Max Cavalli grew up in Milan, cycling around the Italian Alps with his cousins. Now, the Toronto-based banking executive rides about 5,000 kilometres a year. So, when he wanted a new bike last year, an off-the-rack ride from his local shop wasn’t going to cut it.
Custom bikes not only look great, they are often made with top-quality, even handmade parts, and each component of the machine is chosen to fit your body.
Instead, he ponied up five figures – about as much as for a Honda Civic or Mazda3 – for a bespoke bike, fitted perfectly to his body and how and where he likes to cycle. A bike “should be like a custom suit,” he says. “If you go into a shop and get something off the rack, then you don’t get all those micro-adjustments.”
A growing number of Canadians are shelling out anywhere between $5,000 and $50,000 for a custom, souped-up bicycle. “For the last few years, growth in custom bikes has been very strong,” says Julien Papon, president/founder of Toronto bespoke bicycle maker and private club Vitess Bicycle Corp.
At one time, it was only hard-core cyclists who splurged on bespoke bikes, but the market is expanding. Increasingly, Vitess is selling bikes to novice riders who want to get into the sport with a top-notch piece of equipment. (Many get a custom bike when they sign up for the company’s charity bike ride.) More women are buying custom bikes, too, says Papon.
What’s in a bike?
This isn’t about getting an expensive ride to show off to your pals, only to triple-lock it in the garage. Custom bikes not only look great, they are often made with top-quality, even handmade parts, and each component of the machine is chosen to fit your body. Papon’s company selects from seven different handlebars, six different seat posts and two dozen seats.
Purchasing a bike begins with a consultation. “The first thing we do is talk about goals. What is that person aspiring to do? Is this their first year biking? Do they want to do a triathlon?” says Papon.
Then, at Vitess, the customer gets on something called a fit cycle, which is a fully adjustable bike, so the company can create a 3D pattern of the person.
The bike then gets built, incorporating the customer’s aesthetic ideas. “From a visual point of view, a custom bike is a blank canvas,” says Papon. “You get to pick your colour from a Pantone booklet. It’s not one of a million.”
An artist can paint your bike with a corporate logo or your favourite flower. Soccer buff Cavalli’s bike is painted with images from a favourite Inter Milan jersey – the details are even colour-matched. You can have a seat made out of high-end leather and have the stitching match the paint.
It’s a lifestyle
When you go through the 6-to-12-week process of designing and awaiting delivery of a high-end bike, regular upkeep is de rigueur. Many of Papon’s customers become part of VitessX, an exclusive club with more than 1,500 members and guests.
The company offers bike maintenance, refitting and training, and hosts business-networking events and group rides – many services are run out of its 2,000-square-foot facility in north Toronto.
While it may seem odd that newbie cyclists want custom bikes, it makes total sense to Papon. If you’re going to start a sport, why not start off right? Getting the perfect bike will make for a better ride on the road, bike path or mountain trail. And going through the customizing experience connects you to the cycling community and gets you invested in the bike itself.
For already hard-core riders like Cavalli, a custom bike and the support of a bike company offers what he’s always wanted from his sport and equipment. “The advantage of a bespoke bike, beyond that it is built just for you, is that you get the follow-up support and maintenance,” Cavalli explains. “You are part of the process – you are not just unwrapping a box and out comes the bike.”