How to build a badass gravel bike in a gravel bike-part apocalypse
I had been curious about building up a gravel bike for a long time, but since I didn’t know how to do most of the key mechanical things on a bike like the stopping part and the going part, it remained a pipedream. Then one day a few months ago I thought I’d add a little color to the old bike with some purple pedals. Unfortunately I got one hopelessly stuck so I ran them down to a shop and several quiet days later I was holding a pile of drilled parts from a pedal. (This isn’t even the most recent time that I’ve gotten pedals seized from cranking them the wrong direction.) As I write this I have a purple pedal stuck on a crank arm. I put them in the freezer and was able to smack one free but then I got tired of effing with them. #beBetterAtPedalLoosening.
I got my bike back with the pedals off but the shop owner neglected to point out any frame damage. This issue was that the back wheel was flared and it had been rubbing a deep shiny trench (2 spots, actually) into the rear triangle so when I found that, the consensus of other area shops was that it would be only get worse and would be sketchy to keep riding on it, especially since it’s always gravel and usually steep. That was it, it’s early summer, I needed a bike so I thought – just find a new frame and move all the parts over, no problem. I’d be replacing a 2018 Cannondale CAADX Ultegra bike that I loved from the start. I had modified the gearing, the bars, the saddle, wheels and tires and rode that badboy everywhere. That was a bulletproof albeit minimal plan. Then the plan went bye-bye.
Much to my surprise, the shifters and brakes are about the only components that made the transition but as they are a big expense, I was happy to have at least that. I used my Salsa Cowchippers, my Brooks Cambium saddle, and I’m going to add a dropper seatpost. I ordered a 100mm Redshift shock absorbing stem (for the old bike) but it was too much stretch and it caused more pain than it fixed, so I sent it back. When they get a 50mm, I’ll get one, it worked well.
Anyway, I started looking around at frames and it was pretty slim pickins. I ran across an intriguing frame on Jensen USA from a company called Vaast made of Magnesium. I read up real quick, watched a good video review on GCN and read a lot of good things from reputable sources, the best part was that it was available in my size, was reasonably priced so I ordered it and it was there home in 3 days. Whoa, now what? The education began right away with ordering the wrong bottom bracket because it was red and it was threaded. Damn, I wanted a red bb. What the hell is T-47, anyway? The ad people wrote that it was “threaded”. It’s gonna be a long day for everybody.
Here are the main points of interests –
1. Bottom bracket – The old frame’s bottom bracket is a BB30 (pressfit) but the new frame is T-47.
2. Switching from compact double to 1x drivetrain with new SRAM Rival 1 crank. This enable much thought on gearing.
3. Cassette – I was researching mullets and studied this article bikepacking.com/gear/guide-to-mullet-drivetrains/ on mullets and tried to make this one happen SHIMANO GRX + GOAT LINK + SUNRACE 11-50T. The 50T cassette is still many months out so I settled for a Shimano 46T that was on the wall at my LBS. This gearing has been amazing, nothing is too steep, even loaded up. I don’t know if I need a 50t anymore.
4. Brakes – my CAADX had 1 post-mount and 1 flat-mount. I didn’t know anything about brakes so it took a while to figure out that there are 2 kinds of mounts and the old frame used both flat and post mount. The new frame is flat-mount so I had to get an adapter. The calipers and shifters moved over to the new frame so that saved about $600.
Wheels – The old frame was QR (quick release) while the new frame is TA (through axle)> I bought new HED wheels and sold the Stan’s. I’m also selling the original QR wheels. The bike can take 700c or 650b.
Here’s a summary of the whole build.
*I relied pretty heavily on Jackson at NW Bicycle (close to the house). I learned a lot from him (and from Youtube videos). He took care of a couple of dirtier deeds in the shop, like cutting my steering down to size, putting in their BB and my crank. I did everything else, including the brakes multiple times – “bleed ’em again”, he said, I bled them until my eyes bled, now they are perfect and I trust them on 3000′ gravel plunges.
Overall, it’s tough getting parts so you have to work at it. It’s probably going to take weeks longer than you thought it would and you have to be creative. Ebay is a great source of parts but had not occured to me to search on. The best part of all of it – I now know how to install and bleed brakes and how to install and adjust gears, so I can go and I can stop, what else is there?
The re-used hydraulic brakes were interesting – after I installed and bled them, the back went out completely at the beginning of a hilly gravel 60 miler. And it happened the next ride after bleeding them again at the beginning of another long gravel grinder. I finally just cut the hoses, removed the guts at the levers and started over. A couple more bleeds and they are good to go.
Out with the old, in with the new
Award winning unboxing video
To the victor go the spoils
Dangerous working conditions for photo shoots
Here is the final-ish list of items that had to be obtained:
Hed Belgium wheels $600
Panaracer Gravelkings 38 $100/pr
Wheel Manufacturing T-47 bottom bracket
SRAM Rival 1 46T crank $140
11 speed chain $30
Shimano 11/42T cassette $80
Shimano GRX Deraileuer $140
GoatLink to make the deraileur reach the larger gears, enables the mullet $30
Shimano 160 Brake rotors $120/pr
Brake pads $20
Brake and gear cable housing + cabling $25
Bleed kits, mineral oil $75
Flat and SPD pedals $50 + $80
Bling *that’s a whole ‘nother story
Parting out the old bike (coming soon)