Pimp My Ride

Chicago Tribune’s RedEye September 3, 2011

Roberto Izquierdo spends hours at a time scouring eBay, but he’s not collecting vinyl or out-of-print books. The graphic designer is looking for parts for his bicycle. Make that his third bicycle.

“At first, I didn’t want to own a custom bike—I just wanted a simple road bike,” he said.

But Izquierdo, 25, of Bridgeport, soon realized he wanted more than an off-the-rack model.

“Knowing that your bike is unique and you picked out the parts yourself—maybe even built it yourself—is the best,” he said.

Two more bikes later, Izquierdo is part of a growing community of passionate custom bike aficionados who sometimes spend thousands of dollars tricking out their wheels with everything from leather seats to glitter paint jobs in order to create a riding experience that best suits their pedaling personalities.

Izquierdo’s powder-coated, silvery white bike (a custom color, of course) is a source of pride.

“I love owning a custom bike because it’s the only one of its kind. No one else has my particular assembly,” he said. “It is great knowing that I picked the parts and that they all perform smoothly.”

At Get a Grip Cycles, which has two locations in Chicago, the process of customizing a bike takes into account a dizzying list of considerations including a customer’s height, weight, age, injury history, range of motion issues, stress and flexibility.

And it’s not just the Lance Armstrongs of the world buying these customized bikes.

“Our clients run the full spectrum from ‘I’m buying my first bike’ to ‘I’m buying my dream bike,'” head fit technician Adam Kaplan said.

Get a Grip bikes take four weeks to three months to produce, depending on the complexity of the final product, and the cost ranges from $3,800 to $15,000, Kaplan said.

While that might seem like a lot for the average cyclist, it is possible to get a cool bike with a custom look for less—sometimes as little as $400.

Dottie Brackett went online to get her custom wheels after her cheap bike was stolen in January 2009.

“I couldn’t find what I was looking for at any local bike shops, but after some Internet searching, I found the perfect bike,” the 29-year-old Roscoe Village lawyer and letsgorideabike.com blogger said. “I bought the frame and then chose all the components I wanted to go on the frame.”

Brackett equipped the robin’s-egg-blue frame of her Rivendell bike with heart-shaped lugs, aluminum hammered-finish fenders and a Japanese brass bell. It all cost about $2,000, a price Brackett said felt like a lot at the time but served as a long-term investment in her transportation.

“I love owning a custom bike because it suits me perfectly and, as a result, I enjoy riding my bike even more,” she said.

Online retailers such as bigshotbikes.com, statebicycle.com and republicbikes.com often offer fun functions that let customers design their dream bikes online. Some even do it in drool-inducing 3-D.

Business at Republic Bike, a Florida-based online retailer that makes bikes that range from $400-$500, has grown “significantly” since it launched in 2008, company president Avery Packs said.

Republic can build a bike to order in as little as two days and deliver it about 90 percent assembled, he said.

To put the demand for custom bikes simply: “A lot of different types of people want a lot of different types of bikes,” Packs said.

Though bikes sold through online retailers arrive mostly assembled, some bike owners don’t need much time before they’re doing their own tinkering at home. That’s what happened with Adam Jakubik, 30, of Andersonville.

Jakubik started out working on inexpensive bikes with his father and has since built two bikes for himself and one for his girlfriend.

“My favorite part of having a custom bike is the looks and compliments I get [as I ride by],” he said.

Jakubik said people who know bikes take note of his latest creation’s Mavic Ksyrium wheels and carbon neck, bars and crankset. But most admirers just say it looks cool.

“It’s mostly the carbon fiber accents. The way the sun hits it really sets it off,” Jakubik said with a smile. “I have three cars, but there is something about biking that keeps bringing me back.”

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