Building a Road Bike

I have a 34-pound steel 10-speed that I bought at a yard sale about 20 years ago. Here it is hanging on a home-made bike stand:

I put a few new parts on it last year and it works fine. It could use a little adjusting but it's a good exercise bike. I would like, however, to make my workouts a little more interesting. To that end I have decided to get a road bike, a light weight bicycle meant for paved roads, designed to go fast and far. Do I buy an entry level (i.e. cheap) bike, find something used, or perhaps build one from scratch? My spending limit: $500. A colleague happened to have a box of Shimano 105 road bike hardware that she no longer needed and offered it to me:

My choice was suddenly very clear: build a bike.


I looked at many forums while contemplating this project. Most I found via Google while researching specific topics. One helpful site with good pictures and diagrams is the Park Tool Repair page. There are many interesting and informative articles by Sheldon Brown on this page: Shimano offers clear and useful technical documents on all their parts: Here are some sites about bike fit: (this one has video)


The only bike frames in my budget are made of steel or aluminum. Since I already have a steel frame bike, I would like to try an aluminum frame. There are several internet vendors selling aluminum bike frames. I looked at Performance, Nashbar, Bike Island and Randall Scott Company. Difficult decision as all appear to offer similar products at reasonable prices. I went with a basic aluminum frame from Performance for three reasons: good reviews, good price, removable decals.

Bike fit is supposed to be very important and frame size determines how well the bike will fit the rider. I looked at several sites about how to measure for correct fit. This is one of my favorites:

Most sites agree that inseam measurement is the most important, and that you should go on the low side if you are between sizes. A smaller frame will be lighter and stiffer. My inseam is between 32 and 33 inches so I went with a frame with a 54 cm seat tube.

June 10, 2010

The bike frame arrived, weighing less than 4 pounds::

Clean threads on the bottom bracket

Ugly (i.e. not ground) but beefy welds at the seat post:

Built in rear derailleur hanger:

Other Parts

With a frame and a box of parts, I had some idea what parts I needed to complete the bike. Here is a list of vendors, parts, prices and order dates

vendor item cost shipping total ordered
Performance aluminum frame $89 $12 $101 6-Jun
Jenson stem $12   $12 6-Jun
Bicycle Wheel Warehouse Mavic Open Sport - Shimano 105 hubs $190 $20 $210 6-Jun
Jenson Easton handlebar $18   $18 6-Jun
Nashbar Nashbar fork $90 $19 * $109 14-Jun
Jenson Jagwire cables $28   $28 6-Jun
Jenson cork tape $9   $9 6-Jun
Jenson seat post $16   $16 6-Jun
Jenson saddle $15   $15 6-Jun
Performance Vittoria Zaffiro road tires, 700x23 $30 $19 * $49 14-Jun
Performance tubes (3) $12   $12 14-Jun
Jenson Cane Creek S-3 headset $35 $14 * $49 16-Jun
Jenson seat post clamp $3   $3 16-Jun
Jenson Shimano 9-speed chain $15   $15 16-Jun
Pro Pedals Bike Shop cable stops $8   $8 20-Jun
Pro Pedals Bike Shop rim tape $6   $6 21-Jun
      total $660  

* express shipping

I went over my $500 budget but I should end up with a nice bike: a light weight 18-speed bike with a carbon fork and Shimano 105 hardware. And I get the adventure of learning how to put the bike together :-D

Installing the parts

June 13. The bottom bracket consists of a spindle and bearings that allow the pedal cranks to turn easily. It has two threaded ends. Here is the used bottom bracket from the gift box:

The right end is part of the spindle housing and the left end is a threaded sleeve. The right side screwed in easily on reversed threads. The left side started to bind after about one turn:

Looking closely at the threads, I could see that they were a bit flattened. I slid the sleeve onto a close-fitting wooden dowel and mounted it in the lathe:

Then I used a knife-edged needle file to "sharpen" the threads:

I filed the threads several times, trying the sleeve in the bottom bracket threads after each try until I was able to spin the sleeve on without it binding:

June 17. With clean threads, I was ready to install the bottom bracket. I greased the threads and the shaft ends as per Shimano instructions:

I screwed in the right side, hand tight:

I did the same on the other side, then came back with a torque wrench and tightened each side to about 45 foot-pounds. I had to buy a special 20-tooth socket that fits into the bearing cup:

With the bottom bracket installed, I screwed on the cranks and pedals. The crank arms require a metric allen wrench and the pedals a 15 mm open end wrench:

The front derailleur is also installed in the picture above. At first, the derailleur didn't fit:

I made a shim from a piece of plastic drain pipe:

Perfect fit!

The rear brakes bolt on with one nut. I put stainless star washers (not shown) on each side of the frame member to keep the brake caliper from rotating:

The rear derailleur bolts to the rear hanger using a metric allen wrench:

Next I have to figure out how to install the front fork, arrived on June 17:

June 19. I went to a local bike shop (LBS) this morning to look for cable stops. The frame has two threaded posts on the downtube

but I didn't have cable stops and didn't know if they sold cable stops for these posts. They do:


I approached the next step, installing the fork, with some concern and anxiety. The fork steering tube, shiny aluminum, is relatively soft metal. It will sit in the head tube surrounded by two steel bearings (called the headset) that must be pressed into place. If I screw up, I could damage the head tube, the fork and/or the bearings. Some DIY sites say take it to the LBS if you don't have the tools, some say it's easy. In the end, I'm glad I did it myself, but it was not "easy."

Here is the head tube, an integral part of the bike frame:

The top and the bottom of the tube are machined, but I didn't know if they were "reamed and faced" as the bearing instructions require. When I went to the LBS this morning I showed the frame to an employee and he said the tube was ready for the bearings. That was a load off my mind.

Here is my homemade bearing press consisting of threaded rod, washers and nuts. At the bottom are components of the headset, from left to right, a spacer, the top bearing cup with bearing and cap, the lower bearing cup and bearing.

I set the top bearing assembly and a spacer on the head tube and hand tightened the press. I put the spacer on the cap of the bearing assembly as layer of protection from the steel washer:

I tightened the nuts until the bearing cup was seated in the tube. No tighter than necessary:

This took a few tries. The bearing cup did not want to go in straight so I had to loosen the press, knock the cup out with a piece of wooden dowel and a hammer, and try again.

Same exercise with the lower bearing:

This took many tries. I finally got it, though. If I were to do this again, I would make a better press. It should have pipes on the inside to keep the bearing cups from tilting and to keep the rod centered in the head tube.

The next step was to pre-assemble the fork and stem to get an accurate measure of the steerer tube length. Before the fork could go on, I had to install a crown race at the bottom of the tube. First I tried one web suggestion of freezing the fork for 30 minutes and heating the crown race with a heat gun. The parts are supposed to go together easily, but it didn't work for me. I found that a volleyball net pole piece was the right size to use as an installation tool:

I inverted the fork over the tube and bashed the volleyball pole repeatedly on the garage floor. The picture above shows the inverted fork in the volleyball pole. The pole diameter has to be large enough so that it doesn't hit the cone part of the crown race. I had to hit it pretty hard. Done:

Now I could preassemble the fork and stem:

I inscribed a line at the top of the stem (the stem is the horizontal piece labeled EA50) with a sharp center punch. Actually, I installed four spacers before I made my mark. I'm not sure how high the stem is supposed to be, but I can always cut the tube if it's too long. I disassembled the fork and measured down 3 mm from the line I inscribed and drew a new line. The steerer tube must be 3 mm below the stem to allow the cap to pull the tube up to tighten it later.

I was a little worried at this point. There was some play in the fork and I thought it was a problem with the bearings or the steerer tube. I kept going.

With tube marked, I cut it with a hacksaw in a miter box:

I filed burrs off the end of the tube and squared it up a bit with a file. The bearings came with a star nut with a center bolt. This is tapped into the steerer tube to a depth of 15 mm. I straddled the fork over a piece of 1x4 to tap in the star nut. First I left the bolt in and tapped on the bolt with a hammer. Then I removed the bolt and used a piece of wooden dowel to tap the star nut in farther. I could tap the side of the nut to keep the nut straight in the tube:

Then I greased the bearings and put it all together. According to the headset instructions, I tightened the cap bolt just until the fork tightened up. There was no more play in the fork and the steerer turned smoothly. Here is the top of the stem:

The whole thing:

Ready for handlebars.

June 20. Handlebars and shifter/brake levers on:

When I tried to install the front brake caliper, I found that the threaded mounting post was too short to go through the narrow section of the hole in the fork. The rear caliper fits, though not with the sleeve nut. I will be able to use both brakes but I will need a new nut for the rear.

Installed brake cables:

I will tape these cables to the handlebars, then wrap the bars with cork tape.

The angle cutter easily cuts the metal cable:

Then I cleaned up the ends on the bench grinder:

The Jagwire cable set comes with good instructions. I followed them to cut and install the brake and shifter cables. I also read Sheldon Brown's article on cables.

June 21. My wheels came:

Light, true, shiny wheels. I was amused by the shipping carton. This end up?? It's a WHEEL!

I put on rim tape to protect the tube from the metal rim. The spoke heads are recessed on these wheels so the tape may not be necessary but I think of this as cheap flat tire insurance:

I fitted each wheel with tire and tube. I put in about 60 psi for the moment, carefully using the garage compressor. I learned how to use the quick release mounts and mounted the two wheels. Front quick release lever:

Rear axle showing derailleur cable detail and rear hub with no gears yet:

I fixed my brake mounting problems with a recess nut from Pro Pedals bike shop. I adjusted the brakes, put on the seat and flipped the handlebar stem to get a little more height on the bars. It really looks like a bike now:

I still have to put on the chain and rear gears.

June 22. Here are the nine rear gears. This assemblage is called a cassette:

The first four or five larger gears are fixed together. The rest are loose, with spacers between. They only fit one way on the splined hub, due to different spline spacing:

Even though there is only one way to put these gears on, I managed to put the last one on wrong because there is not much spline left at the end. This made me think I needed an extra spacer, but I discovered my error by disassembling the set of gears and placing them back on more carefully. I torqued the end plate to 40 N.m, as per the stamp on the top. This requires a special tool that fits in the teeth of the outer plate. Here are the tools needed to install and remove the cassette, a cassette lockring tool and a chainwhip to hold the cassette still during disassembly:

Cassette installed:

Rear wheel ready for a chain:

June 24 and 25.

There was an old chain in the gift box, a little stretched. I bought a new one, but I practiced sizing, cutting and joining a chain using the old one. How long should the chain be?

Here is an article on determining chain length:

I wanted to use the "existing chain method" but I didn't know if my bike was the same size than the one the old chain came from. By trial and error with the old chain, I determined chain length to be 54" which was the length of the old chain... I bought a Park chain tool, the CT-5:

I have a Shimano HT 9-speed chain. It uses a special silver tone pin to join the chain, shown above.

The chain tool has a cradle to hold a chain link against a sturdy backstop:

To cut the chain to the proper length, I put the appropriate link in the cradle and cranked on the handle to push the old pin out:

I threaded the chain through the top of the front derailleur, and through the rear derailleur pulleys as shown in this blurry picture:

I pulled the chain ends together at the bottom and pushed the pilot tip of a pin into the link:

I used the chain tool to push the pin in:

I drove in the pin until it was flush with the link, like other links:

The pilot end is snapped off with pliers.

Before the chain was installed, I adjusted the rear derailleur according to Shimano technical documents. First, with no cable connected, I adjusted the "high" setting by turning the H screw on the derailleur:

Turning this screw moves the pulley from side to side. I turned it until the pulleys lined up with the smallest gear:

Then with the cable connected and the shift lever all the way to the low gear, I adjusted the L screw until the largest gear lined up with the pulleys:

The final adjustment is done with the chain on. I shifted to the second highest gear and turned the gray tension adjuster until the chain just began to rub the third gear, then backed it off.

Test Rides

I took the bike out for a test drive and found that sometimes the chain would not shift on one click, so I adjusted again. It works on the bike stand. Ready for a test ride.

June 26. I adjusted the seat slightly and took the bike for a 2-mile ride. Smooth shifting through all gears. The bike fits, though I will research this a bit more.

Here is the bike almost finished. I have to tape the handlebars and get a speedometer.

June 27. I adjusted the front derailleur, again with the help of Shimano documents.

I taped the brake cables under the handlebars with electrical tape. There is a groove underneath the flat bar for that purpose:

Then I wrapped the bars with cork tape and installed the speedometer. You can also see the rearview mirror in this view:

I weighed the bike using a bathroom scale. 20 pounds.

June 28. I raised the seat a little more, after reading articles about bike fit. Then I went for a ride:

On a six-mile ride, I went an average of one mph faster than on the 10-speed, from 15.3 to 16.3 mph average. There was a noticeable reduction in effort. The slight hills were essentially flattened by the lighter weight of the bike and the ease of shifting. So far so sweet.

July 1. I've put about 50 miles on the bike. A rear sprocket noise in higher gears had me wondering if I had to readjust the derailleurs. No. It was the crank loosening up. I got a set of 3/8" drive metric allen wrenches (see below) so I can more accurately torque everything. The bike is silent in all gears.

Here are bike tools, all in one handy location on the garage wall:

July 3. With a few more psi in the tires (110 vs... 90?), my average speed was 17.1 mph on a 10-mile ride. Top speed on the flat road... 25.7 mph. Significant improvement over the old ride.

What is left? I will probably get bike shoes with pedal cleats. I will put more miles on the bike first, to get used to it.

November 2010

I have put over 700 miles on the bike. By the end of the summer, I could average 18.0 miles per hour on a 20 mile ride. Great workout!

Now the shadows are getting long very early:

I want to keep riding so I am researching and experimenting with layers of clothes so I can comfortably ride in colder weather. I've got some moisture-wicking clothes and a close-fitting zippered fleece to keep me warm. I hope these will be sufficient. I've still got to get some warm riding gloves.

January, 2011

I ride on the street whenever I get a chance but cold weather takes some of the pleasure out of riding. I decided to build a trainer so I could exercise in my garage on colder days (and evenings).

March 22, 2011

I hit 1000 miles today, pulled the odometer just before it turned over: