The Fatster 1, back in winter 2017/2018. I look back at this picture and think ‘all that unnecessary packaging’… possibly a downside to a self-build bike…?
I have built five further ‘Fatsters‘ for people and I’m ‘coaching’ another chap through his own self-build at the moment (summer 2020). Not that many and not enough to make a living from, but that’s not what it’s about, being serious about it I would need insurances and other overheads. It is more about the fun of building and sharing the ‘love’ and passing on the knowledge.
You don’t need to be super clever to build up a bike, however some practical and engineering skills are a benefit, as well as an eye for detail and quality. Like with a lot of things in life, if you don’t do it properly there could be consequences…
It’s also helpful to have a good workshop and the tools, items such as wheel truing jigs are probably going to be the most costly, other specialist tools such as hub spanners and bearing presses can all be bought for less that £20.
Doing the Research:
As mentioned the Fatster is a bike to fill a particular ‘niche’, the only thing similar on the high street is the Trek Stache (I still have a Stache 9.7). The main item of a bike-build is probably the frame. Again I did quite a lot of research in trying to ascertain the right specification. I used a supplier called ‘Workswell’, based in Shenzen, China. Almost all bicycle frames come from the far east – branded or unbranded, for example ‘Giant Bikes’ are made in Taiwan, reputedly the biggest bicycle factory in the world. At the other end of the spectrum you have the ‘Open Mould’ companies like ‘Hongfu’, ‘Dengfu’ and ‘Longteng’ (Longteng are reportedly the supplier for the ‘Ribble’ bike frames). The term ‘Open Mould’ means that it is a design that is not proprietary to a particular brand – like ‘Trek’, or ‘Cannondale’ and the ‘generic’ suppliers use them.
Quality, Warranty and Come-back…?
The Chinese companies mentioned above usually offer a two year warranty, how easy it is to make a claim – I have no idea..? Probably not that easy… and this is perhaps were you expect to have a trade-off, between getting something cheap and getting something with high integrity. The converse is ‘branded’ bikes are expensive, but you also pay considerably for the reputation and reliability.
– Basically it’s the old adage – you pay for what you get and is that a ‘Risk’ that you are happy to manage or live with..?
The Workswell WCB-M-149 29ER + Frame has been on my Fatster 1 bike for some 30 months now, it has done well over 15,000km and has been raced on ‘hard’ many times. It has however been very well looked after and maintained – more so the components, than the frame itself, which does not actually need much in the way of maintenance. I think it’s stood the test of time incredibly well, the frame weighs in at around 1375g for a large size, it’s not ‘super-weight-weeny’ light and nor should it be for a Mtb. There have been many forum discussions on ‘generic ‘ carbon frames (and components), failing or of poor quality, but from what I have seen these tend to be road bike and time-trial bike variants. ‘Workswell’ do undertake a level of strength testing and their papers can be requested when purchasing – only to a structural-strength expert they will make much sense, but it does appear that ‘they’ do something!
Wheels, Stems, Seat-posts, Handlebars and other components:
I have used various companies for all these parts, for the wheels my top place to go to for Rims and Wheels is Light Bicycle Company, they have a brilliant pick-n-mix website http://www.lightbicycle.com and I have used their 50mm wide rims on a number of own wheel builds. Like building the bike itself, wheel-building is another skill well worth mastering, so like with everything else in life nowadays, instructions and guidance can be found on ‘Youtube’! Ali Clarkson provides a great start, link here: Ali Clarkson That said however I suspect some professional guidance and tuition could also be of benefit… My first wheel set took me an age to do, but I got there in the end and it has been a ‘true’ running wheel all tensioned nicely and remaining that way since. There are lots of tips and techniques to watch for that will improve build-up speed, reliability and longevity.
– always grease your nipples!
My Fatster 1 is built from ‘branded’ carbon parts, mainly ‘Deda’ an Italian brand. For later ‘Fatsters’ I have used more generic ‘non-branded’ parts. Off inspection and from ride testing, these items seem to be of sufficient strength and quality, again because they are for Mtb, they tend to be more heavy-duty and durable. It is probably if you are a ‘weight-weeny’ type of person then make sure the lightweight items are up to the job.
Keeping weight down is key and it is pleasing to see most of my Fatster Eagle 1×12 bikes come in at under 10kg. The SRAM Eagle componentry is just fantastic – either GX, X01 or if you want the ‘bling’ then the XX1 are all good. The ‘GX’ is as good as the other two, but a shade heavier, my choice would be X01 – for the carbon crank and one-piece machined cassette – a true beauty of design and machining excellence! …And keep on top of your chain changes and it to will also last – mine is still going fine at 15,000km! SRAM Eagle is simply bombproof!
My next favorite brand is ‘Hope’, made less than 30km, just down the road in Barnoldswick (or Barlick to locals!). The factory tour is an excellent thing to see, they stay ahead by innovation and reliability, not cheap, but people are prepared to pay a premium for stuff that works well and looks good – and nothing better than billet metal machinings!
Lots to say here, but I’ll just touch on a couple of things; I’m a big advocate of ‘wet-assembly’, branded bikes see little if any the way of grease applied to the bearings, axles etc, other than perhaps a small dollop on the freehub, a lithium grease often works well. While your at it, also make sure you use ‘Loctite’ in the right places as well – sometimes a little helps on the press-fit bottom-brackets to stop those any creaks. Finally use a torque wrench to prevent overtightening, most components have aluminium thread inserts and they can strip quite easily.
Tyres and tyre materials have improved so much in the last decade, everything is now getting fatter..! – gone are the 23mm race tyres – 28mm is now the new norm, much better ride, grip, rolling resistance, puncture resistance and longevity. Same for Mtbs, don’t be put off buy volume, have 3″ tyres gives you a magic carpet ride, tonnes of grip and no rolling penalties – you have to try a ‘plus’ bike! No suspension needed either, if you are after a long-distance cruiser! Wtb Ranger Light & Fast or Bontrager Chucabra (now XR2) are the tyre of choice – both great!
As a wrap-up the other thing to think about, is when buying a second-hand bike is its ‘history’. We worry about the integrity of non-branded Chinese Carbon parts, but if the bike you are buying has had a hard ‘bump’, there could well be underly issues that could cause a failure in the future. That said ‘carbon’ behaves differently to either aluminium, steel or titanium, it tends not to ‘harbour’ cracks or ‘dormant failures’, that could propagate, carbon usually fails in quite an ‘explosive’ way. I enjoyed watching Danny MacAskill test to destruction a set of carbon wheels, it is quite unbelievable what they stood up to – link here… Wheel Test
My Fatster (Mk5) – its full of ‘generic’ carbon components (except the seat post which is a genuine Deda part). I like the unassuming ‘stealth’ look. I’m getting this set-up for longer outings with a Frame bag in-situ, which I have never used before. My prefered set-up is a 13l bar bag, 10l seatpost bag and a small top tube bag, and this will work for medium distance outings (4-6 days) in reasonable weather conditions. Many folk ‘festoon’ their bikes with a clutter of bags – I have counted 9 in some cases …are they all necessary..? Less is better!