Getting the hell away from the politics, philosophy and religion of helmet use, I've spent a whirlwind 24 hours putting together the specs for another custom-built Surly Cross-Check. A young guy (younger than I am, anyway) had come looking specifically for a Cross Check on a day I was out. Following up, we talked on the phone and then he came in.
Complete bikes are out of stock. And he's going to use it for touring, so he would have had to make a lot of modifications from the basic bike anyway.
I like building bikes, especially when the workshop is slow in the fall. But first we had to hike through the bewildering landscape of all the available options. That means balancing available funds, intended use and personal preferences to come up with a final configuration that can have a fixed price tag.
After an hour and a half with the customer in the shop, I still took the spec sheet home to run numbers for another hour or two in the comfort of my living room. Then this morning I had to tidy up a couple of last details before bouncing it off the customer and putting together the major order.
The real kicker is that this guy wants to take off on a transcon bike tour October 1. So I really didn't have time to hunt around for things.
For the index-dependent majority, the biggest choke point is the drive train. If a rider shifts in friction, number of speeds is irrelevant. Buy whatever is available and stick it together. Chain width has to match cog width and spacing, but that's about it. Most cranks can manage 8 or 9, although you have to watch too skinny a chain on widely-spaced chain rings. Even then, an experienced friction shifter can throw it where it needs to go, at least long enough to get back to the lab and engineer a more satisfactory solution.
We spec'd 9 speeds to start. Then as the price mounted I thought I saw a way out through 8 speeds. But no one makes good wide-range 8-speeds. So I had to go back to the simulator to try to land the 9 within the budget.
Another expense comes from the wheels. I keep having to build them because I can't find a pre-built wheel I like. Don't tell anyone how much I'm discounting some of the parts and labor in order to try to keep this affordable. On the plus side, I can now build a standard wheel in my sleep. But it still costs more than a pre-built wheel. I could have sworn Quality offered a nice one with the Salsa Delgado rim, but not anymore. For loaded touring we're going with 36 spokes when the industry standard has become 32.
The order is on its way. The parts we already had are in a box, waiting for their friends. Then they all get to go out and play.
Building bikes for other people helps me resist building too many for myself. It's even better when the customer accepts a design I like.