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.








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.


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