What frame and forks should I look out for?
May 27, 2008 1:01 PM   Subscribe

Fixedgearfilter: I'd like to build a single speed bike, but I have no idea what frame and forks to buy.

I recently went to San Francisco and while out there I was surrounded by Fixed Gear bikes and they were awesome. I currently ride a 1950s single speed Schwinn and would prefer that setup to an actual fixed gear. But since I've only ever ridden cruisers and bmx bikes, I don't know what frame and forks to buy.

So... I'm 6ft tall and I need to know what kind of used bicycle would make a suitable donor for a frame and what size it needs to be roughly. I'd also prefer straight forks so recommendations for those would be amazing. I won't be using lever brakes so the smoother the frame the better!

Thanks in advance...
posted by stackhaus23 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You should read this. You can almost use any frame you want. The main thing is to get the right sort of dropouts; lots of people get all creamy over track ends, but you can use horizontal dropouts provided that they have enough space for you to get proper chain tension (and they often don't), don't get a frame with vertical dropouts. You can get any type of fork you want since the fixie-ness of the bike has nothing to do with the front wheel.
posted by beerbajay at 1:26 PM on May 27, 2008

Yeah just go straight to Sheldon Brown. Smart people have been reading his page singe the 90s. Seriously.
posted by sully75 at 1:29 PM on May 27, 2008

Oh, but if you want a non-fixed single speed bike, you can also get a frame w/ vertical dropouts, you'll then (probably) also need a chain tensioner, which means you'll need a "hanger" to which you can attach it.
posted by beerbajay at 1:30 PM on May 27, 2008

I guess that makes me a smart person ;-)

Having logged many many miles and changed a few flats along the way, horizontal dropouts are better than track fork ends. It's easier to get a wheel in and out and easier to get the chain tension right. Six foot puts you in the 58 - 60-ish range, but frames vary in how they are measured so don't get too hung up on numbers. I can ride a range from 53 to 55 cm, depending. My humble opinion: mid-80's Japanese bike boom bike (Nishiki, etc) with long horizontal dropouts and minimal braze-ones (i.e. originally set up for clamp on derailers and shifters). A nice shiny chrome straight Colnago road fork might be just what you are looking for.

Curious, when you say you won't be using lever brakes do you mean no brakes? Not that I'm gonna try to convince you. Coaster brake means it ain't a fixie. Roller brake, disc brake, drum brake, canti or caliper all require a lever. Something I haven't considered?
posted by fixedgear at 2:03 PM on May 27, 2008

I'm gonna echo fixedgear -- if you want to ride a single speed, you must have some sort of external braking system.

As for fit,Rivendell Bicycle Works has some useful resources on how to determine the size of frame you need. If at all possible, take the donor bike out for a spin before you buy it!
posted by JohnFredra at 2:19 PM on May 27, 2008

If you must use a vertical dropout frame and don't like the way tensioners look, you can get an eccentric hub to maintain the chain tension. They cost a bit more, but look cleaner than tensioners.

Frame recommendations are tough, because everyone's body is different and everyone likes a little bit different riding position etc., etc. I'm partial to old steel, particularly a Austro-Daimler Inter10 (this one isn't mine, BTW). Reynolds 531 frame with gold detailing around the lugs, semi-horizontal dropouts and no braze-ons. Purty. They can be had for cheap if you keep your eye on craigslist/ebay and have a little patience. I snagged my frame for just less than $75, stripped off the parts and ebayed them for $50, then cleaned it up, put on a *cough*coaster-brake*cough* rear wheel and some Ibis scorcher-style -- a gorgeous bike in its own right -- bars and some 38c Kendas and called it good. (Yeah, it's not a fixie, but the bike is remarkably smooth and would no doubt make a great fixed gear.)
posted by cog_nate at 2:21 PM on May 27, 2008

Well, fixedgear ain't gonna try but I will: You must install some kind of back-up braking system or the cosmic fabric will rend and the universe will cease to exist.

Okay, not really. But doing any kind of semi-serious riding on just a coaster brake is a really, really bad idea. At least put on a front brake, if not for yourself, for us. We'll feel really bad if you wreck and it could've been avoided.

Anyway, ITA with the rest of fixedgear's post. Heed it.
posted by Opposite George at 2:58 PM on May 27, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah I should have made the braking clearer, I'll be using a coaster (back pedal) brake and no other brakes. I've been riding my Schwinn cruiser for months now and it's literally never been a problem. I should have also mentioned that I live in Cambridge, England and ride maybe half a mile to a mile each journey on deserted victorian streets, completely minimal road and traffic use.

I realise that it won't be a 'fixie' but it's the minimal frame, brooks saddle, leather bar grips and deep v rim aesthetic that has drawn me in, not the actual idea of riding a fixed gear setup. Apologies for being a total poser faker.

Thanks so much for your replies so far!
posted by stackhaus23 at 3:39 PM on May 27, 2008

Also, this may be obvious, but have you checked out Fixed Gear Gallery? Peruse some of the bikes there, find a couple that appeal to you and then do the ebay/craigslist thing.

(OT: Forget all that poser talk. As long as you're riding something, you're OK in my book.)
posted by cog_nate at 3:55 PM on May 27, 2008

Apologies for being a total poser faker.

Ride what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. It's all good.

I live in Cambridge, England and ride maybe half a mile to a mile each journey on deserted victorian streets, completely minimal road and traffic use.

Ah hell. If that's all you're probably fine.

Just don't prove me wrong, okay? :)
posted by Opposite George at 5:01 PM on May 27, 2008

I ride an Iro with a coaster brake. If you like a lot of the bikes you saw in SF, check out missionbicycle.com. Also, call them--they absolutely blow at email.
posted by dobbs at 6:13 PM on July 3, 2008

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