed.

  7. grannygear Says:

    Cloxxki –

    Well, if they do measure center to top of the TT/ST junction, then it is a LG. The bike shop sold it as an XL, we measured it as a 22″ frame, but it really is not exactly 22″ either. It is, however nearly exactly 20″ to the TT/ST junction. I measure it as a 24.25 eff TT, and that is very close to the 24.3″ they list. So it is a LG.

    Interesting. Man, that XL must be huuuuge.

    Thanks for the clarification.


  8. gpsser Says:

    Great read, I had the pleasure of working with Doug last year, and have been enjoying my 24hr 29er for the last 8 months. I also had the pleasure of visiting his shop, since it was only a 3 hour drive and I had work to do up there. I look forward to seeing the finished product and the process behind it again.

  9. grannygear Says:

    gpsser –

    Well, you may not see a frame actually built from this, but we will show the process of determining the specs and show the ‘build-sheet’, as it were. Glad you are loving the frame. I just built up an old ActionTec Curtlo for my son from the archives of my garage. Some stuff just stays good, like fine wine. Not to be confused with a fine whiner!


  10. Guitar Ted Says:

    Editor’s Note: The text of the article has been changed to reflect Grannygear’s discovery that he has a 20″ (Large) Karate Monkey and not an XL as he had been previously led to believe. 🙂

  11. Cloxxki Says:

    LOL. Glad to be of help. Just didn;t want someone to get a waaaaaay long bike thinking the present bike was already an XL 🙂
    Luckily, you were critical of the actual dimensions of the bike, less the offered specs.

    And yes, the XL is indeed huge.

  12. Dave Byers Says:

    Great stuff. Looking forward to reading the details as the process unfolds. My preferences for a bike and sizing are very similar to yours. I also wonder why we don’t see more softtails in the endurance race scene since they are a good compromise of weight & comfort.

  13. dan Says:

    Hi great looking bike.like the softail. Is it rigid up fronrt ? , looks like fork has travel.

  14. grannygear Says:

    dan –

    It is an Action Tec suspension fork. 2″ or so of travel.


  15. FM Says:

    Thanks for the article… looking forward to the follow up.

  16. dan Says:

    Thanks for the info .is the action tech fork available ? and doyou now the specs , sound like a perfect set up.

  17. Rob from Ottawa Says:

    This is really neat.

    I would love to get a custom built Curlo 29er like yours in a few years. The soft tail sounds perfect. I’m interested to hear what length the chain stays on your bike ends up being.

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