I'd like to buy a repair stand, but I can never seem to convince myself to drop the $100 minimum it seems I'd need to spend. Has anybody had any success building a stand themselves, or is it worth it to just buy one?
I can tell you from experience that your best option is to buy a repair stand.
I worked in a shop for a number of years and thought there was no way I could use a consumer grade stand when I left. I purchased park tool PRS-4W at cost before I left the shop and built my own stand from it. The consumer price is now $200 for that so that is obviously not dealing with your $ issue. And even if it did, I have since purchased and use a consumer grade stand with less features to maintain 4 bikes of different size frames for 5 years now and it was well worth the $ spent. It gets the job done. Bite the bullet, get the stand you'll be glad you did.
As a number of other posts have pointed out, your best option is to get yourself a proper repair stand. They are not that expensive, and you will find that you and your friends all get good use out of it. But, if you are determined to do it on the cheap, here are a couple of techniques that worked for me before getting a workstand:
- Turning the bike upside down - this is really simple and requires no additional purchase. You may want to look at putting some form of drop sheet down underneath the bike both to protect the saddle and handlebars, and to catch drips. This works well for pretty much any work on the wheels or transmission.
- A bike storage rack or car rack - obviously these are already designed to hold a bike, and you may already have one to hand.
- Suspending the bike with rope - If you have some overhead attachment points, this can work, however it is not going to provide an immovable mount for the bike - you will still need to hold the bike against the force of your tools when fastening and unfastening things. A trick to be aware of is to use two suspension points overhead and two on the bike (head tube and seat tube) otherwise the bike will spin in the air.
A lot of bicycle repair shops I've been in have metal double hooks hanging on a rope or a light chain from the ceiling such as these:
One hook goes under your saddle and the other on your handlebars on either side of the steering support. If you attach them a bit farther apart on the ceiling than the distance between your saddle and handlebars it makes for a pretty stable "repair stand". You can get them for EUR 3.95 (here for example) or you could make something similar.
Between the ability to turn the bike upside down and having a trainer that I can hook it to, I never found the need to buy a repair stand (and my current bike was assembled completely from components, so I had to do everything to it that one gets to do to a bike!). I see that a repair stand would save a bit of time, so I would get one if I was doing repair professionally. However, for the amateur, it seems like overkill.
There are a large number of sets of instructions for making your own DIY Bike Repair Stand over on Instructables, this page is the result of searching for Bike Repair Stand on their site. I keep meaning to try out one of these but I never seem to have the time to build one, some of the results look more practical than others, as ever YMMV.
I have built a number of workstands in the past, and it's very difficult to get something as good as the clamp that comes with a decent bought one. Also, many of the cheap "home" stands have useless clamps that make them not worth the hassle. In my experience Park workshop stands are the best, and the copies of those work just as well. Buy the clamp and bolt it to something solid, portable stands are not worth the hassle (they wobble).
The more a "work stand" looks like the transport rack on the back of a car, the less usable it will be. The are easy to make, and that's what I've made in the past. My welding stand is as basic as you get - it's a couple of 10cm lengths of angle iron, one welded to the fixed stand and the other welded to a cheap pair of vice grips, that are welded to the stand. It works, but it's brutal and it's not adjustable enough. Many of the cheap "work stands" differ from that only by having padded jaws.
If you have a work space that you can hang stuff in, the various "hang my bike" rope systems are quite usable, or you can build your own with some pulleys and rope. I do that for my larger bikes (I have a long john and a quad bike), but they're somewhat annoying as the bike isn't held rigidly - it sways when you push on it. It's as bad as using the cheap, light workstands with skinny poles that bend when you push on them.
There are lightweight stands that hold the bottom bracket, so they don't have the long pole going up to shoulder height, and they work relatively well for most maintenance. You can't apply a lot of force to the bike in those stands, but for 90% of the work you do on the bike that's not an issue.
If you have somewhere to bolt it to, I suggest getting the Park clamp and be done with it.
I built one out of timber, part of an old car bike rack (you could easily pick up a damaged one 2nd hand for this) and a few plumbing fittings. I usually use it for storage, but I built it as a work stand. The timber was left over from other jobs, all the other bits were parts I had anyway, so total cost was zero.
Realistic cost in the region of £30/$50 if you don't have to buy a bike carrier (which was disassembled, not destroyed in the process). I also painted it with fence paint so I can leave it outside if it gets in the way, or use it for cleaning bikes if I want to get the gears to a nice working height.
The upright is only 2x2" though, I'd recommend a fence post instead for stiffness. I'll try to get a picture at the weekend, when I can get to it in the light.
Its intended to hang off my landrover (the toolbox-on-wheels) for community fixups. The whole thing unbolts and fits in the back. Can also tie a tarpaulin over the top for on rainy days, and provides easy access to the toolboxes and spares in the back. I also have some old plastic pallets that provide footing if its muddy.
The pictured scene was doing some video testing of freewheeling for a front hub motor compared to a normal front wheel hub. This conclusively proved that the electric motor freewheels about the same as a normal wheel when unpowered.
My dad's garage contains a large workbench with a bench vise mounted on it.
He takes a piece of flexible closed-cell foam, perhaps 1 cm (0.25") thick. He wraps the foam so that it protects the bottom and sides of his bike's top tube. Then he puts the wrapped top tube inside the bench vise.
This works fine for him.
It may be possible to improvise a stand with PVC pipe. A quick websearch brought up this instructable (http://www.instructables.com/id/PVC-Bike-Repair-Stand/) but there are many more designs. PVC pipes are pretty cheap, and you can buy a small hacksaw to cut sections as you need. The notable problem I found was that because the pipes weigh so little you need some ballast, or the whole thing can tip over.
If space and weight is not a concern (and if you have access to cheap welding), you should be able to do the same with L-sections of mild steel (this is pure speculation).
Take a lighting or speaker tripod/stand and mount a bar on it. Onto that bar mount two pipe brackets on it with the movable part removed. The pipe brackets should have rubber pads in them to prevent your frame from getting scratches and moving around.
You can buy such stands for under $50. Pay attention to the maximum load these stands take.
Tip: you'll probably find tripods/stands easier in a dumpster than you find repair stands in a dumpster.
I got an idea of making a pretty good repair stand from this youtube video. Basically you take a cheap front hub and attach it to a small saw horse or builder's stand. I'm planning on building something similar but have not been able to source a stand yet. I might attempt to use and Ikea Finnvard trestle.