How to Assemble a Road Bike

Although I recently sold my triathlon race bike frame (and its guts are spewed all over our apartment), I have placed the order for a new (seriously sweet) tri bike frame from one of my awesome sponsors, Kestrel. However, the delivery date is T.B.D. (rumors have it that its still being optimized to be the best it can be; I love love love engineering!), and I just couldn’t go any longer without riding my trainer (seriously, who says that?).

I have also decided that this will be the summer that I race my first road race. Maybe even a crit or two, who knows. In just my first year of cycling, I’ve developed quite a passion for the sport. Training with the big kids pushes me to get to the next level. Getting other women involved in the sport is really motivating, too. So, in order to train now and race (UCI legal) later, I had to get a road bike. The awesome guys at The Bike Shop twisted my arm, I swear.

The day the bike arrived, I told everyone who crossed my path that it was Christmas. I felt giddy and happy, and I was smiling ear to ear, so excited to hop on the saddle. My LBS really helped a girl out, like they usually do, because they found me the best deal, looked through their catalogs at last year’s bikes that were still in stock, and truly helped me save money and get the best bang for my buck (I am a graduate student, after all). Since I spend a lot of my free time in the Shop anyway, I thought- what the heck, I might as well try to put my own dang bike together.

So, without further adieu, I introduce to you… my new best friend, Jamis Xenith Race.

Getting the bike into my apartment was the easy part. Actually, putting the bike together wasn’t too bad either. Most bikes these days come to your local bike shops pretty far along on the assembly process. There’s some attachments and tightening and tuning that must happen, but its not like the bike shop dudes will have to assemble the wheels for you (well, in most cases anyway).

So I decided to assemble my own bike. Easy schmeezy? I wouldn’t go that far. But it wasn’t terrible.

Step 1: Mount bike on bike stand. Since my bike is all-carbon, I had to be extra-careful not to tighten the grip too tight to the top tube, otherwise I would run the risk of cracking it. Not a good thing to do on Day One. Once its on the rack, its much easier (and safer for the bike) to take the packaging off. Again, all-carbon means I don’t want my bike really touching anything unless my wheels are on, so touching the fork to the floor is a really bad idea.

Step 2 Put the saddle on the bike. Then, assembling the bike is that much easier because I can access the cable housing for the brakes and rear derailer much easier. Another just-be-careful tip: Don’t tighten the seat post down too hard if its an all carbon post. Carbon is extra-stiff with a high strength-to-weight ratio, but doesn’t fair well under hoop stresses (carbon tube lay-up, anyway, which is what bikes are made with). So, tighten it down juuuust enough so that the seat post doesn’t move. Use a torque wrench and make sure you don’t exceed the collar’s max torque (I knew I forgot something, thanks RunningBlonde! My LBS guys have their internal torque wrenches dialed !).

sStep 3: Put on the brakes and handlebars. Some bikes come with integrated headsets, others don’t. Be careful when you are changing things like your stem (that connects your handlebars to your headset), because it could result in your fork falling off your bike and crashing to the ground (another problem if you’ve got a carbon fork).The handlebars are attached to the stem pretty easily, but what position they are in really depends on the cyclist. If you put it together and see that it doesn’t fit quite right, modify the handlebar placement by getting different length stems or stems with different angles. I ride a 60mm stem on my tri bike, which is basically nothing, and I like it that way. It all depends on your bike fit and what you want to get out of your bike.

The brakes are pretty fun to connect; there is a hole on the backside of the fork that reaches the front side, where the front brake sits (usually). Tighten the bolt with an allen wrench and your brakes are attached!  Line up the brakes and tighten the bolt down even more to make sure the brakes don’t go all wobbly on ya. Positioning the brakes just-right over the wheels is an easy affair.Step 4: Route the cables. Routing cables can be easy or it can be a lot of work. There are different cables for brakes and shifters, too. Lucky for me, my rear and front derailer cables were already good-to-go (most bikes will come like that if you buy a complete bike). Having the right length and the right tension in the cables is key (plus, the cables wear in over time, so its always a good idea to take the bike back into the bike shop and have them tighten things back down after a month or so of riding on a new bike). Step 5: Make the fit adjustments. I sold my last road bike (Marin Treviso) because of two reasons: #1- I always rode my tri bike because it was my first tri season and I wanted to get comfortable on it (hence, I never rode my roadie) and #2- riding my road bike made my crotch (sorry!) and shoulders hurt-like-hell. I could never find my sit bones, and I’d always end up propped up with the front of my pubis on the nose of my saddle. No matter how many times I’d try to sit back and find my sit bones, I never could. Maybe over the last year I’ve learned to sit right thanks to my triathlon bike (not likely), or maybe the Xenith (size 51) was made for me, but throwing a leg over that bike, at the height I arbitrarily chose for the saddle, just fit! The pedals were where they needed to be (so the crank arms were the right length, too), my sit bones were where they needed to be, my shoulders felt relaxed and my arms weren’t stretched out, and everything felt gooood. I didn’t even have to swap saddles, which is something I’ve heard that everyone does.

As a side note, I really think anyone that shells out a couple grand on a bike should get it professionally fit. Hands-down, the best thing I did to prepare for my first triathlon season was to get fit on my tri bike. I was lucky and never had any issues with back problems or cramping, on the bike or afterward, and I attribute this to the fit. I went to Peak Performance in Sylvan Lake, Michigan, to get mine done. Chad is a great guy! Very knowledgeable, and willing to spend extra time with his customers to make sure they leave happy.A few other tips:

  • Support your LBS: True, these dudes are my really good friends. But I have a passion for shopping local anyway. Wherever you’re LBS, the staff will likely have your bike ready-to-ride out the door when you buy it, so that takes all these steps out of the picture.
  • No go? Try online vendors: Not everywhere has an LBS (or a bike shop that sells tri bikes, or a bike shop with nice people). I bought my first tri bike (Quintana Roo Caliente) through an online vendor. I was nervous at first, but since my LBS couldn’t get the Scott Plasma Contessa that I dreamed about for so long, I had to get something (there was an incredible backorder those bikes were on, which I attribute to Linsey Corbin’s success at IMWC ’08)! Trusted online vendors that I’ve used: (always well stocked and very knowledgeable staff!) and Backcountry (BC is hit or miss with bike stock)

So there you have it: some (very basic) steps to building your bike when it comes. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to ride my bicycle now.


2 thoughts on “How to Assemble a Road Bike

  1. I’d recommend a torque wrench when tightening a carbon seat post. It won’t allow you to over-tighten and crack the frame. It’s just a few extra bucks, which is nothing when you compare it to the price of replacing a cracked frame!

  2. This is so awesome.. my boyfriend and I went to the Twin Cities Bike Swap today, and while I came outta there with a few awesome deals, I did NOT end up getting a road bike, which I need to just bite the bullet and do. Soon.

    My boyfriend is like Mr. Cycle, so it was awesome having him there to help me out and even just recognize what I’m “looking for.” He used to work at a bike shop out in Washington and has built plenty of bikes from the ground (er, frame) up, but I can’t even imagine doing it. Which makes it all the more crazy cool that you did this!!

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