Fixed gear or not, in NYC? a) No. b) Yes. c) Yes, but with THREE SPEEDS...
March 27, 2010 9:08 PM   Subscribe

Fixed gear or not, in NYC? a) No. b) Yes. c) Yes, but with THREE SPEEDS...

Hi, AskMe!

So I've got a road bike - a Raleigh 1978 Grand Prix. It's a beater bike, badly in need of cleaning, rust gathering here and there on various parts, but it's fine. Or at least it was, until someone kicked/slashed my tires (long story), and I now have a busted rear wheel with a flat, slashed tires, missing spokes, a broken axle, a stuck freewheel, etc. My LBS told me that it'd cost more to fix than to replace it with something new/used.

The thing is, I spent $200 on the bike two years ago, and I've been using it a lot -- I commute and bike an average of 8-9 miles a day on it, and I frequently find myself having to run errands and end up 'accidentally' biking 10~20 miles a day. My bike is how I shop for groceries, bring home art/project supplies, commute, run errands -- it's my all-around workhorse. It's also a little bit of a beater - the everything's a bit rusted out, and is badly in need of a clean.

But I've also been thinking vaguely about a fixed gear bike. I've ridden one before, and it felt phenomenal, wonderful, and I'd love to get that feel back. My only hesitation is that my commute takes me across the Brooklyn/Manhattan bridges, and possibly up and down the UWS/Morningside area, and I'm wondering about that incline.

So here are my questions:

1) Do you regularly ride a fixed gear in NYC, or anywhere else with hills? How do you cope with the incline?

2) What should I do?

a) Get a used wheel off of craigslist. This would be about $100. My current bike's a little beat-up and I'm hesitant about spending that much money in what is essentially a beater bike that I bought for $200 two years ago.

b) Get a fixed-gear wheel off of craigslist. Same price -- $100, same concerns in sinking money into an old bike.

c) Get a new bike. I'm specifically looking at the Mercier Kilo S3X, which is sold off of Bikesdirect. I know it's not super high-end, but it looks relatively sturdy and it has a really cool 3-speed fixed gear (or single-speed) hub from Sturmey-Archer that would alleviate any concerns about going up/down hills. This would be $380. I'd get a fixed gear bike that I could optionally and easily convert to a single-speed if riding fixed isn't that fun. Cons: the hub is not a zero lash hub, and so has a little 'give' while riding. Also, I'm worried about the track-like frame geometry and how comfortable it will be after a while..

Any other ideas? I've been thinking about this too much, and in the meanwhile I don't have a bike and am starting to miss riding around in the city. Thanks again!
posted by suedehead to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I just bike on the weekends for fun, but I can't imagine how a fixed gear bike would ever be advantageous in any setting besides competitive racing, and I think it would be at a distinct disadvantage in a city where you may have to stop quickly.

I may be totally off, maybe some fixed gear riders can educate me, but all I see are disadvantages.
posted by sanka at 9:12 PM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh one added point - I'd absolutely be using front/rear brakes on a fixed gear.
posted by suedehead at 9:17 PM on March 27, 2010

But if you hammer the brakes and have to stop don't your feet/legs get all caught up in the pedals still turning? I mean a natural reaction would be to slam your legs down, but the pedals still turn!

I guess maybe I don't understand, and I have hijacked your question enough. Sorry, I'll let knowledgeable people answer.
posted by sanka at 9:21 PM on March 27, 2010

NYC is so flat that it doesn't really matter so long as you have a handbrake. The advantage to fixed gear is that you get alot more exercise as you can't ever just "coast". It's great for rhythm training as well.
posted by Raichle at 9:39 PM on March 27, 2010

Regarding option b): are you sure that you can just buy a fixed gear wheel and throw it on your bike and have a fixie? I thought there was all sorts of concerns about dropouts...chain tension etc.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:42 PM on March 27, 2010

Response by poster: Fieldtrip: yup, my bike has horizontal dropouts, so that's okay.
posted by suedehead at 9:57 PM on March 27, 2010

As far as option b), what fieldtrip says is true. While doing a fixie conversion is relatively simple, it's not THAT simple. Google Sheldon Brown if you're gonna go that route. And for the sake of the thread, I'm going to maintain that riding fixed or free is a completely personal preference and I wish all cyclists everywhere the peace of mind that comes from reciting the following mantra: no one really cares what i ride, no one really cares what i ride, no one really cares what i ride.
posted by bam at 10:45 PM on March 27, 2010

The new SA 3-speed hub has more than a 'little' play and I've seen reports that people find it a little jarring. I rode an old Lotus track bike as a fixie conversion for several years and 3,500 miles or so and the short wheelbase and quick handling got old. A converted road bike rides like...a road bike. Buy a cheap fixed rear wheel for $100. Try it out. If you don't like it, sell the wheel for $75, chalk it up to experience and go to plan B.
posted by fixedgear at 6:12 AM on March 28, 2010

Have you considered single-speed over fixed gear? That might be a worthwhile compromise. I rode a single speed mountain bike around NYC for a while without any problems.
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:02 AM on March 28, 2010

After re-reading, I see that you have. If I remember right, you can get a flip-flop hub and switch between fixed and single-speed. It seems like that might be a good option.
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:04 AM on March 28, 2010

It's true that a fixed gear gives you better exercise. In my opinion, there are two other main advantages:

1) It's more fun.

2) You have more control at low speeds, which is crucial when trying to navigate clusters of pedestrians and cars at crosswalks.

I ride my fixed gear over the east river bridges and in the UWS/Morningside hills all the time, and thousands of others do too. It's simply not an issue, so stop worrying about it. Some people even claim that it's easier to climb hills on a fixed gear, because the fixed gear powers you through the off-stroke and prevents you from psychologically giving up. I tend to agree.

I would recommend against buying a new fixed gear wheel to use on your crappy old road bike. Certain old road bikes are good enough to begin with and have good enough parts to make conversion worthwhile. Doesn't sound like yours is one of those. You've already gotten $200 worth of use out of your bike. You ride 20 miles a day. Get something better.

Those cheapy eBay fixed gears are fine. Eventually you'll start nerding out and wish you had bought something with nicer wheels and cranks, but it works perfectly well.

If you can afford it, I'd recommend going up another level and getting an IRO or Cayne Uno. Or visit your local track bike shop and see what they can do for you on your budget. This is a good one:

Good luck. Bikes are fun!
posted by boots at 8:22 AM on March 28, 2010

I wouldn't bother with the 3 speed rear hub, if only for the fact that it makes that piece of your bike a lot more desirable to steal. Have any friends who ride fixed gears? Borrow one for a week and see if you like it. I ride one in Denver, and do so because I think it's more fun than riding a bike with a freewheel. I have a foul-weather bike that is also fixed for more control in the snow.

If you do convert your own bike, make sure you get the chainline right or it will be hard on your drivetrain at best, and fail at an inopportune time at worst. Sheldon Brown has all the info.

Finally, poke around craigslist; I'm not sure what the used bike market is in NYC or how inflated it is for fixed gears, which can happen, but you might be able to find something there too. Failing that, the bikesdirect bike is a fine choice.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:53 AM on March 28, 2010

Best answer: Fixedgear: apparently the lash at the pedals is about 6 degrees, or half an inch, which I think isn't too bad. Then again, I haven't really ridden fixed full time.

I figured out my solution: both B) and C).

That is, I just bought the Kilo S3X to ride with, and I'll keep looking on Craigslist for a good wheelset with a fixed/freewheel hub. Once I do find one, I'll do the conversion (I've scoured Sheldon's site for info on this, and I have most of the tools). If it does turn out that I don't like the S3X hub, I'll sell it and ride the old bike. If I do, then I'll sell the old bike on Craigslist to recoup a little bit of my costs.

Yay! Thanks for your help -- even if I didn't choose any specific option you said, it helped in deciding.
posted by suedehead at 12:49 AM on March 29, 2010

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