Whether you’ve been bike-curious or actively annoyed at the velo-obsessed corners of the internet, entry into the world of cycling can seem pretty out-of-reach. To start, the term can apply to a lot of things: a range of disciplines, purposes, and difficulty levels. It’s a lot for a newcomer. Not to mention, cycling’s fair share of gatekeepers motivated by classism, sexism, or just the thrill of making fun things inaccessible.
READ: How women cyclists fight for representation on the road
The truth is — anyone who can bike, should bike. Cycling has recently become a more viable transportation option in the Philippines under the pandemic, and there are options available for any budget or skill level. While there’s absolutely no shame in riding whatever you have, consulting with mechanics about your bike setup ensures a safer and more comfortable ride.
With the right amount of independent research, expert consultation, parts digging, and elbow grease, you can build your dream bike without breaking the bank. To gain more insight on this, we spoke to five cyclists and their mechanics about their different approaches to bike personalization.
Macky Angeles’ Fixed-Gear City Commuter built by Macky Angeles
Total build price: Less than ₱8,000
Macky Angeles learned to build bikes with her friends in high school, and later on worked with a freegan bike workshop in New York City. There, she taught youth in her community how to build from donated and scrap parts, an experience that helped her develop a thrifty sensibility that carries on to the present day. “I didn’t want to make a fuss on a fancy build ‘cause I wasn’t sure if I’d be staying in Manila long. I noticed that the bike scene blew up since I had lived here last in 2012 and figured there’s been tons of parts going to waste online.”
Angeles found a secondhand, unbranded chromoly frame (one of the most sought-after and long-lasting materials) on Facebook Marketplace, along with all of the other major parts needed. “The wheelset is some generic-brand 700c, gear ratios at 48/16, frame size 52 chromoly, and generic riser bars” she tells me. The only brand-new components on her current build are its Panaracer Catalyst Sport tires, Geestar toe-straps, and basket from The Project. With a relatively modest parts list, the bike boasts a distinct look from its yellow and black colorway.
“It’s great to get across the city fast. And even if it’s a fixed gear, I still fare well getting up some of Pasig’s hills.” Fixed gear cycling is known to be demanding for its “pureness." Riders need to constantly pedal to move, and must commit to the same gear ratio throughout a ride. But by nature of their simplicity — the lack of shifters and use of single speed gears — fixies make a great low-budget option. Angeles spent a total of less than ₱8,000 on her current setup, which has taken her places she never expected to go.
Kevin Dizon’s Single-Speed Muddy Fox built by Robert Samson (Bert’s Cycle Service)
Total build price: ₱10,000
Kevin Dizon had his commuter bike built by his good friend and fellow member of Slow Cycling Club, Robert Samson. As the man behind Bert’s Cycle Service, Samson specializes in vintage restorations, so he had parts aplenty that were compatible with the Araya Muddy Fox frame that Dizon had shipped from Cagayan de Oro.
“The plan was to build a budget (rat bike) commuter. Less new parts to acquire, use what's already existing, have it running smoothly without compromising on safety and reliability.” Samson tells me over Instagram DMs. Dizon had always toyed with the idea of owning a vintage MTB. He wanted something extremely rugged, and something that he could ride around the city on for quick errands and coffee runs. The two opted for a single-speed setup that’s easy to maintain, and its minimalism compensates for the weight of the steel frame. The handlebars are upright and swept back for comfort, while the tires are a pair of Kendas, a brand known for its low price and reliability.
Both Dizon and Samson patiently combed through Facebook Marketplace and Shopee to keep the price tag to about ₱10,000. Samson explains, “I first ask clients where they would want to take their bike. That is where the budget follows most of the time.” While rat bikes are inexpensive, they often are made of good vintage parts that are built-to-last. This is what drew Dizon to the Muddy Fox frameset. “It rides like a couch! There’s really something about old steel MTBs. The quality, materials used, and the bonus: awesome paint jobs.”
Poi Tan’s Specialized Hardrock restored by Eugene Canelas (Bike Wrench PH)
Total build price: ₱18,000
“Always go for secondhand if you wanna go cheap. Just make sure that the bike is in good condition when you get it.” This is Eugene Canelas’ rule-of-thumb for low-budget builds.
When his client Poi Tan picked up an old Specialized Hardrock at a Japanese surplus store, Canelas made sure to replace essential parts such as brake pads, cables, and tubes with brand new ones. To the mechanic, safety is a priority, followed by riding style and budget constraints.
While this isn’t necessarily a from-scratch build and more of a restoration, there were some key changes made to suit his client’s needs, as well as some aesthetic modifications. Canelas says, “I wanted to keep the vintage look of the Spez Hardrock and accentuate the white colors of the frame, so we went with polished silver for the other components. Most of the essential parts, like the 3x8 Sram SX4 groupset, remained the same as we found it. This helps cut down on costs.”
Tan was able to replace the saddle with one that she already had in her parts bin, as well as some teal Oury grips as a color accent. The bike originally came with thin commuter tires that didn’t match the heavy-set frame, which were replaced by Continental Crosskings suitable for bumpy roads and some rough-riding.
While Tan has only used the bike for commutes to work in Katipunan so far, the plush tires and suspension fork make it trail-ready. This adds a lot of value-for-spending to the ₱18,000 total price, including parts and labor.
Tan is glad she was able to get this signature-model bike from a well-known brand for less. “If I decided to buy a bike online, it would most likely cost more. I also think it’s more fun to look in a warehouse full of bikes. [When] you spot a cheap branded bike somewhere in between the other Japanese bikes, it’s like finding treasure!”
Yumi Puruganan’s Araya Hybrid serviced by Arlo Sulpico and Robert Samson
Total build price: Less than ₱27,000
“Cycling was never purely leisure for me,” says Yumi Puruganan. It’s always been my main commute [mode] living in the Philippines, and I’ve had to prioritize many other things over bike upgrades. So I go at it slowly, searching and comparing prices online and in-person at different shops, and occasionally asking for others’ thoughts before I commit to making a purchase.” Puruganan has gone through different setup configurations over her years using cycling as a primary mode of transport in Metro Manila. She most recently had the 1x8 Altus drivetrain from her Tern Clutch commuter bike transplanted onto an Aluminum Araya frame with the help of mechanics Arlo Sulpico and Robert Samson.
Samson had recently polished the Araya frame for aesthetics, and both him and Puruganan have been discussing converting to a more speed-oriented setup that could possibly handle rougher terrain. “Initially, she wanted a drop bar and a shorter stem so it would be easier for her to reach the bars thus making it more comfortable. Also setting the bike with 26-inch wheels paired with fast rolling tires for speed. We might consider a corner bar handle bar so that we can still use her existing brake levers and keep expenses low,” he shares.
Puruganan had previously ridden her Tern Clutch to Tagaytay and back, and hopes to do more long rides and trails with her current hybrid. She tells me, “Thanks to the persuasion power and persistence of some friends, I was able to give into myself for once. Now, I’m actually really excited about seeing my bike evolve, even in miniscule ways, here and there.”
Icoy Rapadas’ Japan-Inspired City Commuter built by Jimbo Cuenco
Total build price: Less than ₱37,000
After selling his previous Fuji road bike, Icoy Rapadas was very much set on maintaining a certain look for his hybrid commuter. “I honestly just wanted to build a Japanese frame with a basket pero palag palag in terms of speed on flat land,” he admits. In order to accomplish this, Rapadas left fellow musician Jimbo Cuenco and his co-builder Darren Fajardo in charge of his build.
“What the client wants is always of top priority. So it really depends on which process of the build they wanna get done first. For the most part it starts with me hunting frames for my clients, then we proceed with paint color. In some instances, clients would look for groupsets first,” Cuenco tells me. In his and Rapadas’ case as old friends in the music scene, the two talked for just half a day to plan out components. One week later, Cuenco brought in Rapadas’ frame (which Cuenco originally owned) for painting.
In order to prepare, Rapadas created a spreadsheet of the components he wanted versus their prices. Cuenco chose the groupset for the build. “I went for Suntour with Icoy's build for two simple reasons: one is that I didn't want him to spend too much. Second is that I somehow saw him as a Suntour type of guy. A no-nonsense, low maintenance type of friend, but will proceed to catch anyone's attention anyway.”
Now using his current setup as a city commuter, and even taking it on an uphill climb up Sumulong Highway, Rapadas has become aware of the strengths and weaknesses of his bike. “The gearing is pretty aggro. 54 teeth ata yung big plate, and the next one is still in the 40s. Because of that, di siya goods pang ahon. Makunat, so it’s really best for city rides.”
Rapadas spent less ₱37,000 than for his bike, and having it custom-built helped him choose what aspects to focus on. He’s pleased with the result, and Cuenco just as much for the continued interest in vintage bikes.