Any self-respecting cyclist sooner or later must build his own custom bike. Such that the soul be eager to ride! Okay, okay, no one must assemble a custom bike, you can live happily with the stock ones. But my inner engineer wanted to assemble something, I decided to satisfy him 😄 Besides, stock bikes have poor colors.
Now there is a great fashion for gravels. And this fashion did not pass me by, I wanted just such a bike 😎
As for the frame material, I thought about steel or carbon. Steel was praised by some friends. However, later I heard convincing arguments that steel has no advantages over aluminum. I began to think more about carbon fiber, aluminum was a backup option. My current bike is quite heavy, which is annoying at times, I wanted to experience the charm of a light bike. However, carbon has its drawbacks, the main one is the price. And also among carbon frames, the possibility of installing a rear rack is extremely rare.
I realize that I will usually ride a bike without a rear rack, but I want to be able to install it if needed.
I started researching the market of stock bikes. I’ve found only two carbon gravel bicycles in Russia: Merida SILEX 7000 and Jamis Renegade C1 (and C2). The first has no rear rack mounts. The Jamis looks good overall and has the option to install a rear rack. The C2 is cheaper, with a simpler body kit and a terrible coloring. Model C2 comes with Shimano GRX, satisfactory coloring, but the price is high, more than $3340
Then I decided to look for separate framesets, based on which I can build a custom bike. In Russia, they simply do not exist, you need to individually contact the stores with the question of whether they can order this or that frameset.
From what I found abroad, I liked the Bombtrack Hook EXT-C the most, this frameset was also the cheapest one I found. I also liked the Kona Libre DL, Salsa Warbird, and Marin Headlands, but these were significantly more expensive.
I looked at Chinese frames on Aliexpress, but they did not fit my requirements. One was not so bad, I even came across articles on how gravels are built with it, but a rear rack cannot be installed on it.
Continuing the search, on one of the foreign forums I came across a post where the author assembled himself a gravel bike from a Chinese carbon frame, and he was satisfied with his bike. Actually, that was the Carbonda CFR696 frame. I visited the website of this brand, they have several frames in their assortment, two of them are suitable for creating a gravel bike, and both have the ability to install a rear rack. I looked for more information about this brand, in several forums I found good reviews and a couple of posts from people who have assembled gravels on this frame. And the cost of the frame is noticeably lower than those that I described above 🤑
Well, it looks like my search is over 😌
About the brand
I haven’t researched too much information about this brand. As I understand it, they are exactly the frame manufacturers. But they also provide the opportunity to buy from them at retail. It seems like they supply frames for several famous bike brands in China.
The brand’s website has only a modest form. I filled it out, a manager answered me by email, then all our communication went by email.
At first, I liked the CFR505 frame better, but the manager said that there was no size I needed, and there were no plans to release it in the near future, so the choice fell on the Carbonda CFR696.
I have no experience with a road bike at this point. So I had no idea how to determine the size of the frameset. In order not to miss the size, I decided to make a bike fit 📏 This is a separate story, I will describe it in another article.
Communication with the manager
Having decided on the size of the frameset, I began to actively communicate with the manager. We talked for a long time because I had a lot of questions. I tried to ask short and direct questions to avoid misunderstandings because everyone has heard a lot about how the Chinese speak English 😅 However, Wing (that was the name of my manager) answered me quite clearly.
He gave me the cost of the frameset, several delivery methods, and their cost. Of course, I chose the cheapest one 😄 You could also purchase for an additional fee:
- Extra rear derailleur hanger
- Headset (bearings and spacers for head tube)
You don’t have to take this service, then a clean carbon frame will come, just not with a checkered pattern, but plain dark gray. One-color or two-color painting with glossy or matte paint can be ordered. Two-color, of course, is more expensive. You can ask to paint a logo, this is also for an additional fee, the cost is determined by the complexity, you must explain the wish to the manager and send a text template. As I understand it, they can make even a very complex coloring, but the price for this will be appropriate.
I wanted a two-color painting. The manager sent me examples of templates, I could create my own template. You can even explain your wishes in words, then they will send it to you so that you confirm that they understand you correctly. I liked one of the proposed templates, I just asked for other colors.
You can choose any color! But I wanted a white and red bike 🙂 With red, I had to think. It was possible to order bright, but I decided to choose a little darker than I wanted. The one I chose is a very popular color and can be easily purchased in the store. This is in case the frame gets scratched, I can mask them. Well, or I can repaint some details in the color of the frame 😅
The cost of painting is not too expensive. The two-color painting cost $85. Before taking this service, I decided to find out how much it costs to paint the frame in local workshops. I wrote to one workshop (not the cheapest of course), which takes on complex types of painting. They asked for a template, I sent it, then received a price almost 3 times more expensive! Of course, after this, I ordered a service from the manufacturer.
Payment could be made in two ways: via Alibaba or bank transfer. Alibaba makes a markup. In the case of a bank transfer, the commission depends on the buyer’s bank, it is possible that some banks do not have it. I chose Alibaba because it provides Buyer Protection and generally has an interface with order status information, which is convenient. Alibaba’s interface is much more complex than Aliexpress’s as it handles wholesale transactions.
After payment, the manager promised that the frameset should arrive in 2-3 weeks. However, after a couple of days, I received a message that my size frame is not currently in stock. The manager offered to take a size smaller or wait for a new supply (1.5 – 2 months). In case of waiting, he promised to put a carbon bottle cage as a gift. I was in no hurry, I chose to wait.
Before sending me a frameset, the manager had to send me pictures of it in order to I could estimate and approve it. And I was going to go on a journey in which there was no Internet. I was afraid that the manager would write to me when I was in the mountains. Fortunately, my frame was finished and painted a week before I left. I approved everything and calmly set off on the journey.
By the way, the fact that there was no frame of my size, and I had to wait, was a significant advantage. At the moment when the frame was ready, the company had one more method of delivery to Russia. It was cheaper. The manager himself informed me about this and offered to return $70, which is very nice 😊 After that, I had to explore more features of the Alibaba interface because I needed to make a request for a refund of a part of the amount paid for the order. The manager immediately approved my request, and soon I received the money.
|Frameset Carbonda CFR696|
– Frame (size 54; bottom bracket BSA-68)
– Seatpost clamp
– Rear derailleur hanger
|Axles (12x100mm and 12x142mm)||$26|
|Extra rear derailleur hanger||$5|
The price may likely be different depending on the region.
The manufacturer sells not only frames but also some other parts. I didn’t like their handlebars, but I asked about wheels. They can assemble a carbon wheelset. They offer a choice of Novatec D791/792SB, DT Swiss 350, or DT Swiss 240 hubs. However, carbon rims are expensive even in China, so I decided to give up carbon wheelset. Important note, when ordering wheels from the frame manufacturer, this will be the second package separately from the frameset, so you will have to pay for the delivery again.
A few days after returning from the trip, I received a call from the transport company, they informed me of the arrival of my package. I received the long-awaited package and proceeded to unpack it. The frameset was packed well, a cardboard box was in a wooden frame.
I liked the frame, it is very light and beautiful 😊 How it will show itself when it becomes a finished bike – we will see in the future. I hope everything will be great. I’ve noticed one issue, white matte paint tends to get dirty easily.
During this campaign, I got some experience of trading with China 🇨🇳
Now I need to order parts. About this in the following articles.
By the way, the frame allows you to route shift cables inside without a hose. I haven’t decided yet, but most likely I will route them with hose fully. It seems to me not very good that the cable will rub against the plastic at the bend in the bottom bracket shell.
I leave a link to the manager’s Facebook account, in case someone wants to communicate with him directly.