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Everything we do is “born in racing”, so there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a new Race Bike come together as part of one of our Full Custom Builds - I thought I’d talk through exactly what goes into one of our builds using Jesse’s new Fifty-One as an example, which has recently left the workshop, heading for it’s first race of the season, the Dirty Reiver, via a shakedown in Spain...

But, let’s rewind a little and pick up the story at the beginning. I first met Jesse when he needed some help building his road bike up for some Belgian kermesse racing. Since then he spent another year racing on the road in the UK and Europe and we built up a good bond. Last year he really turned his attention to Gravel Racing and had a successful season racing off-road, with highlights being top ten places at the Traka, Dirty Reiver, 3rd at Capitals and a win at Badlands. This year we’ve got some nice sponsors onboard and we’ve managed to build him his dream race bike!

With any of our clients who are looking to build a bike, we first sit down and discuss what the rider/racer (A) needs, what they (B) want, and then (C) what the best mix/compromise is. Riders/racers often see exciting new things on platforms like IG, but these components are not always the best choice (sometimes they are, and we do take out time to look and understand them). We’ve got lots of experience in picking quality kit which lasts, is reliable, and offers the best weight saving. With any race team, the first goal is to get to the end of the race, rather than risk a component which is too lightweight or not up to spec, because it’s only once you get near the line that you can even think about being the first one over it. Even team Sky and their “marginal gains”, never used components which put the race in jeopardy. It’s important to discuss these things early on with the client because some new tech is brilliant, and a lot is overhyped - between us, we can build the bike on paper first which avoids a whole heap of problems further down the line.

So with Jesse, this is exactly what we did - we decided upon the equipment which both of us wanted to use first, before we even started talking to potential sponsors. Without being disrespectful to other riders, we see a whole load of equipment being forced upon sponsored riders, some of it good, but lots of it is rubbish. We made a decision very early on to only use equipment which we’ve consciously picked and tested ourselves, and this approach has produced a bike which Jesse genuinely wants to ride. This is far more rewarding for the rider, the mechanic and the sponsors, because when we say something is the best, we actually mean it!

Frames, groupsets, wheels and components can then be ordered, customers can provide their existing components, on in the case of a frame swap we can strip and service all your old bits - or a mix of any of the above! In Jesse’s case we had all fresh boxes turn up directly from SRAM, Zipp, Quarq, Fizik, Milk-It, Schwalbe, Fifty-One and Rock Shox, which we carefully checked and ticked off our list before the build started.

We also made detailed notes throughout last season about the riders bikefit and any adjustments we made to it, either in a positive or a negative way. We can build a bike from a detailed professional bikefit which you can provide, or we can take measurements from an existing bike, or we can offer bikefitting in our workshop. We find this step is often different for each individual client so please feel free to contact us to discuss your requirements - as with everything we do, the whole build follows a known process, but is almost always tweaked to be completely bespoke to the individual and their needs.

Once we’ve got a spec, a fit, all the build components and a space in the diary, we then fully unpack everything and prep the frame. We tap and face the BB, run a tap through all the bosses and fittings, face the brake mounts, check the headset fits correctly and reem the seattube. In the case of the Fifty-One we had very little to do as the frame was already correctly prepped, but it’s surprising how many frames are sent out with some or all of these things still to be done. Once we’re sure the frame is okay, we fit the seat post and the saddle to max height (to avoid scratching the post), we then fit the fork, stem and headset (dry to begin with), and then we set the wheels up and fit them to the frame. This then allows us to stand the bike on the ground, get the laser and the measuring tape out, and set the bike into roughly the correct position. We begin by setting saddle height, saddle setback, then stem reach and drop. These four points are pretty much all a mechanic needs to build a bike and we’ll fine tune everything later, but I like to get the bars and the saddle in roughly the correct position to begin with. This is so we can double check we have the correct length stem, the right reach and width of bar, and we can chop the steerer in the correct position. This in turn also ensures that hoses can be cut correctly first time, and any other size related issues can be nipped in the bud early on.

Once we’re sure that everything is okay, the frame goes back in the stand, the wheels and fork comes back off and the steerer gets chopped. I then run the brake hoses first as this allows me the most clearance in the frame for fitting pipe lagging to stop those annoying rattles. I fit the levers to the bars off the bike because this makes it easier to get the height and lever orientation spot on. Then I assemble the fork and headset, usually with a thicker marine grease which should stay waterproof for longer. I make sure the hoses are long enough to allow the bars to fully turn which is important for getting the bike in and out of the car or into a bike box, before fitting the olives and clamping everything up. If the bike is using the older Di2, I fish the wires through the bar at the same time, but with Jesse’s SRAM AXS it’s super simple as there’s no gear cable/wires of any kind!

The rest of the Di2 wires, batteries and junctions then go into the bike (if applicable) and the seatpost is re-fitted using carbon paste. I also mark it for seat height with tape so it’s easy for the rider to remove and refit for travel purposes. Brakes get a bleed and then the front and rear mechs can go the bike. I always check the rear hanger before fitting the mech as again, it’s surprising how many are not straight when you get them out of the box. With Jesse’s bike it was a simple case of pairing the shifters and the seatpost to the rear mech.

Jesse is running three sets of wheels in his bike - a set of Zipp 454 on the road with a 30mm Schwalbe Pro One TLE, a Zipp 303 Firecrest for fast gravel which will normally have a 45mm G-One R fitted, and a pair of Zipp 101 XPLR for slower rocky rooty or hilly stuff. I’ve personally used all these tyres since they’ve each been available, coving thousands of miles on them, and Jesse used the G-One R for his Badlands win last year.

I’m particularly keen to see how the 101 XPLR’s go as I build a lot of wheels myself and the rim is a completely fresh way of thinking about carbon rims. I’ve always felt that deep carbon wheels feel a little dead off-road in comparison to a decent set of handbuilt alloy wheels, but all the data suggests that Zipp have engineered the compliance back in to this particular rim, allowing the rim to pivot around the spoke bed, and behave more like an aluminium wheel. I'll definitely be nicking Jesse’s wheels when he’s not looking to try this out and will let you know how we both get on! With the wheels fitted and the brakes tested I get the bike back on the ground and double check all my bikefit measurements, and double check stem/headset/computer mount position, before torque checking all these bolts. Back into the stand with the bike and I can fit the BB, fit the chainset, size the chain, fit the chain and go through the gears.

With Jesse we’ll be running several different chainring, cassette and rear mech setups throughout the year - I’ve tested this system myself and so I’ve reccomended it to him this year. The beauty of the Fifty-One and SRAM AXS, is that we can have several different setups ready to go - for example for road, the rear end of the bike will be adjusted to be shorter, which in turns requires a shorter chain, in conjunction with a smaller cassette (which stays on the wheel), and the appropriate SRAM Red AXS rear mech. AXS components can easily be swapped, as they are wireless and only need a very simple pairing. This means, when Jesse changes to gravel for example, he will use and allen key to extend the back of the bike, then he’ll swap the Red mech for a Red XPLR which is pre-adjusted by me, he’ll fit the gravel wheel (complete with XPLR cassette) by simply bolting it in, he’ll pair the new components using the app or the buttons, and then finally he’ll fit the pre-sized gravel chain which we keep with the relevant mech. The whole process uses only allen keys and takes around 10 minutes meaning you can even decide how to set up your bike on the morning of the ride! We even have a mountain bike style setup for hilly or rougher terrain!

The bike is now ridable so it’s a good chance to take it for a test ride - this helps highlight any potential build issues and is also a great chance to do an initial “bed-in” of the brakes. At this point it’s still super easy to make adjustments if needed, rather than waiting for the customer to find any annoying issues! If it’s bad weather I do this step on the rollers, but either way I give the tyres a good clean so everything is nice and new for the rider!

Then it’s time for my favourite bit, the bar tape! If we’ve gone to town on the paint then it’s nice to fit a black tape to match the saddle, but most of the time I really like to get a bit of colour on the bike with something a bit more exciting - I really believe you should change your tape regularly, so don’t be boring, pick something which is going to make your bike stand out a little. And if you can go camo, always go camo!

At this stage, most bike shops, give the customer a ring, get the money in the till and see you later! That’s all well and good, but I see the build as pretty much just the first stage in our relationship. So in the short term I like to spend some time to get the rider on the rollers or the turbo to make sure that everything is correct with the build - all bikes are different and one bikefit transferred to a different bike almost always will still feel different, so at this point it’s very common to tweak everything until the rider is ready to ride on the road. Then if at all possible I like to go for a quick spin with the rider to check that they understand how everything functions - this is a third chance to pick up anything which needs a tweak and also a brilliant opportunity for me to highlight any shifting/braking/riding idiosyncrasies that are unique to the bike/frame/groupset/etc. As a bike builder and a rider/racer myself I can appreciate many of the things which I take for granted, but that a newer rider may have missed, and the test ride is a unique time where this can be explained.

And then longer-term, I welcome feedback, questions and of course servicing as part of that ongoing relationship with the rider. I think this is the difference between some shops which are just shops, and those shops/mechanics who actually care about what they’re doing. Of course not everything is always going to be perfect, but that’s what we strive for. With Jesse’s bike, he’s done a couple of rides in the UK, before we gave it a tweak. Now he’s taken it to Spain to test and train on both the gravel and the road setup. He’s then got The Dirty Reiver, before riding the Mallorca 312 in the road setup. And then I’ll meet up with him in Girona for the Traka! It’s a packed month coming up! If you’re interested in building your own bike for off-road or road please get in touch via the contact form or the contact details on the website (

Photos and words by Glen Whittington


#aeightracer – Glen’s an ex-racer who still finds time to ride bikes as much as possible - follow his adventures on Instagram. He started racing in 1998, initially specialising in XCO, Marathon and Solo 24-Hour Mountain Bike. He became a mechanic in 2002, working in shops and also for professional race teams. During this time he spent more time racing ‘Cross and Road, and then also TT. In 2013 he built his first bespoke steel frame and then spent several years at Roberts learning the art. Since then he’s designed his own range of bikes, frames and wheels which he now offers to the public, alongside servicing and race support, as part of his ÆIGHT brand - you can find his business Instagram account here.


Jesse started cycling in 2013, initially with TT’s and then with some local road races, while being supported by his Dad. In 2015 he got a taste for racing in Britany and this led to two seasons on a French team living abroad while on The Dave Rayner Fund. Then he joined Team Wiggins in 2018, racing across Europe. After a years break he continued road racing before making the switch to competing in off road events and Ultra races in 2022/2023 where the most notable result has been a Badlands Pairs win and a host of top ten places. Follow him on Instagram and YouTube.


We’re always looking for riders to be part of our ÆIGHT CØLLECTIVE. The #aeightbikeco is about doing things a little differently - Rather than a jersey being the common theme, we kit our riders out with bespoke steel bikes and handbuilt wheels made in our Sussex workshops, the ÆIGHT WHEELWØRKS and the ÆIGHT MANUFACTØRY. We then support each other at events and races regionally, nationally and internationally - whether that’s for mountain bike, ‘cross, gravel, crit, road or TT - it’s what we call, the #aeightbikeco

The best part is that we’re not asking you to leave your team or club - that includes racing in your club/team kit. We’ve got certain brands that we work with, mostly so we can standardise shared equipment, but your own sponsors and clubs are almost always welcome. We have some strict qualifying criteria but don’t be put off by this – if you’re interested in being part of the #aeightbikeco then please get in touch by emailing your racing CV to

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