Fixed Mixed - Nixed?
July 26, 2012 9:29 AM   Subscribe

can you tell me if the bike I want exists (or should/could exist), and if I'm even thinking about it in the right way?

I am finding the idea of a fixed gear bike more and more appealing. Here are the things I like about them:

- light weight
- less stuff to maintain/break
- better for messy conditions
- just simpler overall, I find the economy of them really appealing.

I live in a very flat town with a robust biking culture. I already ride most everywhere. I picture using this for errands, to hop out to the bars, etc. Most rides would be 1-5 miles through wide streets with bike lanes and not a lot of traffic. I would certainly have a front brake, and probably a front rack. I would probably want a flip-flop hub just in case. Now, the tricky things:

- I would really, really like a mixte frame and probably fenders, I ride in heels and skirts all the time. Is this just silly?
- I am super short (5'2", with a 28.5" inseam). 47cm road bikes are generally a leeetle too tall for me. Is there anyone who makes fixed gear bikes in 43-45cm frame sizes? I am okay with 650cc wheels.
- Do I really need another bike? I already have two - a road bike for capital-R riding and commuting (30 miles round trip) and a sweet old English 3-speed cruiser that is fitted up really nicely with dynamo lights, racks, etc. It's very, very comfortable and safety first, but it's OMG so heavy.
- I am fairly cheap. I'm not really in the custom awesome bike market, I want something that can take casual treatment and won't break my heart if it gets stolen.

In a nutshell, I picture this fixie being a zippy, lightweight, don't-have-to-think-too-much middle ground between my fast road bike and my heavy-ass and somewhat finicky but super comfortable cruiser. I would obviously still ride the road bike for road bike things, and would ride the cruiser on longer pleasure rides or when I don't care about being zippy (and probably when I think there's a possibility of being a little tipsy). I just really like the idea of having a bike I can grab and go without a lot of fuss, and maybe ride in slightly icy/snowy conditions if I want to.

Is this a good idea, Metafilter? Is there something about riding fixed gear that I'm missing? Is it stupid to one person to own three bikes? Is this just not going to work the way I think it will? Punch holes in my bike dream now.

(I would be open to a new bike, or to converting an old bike - this town has lots of resources and help for that sort of thing. I'm most concerned about even being able to find a frame that works, old or new).
posted by peachfuzz to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (32 answers total)
There are dangers to a fixie as well as advantages. Sheldon Brown (RIP) has a pretty good rundown. In addition to what Sheldon writes, I've heard from folks that have tried them is that the braking stress on knees can be a problem.

If you want simple and lightweight, get a single-speed free-wheel with hand brakes, or if you really want to try a fixie, get a flip-flop which is fixed on one side and free on the other so you have the option. And for everyone's sake don't remove the brakes. The weight / safety trade-off is really minimal here.
posted by gauche at 9:36 AM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

This bike probably exists, or could be made. You might consider a single-speed rather than fixed-gear though, so that you can coast if you want. Wouldn't add much weight or complexity. I think flip-flop hubs are a bit silly, because how often are you really going to flip the wheel? You'd probably just end up using one side or the other all the time, and then you've just got a silly useless cog hanging on the other side of the bike.

Personally I would look for more of a stripped-down cruiser, with a three-speed hub gear, coaster back brake, front hand brake, and a light mixte frame made of cro-moly steel. You could certainly go single or fixed if you preferred, that's just a personal choice. You could make something like this if you wanted to scrounge, heck I have very nearly this bike lying around my house if I wanted to take a couple other bikes apart and remix them. I don't know where to look for a new one though.

I think it's a good idea though in principle. I'd love to have a bike like you describe, or similar anyway. Good luck!
posted by Scientist at 9:41 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

the only production mixte that comes to my mind is the Soma Buena Vista, which looks like it fits the criteria you listed pretty well, to be honest.

keep in mind that you will need some kind of foot retention when you ride a fixed gear bike, even with a brake. I imagine it's possible to do so in heels with platforms and straps, but I don't know how comfortable and secure your feet would feel on the pedals.

I would go with a flip flop hub for sure. best of both worlds!

good luck!
posted by One Thousand and One at 9:42 AM on July 26, 2012

I have a cross bike, a road bike, and a fixed gear. The latter (lattest?) lives at work because it's low-maintenance and undemanding. I've done a fair amount of time riding actual track bikes on actual tracks, though, so I'm pretty damn comfortable with the mechanics of riding one. Anyone riding any bike on anything but a track needs to have both front and rear brakes, no exceptions. I wouldn't force yourself to ride fixed because the only real advantage is the challenge and feel, and it's no more advantageous than making your own butter when you're baking bread instead of buying off-the-shelf artisanal algae butter from Brittany. Maybe that's your thing, maybe it's not.

Other options: Craigslist junker, no tears if it's stolen and you can strip as much off it as you want for weight and simplicity's sake; build your own, since a single-speed bikes lends itself well for a first DIY build (even wheels!); a 1x10 or singlespeed cross bike, though you'd probably want to keep an eye on this one, and find one with mounts for fenders and racks so you really can make this an all-arounder.

I'd start with Civilian's bikes. They're a nice fit in the value spectrum, well-built but not overly blingy. Lots of options for you, including the Hustle (single/fixed) and Le Roi Le Veut (single 'cross w/disc brakes). On the other hand, since you are fairly tiny, you may just need to build your own after all.

No, there is no limit to how many bikes are enough. Enjoy it.
posted by kcm at 9:56 AM on July 26, 2012

Also, to One Thousand and One's point about Soma, I just built up a Soma Double Cross Disc and have barely ridden anything since. I love the brand and people and think their designs are well-intentioned and executed. Their Rush frameset might be a good starting point if you do build your own.
posted by kcm at 9:58 AM on July 26, 2012

Absolutely no problems with your plan - while a mixte with track ends would be a rare beast, the vast majority of 70/80's mixte frames will have nice long horizontal dropouts so a fixed conversion will be a cinch - all you'd really need is a fixed or flip/flop rear wheel.
I've been looking out for a large mixte frame recently, but the vast majority seem to be at the small end of the scale, so I doubt you'd have trouble finding one in your size.
posted by anagrama at 10:03 AM on July 26, 2012

Ah, missed the bit about high-heels - as said, foot-retention is a must, and can't see heels coping brilliantly with clips&straps.

I'd refute that two brakes are absolutely essential either - certainly a good idea while you're getting used to it, but just a front is fine once you're comfortable slowing the rear through the pedals.
posted by anagrama at 10:12 AM on July 26, 2012

You might want to scan your local craigslist/used market for an IRO Heidi (technically IRO Mark V HD). They don't make them anymore but it's what I've got and I love mine. I'm a little shorter than you and the 650c wheelset is perfect. The Fuji Classic comes in around a 43cm with 650s as does the SE Draft, but the SE is kind of a hi-tensile piece of shit.

One can never have too many bikes, just too little space for more bikes.
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 10:19 AM on July 26, 2012

I didn't say you had to use the rear brake and in fact, I agree that it can be more dangerous to use it in a situation where it can lock and releasing it would cause the rear to catch into a high-side crash. It's still a must to have it, even if it's just to disprove any negligence on your end should you be in a traffic accident or similar. Every reflector, brake, and light you take off your bike is a huge piece of liability should the unfortunate ever happen, though I've made my own choices there too.
posted by kcm at 10:23 AM on July 26, 2012

Oh also on the new mixte or step-thru front there's the Windsor Essex but it might be heavy as your 3-speed.
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 10:29 AM on July 26, 2012

Can you get a mixte frame + fenders + rack and keep it light? It just seems like those little things will add up.

I'm in a similar position as you (in height and number/type of bikes), but I've been contemplating a stripped down one speed (my knees are too cranky to ride fixed) with bull horn handle bars. There are cheap ones online (with flip flop hubs sometimes), but they all seem start at 50 cm+ frame sizes.

Have you looked at "youth" sized bikes? I have a friend a bit shorter than I am and she goes for the 43 cm youth size. I know she really likes her fuji classic.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:39 AM on July 26, 2012

From a liability standpoint then it'll depend on your relevant road regulations (for me, in the UK, two braking mechanisms are required, but a fixed drivetrain can count as one of them), but yes, always ride legally and err on the side of caution.

I say go for it - I ride both fixed & geared bikes too, and love both for different reasons. I've also found that skills learned riding fixed (particulary tackling hills & control at low speeds) transfer across to the road bike too, and have made me a better rider all-round.
posted by anagrama at 10:41 AM on July 26, 2012

I have a Windsor Essex and while it is a great bike, it's heavy and a bit slow. I also spent considerable time and money modding it to make it less ugly (the cockpit situation is really cheap looking in real life - cheap fake leather grips and hiddy twist shifter) - it's probably the same or equivalent to your 3sp cruisier. The frame is nice, though.

Seconding comments about about how you need foot retention on a fixed and that isn't going to work with heels. If you want heels and something simple and light, just go for a singlespeed. Lots of old Japanese mixtes on the market for cheap if you live in a bike-friendly town. But know that a lot of them are ladies road bikes - meaning, you might have to deal with some toe overlap - the Lovely Bicycle blog has some great posts on what to look for if you want to go that route. Here's one.
posted by par court at 10:43 AM on July 26, 2012

oh also don't be silly, of course you don't 'need' another bike. but if you want one, then by all means get it, because this isn't about 'need'. my hard limit is 6 (they are for different things!!)
posted by par court at 10:52 AM on July 26, 2012

Response by poster: On the heels thing - I'm obviously not going to ride wearing 5" platform patent leather pumps. I just like being able to ride in pretty much what I'm wearing that day, which generally means some kind of big girl shoes, not sneakers or flip flops - I think most of my stuff will probably work with toe clips/straps.

Thanks so much for the answers so far, they're giving me a lot to think about. I probably won't do this till the fall, but it's coming sooner than I think! The Soma Buena Vista seems pretty good. And I'm off to scour Craigslist a little more - is there any easy way to tell if a frame has horizontal dropouts from the (usually terrible) pictures people post, and with the cogset on? Or do I just have to ask/go look at it/guess from the era?
posted by peachfuzz at 11:06 AM on July 26, 2012

The thing with clips and dress shoes is that the clips will undoubtedly scuff up and wear away your shoes. You're better off with platform pedals, in which case if you want to keep things minimal, go single speed with a freewheel.

Most road frames have horizontal dropouts, but you have to look at them. The dropouts are where the wheel slides in. I really recommend going to a local used bike shop rather than shopping on Craigslist.
posted by loriginedumonde at 11:39 AM on July 26, 2012

You can always use another bike.

I ride a fixed gear with front and rear brakes. For foot retention I use toe clips with no straps. They fit all kids of shoes (I'm a guy, so no heels). I can't skid since I can't pull up on the pedals, but other than that it's pretty much the full experience I think. If I really wanted to skid, I'd consider straps such as Powergrips.

Vertical dropouts are pretty rare on bikes over 20 years old. Most stuff from the 80s will have horizontal dropouts.
posted by Doohickie at 12:20 PM on July 26, 2012

If they post a close up you should probably be able to tell. Have you checked out the Sheldon Brown page on single speed conversions? It has pics of the various dropouts.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:23 PM on July 26, 2012

Remember that you don't have to go fixed-gear to have a single-speed- there are plenty of ss bikes that use a freewheel, for both urban and trail riding. You'll want brakes, but you should run brakes anyways even if you ride fixed.

Linus makes decent (if a little heavy) urban bikes- their dover or mixte 3 fit your criteria to varying degrees (and the three-speed internal hub is a good option for an easy maintenance drive train that still gives you gearing options).

You could also go with a more stripped-down single speed that still has a more relaxed geometry- such as the Kona Paddy Wagon. This frame would be good for a shorter rider.

Finally, there are off-road frames made with the dropouts for a single-speed or fixed hub. You could get a Surly 1x1 frame, but have it built up for urban riding and add on fenders, etc.

Your ideas are not at all unreasonable, and there are a number of options for you.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:27 PM on July 26, 2012

As far as big girl shoes and toe clips go, I don't wear any nice leather shoes with the toe clips for the aforementioned scuff problems. I also have a variety of shoes that are def not platform but have soles of varying thickness that I don't wear with my toe clips because they aren't comfortable to jam in the cage. To take an extreme example: clogs and toe clips really don't mix well. And sometimes I want to risk danger and wear sandals on my bike which also is no fun with the clips.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:33 PM on July 26, 2012

Toe clips are nice, but not a necessity if you have a brake.

You're overthinking it. Find a frame that you like (with horizontal or at least diagonal dropouts), build or buy a rear wheel that has the hub you want, resize the chain to fit. Done. Cheap.

(If you go single-speed and install a chain tensioner then a frame without vertical dropouts is an option. Doesn't work for fixed, though.)
posted by cdward at 1:08 PM on July 26, 2012

Just to chime in with another option; If a simple, maintenance free bike is what you're looking for, I'd check out some of the newer Internal Gear hubs out there.

I can't ride a fixie, even though I'd love to, because they're waaaay too hard on an old knee injury; and having a single speed was nice, but no matter how flat the city you're in is there will be times you wish you had some gearing. some of the nicer internal gear hubs work very well, and don't require a shit ton of, well, shit hanging off your bike. Here's a pretty good rundown of the pros and cons, which sound like they'd work pretty well for you (barring the cost maybe),

Most people think my bike is a single speed on first, and second glance, but I have 8 gears hidden on my bike. You will need brakes. You should probably have them anyway, even if you're riding fixed. But I've had three bikes before for different type of riding. Now I just have the one, and it's perfect for 90% of the riding I do, and not completely loathsome for the other 10%.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:30 PM on July 26, 2012

It sounds like the 3-speed is perfect except for the weight. You can't help the frame, but what about lighter wheels and tires, plastic fenders and an aluminum rack?

If the "refreshed" bike almost gets you there, but not quite, you can always get a new frame later, put the 3-speed's parts back on it & use your lighter wheelset on the new one. The 42cm Buena Vista is made for 26" wheels.
posted by morganw at 5:14 PM on July 26, 2012

Hi, me! Or, almost me.

I ride this little cutie, a fixed gear Fuji Classic Track in size 43cm with 650c wheels. I CANNOT stress enough how much better I love bikes with 650c wheels. I'm 5'1" with ridiculously low standover. In my case, I specifically didn't want a mixte so I don't know what's out there in our size. Also, the Fuji can't take real fenders (though I do fine with clip-on ones or just ride my other bike when it's raining) and definitely can't fit a rack - it's styled after a track bike. The fork is drilled for a brake, though.

What I love:
- It's so light and zippy, exactly like you said
- It fits me! It really fits me! I can, like, stand over it and stuff. I feel like I'm controlling the bike and not the other way around.
- It wasn't that expensive, maybe $450 or so?

As far as owning multiple bikes, there are currently 5 complete bikes, 2 bikes in pieces, and one frame waiting to be built up in my household of 2 people. The correct number of bikes to own is always n+1, where n is the number of bikes you currently have.
posted by misskaz at 5:48 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not my taste, but Giant's Chixie (ugh, what a horrible name) is pretty much exactly what you're looking for.

I'm actually in a bike gang comprised solely of girls under five foot two who ride fixed gears. so this is like, the only bike question on AskMe I'm qualified to answer.

I really strongly recommend having both foot retention and a front brake on your bike. It's not all about being able to rock wicked skid-stops; you waste a ton of energy when you're not pulling up on your pedals, being able to slow down is just as important as being able to come to a full stop in traffic, and man seriously who has time for feet slipping all over pedals. When you get used to straps/clips/etc, riding bikes without them feels really naked.

For riding in heels, I recommend Holdfasts.

Freewheels ain't that heavy, girl. A single-speed diamond frame is going to be significantly lighter than a mixte fixed gear, assuming that one isn't rocking he cheapest heaviest parts while the other one is carbon fiber everything (ha ha ha psyche, they do not make carbon fiber fixed gear mixtes).

I have a mixte. I love mixtes. I used to live and die by the mixte. I wish that someone had told me that it was possible (and easy, and unintimidating, and worth it) to ride a diamond frame (a "boy's bike" with a top tube more of less parallel to the ground), even as a little shrimp.

I ride in skirts all the time, and the top tube doesn't interfere. All my skirts hit at the knee or above; if you're wearing significantly longer skirts, keep in mind that you're going to need a chainguard to keep the skirt from getting caught, which are pretty unheard of for fixed-gears.

Diamond frames just have so much less metal in them. I'm not trying to be one of those people who comes in and shits all over your idea; there's nothing wrong with throwing a fixed gear rear wheel on some old cruiser, I just don't really see the point. Going all in and getting some hipstery dude bike is really intimidating and scary, but it totally changed my life and wish someone had sat me down and told me I needed to get over it so I could have been nimbly weaving through downtown traffic and walking up stairs with my bike dangling off the crook of my elbow like a purse that much sooner.

If you want to start looking into diamond frames that fit you, check out this question I asked previously.
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:58 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you might be a little too enthusiastic about the idea of going fixed. As Juliet Banana points out, by the time you've got a rack, fenders and front brake on your mixte frame, you might as well throw on a derailleur and some cogs. I doubt those components would add even a whole pound to your bike, which will almost certainly already be above 25 lbs.

Have you considered a fully enclosed chain? They are the very last word in weatherproof, low maintenance drivetrains. A fully enclosed chain can go without new lube for six months to a year, and that's the official number. Some people just let it go until it's time to replace the chain, since new chains come pre-lubed. The only reason fully enclosed chains aren't more popular is they require a single-speed drivetrain, because there's no room for derailleurs inside. But if you're going fixed anyway, that's not a problem for you, right?

Juliet Banana, this VeloNews article claims that at least one Chinese manufacturer has produced a carbon mixte, although no image loads. Velo Orange, however, makes something almost as wacky: a carbon step-through frame.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:19 PM on July 26, 2012

Anything '80s or older will probably have horizontal dropouts. I've been dealing with a lot of older bikes lately (all '70s and '80s) and they have without exception had horizontal drops. Vertical drops are great for mounting a wheel without making you fiddle around with alignment and chain tension, but horizontal drops are what you want if you're going to be mounting non-standard parts because they let you adjust how far the hub is from the chainring. Just make sure that you crank down hard on the nuts (and use lock washers!) so that the wheel doesn't move around, and be prepared to spend a few minutes messing around to make sure that your rear wheel is properly aligned -- there's a bit of an art to it, but it's not actually difficult.

Damn, now I want to build a bike around a lugged cro-moly mixte frame with a five-speed Sturmey-Archer freewheel hub, moustache handlebars, 26" or 27" wheels, and a front handbrake. Alloy wheels, dymo front hub with front and rear lights, sprung leather saddle, hockey-stick chainguard, full fenders with back rack and a bell, painted lemon yellow but with original headbadge...

I didn't realize that I had a dream bike, but now I know. Thanks for this!
posted by Scientist at 9:38 PM on July 26, 2012

I ride a fixed gear with a rack and fenders all the time. It is nice and light to carry up and down stairs and hoist up onto a storage rack, and it is low-maintenance indeed. It's also fun and different from your other bikes. It's definitely worth trying.

A small-framed 700c fixed-gear will probably have annoying-to-dangerous problems to toe overlap, since you can't freely rotate the pedals out of the way of the front wheel. Fenders would only worsen things.

Many fixed-oriented frames won't fit fenders on account of being track (or track-inspired) frames with very tight tire clearances.

You could try shortening the reach on a larger-framed mixte with backward-reaching bars. You can flip North Road bars or the like for a sportier position.

There are a lot of used mixtes out there. I would look for a 1980s Japanese one. They're often nice bikes. Since you don't need the bike anytime particularly, just watch Craigslist for a while.

The cheapest new-production mixtes are the Bikesdirect town bikes. The frames have various inelegant angles to my eye, but aren't terrible and are theoretically made out of chromoly. They also come with fenders:
You could buy a fixed-gear rear wheel and convert the bike.
posted by akgerber at 10:39 PM on July 26, 2012

I used to commute by bike across San Francisco, on both a fixed gear and normal road bike. None of the advantages of a fixed-gear bike are real. The fixed-gear bike is basically the cycling equivalent of the stick shift car: you buy one because you think it's more fun to be more involved with the machine, even if in most ways it's objectively worse.

Fixed-gear bikes are not lighter than road bikes. Sure, in theory they are, for an otherwise identical build, but how many carbon fixies do you see out there? Even if you're looking at cheaper (heavier) bikes, the difference is small go weigh a cassette and a chain ring and see if it's even as much as your helmet weighs.

Fixed gear bikes are not more reliable. Sure, bike transmissions can get misaligned. Usually his manifests in the highest or lowest gear becoming unusable without adjustment. This effectively turns your 10-speed cassette into a 9-speed cassette, which is still perfectly usable and more versatile than your one-speed fixed-gear bike. Further, the most common problem *by far* that bikes have that cause you to walk home is flat tires, and flat tires are more difficult to change on fixed-gear bikes, because they don't have quick-release skewers and adjusting chain tension when mounting wheels is a bit of a pain.

I don't even know what "better for messy conditions" means. Riding on the street is not messy. Mountain bikes literally get caked with mud and manage to function, gears and all. Riding a road bike through a puddle doesn't break it.

Get a fixie if you think they're fun to ride, but don't pretend they have real practical benefits.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:56 PM on July 26, 2012

Response by poster: Hmm. I didn't really think about just how much heavier a mixte frame is—Juliet Banana, you're totally inspiring me here to maybe just go for a diamond frame. My main issue with the skirts isn't length so much as narrowness—I wear a lot of pencil-ish skirts, with walking slits, yeah, but standing over a top tube at a light with one on still seems like a tricky thing. I think I'll try to borrow a standard bike and see how it goes. And Hold Fasts, yes! I knew there had to be something out there that didn't look quite as silly as PowerGrips do. Thanks for the tip.

Just to note, I'm not really interested in coolness at all—but I do know that I've really enjoyed riding a fixed gear when I've tried it, something about the simplicity of it, just...if you're going, you're going. It just felt really fun. The other big advantage that I was looking forward to is that fixes are supposedly better/give you more feedback when riding on streets with icy or snowy patches (that's what I meant by "messy conditions," tylerkaraszewski, not rain). Is that true? I've only ridden one in good weather.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:17 AM on July 27, 2012

I think a bike that even better meets your criteria could be a folding one. I've seen a few around recently, there is quite a range - you might be surprised. I think most are single-speed, but no doubt they also come in fixie variety.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:14 PM on July 28, 2012

Response by poster: Quick update! I picked up a converted older Univega for cheeeeeeep and have been having a blast with it. Diamond frame, front brake, and I ended up going with track pedals and double toe straps—they're meant to be used with clips, but they've been plenty for my purposes without. I'm over mixte frames and racks and other furbelows; I think I'm going to fit up my cruiser as a cargo bike and leave the fixed gear simple. I've been using it to commute lately—16 miles of rolling hills each way, SO FUN. I do want to find some fenders, though; riding in the rain yesterday left me a mess.

Thanks for all the sound advice, folks, I definitely ended up with something I'm much happier with than my original plan would have made me.

PS Why didn't anyone tell me that you can ride in the narrowest skirt if you never need to stand over the top tube at a stop?
posted by peachfuzz at 8:42 AM on September 25, 2012

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