How to build a retro bike for around a grand?

I’m not talking about a fixie or classic bike complete with Campagnolo C-Record… What I’m talking about is finding a decent steel frame and building a bike up with sympathetic components which won’t break the bank.

You might say it can’t be done! But it can I’ll show you how.

Frame and Fork (budget £200)

Ellis Briggs Favori racing frame

First of all you need a frame and fork. Now in order to save on our budget, we are ideally looking for something which has paintwork in a decent condition, will take allen key brakes and an 8 speed wheel. Forget Italian frames as these nearly always go for extortionate amounts of money. Mass produced frames such as Dawes, Raleigh, Falcon etc. are not worth chasing either as they are generally of poor build quality and the better models tend fetch high prices with collectors. So I would suggest you look for something made by a small British framebuilder such as Ellis-Briggs, Woodrup, Mercian, Argos or Roberts.

If you struggle to find something late 80s or newer, it is possible to renovate an older frame but your budget for a frame should include framebuilding work to modernise it as well as a respray.

Now your wondering where to start looking? Well the obvious is Ebay, but make sure you know what your looking for. The other place to have a look is Hilary Stone, he often has some bargains within our budget. Plus he gives you all the info you need to know, such as dropout spacing. Also Chris Marshall in Keighley usually has a few for sale hung up in his workshop, but you’ll probably pay more than £200 as they have usually been renovated. If you do go down the ebay route, be careful to avoid a frame with a stuck seatpost, stem or bottom bracket.  My previous article will help retro rides finding a good un part 1.  You may also find what your looking for in our For Sale section.

Wheels (budget £230)

Ambrosio Evolution wheelset

To stay within budget I’ve looked through a number of options with wheels. Since we are going to go with a Campagnolo Veloce groupset (more on that later), the best wheels I can find are Ambrosio Evolution rims built onto Zenith hubs. These will take a Campag 10 speed cassette no problem. The hubs look very similar to Campag hubs and come in polished silver. The rims are good quality light rims. £190

Within our budget we can only afford basic tyres. I’ve chosen some Vittoria Rubinos at £14.50 each. 2 tubes and a couple of cloth rim tapes will set you back about £12. £41.00

Groupset (£450)

Campagnolo Veloce Groupset

As I mentioned before, we’ll be looking for a Campagnolo Veloce groupset in polished silver to stay with our retro theme. Although it will continue our retro theme it is a modern groupset with 10 speeds and dual pivot brakes. A full groupset will set you back £450, and will include, brakes, ergos, front and rear gears, chain, chainset, cassette and cables. Its a shame but Campag no longer do hubs, except for Record, and they only come in black.

If your frame is mudguard clearance and you need a deeper brake, then you’ll have to forget Campag. But both Ambrosio and Tektro do deep brakes in polished silver which will keep us on budget.

Finishing Kit (£120)

System EX stem

That just leaves the finishing kit. Bars, stem and seat post can be bought from System EX in matching polished silver for £50. I’ve chosen the Bucket saddle from Charge, which is similar to a Selle Italia Turbo, only a lot cheaper at £25. That just leaves headset and bar tape. For the headset, I suggest a Tange Levin Alloy at £30 and for bar tape I like Fizik at £11.99 but you could chose whatever you prefer. The only problem with the System EX stems is they only come in 2 lengths, 80mm or 100mm. So if you need something longer you’ll have to look at Cinelli or Nitto but of course that will add to your budget. All that lot comes in at just under £120.

Summary (Total £1000)

So there you have it! A complete bike for nearly grand to wow your mates. I’ve deliberately left everything at full RRP because although you’ll be able to get it cheaper on the internet, your local shop may offer to build the complete bike if everything is at full RRP.

5 Replies to “How to build a retro bike for around a grand?”

  1. Great wee article. Really green at this and just looking to start customising old bikes as a hobby. Excellent pointers to start with. Thanks.

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  3. A good read. Wow. I’m skint but am hoping to build a retro-ish bike for less than £150! I have a Raleigh frame plus forks, bb, stem and bars I purchased for £12.50. Thus far have only purchased brake calipers (shimano rx100) – a pair for £22.50. Wish me well!

  4. Good food for thought. Am looking to build on a classic frame but with a modern group set. I am thinking 105 or Ultegra.

    I have never built a bike. A car, yes. A motor bike or two, yes. But never a treddly. I am cycling the Paris-Roubaix sportive in April and want a revamped old classic to do it on. Your advice and pointers would be really helpful. Am thinking a mid 70’s Colnago or De Rosa. Your thoughts?.

  5. Hello I have just found this site, I like the plan to build a classic bike for under a grand. I built one for around half that amount. I started with a Cilo Stratos frame and forks, wrongly listed on Ebay, it has Columbus Chromo tubing, I did get very lucky with the wheels and tyres. An advert in my local shopping centre got me a pair of Campagnolo Record hubs with Mavic rims and stainless spokes recently built for £8.00 each, a pair of new 700 x 23 Swalbe tyres with labels still attached, £2.00 each and a bag of new tubes 50p each. Most of the other parts including Shimano Ultegra brakes and groupset I bought new or used on Ebay. The frame decals were expensive at £45.00 from Australia. Total cost around £550, I kept the original paint which is okay, its a lovely ride.

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