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Let's assume I bought a frame for XXX eur/usd/gbp. It usually is a steel frame from late '80s/90s, or an aluminium frame from the early '00s. The frame is of decent quality, it does not present relevant damages and it comes with a working bottom bracket and headset.

How much time and money (parts cost only) are needed to build a complete bicycle out of it?

A little definition of specs: the bicycle should have some kind of general use, i.e. running errands and short tours, so I foresee assembling it with mechanical rim-brakes, average 2" tires (the frame itself may have 26 or 28 or whatever size wheels, 32 or 36 spokes according to what it can be found cheaply at the scrapyard/ bike co-op), average 3 x 8 gears. Optional: mud-guards, hub-dynamo, rack.

Ideally, the answer to this question will be the default answer to question like: Muddy Fox Pathfinder 90s MTB and it should not include specific products recommendations, but it should make self evident that one has to rationally compare the frame acquisition costs to all the successive costs (considerations if XXX is too much are then left as personal, opinion-based, evaluations).

PS: I do not exclude writing myself an answer in the (not so) near future, although I imagine a collective, community answer would be very nice: please don't race to answer.

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    Location alone with contact network and presence of a local bike coop or recycle center will affect value and availability of parts. Tolerance of user for major breakdowns and minor niggles, along with desired weight/quality of shifting. Builders personal value of time (e.g. I would never shag around with used cables, other might) make this far too subjective to be answered.
    – mattnz
    Apr 20 at 9:11
  • @mattnz "Builders personal value of time": that's why I clearly split time& money (parts cost only). Time is time, how much you value it is personal. "presence of recycle center" at a distance of 1 hour from your place you will find a place providing such a service, be it the fleamarket, the garage store, the random guy hoarding thing in his barn (again, 2 hours of your time they have a value, personal value). New cables: drop them in the necessary part costs. If you have a frame with headset and bottom bracket only, you need new cables.
    – EarlGrey
    Apr 20 at 12:58
  • 1
    The other piece to making this a reasonably future-proof question is that it's not always going to be 90s and 00s bikes that are reaching this point in the life cycle. We're coming to the later part of the curve for 90s bikes and starting it for mid to late aughts disc bikes. That makes a huge difference in terms of the refurb cost considerations. Apr 20 at 16:18
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    We're also getting into territory where the portion of used bikes in need of potential refurb with air or carbon forks is going to go way, way up. Low-end air forks began taking over some price points in the late aughts and the landscape is going to be very different when those all stop working. Apr 20 at 18:49
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    @mattnz mentioned "quality of shifting", you might even elect for no shifting at all. A fixie substantially reduces cost and complexity, and depending on you who you ask, is great fun.
    – Phil Frost
    Apr 20 at 19:10
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This is the classic "how long is a piece of string" question, where almost any answer is valid.

  • At one end you have a frame. And enough skills and time to assemble a bike, along with the desire/need. If you can source every part you need from your spares boxes, then the cost is nothing more than your time.

  • On the other end if all you have is a frame, then every other part needs to be sourced. Subject to finances and availability, you might be scrounging through auction listings and waiting for the right parts to come up, or you might simply purchase the parts new from a LBS. Here the costs could range from "minimal" to "extreme" to "costs more than a new bike complete with warranty"

How far on that slippery slope you go is completely up to you.

A competent mechanic could assemble a bike from new clean compatible parts in an hour or two. If you're working to mate up dirty worn and possibly incompatible parts, then the time component will naturally grow.

If you put a dollar value on each hour of your time, then the balance of the entire equation changes.

Personally, I enjoy making a bike better, so to me that's relaxing time, more productive than watching TV.


Tools Bikes need some special tools for different tasks. While most assembly can be done with basic tools like hex/screwdrivers/wrenches/etc, you may require more custom ones like cone spanners, cassette/freehub tools, BB tool, cable cutters, nipple drivers etc. Buying serviceable tools is wise, they will last for life and you likely need these tools again in the future. But that's also an added cost.

Many cities have "Bicycle Cooperatives" of some sort. They may offer fixed up used bikes for small cost, or access to those tools along with expertise and advise. Use a search engine to find the ones near you, or ask around.


Ultimately noone can tell you if something is worth doing.
IMO if the bike can be made rideable and safe, its worth doing.

Fixing a bike is it's own reward.

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    Long-haul example: I have a bike on my bench that has been in pieces for over a year now. Getting the right wheel parts has been difficult, I'm going to have to make the replacement rim by hand - it is weird.
    – Criggie
    Apr 20 at 11:30
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    I upvoted this question but note it's difficult to answer within the rules of this forum due to the numerous, wide ranging variables that get their value from subjective opinion. From how much one places on their time to the type and level of components.
    – Jeff
    Apr 20 at 12:22
  • "A competent mechanic could assemble a bike from new clean compatible parts in an hour or two". There you are: time = 1 hour or 2. Costs = ? not opinion based, since the average shifters 3x8 and the average cable brakes costed the same in 2005 that they cost now ... yes, maybe average quality went a bit higher (or lower, I don't know). Please note that regarding costs I mentioned part costs only.
    – EarlGrey
    Apr 20 at 13:12
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    It would be prudent to add the costs related to acquisition of incompatible parts as I suspect very few home mechanics could take an old frame and make a working bike and not end up with at least one unusable part due 'designed obsolesce'/'technological improvements'
    – mattnz
    Apr 20 at 23:23
  • @mattnz good point. Thats why most of us have a "spares" pile somewhere... I have brand new brake calipers that didn't fit, ready to go should the need arise.
    – Criggie
    Apr 20 at 23:58
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I've finished a bike to nearly your exact specifications. I came into a Trek navigator 300 frame that I've converted as my "Grocery Touring" bike. Although I've taken curbed bikes and fixed them up for friends as a hobby, building a bike from scratch is much more rewarding and can be cost effective with some patience. I got impatient with warming weather so I ended up buying a stem, seatpost, and brake calipers to a total cost with kevlar belt tires and higher end saddle of ~$270. For a new bike with the same tires and saddle combination I'd be paying over $800. I saved a lot of money by not throwing away new parts to swap that I didn't want (like saddle or tires) and not paying for things I didn't want (like high end pedals or threadless stem). I also had the added benefit of being able to paint the bike from the start because it was just a frame.

The key to the finances is to find used bikes that are in mostly poor shape that have just enough function for the parts your bike is missing. Bring around a pair of calipers to make sure that the bike has the right sized quill stem, handlebars, brake reach, etc. as what your bike requires. Some parts you should only buy new, like loose bearings, cables/housings, and chains. For common bikes, I think you could get away with less than $100 in tools to completely service a all common parts, grease, lubes, and threadlock included.

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  • What shifters/gears do you have?
    – EarlGrey
    Apr 20 at 13:12
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    @EarlGrey I got a Deore derailleur off a craiglist bike and use a vintage friction shifter from a curbed road bike. I've got butterfly/trekking bars where the shifter is mounted on the bars to the right of where it is held onto the stem. Friction shifters are on trashed bikes everywhere and work universally for all (cabled) front and rear derailleurs except internal hubs. I don't have a front derailleur for the moment, so I just change chainrings by hand if the terrain significantly changes. Apr 20 at 14:10
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I'll approach the question by taking the listed parameters and offering some thoughts as to time/cost/ money. Overall, building up a working bicycle from a bare--or nearly so--frame is extremely satisfying experience interspersed with periods of frustration, disappointment and sometimes boredom when a project drags on too long (& who's to say what that is, though a significant other can certainly be counted on to offer a concrete opinion of that).

I see several aspects of this proposed project where parts can be sourced relatively cheap due to the desired parameters of the parts being ones that are in somewhat lesser demand yet with decent inventory in most places. Aspects of the project that offer opportunities for cost savings:

--Steel frames are generally less expensive than non ferrous alloy or carbon. Spacing can be changed via cold setting to accommodate various hub widths leading to a wider variety of wheel selection as well as gearing options. Durability of a corrosion free steelie is excellent.

--Used rims for use with rim brakes can be sourced most places easily. Frequently, rim brake wheels, whether 26", 700c, or 29ers, are discounted due to lower demand. They also are common in the bike coop setting for the same reason. Private party sales as seen on Facebook, eBay and the like, I've chanced to come across are notable for some wheels being sold for just a few dollars. The 26", rim brake, freewheel compatible hub (rear) is arguably the most heavily discounted type of rim on the market today. Even if the least expensive option doesn't interest you, quality carbon and aluminum wheels that sport the low-demand specs of rim brake or even just having a 10 speed freehub (for a road rim) but are otherwise very high quality are sold at a heavily discounted price. This can present a nice opportunity to "upgrade" your ride with a high quality wheel set but not spend the kind of money such a wheel set commanded when it's specs were the new thing.

--The trend toward single chainring cranksets with 11 or 12 speed rear cassettes is another aspect of today's market that favors your project and it's call for something like a 3x8 drivetrain. Although it seems to me, new triple cranksets haven't experienced a decline in their price points related to the aforementioned change in many of today's bicycle builds, that does not hold true for the used market, where triple cranksets with relatively low use are available for a fraction of the new cost. The price trend of new front derailleur's, on the other hand, has seen a precipitous decline. Especially on the mountain bike area of the market. I've acquired new Shimano XT, SLX, and SRAM XO front derailleurs within the last 18 months that were all less than $10 USD. My hardtail is currently spec'd with an XTR front der (a now generation old, FD-M9020) that was included in a sale of 10 speed XTR shifters. While all the items were used, the price I paid was 33% of the cost of new. Again, your choice of a 3x8 drivetrain, opens up many avenues to choose from ranging from used, very cheap components to selecting high end components that are heavily discounted. It's my impression that the NOS (New Old Stock) market for high end components (Shimano XT, XTR, Campagnolo anything) continues to see price points fairly elevated and not a good value. Due to Shimano's propensity to trickle down technology, paying a full, expensive price for yesterday's XT or Ultegra component doesn't make a lot of sense when, for far less money, with perhaps a bit of weight penalty, one can buy today's Alivo or 105 or Tiagra component and enjoy equal or better performance while paying less.

The time it takes to shop for, acquire and connect all these parts to your build is not insignificant. I spend several hours a week in my garage shop working on mine and others' bikes. It's a labor of love and as someone mentioned, it's far better than watching TV. I also enjoy the stories of folks who visited the bike shop, coming away with two trued rims, a now-quiet disc brake, absent the funny vibration and steering feel the bike came in with by virtue of an adjusted headset. The punchline being the 3-figure bill and 2 week hiatus from cycling endured by them while I spent some quiet time in my garage on a Saturday morning doing the same thing to my ride, which I took out that afternoon, leaving my money in the bank. It's good to have this hobby. So enjoy your build.

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  • I recently picked up the same XTR front derailleur for $20CAD. Paired with a cheap XTR front shifter, it actually shifts remarkably well. Never thought I’d ever put “cheap” and “XTR” in the same sentence by the way.
    – MaplePanda
    Apr 21 at 7:46
  • @MaplePanda Right! I've always thought how ridiculous it is to pay so much more for so little gain in performance or to shave a few grams off. It does shift well. Very light and for whatever reason the lever throw seems to be shorter compared to a Deore.
    – Jeff
    Apr 21 at 22:12

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