I remember when I started to research for my first Mountain Bike.
I already knew the dangers of department store bikes and found myself limited to three options; Buying from my LBS, buying from an
Online Retailer, or finding a good used bike to revamp.
It didn’t take much time to realize I was in way over my head and that my wallet was about to see its own 08 financial collapse.
In the years since I stopped biking, Mountain Bikes had become a lot more expensive.
Before long, my goal of starting on the ultimate full suspension slowly changed to just being able to afford any bike that could safely get me out on the trail.
Although I eventually settled on a solid used Hardtail, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been cheaper to just build my bike.
Buying used meant that I would most likely need to spend money on new parts and definitely a tune up.
And if I needed to upgrade any of the vital parts, wouldn’t that be considered some form of “building”?
Knowing that many people successfully build and ride their own Mountain Bikes, I decided to revisit the idea and lay out a few factors that could help anyone who is considering a build. If you’re asking yourself the same question, this guide is to help you decide whether or not to build or buy your Mountain Bike.
In our quest demystify the process, I firstly want to lay out a few reasons why someone may consider building a Mountain Bike vs buying one.
I know I introduced the article with the concept that it may be cheaper to build, however, there are more aspects to consider than cost.
The most popular reason bikers build their own Mountain Bikes, is to completely tailor the bike to their own style and needs. Brands like Trek and Santa Cruz have outstanding builds, but it is impossible to build bikes for every individual rider. Building a bike from scratch, allows the rider to fully tailor the bike as preferred.
Another reason to build your own Mountain Bike, is if you have a specific intent as to why you want to go through the process of a build. Borrowing a bit from the point above, this could be if you are looking to customize completely, or even if you are just wanting to know how a bike comes together. And if you can build a Mountain Bike, chances are, you will be a lot better when it comes to Bike Maintenance.
Even more niched down, I have seen riders build bikes from scratch, just because they had the parts lying around with no better use. After years of riding, most Mountain Bikers with the space end up accumulating a slew of spare Mountain Bike parts. And hey, with a frame a solid set of wheels and forks, half the battle is done.
But, building a Mountain Bike is no easy feat, and there is much to consider before you start on the process.
Steps to Build vs Buy
As we compare buying vs building a Mountain Bike, let’s take a look at the steps required for each.
I’ll admit, this is in no shape or form a conclusive list of steps.
I just wanted to provide a quick view as to how the processes differ when buying or building your Mountain Bike.
Although both processes start out with Research, building a bike will require ongoing research, and even additional haggling on price, as you will be buying each part separately.
Further supporting the possible complexity of building a bike, you will be even more stressed to make sure all the parts fit and work properly together.
There is a lot of Responsibility that comes along with building a Mountain Bike, not often recommended for the novice rider.
Researching – Regardless if you’re looking to buy or build, researching your first or next Mountain Bike can take weeks to months depending on your preferences.
If you’re building a bike, this can easily extend to a couple of months, as there is more to consider with each individual bike part. Make sure you take your time and sleep on each decision before making the final call. Since Mountain Bikes are built to last, it is very likely that you will have this bike for years to come, make sure you’ll love it.
Shipping/Sourcing – If you’re buying a Mountain Bike from your LBS, there’s a good chance they’ll have a model ready for you to ride out that day. But if you’re bike fit calls for a special need or if you source from a Direct to Consumer Brand, you may need to wait up to a week for your bike to be shipped.
If you’re building a Mountain Bike, expect a longer wait, as you are sourcing parts individually.
Working on Build – Exclusive to those who are building their Mountain Bike, expect to work on the build for hours at a time. Even those who source from Direct to Consumer brands find that an Out of the box build takes 4-24 hours to be ride-ready.
Add the stresses of everyday life and you could find yourself months behind on your project.
Testing and Troubleshooting – Another exclusive to the builders, you will spend plenty of time fine tuning and correcting your ride. But this comes in handy later, as these moments help you hone the skills needed to maintain your new Bike.
Before you go building your next dream bike, it’s very important that you take time to assess your current skills. Specifically, the skills needed to build a Mountain Bike.
Do you have any experience building or maintaining a Mountain Bike?
Do you know how to install a headset?
Can you recognize the right from left pedal?
Do you know which lube to use on each part?
Do you feel comfortable hitting a Mountain Bike trail on something you built?
With YouTube, there’s not too much you can’t learn after a few videos. But with the safety required for Mountain Bikes, make sure you are confident in your ability to build a sound machine.
On top of that, you should have plenty of experience as a Mountain Biker, as this will really dictate how you build your bike.
When buying a Mountain Bike, you really don’t need that many tools and can often get away with a simple multi-tool.
On the other hand, building a Mountain Bike requires a myriad of tools, even specialized tools like the headset press.
If you’re an experienced bike mechanic, there’s a good chance you have most of the tools lying around. And if not, you probably know a friend or shop that will let you borrow what you need.
On the other hand – If this is your first bike project, expect to drop another $400 on tools. Which I don’t recommend for a beginner still finding their way.
So now to the question that a lot of us ask – is it cheaper to buy or build a Mountain Bike?
The answer may surprise you.
To answer that question, let’s do a breakdown of the cost of a bike if you were to buy each part individually. As well, we will finish off with a few things that explain the cost difference.
For a solid resource on budget Mountain Biking, check out this article on how to get started.
As you can see, this Complete Super Caliber 9.8 costs 5,899.99
But what would it cost to build this bike exactly like Trek?
Lets break it down part by part.
As you can see, if bought separately, these parts come out to a whopping $7218.51 !
That’s 1,318.52 more dollars than buying it complete from Trek.
And not to mention all the extra’s you’ll have to buy on top of it, like lubrication, cables and tools.
Now I was completely surprised when I first did this calculation. I was expecting a custom build to be a lot cheaper than a complete.
But as you can see, it is typically cheaper to buy a complete Mountain Bike as opposed to building a custom.
First things first, manufacturers get most of their parts at “wholesale price”, something the average consumer has no access to.
On top of that, these manufacturers have solid relationships with suppliers and have perfected the process of mass production.
Cheaper parts, a full arsenal of tools and a streamlined production process make it significantly cheaper to buy a Mountain Bike vs building one.
Oh yeah, you see where I mentioned the tools that it takes to build a Mountain Bike. Unless you’re a seasoned rider or bike mechanic, there is a good chance you will have to drop a couple hundred more dollars for tools.
But! – I should add that it can still be cheaper to build your Mountain Bike in certain situations. Keep reading below, as I explain how and when this is possible.
Now we are pretty sure it will be cheaper to buy a Mountain Bike vs buying one, but there are a few instances where this is inaccurate.
So I don’t seem too biased, here are a few situations where it could be cheaper to build a Mountain Bike instead of buying a new one.
1. You have the major items needed to build a bike
If you already have a frame, fork and set of wheels, you are well on your way to building a Mountain Bike. And cheaper than buying one too! Now not everyone has these items lying around, and if you do, there’s a good chance you’re a seasoned biker. At any rate, if you can source some of the more expensive for the cheap, you are in good shape.
2. You have heavy Upgrades planned
Now let’s say you have your eye on a Mountain Bike, however, you’re not too happy with the current build. If you have plans to upgrade the drivetrain, wheel set and suspension shortly after buying, you may need to consider a custom build. With most manufacturers, you can buy the Mountain Bike frame separate and add custom parts as desired.
Pros and Cons
So now that we have a better idea of the costs, I wanted to also add a chart with the Pros and Cons of building and buying a Mountain Bike.
Building a Mountain Bike
Buying a Mountain Bike
Now some of these points can be argued, but in general, you can expect buying a bike to be more desirable compared to building one.
After some research, I wanted to add a few tips for those who are considering a build.
1. Patience, Patience, Patience – it takes a lot of research and waiting to find a good deal on Mountain Bike Frames and parts
2. Double and triple check the parts you plan to add, as you need to guarantee the correct fit and function
3. Don’t be afraid to visit your LBS for guidance and assistance
4. Reach out to friends who have tried a build before
And if you’re in the market to buy…
1. Patience, Patience, Patience. Don’t settle and make sure you scope out the end of year/season deals
2. Visit a few LBS to get a feel for the staff and environment, there’s a good chance you will be back quite a bit throughout the year
3. Always get a fitting!
4. Check out a few “Demo days” (where they demo new bikes you can ride) this will help you determine the bike you’re looking for
If you are still considering a build, try to start with a used bike or frame, so you can work on your project without breaking the bank.
In conclusion, the question of whether or not to build or buy a Mountain Bike really comes down to personal preference and your overall goal.
Both projects require patience and research from your end, however, building a bike can be quite a lot more expensive and involving.
Regardless, each process offers a rewarding journey and end result. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into.
So, do you think you’re ready to build a Mountain Bike? Or are you better fit for buying one? Here are a few guidelines.
Who should build their Mountain Bike and who should buy their mountain bike?
People who should build their Mountain Bike – Building is for experienced riders and mechanics who want a custom bike, have a surplus of parts, or are just wanting to learn the ins and outs of their bike.
People who should buy their Mountain Bike – You should buy your bike if you’re not that picky about the specs and if you are trying to get out on the trail as soon as possible. This also happens to be one of the cheapest ways to ride, even if you’re buying used.