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Posted by Jennifer Gwiazdowski on

LBK Member Francis O. reviews his BYOB class from the summer

In June 2016 I completed a Build Your Own Bike Day at the London Bike Kitchen. The bike that resulted from that day has become the most important in my stable.  Here’s why.

In the weeks leading up to the build, I’d spoken to mechanic Seb about the bike I wanted.  He then picked out a used frame that he thought would fit the bill.  We also specced out components - some spares from my shed at home, some bits salvaged from the shelves of LBK and some new stuff ordered-in specifically.

I arrived at 11am on the morning of the build.  I cleaned the frame and the pre-loved, but largely unwashed, components.  The early 90s Marin frame Seb had selected wasn’t turning any heads at this stage.  Clamped in the work stand, it looked its age.

Over the next couple of hours, we built it up, improvising wildly as the circumstances required.  That headset stack won’t fit - sh1t.  Now what?  Seb did the intellectual spadework while I stood by with Allen keys and spanners.  Eventually, he cracked it.  We found our headset.

This set the template for the next few hours.  Some plans worked straight out of the box and some didn’t.  Every time we hit a hitch, Seb would do the Yoda bit while I awaited further instruction.  By lunchtime, we had a bare bones of bike: wheels, headset, drive chain, handlebars.  This is happening, I thought.  But the late afternoon had other ideas.

We reached a major dip in the road when we couldn’t find brakes and a gear shifter that would work with our proto-bike.  Seb made a few calls and I headed out on the LBK shopper bike to fetch the missing bits he’d sourced.

By the early evening, the smell of copper grease was starting to get on my nerves, a sure sign I was beginning to flag.  And we were now under time pressure too.  I didn’t see how we’d get this done.  But Seb was confident we’d get a functioning two-wheeler under me by close of play or die trying.

By 7 o’clock, I was exhausted and frantic.  All I kept thinking was “These people have got homes to go to.  I must stop and admit defeat.”  However, following Seb’s patient verbal instructions absolutely by this stage (I was too frazzled to remember how to install a brake cable), we got the bike in a rideable condition.

One final hurdle - we took it outside for the first test ride.  It fitted like a glove.  It actually fitted.  I couldn’t believe it.  The garbled “design brief” I’d hastily outlined to Seb weeks before was realised.  The bike was exactly as I’d imagined, but more so.  I felt like I’d owned it all my life.  There was a “rightness” about it that immediately set it apart from all my other bikes.  It’s not the fastest; it’s not the lightest, but then nor am I.  It’s the bike version of me.

If you build a bike at the LBK, it won’t be sweetness and light from start to finish.  You’re not assembling a kit, here.  There will be unforeseen problems and frustrations, but the upshot of all that is a bicycle that you sweated over, that you built with your own hands.  And there is no greater pleasure for the bike-lover when asked “Where d’you get the bike?”, than to respond “I built it actually.”