Dan Lucas: How to Build a Mountain Bike on a Budget

Dan Lucas and daughterDan Lucas is a fam­i­ly-man, a walk­ing bike part ency­clo­pe­dia, and a pre­vi­ous Air­borne spon­sored rid­er. A few weeks ago I asked Dan to help me build a moun­tain bike for less. Here today is a write up of his process for get­ting a bike-shop wor­thy ride for a blue-light spe­cial price.

Brad Lane: Before you start buy­ing, what are some of the first things you should con­sid­er?
Dan Lucas: There are a ton of things to con­sid­er, the first thing you want to do is decide just what type of rid­ing are you plan­ning on doing (cross coun­try, down­hill, all-moun­tain, etc.) It might be a lit­tle daunt­ing to fit it into a cat­e­go­ry, but the bet­ter you can nar­row it down the eas­i­er it will be to pick the right frame to start with. Where you live may play into what kind of frame you buy, but bud­get will be the biggest fac­tor. Sus­pen­sion is flashy and will make you more con­fi­dent. But it’s not always the best course to take for a new rid­er, or for a bike on the cheap. Looks for a sol­id hard tail. You will save a ton of mon­ey and learn some valu­able bike han­dling skills that will trans­late into a full sus­pen­sion bike when you upgrade in the future.

BL: What are some of the online resources you need to keep an eye on?
DL: The inter­net is an excel­lent source of clas­si­fied ads for used parts. This is where you save your mon­ey, but you need to know the right ques­tions to ask and what to look for. The first thing you will want to look for after deter­min­ing what kind of bike you want are the big things. The three I usu­al­ly focus on first are the frame, wheels and fork.

Dan’s Tips for Buy­ing used parts on the Web.

  • If it looks too good to be true… It is.
  • Be patient, don’t buy the first one you find.
  • Watch out for scams. Trades are nice but can often be means for a scam. Set up the trade through your LBS and pay it for­ward by buy­ing a part in-shop or pro­vid­ing a six pack.
  • NEVER buy sight unseen. Ask for detailed pic­tures and if they don’t deliv­er, do not buy.
  • Hag­gle! Most peo­ple have for­got­ten you can ask for a low­er price.
  • USE PAYPAL. Do not send a check or mon­ey order, most peo­ple won’t take that any­way. Pay­pal will guar­an­tee a pur­chase up to a cer­tain amount. You can also get a Pay­pal receipt, fur­ther avoid­ing you from get­ting scammed.
  • Bun­dle. When you offer some­thing like “150 bucks,” include ship­ping in your offer. “150 bucks plus shipping.”
  • Buy Local! Craiglist.

BL: Do you need in-depth bike mechan­ic knowl­edge to suc­cess­ful­ly build a bike for less? If so, where you can obtain this? Are bike shops will­ing to help?
DL: Yes and No. You can find most info you will need online. But noth­ing beats using a real life per­son to help you along the way. Most areas will have some sort of bike club, if not more than one. Look them up on the web or stop by the local bike shop (LBS) like Under­dog Bikes (shame­less plug!) and talk to the guys behind the counter. Chances are they know some­one or will be will­ing to help in their off time in exchange for liq­uid pay­ment and greasy piz­za. Search for clubs in your area on Face­book. This is a great way to extend your net­work of friends in the sport, find rid­ing part­ners and learn the ropes. Your LBS is a great way to have your bike put togeth­er for the first time. They will install it right, make sure the bolts are torqued prop­er­ly, grease the things that need grease, and have it rid­ing smooth. Some parts are tricky to install like head­sets, or a crown race, these are impor­tant parts and if installed wrong will cost you mon­ey and time. Take it to your LBS, make some friends, and sup­port local.

BL: Will a bike built from ran­dom parts ride dif­fer­ent­ly then a bike pulled out of the box?
DL: Once again a tricky ques­tion. I will say that yes it can ride dif­fer­ent­ly, but if you’re patient and make smart choic­es it can ride just as good or bet­ter than new. I don’t rec­om­mend buy­ing every part used. Some things are just nev­er the same after a hard sea­son of rid­ing like cas­settes, chain rings, and wear­able items. Beware of used things like derailleurs, they may “work” but  may be bent or bro­ken. If you do buy some­thing used that’s tech­ni­cal­ly impor­tant, like a set of brakes, have your LBS bleed them and install new pads. They will feel like new regard­less of the scratch­es and miss­ing paint. A fork is also a place where you can save some mon­ey. I like Rock­shox as a brand to start with. You can find them used for a steal and they are super easy and one of the most inex­pen­sive brands to have ser­viced. A fresh set of rings and wipers on a fork will do wonders.

BL: So if you do every­thing cor­rect­ly, what kind of sav­ings can you expect?
DL: I would say by doing it this way you can save hun­dreds. A brand new mid­dle-of-the-road trail bike will set you back two to three thou­sand dol­lars. A basic used build for a ride can run any­where from $1,200–1,500, with the right choic­es. 

Take it from Dan the Man, who has built more bikes then his wife can count, Franken­stein bikes done right can ride hard and won’t drain your check­ing account. All that’s left to do after you’ve assem­bled your mas­ter­piece is put on your hel­met and fly through some sin­gle track.