Picking a Fixed Gear Bike
June 30, 2005 3:54 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by Metafilter, I'm thinking of getting a fixed gear bike. Are there any specific things to look for when picking one out? Is it possible to get a decent one for between $100-200?
posted by drezdn to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well straight from the box fixies will run around $500 for the bike plus another 50-60 for a brake (you do want a brake). Look for the Bianchi Pista, Fuji Track, or any number of others.

If you are comfortable ordering online and know what size you want check out IRO Cycles. Tony, the owner, is great with customer support and will answer any questions you might have.

On the otherhand if you are handy enough you can build one using an older road frame with horizontal drop outs. Read up on conversions over at Sheldon Brown's website which also has a host of info on all aspects of cycling.
posted by asterisk at 4:05 PM on June 30, 2005

Doh, submitted too soon. A conversion, depending on your frugality, will run in the neighborhood of $200-300.

On the brake comment, you'll want one if you plan to ride on the road. If this will be a track/velodrome only bike, nevermind.

All that said, I love my fixed gear. It's a completely different experience and I've found my geared bike got signifigantly less miles after I got my fixie. Good luck and if you have any specific questions drop a line to the address in my profile.
posted by asterisk at 4:12 PM on June 30, 2005

My two cents: for your budget, your only option is a fixed gear conversion. In my opinion these usually turn out much better than entry-level off-the-shelf fixies anyway, so your frugality may end up steering you in the right direction.

You should troll Craigslist, Ebay, and other local outlets looking for an older steel road bike or frame. Try to find a lugged-steel frame from the 70s or 80s (i.e., one that is assembled from tubes fitted into cast lugs) as opposed to a TIG-welded frame of more recent derivation. There's no performance benefit here and a minimal strength and durability benefit (though retro-enthusiasts may beg to differ) -- I just think lugged steel frames are prettier. If your frame doesn't have horizontal rear dropouts, you'll need one of these in order to keep the chain in tension.

For wheels, I reccommend going with a Surly fixed gear wheelset. In terms of bang for the buck, you can't beat Surly fixed-gear parts. I've also had good luck with their fixed gear cogs. Another not-overwhelmingly-expensive option would be a track wheelset from Soma Fabrications in SF.

For other parts, check out the Harris Cyclery Web site. They're not necessarily the cheapest, but their fixed gear HQ page is a fantastic resource and is not to be missed.

Purists will hate me for saying this, but DEFINITELY install a front brake unless you're going to use this in a velodrome. You don't get any cool points for breaking a car windshield with your body.

You will probably end up spending more than $200 to do this right -- think $300-$500 to build up a really nice fixie.
posted by killdevil at 4:30 PM on June 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

surly not only makes a fine hubset, they also make a few framesets that you might want to consider... the fixie-specific steamroller... the cyclocross, singlespeed, or fixie cross-check... the original generic singlespeed, the 1x1...and a newer touring-oriented model called the pacer... i have seen all these frames put to work as fixed gear bikes... all of them have horizontal dropouts, all are drilled for front and rear brakes, all are tig welded. there is no simpler oe more reliable place to start than a surly frame... also consider other surly parts: cogs, chainrings, lockrings, bars, etc...

i am a huge fan of surly; i own both a steamroller (set up fixed) and a cross-check (set up with an off-road and a road wheelset); i have ridden the crap out of these bikes, over all kinds of terrain and distances (including a century on the fixie). no surly has ever let me down nor do i know of any surly owners not stoked on their bikes. years ago, as bike shop employee, i sold many of their bikes and frames and i have the utmost confidence in the company and its products... sure, there are lots of other options out there, many of them with 'better' curb-appeal, i guess; but surly is your only one-stop-shop. i cannot recommend them highly enough.
posted by RockyChrysler at 7:57 PM on June 30, 2005

It can be done cheaply if you are comfortable with tools. I built one last year for $200 which I've put about 1000 miles on so far and still LOVE to ride. It probably gets about 1/3 of my road miles. Still, these bikes are not for everyone (it appears to be an either-you-love-'em-or-hate-'em kind of thing) so it's probably not a bad idea to keep it a low-budget thing until you figure out which group you fall into.

You could do it for less if you don't have to buy/build a new rear wheel (more on that below.)

First, read this article by Tom Deakins on Sheldon Brown's website: Fixed Gear on the Cheap

What my $200 got me was a sturdy low-tech ride with a machine-built rear wheel. If you need a high-performance bike, plan on spending more for a better frame and wheel.

Now, here's my cost breakdown:

Thrift store bike (early '80s lugged steel touring frame with horizontal rear dropouts): $20 -- I got a bit lucky here but generally Salvation Army and Goodwill price 80's steel road bikes pretty cheaply.

Single-speed rear wheel from Harris Cyclery (Sheldon Brown's employer -- a great source for all things fixie), plus sprocket and lockring: $120 or so, shipped.

New tires and tubes: $40 (decent closeout tires from Nashbar were about $15 each)

New brake pads (Coolstop Continentals, front only -- I removed the rear brake): maybe ten bucks?

New chain: another ten bucks or so.

The key was finding a steel bike at the Salvation Army that fit me, was in good shape and had the coveted horizontal rear dropouts.

Of course, if you want to change out the pedals, get an extra tube/inflator/patch kit/water bottle, etc, it'll run you a little more.

Now, you'll see that the rear wheel was the major expense. If you're willing to do some work on your own AND you can find a bike with an old-fashioned freewheel (not the more modern freehub), you can remove the freewheel and cluster and screw a track sprocket directly to where the freewheel used to be. The Deakins article covers plusses and minuses -- there are some steps here you may have to leave to your bike shop if you're not familiar with wheel work. I probably would have tried this approach if I had bought a bike with a freewheel in the back (I assumed that it did based on its age but didn't look closely -- it turned out that the previous owner had replaced the rear hub with a freehub.)

The conversion took me about two hours and consisted of removing unnecessary stuff (derailleurs, rear brake, cables, one chainring) replenishing spent items (front brake pads, chain, tires, tubes,) fitting the new rear wheel and adjusting the chainline by adding spacers to the bolts fastening the remaining chainring to the cranks.

If you like riding, you absolutely have to try the fixie experience. Drop me a line if you want more info.
posted by Opposite George at 12:42 AM on July 1, 2005

I've been thinking about going fixy for a while now. I'm thinking something a little different is in order. To that end, I've just about settled on a Specialized P.1 Long '05. It's got a horizontal dropout, so it'll be a doddle to drop in a fixed hub. It'll need a bigger chainring up front, but I haven't decided on that, yet. Then, I'm going to fit Hayes hydraulic brakes front and rear, because I'm getting old and have dodgy knees.

The cost is a bit outside your budget, I guess, but where bikes are concerned, budgets are made to be broken.
posted by veedubya at 1:56 AM on July 1, 2005

Ooooh, oooh! It is possible to do this on your budget if you are handy or have a friend who is. Thrift shop bike or Craigslist bike as a start. Rear wheel, cog and lockring. The rest is just subtraction, remove rear brake, two derailers, one chain ring, shorten and re-join chain. Read the articles on the Harris Cyclery web site. Opposite George has got it pretty much nailed, fixed gear riding is addicting.
posted by fixedgear at 3:15 AM on July 1, 2005

I found a fixed gear track bike on ebay, new, for about 370. It was part of some big order or something. It's not the greatest bike in terms of either components or fabrication, but it's still really cool and a hoot to ride. I bought it because I couldn't see putting together the bike I wanted for all that much cheaper, and because it was a pretty yellow color.

However, the geometry is very aggressive, as is appropriate for a track bike, and it is not as much fun to ride as I think a converted road frame would be. I would suggest the conversion, as is everyone else.
posted by OmieWise at 5:45 AM on July 1, 2005

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