It seems that bikes are going much the way of the Burger King hamburger, and it’s turning out that you can Have It Your Way™. In efforts to constantly give customers something new and help them differentiate themselves from the pack some companies have started offering custom rides, similar to what you see the leaders of the Tour de France riding.

I think there’s always been a desire to make your bike “yours”, from custom cable colors, matching bolts, spiffy tire colors and countless others. I have to admit that I too am a casualty of ‘custom envy’. I recall meeting up for a ride shortly after Sheldon took over ownership of my Cannondale R300 and I hardly recognized the bike he pulled out… Gleaming yellow handlebar tape, striped yellow racing rubber and a few other touches… He had definitely made it his own… A cold twinge of jealousy ran down my spine for sure ;-)

Nowadays, however, swapping out tape, rubber and bolts isn’t enough… Nowadays people want something unmistakably unique. One of the biggest statement a bike owner can make is with a custom paint job… Sure people have been powder coating and painting frames for a while, but it’s usually been on old or ‘hobby’ bikes. Now you can do it with your brand new $8,000 SRAM Red race rocket!

The process is generally fairly simple, either over the phone or online you select from a catalogue of options and put together your dream ride. The options are wide and varied – you pretty much have more options than when you order a car!

Project One

Trek is arguably leading the charge here, with their ProjectOne custom bikes and the world class artists they’re putting behind Lance’s custom rides, but other companies are starting to buy in as well offering limited edition paint jobs and special short runs, though Trek is the only company I know offering a full custom build.

The first thing that struck me about the Trek offering was the depth of customization that you can do… Literally dozens of paint combinations, some with color schemes three colors deep (all customizable of course). Combine that with custom cable housing, bar tape, saddle trim, wheel decals and a custom signature not to mention the ability to change different specs of bike (ie. wheelset, tires, stem, handlebar, saddle, headset, drivetrain) and the combinations are staggering.

The bikes range from a pretty stock Madone 5 Series (for a paltry $3,800) to a full on Livestrong Madone 6 for around the $12k mark. For a Livestrong bike with Shimano Di2 I guess it really isn’t that unreasonable (I mean, it’s completely unreasonable, but as far as market value goes, it’s not unreasonable ;-)

Earlier in the season I went for a ride with a few of the Calgary Cycle guys, and they were all sporting matching ProjectOne custom rides that matched their kits, and I have to admit, it looked really pro.

Looking at the level of customization available to schmucks like me, it’s not surprising to see famous artists and really clever and creative paint schemes coming out for the pros. A recent collaboration between Trek and WIRED Magazine resulted in a really great approach:

While you’re there, check out this super-fly custom Madone we did up for the WIRED guys.The bike, designed by WIRED Creative Director Scott Dadich, WIRED Products Editor Mark McClusky, and Trek Product Art Director Mike Pfaltzgraff, utilizes prismatic silver with continuous color blocks that are a chronological representation of every WIRED spine since the very first issue in January 1993.

Wired Magazine - Detail

Wired Magazine - Bike

Wired Magazine - Undercarriage

Not to mention the series of bikes that are being prepared for STAGES:

STAGES is a global art exhibition and a celebration of human potential, inspired by Lance and dedicated to his fight against cancer. As part of STAGES, Trek, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Nike and some of the most recognized and influential contemporary artists from across the globe teamed up to create a unique collection of bicycles that blur the lines separating art, culture, and technology.

The exhibition opened in Paris at the conclusion of this summer’s Tour de France before traveling to New York in October. On November 1st, seven fully custom, one-of-a-kind Trek Madone, TTX and Speed Concept bikes were auctioned off, generating an unprecedented $1.25 million for the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s fight against cancer.

Stages Bike - Kaws

Stages Bike - Hirst

It’s amazing how quickly a tool for transportation can be transformed into a moving work of art.

Some might argue that it’s somewhat soulless to customize a bike in this manner – that it becomes gaudy, forced, or ostentatious. They would say it’s all about doing the customization yourself, pouring your heart and soul into your bike’s transformation – sourcing the parts, lovingly watch it slowly evolve… I’m not trying to take anything away from that – I’m just sayin’ there’s some wicked cool rides you can get right off the shelf a heck of a lot faster than a labour of love. You just need to be ok with relieving yourself of a buttload of cash ;-)

Independent Fabrication's Hummingbird

Should you want to go the old fashioned route, or have something even more custom and more elaborate planned there are a number of custom shops throughout the country, but the one that stood out for me was Independant Fabrication out of Massachusetts. The bikes are definitely drool-worthy, and their blog gives a good idea of just how painstaking a process each custom build is.

So if you have a couple thousand dollars burning a whole in your pocket you can build up a custom ride for yourself or a loved one… Or if you prefer, I’ve took the time to put together a “Bikeridr” build that you’re welcome to place in either Sheldon or my stocking. In the spirit of giving, of course ;-)

The Bikeridr Build