Making it Your Own

Just a Couple of Mods

I’ve never been able to bring a new bike home and just ride it as is. I always feel compelled to change at least some little detail to make it my own. It could be something as simple as changing the color of the bar tape, to a full blown rebuild with new bars, cranks, saddle and the whole deal. Some bikes closely fit the picture in my mind of how they should look; these tend to get left alone. Others may have a “problem” such as a mismatched set of racks, or a roadie saddle on a utility bike; these don’t make it very long before they go under the knife. Off-the-shelf bikes such as my Surly tend to get more seriously worked over, whereas bikes that are built to order like my Rivendell require less fussing and finessing.

I’m guessing this compulsion goes back to my childhood. I can remember being as young as 6 or 7 years old and rebuilding my bike in the garage with my older brother. He helped me take a scratched up, ugly old Schwinn Stingray, and rebuild it into a kid’s dream bike with purple sparkle paint, motorcycle handlebars, and a racing seat. That bike was so cool, and I was so proud that we built it together, that it left a mark on me. Perhaps going through that process is what set me up for a lifetime of tinkering and tweaking on bicycles.

What about you? Can you leave well enough alone or are you compelled to modify your bikes whether they need it or not? Would you rather search for that perfect bike and buy it ready to roll, or do you gain more satisfaction starting with an ugly duckling and turning it into a swan? Share your story; we’d love to hear it!

25 Responses to “Making it Your Own”

  • Geoff Jennings says:

    I tend to buy most of my bicycles used, my money goes much further. Often, upon purchasing I already have a list in my head of the things I’ll change, and I’ve done the math to see if it stilla bargain. I’ve only bought two bikes recently, a fixie for commuting and a tandem road bike. The fixie was actually new, on clearance, and I’ve not done much except add a rack and reflective tape, and swap out the pedals and grips, but it’s a fixie, what else is there?

    The tandem is a used Cannondale RT2000. I got a screaming deal on it, dusty but nearly new. I’ve probably spent $300-350 ish on upgrades, mostly switching to a nine-speed with STI brake/shifters to replace the bar end shifters, and getting the brakes operating well, as well as replacing tires and saddles. I still figure I’m into for about a 1/3 of an equivalent new bike.

  • Stevep says:

    I cannot help myself from tinkering with bikes.
    I’m starting to find that may handful of originally dissimilar bikes are starting to look similar. Swapping parts like gearing, saddles, handlebars, shifters…over time I find myself going back to the same components for all bikes because I like the form and function of a particular mix of parts. It also makes maintenance and repairs simple with a limited set of things to understand.

  • Brent says:

    I don’t know that I have ever seen a bike I thought was perfect as is. It is usually a case of, I like it, but…

    I am currently riding a Trek Allant,which I like a great deal, and think was a great value for the money. I have, however, added a Gamoh King carrier to the front, swapped out the saddle for a Brooks B-67 (which improved the feel of the bike, and increased my ability to ride long-distances immensely over the stock saddle, which wasn’t horrible, but made my butt go numb very quickly) and I swapped out the tires for Delta Cruisers in cream. Next I am looking at maybe some Velo-Orange touring pedals with half clips, and maybe some new handlebars that sweep back further, VO has some nice ones with no or minimal rise that I am looking at, but I’m not sure that I will actually change the handlebars, as the stock ones aren’t that bad.

  • Chuck says:

    I can not leave anything alone. Bicycles were the first when I was 8 or 9 years old but that worked it’s way into motorcycles and cars as well. In each case it seems that what I get “off the shelf” is lacking something in my pursuit of function, appearance or just plain custom personalization. My latest project was to remove unwanted mounting slats from an Old Man Mountain rear expedition rack I had and customize it to fit my Globe Live 3. To finish out the installation I added a wood deck to the top of the rack and painted the rack to match the blue Globe uses on the Live 3.

  • Eric says:

    I usually have a list of things that I think should be changed but I make it a point to ride it a couple times without changing anything. Sometimes new/different parts and pieces are better than you think. If something still seems off after a few rides the parts bin goes into action.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    I very rarely actually buy complete bikes. My last two I just bought framesets and reused parts i’ve collected over the years. The last complete bike I bought was my wife’s city bike (Jamis Commuter 3). It’s only had slight modifications (Brooks B67s). I don’t any bike we own has remain unchanged.

  • Helton says:

    I just cannot remember a single day I rode any of the bikes I had and have without thinking something should be changed. Not that I don’t like them, but there’s always some weak link on the setup that could be improved. And as our experience evolves, sometimes even what we thought was right suddenly make itself seem upgradeable.
    Nowadays, the relatively younger/healthier/sporty setups are giving passage to more comfort and utility oriented ones, like riser bars, broad soft saddles and things that demand less on upper joints when riding not so fast.

  • Santosh says:

    That is exactly how I am! I bought a 2009 Redline 925 5 months ago and since I have had it I have added a brown Charge Spoon saddle with matching grip tape, metal toe clips with faux leather straps, drop bars with and oversized stem, and tube liners. I wanted to add more, but then I bought a 2010 Bianchi Brava…and I want to do SO much to her. Sadly, all I have done it add new grip tape, but once I get the money, I want to add an Athena groupset, a Brooks saddle with matching grip tape, and get all yhe other parts to match the groupo: aluminum =)

  • Stephen D. says:

    I try to follow the old adage that refers to sailboats, which is “Don’t change the location of rigging controls until you’ve sailed the boat for a few months. By then you’ll know why everything was located where it is.”

    That being said, looking back on every bike I’ve owned, typically I change the pedals first, followed by the saddle. Then the grips or handlebar tape if needed. Next to follow is the gearing, but that’s after a much longer time. Sometimes the gearing is right for me and the terrain from the factory. I guess I go after the “points of contact” due to the tactile feedback.

    However my nature is like most of you…when I was in junior high, besides disassembling and reassembling, we’d take off all the fenders, chainguards, racks, etc. and ride on dirt trails in the neighborhood. Should have kept going on the concept because it pre-dated Gary Fisher.

  • RDW says:

    To me any bike is a work in progress. When you run out of things to tweak, new things to try out, it must be time for a new bike, right?

  • bicyclemamy says:

    omg! this post is me to a T! i recently acquired a free (yes, i love free) brompton folder m3l 2003.i’m a tall sister with a long reach and legs to match. my favorite lbs just changed my handle bars to the 16″ low rider handlebars and I’m loving it! i’m going to change the saddle, tires and attach a C bag on it within the next week. then……it will reflect lil ole me :-)

  • Buck says:

    The last two bikes I’ve owned have essentially been built by me, from the ground up (I started with only a frame for the latest, and a frameset for the one before that). My ability to purchase components from nearly every manufacturer at wholesale prices makes this admittedly easier for me than it would be for your you average consumer (but not necessarily; even with access to a dealer account, I still ended up buying many vintage and NOS parts on eBay for far cheaper than their newer equivalents).

    That said, I still often ended up changing things around after riding each bike for a considerable amount of time. The first bike I built completely was a perfect fit from the hips down but had my upper body feeling sprawled out. Switching from bullhorns to mustache bars helped my get into a more comfortable position but it wasn’t until I flipped the bars that I finally settled in completely.

    On my latest build, the first piece I acquired for it was a very rare NOS Nitto upright stem. Once the bike was all put together that was the one piece that was obviously out of place.

    As an bicycle industry worker, I’ve found that customers generally fit into two camps: those that seek out unique accessories and components on their own (these are also usually the folks that aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty doing a little modification) and those that simply look to manufacturers to provide them with everything they need.

  • Megan says:

    I’ve got a little Globe Live Mixte with a pretty sweet front basket. I’ve added a Wizard of Oz Wicked Witch sticker, bouquet of fake flowers and an old container that I use as a water holder. Oh and a put a coaster of my favorite brewery in the front. It’s just begging to be decorated!

    (I’ve added lights and other necessary bike things too!)

  • doug in seattle. says:

    A good bike is never finished. OEM parts are merely placeholders until the perfect component mix is achieved. And once the perfect mix has been achieved, the only thing to do then is to improve it, or just change your mind and do something differently because life is weird when you’re not working on a bike.

  • jamesmallon says:

    Kona Paddy Wagon – now finished:
    – riser stem
    – fenders
    – bigger chainring
    – fixed/free switched to fixed/fixed
    – bars with longer hooks, double wrapped in cotton, shellacked
    – Brooks B17N
    – Shimano double sided-spd pedals

    ’06 Lemond Croix de Fer – almost finished:
    – bars double wrapped in cotton, shellacked
    – Brooks Ti Swallow (1/2 price!)
    – 30/42/52 triple chainrings to 26/42/48
    – Shimano road spd pedals

    Urbane Cycle touring frame – almost finished:
    – came fixed/free, switched to Surly Dingle Cog on the fixed side, put a 6-speed freewheel on the free side
    – putting a Tiagra rear derailleur on with a downtube shifter
    – Shimano spd/platform pedals

    Next projects!
    A steel 29er with the Shimano 11 hub, when it comes.
    Kona Ute with a baby seat, and Moustache or Albatross bars.

  • Jonathan says:

    In the last few years I purchased a custom A.N.T. and my “country bike” which started as a frameset that I had built up piece by piece at my local bike shop. Having enjoyed the results for a couple years, I will never go back to buying a complete bike off the rack. The process is well worth the wait and price, in my mind.

    The bikes are comfortable (absolutely no neck or back strain), beautiful, and extremely functional; as a result, they get ridden more than any other bike I have owned. And yet, the country bike continues to get tinkered with…it’s so much fun.

  • alan g. says:

    No, can’t leave well enough alone, much to the chagrin of my wife and the detriment of my checking account! Anyway, your allusion to your Schwinn Stingray brought back fond memories of the one I had as a kid, having saved up my own money to it buy at Bob’s Bicycle shop ( a one room shop in my hometown ) and rode all over the place until I bought my first car.

  • Benedict C-K says:

    I think it makes perfect sense for a bike to be uniquely suited to its owner’s wants and needs. My stable, for instance, includes a bike for nearly any occasion, and each has been modified in one way or many. I’ve even gone so far as to build my own frames and racks, just so I could have what I wanted. Art, music, dance, literature, etc… I’m no good at expressing myself in any of those things. Bikes, though… Noble transportation is my medium! The torch is my pen, and the streets are my dance floor!

    Too much?

  • Alan says:


    Wow, I’m glad to see I’m not the only one. Thanks for the affirmation… ;-)

    @Benedict C-K

    “Too much?”

    Naw, I love it. :-)


  • Trevor says:

    I think this trend runs deep in the veins of most cyclists and all gearheads alike. This has actually been a bit of an issue with my fiance. I’ve heard the phases “You have bike parts all over the place!” and “when are you going to be done with that bike!”. While I do have to admit I have a few junk frames and parts I need to get rid of, I suffer from a severe case of Yankeeism (we tend to never throw anything out if there is any perceived way it can still be used), I’ve come to the reality that my bikes will never be done. I’m constantly swapping parts.

    Keep tinkering my friends!!!


  • bongobike says:

    Everyone who likes bikes tinkers with them. A bike is so easy to work on, and making it your own is half the fun of cycling! Not only do we modify stock bikes, but even when we think we’ve reached perfection we can’t leave well enough alone. And the money we spend!!! I guess it’s like any other passion; it’s not a hobby if you’re not spending tons of money. :)

  • Dwainedibbly says:

    Over about 4 years: Start with a Bianchi San Jose singlespeed. It fits great, but we can make it better! Add Fenders & rear rack. Change pedals to Velo-Orange platforms. Decide that the afternoon headwinds are too brutal & add a White Industries Dos-ENO two-speed freewheel (17-19). Add a 40T chain ring, giving 42-40 so that the chain length is the same regardless of which freewheel cog is in use. (Can’t flip-flop the hub easily with rear-facing dropouts & fenders, right?) Decide after a year of that setup that you really need gears, so build up a SRAM iMotion-9 hub laced to a Mavic A719 rim. Build a matching front wheel. Lose the 40T chain ring. Cut off one end of the drop bars & use a Hub-bub adapter so that the iMotion shifter will work. Realize that now that you actually have gearing for headwinds that you no longer need to tempt the pinched nerve in your neck & switch over to and adjustable stem and On-One Mary handlebars bars with some really great levers from Harris that include “parking brake buttons”. Once the Alfine 11 arrives, I’ll pass the iMotion-9 to Mrs Dibbly, build myself an Alfine 11, and sell off her Nexus-8 red band/A719 wheel.

    Alan: you just HAD to post those great front carrier pictures the other day, didn’t you? Now I need a front rack! :)

    Oh, and we’re moving to Portland in a week so over the summer I’m going to have to build up a wheel with a generator hub. Good thing Harris had the A719 on sale.

    Suffice it to say that some of my local cycling buddies got some screaming deals on complete bikes and slightly-used parts as Mrs Dibbly & I prepared for this move.

    It never ends, but it’s a lot of fun. When I was a kid I had an afternoon paper route in the small town where I grew up. In that situation, it’s like living in the old American West, where the cowboys were totally dependent on their horses. If my bike didn’t work I was in a lot of trouble. It was learn how to work on the bicycle (Schwinn Typhoon 3-speed in Campus Green) or else!

  • Carolyn I says:

    I did lots of customizing my Rocky Mountain right away, within a week of buying bike, I started customizing it. Over a period of a few months, I put on fenders, a bell, an odometer, a rack, my Basil bags, a basket, and a bottle holder. Bike didn’t come with those, bare bones bike.

    Eventually, I’ll replace the seat too, although the current one is ok and works for me. The Brooks saddles look so tempting! I will replace the pedals in a few years when they wear out. Oh, and then there’s the kickstand, I want one that goes under bike, having one go on the side doesn’t work well when you have a fully loaded bike (with groceries) I want to get that replaced for next season.

    @bongobike You are right about spending money on it, I’ve been doing just that! But heh, it makes it my CUSTOM special. No other bike will be just like it!

    Speaking of customizing bike, I’m surprised that the $18 stock tires that came with the bike have lasted so long, 3000 kms so far, and not worn out/no flats at all. I think they will last till at least 5000 kms. The question is, how much do I spend on new tires? I don’t have a problem with flats at all, and I am hoping new tires when I get them, will not have a flat problem also! What do you spend on commuter style tires?

  • Steve Butcher says:

    I’ve got a small flock of “ugly ducklings”, too. To me, its neat to see an old, dirty vintage bike clean up to something one can value. I enjoy tinkering and coming up with something unique. Of course, I also appreciate fine quality bikes such as the ones I see on Ecovelo.

  • beth h says:

    I have four bikes: city, road, cargo and singlespeed racer. Three of them came to me as framesets and I built them up with mixtures of new and used parts. The fourth came to me as a stock bike that needed parts upgrades, so I swapped in the stuff I liked and sold off what was left.

    I was a shop mechanic for 13 years, until I became the buyer three years ago. Now I don’t work on bikes for my living and it’s more enjoyable to tinker at home– not that I’ve suddenly got tons more time to do that! Most of my tinkering is by necessity rather than out of boredom. Mostly I just ride things until they start to complain; then I diagnose, tweak and rebuild as needed, and resume riding.

    Still, it’s nice to be able to do it all myself, from overhauling hubs and rebuilding wheels. Even though I no longer wrench for a living, being able to fix bikes still gives me satisfaction.

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