Gravel bike you say?
The idea of playing around with a fat-tire, go anywhere, drop handlebar Gravel bike has always appealed to me. The idea of a bike that can be equally at home on the daily commute and the rough bike trail is something of legendary status because the two disciplines are so drastically different. There must be a middle ground which can be ridden off road to work in style and comfort. This is, of course, a different bike to every different man and his specific commute. I was once the proud owner of a Surly Karate Monkey but as goes with many bikes, she was sold to pay for more important things. Gone before I had the chance to try her with drop handlebars, leaving me with an unanswered question and an N+1 hole which needed to be filled. (Most cyclists will know this but for those who do not. N+1 is the formula for calculating bike ownership where N= the number of bikes you already own and plus one is, obvious)
Making a monster cross.
Creating Franken-bikes, testing them, and selling them on for little or no profit may be my perfect imaginary job. If I had won the lottery or become a gazillionaire by creating some app type thingy then this wouldn’t be a problem, however, with the cost of Bristol rent and hungry dogs to feed, it’s best to be careful with the pound coins. These gravel bikes and monster cross bikes look amazingly fun and freeing, opening up a whole new set of ways to go. So can someone achieve this awesome type of Gravel bike for less than £100? Something similar to this Salsa Vaya can be purchased at massive 40% discount for just £720 here, but we are aiming way lower than even that!
Its all about the base. (No treble)
The starting point is a £50 ( Gained from the sale of a Dawes Kingpin that you can read about here) GT Tequesta, purchased from the friendly guys at the Lifecycle charity at HMP Bristol. I chose the GT partly because I know they ride as well as a 1991 mountain bike can, and partly out of nostalgia for a similarly colored Diamondback Joker Bmx which was my first bike love. The GT is a perfect base for this Gravel bike project as it has a good quality steel frame which is in good condition for its age. It has a horizontal top tube so it won’t look strange with drop handlebars as some compact frames do. Most of the parts on this particular bike are salvageable which is a massive help for a budget project like this. Also, any old parts lying around the shed will be donated by me, to me for the gravel bike monster build.
The gravel bike plan.
In my head it was an easy conversion, just pop the bars on and hey presto. However, I’m going to need to plan ahead and get some parts. A stem converter to allow an A-head stem to be fitted and a new stem, modern drop handlebars, new brake levers, V brake caliper for the front (for actual stopping), 7-speed bar end shifters, a new chain and cassette, a complete service including new cables. Hopefully, that lot can be achieved for the remaining £50 with a skillful eBay eye, a few local bike recycling charity shops and sites like Cycling bargains. Then she can be ridden, it sounds so simple, but getting a gravel bike it to work for £100 is the exciting part. Below are a few “in process” pictures.
The hard reality.
It seems that the popularity of bike-packing, touring bikes and triathlon has substantially raised the price of a used pair of bar end shifters, especially the 7 or 8-speed ones it seems. They now regularly sell for £30+ on popular auction sites. That means there would be no budget for much else, including the essentials like the drivetrain! Plan B is to use some friction shifters from the 1980’s with a stem mount (this moves them up from the downtube where they needed specific lugs not available on the GT). The friction shifters will function any speed of mechs and are much less “IN TREND” meaning that they can be purchased for less than a Costa coffee. Using these shifters will require some serious attention as a hand must be removed from the handlebars in order to change gears. That’s not too bad a penalty since the bike won’t be used fully off-road, I’m not worried, much. It would have been so nice to fit an entire Shimano Tiagra groupset but even at discounted prices like these, the cost is more than 2.5 times this whole project. Be strong, focus on the budget.
Rick Flair, whoooo!
Doing a little research has led me to the conclusion that these monster cross Gravel bikes are best suited to a short reach, low drop, flared handlebar, by that, I mean that the drop section sweeps outward making the bar far wider when used from the drop position. The commonly cited reasons for this are that the wider, shallow bar allows lots of MTB control. Also, the brake levers can be reached from the drops when the ground gets all bumpy and stuff. Thanks to the retrobike.com forum for widening this particular rabbit hole with a post entitled “the unofficially cool MTB drop bar thread“. My bike will be used more on towpaths and walking paths than truly off-road, so a slightly less dramatic handlebar suits. I chose a short, shallow, flared Giant XR handlebar which was a great price from Treadz.co.uk at just thirteen pounds which makes my ridiculously tight budget seem almost manageable.
The workhorse workload.
In terms of servicing, the bike needed a good clean, grease in the headset, bottom bracket and Hubs. All of the cables were replaced and lubricated. The brake calipers were serviced and adjusted to remove retro 1990’s dirt from the pivots. The rear wheel needed some truing and the front tube had a puncture. Doing this work myself has kept the build on my budget as this would have cost around £100 in labor!
Giving h£r som£ lov£.
Below is the list of items purchased. (or an equivalent price to buy if I hadn’t already had them sitting in the spare parts box.)
- 1991 GT Tequesta, slightly battered and rescued from a skip somewhere. – £50 – Lifecycle
- Giant RX Handlebar – £13.49 – Tredz.co.uk
- 7-speed SRAM chain, SRAM cassette and all the cables – £15 – Halfords online
- A-Head stem – £0.99 – Ebay
- Shimano Altura Stem shifters – £2 – Local bike jumble sale
- Stem convertor (Quill – A-Head) – FREE – Lifecycle
- Brake levers (one V and one STD pull) – £4 / FREE – Local bike jumble sale and Lifecycle
- Handlebar tape, I blew the budget buying from my LBS – £13 (haggled down from £17RRP)
- Fizik Aliante saddle – £1 – Ebay (ending soon auctions)
- Shimano SPD pedals – were mine already but available cheaply on e bay – £1
- Park tools puncture repair kit to fix the front tube – £4 from Amazon
Total spend on the GT Tequesta Monster cross Gravel Bike = £104.48
If it hadn’t been for a thorn then I would have made the budget, but this was certainly a possible build and money well spent. I’m off to the trails!
Update. Tequesta V2
I chanced upon a Friction bar end shifter at a local bike jumble and managed to get it thrown in with some other items purchased. It’s a left hand so would usually control the front mech with friction so that it can be used on either 2 or 3-speed drivetrains. I made the decision to remove the stem shifters which were frankly fine (though slow to use) on the road but completely disastrous off road in favor of the bar end. The idea is to run this left shifter on the right and wire it up to the 7 speed rear derailleur. the left shifter and front mech will be removed along with the small and largest front chainrings. This leaves the bike looking pretty up to date with a 1X7 drivetrain. (not to mention the oval ring) The new setup worked perfectly and removed the regular knee smashing that I had become accustomed to with the stem shifters.
The Tequesta is now looking for a new home so has been serviced one last time before I move on to the next frankenbike creation. I’m feeling the need for some titanium.