Fixed gear/single speed beginner
April 30, 2009 12:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of building a fixed gear or single speed bike soon. Should I start from scratch or get a cheap bike from craigslist to convert? Of course, less expensive is better. Any tips for a beginner? Links to sites that could be useful for parts/how-to's etc would be great.
posted by alitorbati to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I'm in LA if it matters
posted by alitorbati at 12:48 AM on April 30, 2009

The obligatory link to Sheldon Brown just check under the links for fixed gear and single gear.

In general it's much cheaper to buy a decent junker at a garage sale, off a friend, off of craigslist, etc. and convert it into a fixie/single speed. Fixies are a bit more difficult because they need a fixed hub on the rear wheel which usually means buying a new wheelset. Converting a regular bike to a single speed is pretty trivial since you just need to change the chain length.

If you're looking for a fixie, then you should find a frame with horizontal dropouts (the rear wheel should slide out horizontally so that you can adjust chain tension) other than that just make sure that it looks cool. And no matter what anyone else says always ride with at least a front brake! And have fun!
posted by woolylambkin at 1:22 AM on April 30, 2009

Always see Sheldon Brown first. Then check out bikeforums, this question has been asked and answered many times.

There are just too many options and too much spam online for a beginner. My recommendation is to find a bike shop in your area that does fixies, talk to the people there, see what parts they sell and how much they cost. They should be willing to help you.

You will find out that building from scratch or converting take a lot more money and patience than just buying a complete bike. You will have an unusable bike while you gather and assemble everything.

What is your budget? You can get a Windsor The Hour delivered for $299 (flip flop hub w/freewheel included for when you are tired or just want a singlespeed). The frame is pretty decent, the components are low end, but completely safe. It is ready to ride and you can upgrade whatever needs upgrading whenever you have the money. The way I rationalized this is that I am buying a decent frame and renting components so I can ride my bike while I save money to buy the real ones.

If you really really want to build from scratch or do a conversion, please let me know how it goes.
posted by dirty lies at 3:12 AM on April 30, 2009

Do not under any circumstances get on one of these things without a front break. Otherwise they are awesome. But without a front break you are a) putting yourself in a shitload of danger b) going to be an distracting, self involved and highly annoying traffic nuisance. In my experience you will end up riding on the sidewalk a lot because you can't control your bike in traffic. It sort of looks cool but it isn't. There's a reason for riding a track bike with no breaks and that reason isn't relevant for the street.
posted by sully75 at 4:38 AM on April 30, 2009

Oh also I think a lot of track frames don't have the geometry for street riding...they are built for riding in tracks, which are smooth. I think they can be bone jarring to ride in the street. I had a frame I really loved, an old french touring frame that I used. I wish I still had was such a fun bike.

And be really careful of your shoe laces. If they go into the front gear, you are 100% going over the handlebars. No joke.

But yeah, Sheldon Brown is awesome. And has been forever.
posted by sully75 at 4:40 AM on April 30, 2009

Start with Sheldon Brown (RIP). Also take a look at the forums over at the fixed gear gallery. They can be a bit elitist at times, but if you ask a question about the nuts-and-bolts about putting together a bike, they're fantastically helpful.

Woolylambkin isn't completely correct about needing a new wheelset if you're converting an old road bike to a fixed gear. You can use the old wheel, but it will take some work. The main problem with using your old wheels is that the threads that hold your rear cog on aren't made for a track cog. However, you can Rotafix the track cog to your old wheel, which is amazingly secure. Just don't get into doing crazy skids with it.

The really important thing about converting to a fixed gear is getting the chain line right. Since there's no derailleur keeping tension in the chain, that tension is kept there by having the exact right amount of space between your crankset and your rear cog. You also need your chainring (the big gear in front) to line up exactly with your rear cog (the little back gear). If you're off more of 1mm, you get a really rough-sounding drivetrain. This takes some fiddling to get it right if you're doing a conversion using your existing wheelset.

Setting up a conversion isn't brain surgery, but the first time around it can seem a little daunting. I've converted half a dozen bikes or so; memail me if you have any follow-up questions, or follow-up via this thread.
posted by craven_morhead at 6:38 AM on April 30, 2009

What woolylambkin and sully75 said. Under no circumstances should you let yourself be peer pressured into not having a front brake.

Also, I haven't watched the series of videos, but here's a video diary of a complete noob doing a conversion.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:13 AM on April 30, 2009

Find a bike co-op.
posted by box at 7:31 AM on April 30, 2009

Okay, I took a spin through those videos I linked... don't watch them. Haha.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:37 AM on April 30, 2009

If you choose to do a conversion, do not by any mean just shorten a chain and take off the derailleurs and call it a single speed. Most modern cassettes are ramped, meaning that certain parts of the gears are shaped t make it easier to shift. If you hit a bump when you chain is going over a ramp, it can easily cause it to shift. Of course, you shortened your chain, so it's going to either break the chain an send you to the pavement or break your axle and send you to the pavement. Either way sucks.

Oh yeah, and I'd rather have my teeth than no break fake cred.
posted by advicepig at 7:39 AM on April 30, 2009

In general it's much cheaper to buy a decent junker at a garage sale, off a friend, off of craigslist, etc. and convert it into a fixie/single speed.

I don't agree with this at all. Used bikes are usually 27 inch wheels, you are going to have to build a single speed/fixed gear wheel. You will want to make it 700c in case you want a new frame, so you will end up with 2 new wheels. Now the brakes that came on the bike don't reach, so you need new long reach (read specialty brakes)

Now you have a bike that costs almost as much as a fixed gear with a track frame, on a piece of crap gas pipe frame with the wrong drop outs.

You can get a decent fixie specific frame for a couple hundred, go that route save yourself ending up with $500 of new components on a crappy frame and taking a lot of unneccecary sweat and blood to do it.

Track bikes are fine on the street, you just have to get used to them. 2+ years on a track bike on the street.

I've been volunteering at a bike co-op as a mechanic for over two years, been wrenching on my own bikes for longer.
posted by jester69 at 8:17 AM on April 30, 2009

The question is: how much do you want to know about the bike you're riding?

If it doesn't matter, get a bike that someone else put together. Learn how to change a tube.

If you want to know how your bike works, how to care for it, and to get into a hippy supernatural intergalactic groove with your new bike soulmate, you need to put it together yourself.

Check out The Bicycle Kitchen, near Silver Lake.
posted by hpliferaft at 8:18 AM on April 30, 2009

Er, used bikes with the right dropouts for fixed gear are 27", the 700c have vertical or close to vertical dropouts usually.
posted by jester69 at 8:19 AM on April 30, 2009

I picked up a used Mercier Kilo TT from a guy last year off of craigslist. He had invested in some better components so that was already taken care of. It is my first fixed gear bike so I am in essence a beginner. I can say that after getting used to the fixed gear that I do really like it. It feels good to be able to control your speed going up and downhill or just on flatland. Hard to explain but I really dig it. Also nice to not worry about shifting gears or whatever, no extra components just a stripped down bike. Although you should consider the geometry of the frame. I am on a track bike and it puts you in a pretty low slung position. And have to agree on the comments about bumps. If you hit one unexpectedly it can be really jarring.

I have a front brake on mine. First thing I put on it actually. When I went to buy the brake set at a local shop the guy at the counter told me about a customer who came in and bought his first track bike for the street and insisted that he did not want or need a brake. Same guy came in a week later and it looked like someone hit him in the face with a cast iron pan. He told the guy at the bike shop that after having a run in with a car door and the sidewalk that he would know be interested in a front brake for his track bike.

One other thing about fixed gears is to keep your fingers away from the chain and your chainring at all times. Sheldon Brown has a gallery of some of the results on his site.

Oh also, wear a helmet. I took a spill within the first month on my new bike and the helmet saved my face from looking like a pizza.
posted by WickedPissah at 8:21 AM on April 30, 2009

If you are interested in just getting a fixed-wheel bike .... this website sells pretty cheap track/fixed ones, if you know your size.

If you want the fun of building it yourself, I think getting something off Craigslist is probably the better option, and making some changes. Individual components for bicycles are horrendously expensive relative to the cost of new/used bicycles.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 9:20 AM on April 30, 2009

If you are in LA you can do the following:
  • The most important thing is to figure out a budget ($300 will buy you a new Mercier or Windsor off of ; it will get you started but if you start riding a lot the parts are junk). You can build one for as cheap as you want to go: Nearly free roadbike frame, old roadbike front break, 27"x1/4" tires/rims and getting the cheapest fixed hub might cost you as little as $60-100 if you did it all yourself. How often are you going to ride? Is it going to just be fore Midnight Ridazz Social Rides (Like CRANK MOB/Taco Tuesday/IMACHINA/6 Pack Mondays) or do you want do work up to the Century(100 miles)/Metric Century(~60 miles/100km) or WOLFPACK HUSTLE?
  • Join and read up and visit the For Sale/Trade thread and see whats out there and for how much.
  • Visit Orange 20 at Melrose & Heliotrope in LA and talk to the sales men about your budget. If it's around $500+ you can get a complete setup there that will be pretty nice. But when building a new bike it's very easy to add on $100+ more for really nice/durable hubs, $50+ more for nicer rims, $50+ more for a really nice saddle... and so on.
  • If you want to go a more inexpensive route visit the Bike Kitchen next door to Orange 20, they sometimes have complete bikes for sale but you can build your own out of the frames they have. Junky Rusty Bikes is a guy in Long Beach I think but if you are doing a cheap conversion he would be the way to get a frame if none of the community bike shops have anything you like. Then you can just build it up at any of them listed below:
  • The Bike Kitchen is usually overrun all the time so also visit Bike Oven between Downtown and Pasadena, BikeroWave in Santa Monica, and The Bicycle Tree in Orange County. They are like Bike Kitchen but I haven't been to them yet so I'm not sure how busy/stocked they are but they can't be any more busy/understocked than Bike Kitchen.

posted by wcfields at 11:41 AM on April 30, 2009

I should add LAFixed also has a Craigslist/Ebay thread that people will point out shit for sale.

Joining is a little weird, like explaining why you want to join but they approve everyone and the email won't come saying you're approved which is kind of a guessing game until your account is activated.
posted by wcfields at 11:44 AM on April 30, 2009

Oh, also, craigslist can be a great resource if you aren't dead-set on building up your own bike. A lot of people have poured money into conversions that they end up not riding and unloading for less than the sum of their parts.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:14 PM on April 30, 2009

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