How to Build A Fixie

How to Build A Fixie

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How to Fix A Flat Tire in 10 minutes or less!

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The Mountain Fixie

At first glance, this type of fixie may seem like a paradox. Mountain bikes are built strong and heavy, with front shocks and often rear shocks too. They have a nearly overwhelming amount of components with the addition of their shocks. On the other hand, fixies are light and nimble. They are pure and simple. So what would happen if you combine the two: mountain and fixie?

Well first off, let it be said that you cannot build a fixie with a dual-shock bike frame. This simply just doesn’t work: with a rear shock system, when the shock compresses, the distance from the chainring to the cog (front to rear gears) changes a little. Not by much, but enough to cause tensioning problems with a fixie.

Since fixies have no derailleurs, there is no mechanism of ensuring that the chain is taut. Too tight, and a bike chain will not run smoothly. Too loose, and a bike chain is bound to fall off. On standard bikes, the rear derailleur takes care of this problem with a spring-loaded arm (the part that hangs downward on the rear of the bike). Without such a mechanism on a fixie, chain tension is completely regulated by moving the rear backward and forward in the drops outs.

Since the position of the rear wheel in the dropouts is fixed, there is no way to regular chain tension for a bike with a rear shock. So that is out of the question.

Front shocks, on the other hand, are fair game. In my opinion, front shocks are an extremely effective addition to any bike (that isn’t used for racing).

There are really only two disadvantages of having front shocks: 1) Added weight. Front shocks can be pretty heavy, so they definitely add a few extra pounds to the weight of the frame. 2) They can absorb energy that would otherwise be transferred into forward momentum. How much energy, it is hard to say. But as far as I can tell, not enough to make that much of a difference in everyday commuting.

While there is really only one advantage to front shocks, it is an important one: front shocks provide a much, much smoother ride on rough surfaces, including pavement, sidewalks, and dirt/gravel. With front shocks, it is also much easier to jump a curb or hop off a curb without putting as much strain on your wrists.

So I decided I wanted to make a fixie with front shocks. This is what resulted:

A diamondback frame with a  standard from shock provide the core for this bike. In the front, I have a 26 in wheel with a 26 x 2.00 in tire. This is a pretty large thickness tire, which is pretty standard for mountain bikes. In the back, I was forced to use a 700c wheel with 700 x 28c tire. This is about half the thickness of the front tire. Essentially, this is a road bike tire.

Front Tire                                                               Rear Tire

The parity between the front and the rear tire dimensions definitely give this bike a somewhat strange look. However, I have found that little is lost.

On the road, this fixie yields a smooth ride on Houston’s pot-holed streets. Compared to other fixies, little to no speed is lost from the thicker front tire.

Off the road, this fixie is surprisingly able. Over the weekend, I took it out for a spin at the Memorial Park mountain bike trails. The trails consist of sections, labeled by color. I tested out the fixie on the green trail. While riding fixed and mountain biking are usually two separate realms, there is really no reason not to combine them. It definitely provides and extra challenge.

I made it through the green trails on my mountain fixie just fine. I did have to get off and walk up a few hills, as it was nearly impossible to climb while in such a high gear. But besides that, everything worked fine. Even the thin rear tire did not seem to be a problem. Ironically enough, I went out a day later on a standard mountain bike to the same trails, and ended up getting a flat in my rear tire, even with a reinforced, thorn-resistant inner tube.

The mountain fixie may not seem to be the most practical, but it is really not that bad of a setup. Its takes the best of both worlds, and forms them together into an extremely reliable bike that can take you practically anywhere!

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The Wal-mart Fixie

Wal-mart automatically seems to have a negative stigma associated with its name. It is known for low quality products, treating its employees poorly, and an extremely expansive selection. In fact, these days, that selection even includes a fixed-gear bicycle: the Genesis Track One.

With such a variety in merchandise at Wal-mart, this may not be a surprise. But at the same time, a bike as specialized as a fixie at Wal-mart? What type of customers can this bike target? It cannot be used for racing, as the bike is definitely not a “track” fixie. Its not exactly a fixie for show, as it is a mass produced bike and lacks the uniqueness that makes a bike stylish and showy. However, there is one redeeming quality of the bike; Wal-mart’s “Always Low Prices” slogan explains it all: the fixie sells for a mere $150.

One-hundred fifty dollars is a really, really low price. Considering that the average fixie sells for $300+, there is nowhere else to get a fixie that inexpensive (except for maybe a used one on craigslist).

So does this bike live up to its Wal-mart brand stigma? According to T.J. Flexer, it does. He rails on the Track One, calling it an “absolutely inferior quality product.” Of course, this statement must be put in perspective. Flexer is comparing the Track One to high-end track fixies, so he is definitely correct. He is merely stating the obvious. What’s more important is whether the quality of the Track One is worth the price.

Not quite. While the Track One is durable enough to function, there are a few specs that make this fixie just not worth it in end:

1)    The crankset and the chain rings are a single unit.

2)    The headset is threaded

3)    The brakes are pretty chintzy

  1. On most fixies, the crank arms are separate from the chainring (the front gears), which allows you to interchange the chainrings as needed. Changing the chainring allows you to adjust the gain ratio, which is very important with only one gear. The Track One has a single crank-chainring set up, and this definitely limits your options.
  2. The headset is threaded, as a opposed to a thread-less headset. Almost all modern bikes today have thread-less headsets, and the lack of one on the Track One definitely shows the lack of quality.
  3. The brakes just don’t seem very durable. Another sign of lacking quality.

My friend, Santigold bought one of these fixies last year, so I tried his out the other day. I was surprised that the Track One rides just fine. Nothing special, just fine. So I can say for sure that the Track One is definitely not for me. But its cheap, and it gets the job done, so it does fill a niche in the fixie community.

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The Big Shot Fixie

Big shot bikes is an online bike retailer that sells customized fixed gear bicycles. While you don’t have much choice in the parts/components of the bike, you get a variety of choices in the colors of the various components. You can choose a different color for the frame and fork, the handlebar tape, the front tire, the front rim, the rear tire, the rear rim, and the chain.

With so many choices, you come up with some pretty stylish fixies! Check out their website—it has a cool interface where you can view what your bike would look like as you pick and choose the colors for each component. There even is a “randomize” button, which can lead to some pretty interesting combinations.

So my suitemate, Juan Pablo, actually has a Big Shot fixie, so I’ve had the chance to take one for a spin.

Pablo’s has a purple frame, with orange, white and blue accents—a solid color scheme in my opinion. With bull-horn handlebars (handlebars that curve forward and up at the ends, hence the name), and a sleek black saddle, this fixie provides a pretty comfortable ride.

While these bikes are not sold based on their components, they are actually pretty decent bikes. Big Shot doesn’t cut any corners when choosing the specs: all parts are of high quality and have remained in great condition after over a year of use. Even the wheels have remained pretty true, which indicates superior quality.

Furthermore, the bike is overall pretty light. The brakes work great, and its comes with front and rear brakes (for added safety, especially if converted to a non-fixed cog). A single speed specific crank with metal pedals is another plus in the quality. To top it off, big shots stamps the front with their signature star:

So how does it ride? Well one word sums it up pretty well: smoothly. There are a lot of factors that affect how a fixie will ride, and it often is hard to get a perfect smooth ride, but Big Shot is a pretty successful in doing so. One great spec of this bike is the horizontal rear dropouts with adjustable tensioners for adjusting chain tension. This is extremely useful for a fixie, as chain tension is very important in achieving a smooth ride.

Overall, I find Big Shot to be a pretty decent brand of fixed gear bicycles. They allow for very unique appearances and styles, while not sacrificing any quality.

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The Classic Fixie

My friend, Ben, has what I consider to be the “classic” fixie.


Ben’s Fixie

The classic fixie is a type of fixie that is made from an older-style frame that used to be a multi-speed bike, and was converted into a fixed gear bike.

Part of the fun of building a classic fixie is taking an old and rusty frame, and making it look new again. I have to imagine that it would be very similar to the allure of refurbishing a car from 50 years ago. Plus, older bikes often have extremely intricate design (lugged), usually with more detail than modern bikes have. Put all these factors together and your left with one elegant looking bike.

Ben makes use of an old Takara frame from the 80’s. He chose to paint the frame blue, with white accents on the lugs, and red accents on the seat and handlebars. The blue, white and red theme expresses a clean and sophisticated style.

With a seat tube length of 59 cm, this bike is not for anyone below 5’8” or so. Furthmore, the wheels are 27 inches, making the stand-over height pretty high.

Now, although the appearance of the bike is important, nothing is more important than how the bike rides. And Ben’s bike does not fail on this front either: his bike provides a smooth, powerful ride. The gear ratiois 53 (front chainring) to 16 (rear cog). This is a pretty steep ratio, and although it might take a bit of muscle to accelerate quickly, it also allows for extremely high speeds (20-30 mph) while not having to spin (pedal) extremely fast. In Houston, where the whole city is essentially flat, this seems to be a pretty sensible gear ratio.

 

Ben’s bike has tires of width 28 mm. These provide a good balance between low friction and decent amount of cushion over the rough roads of Houston.

My favorite part of Ben’s bike is his bullhorn handlebars. These are simply a great addition to an already great bike.

So there it is: the summary of Ben’s classic fixie.

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Top 6 reasons to ride fixed

Why fixie?

  1. A new experience
  2. Simplicity
  3. More stylish
  4. Lightweight
  5. Good for strength training
  6. Every fixie is unique.

Because….

  1. A new experience. Riding a fixie is a whole new experience from riding a standard bike. It’s like changing from automatic transmission to manual transmission. This analogy captures idea that riding a fixie, like driving a manual transmission car, is a much more involved experience.
  2. Simplicity. Fixies are, by definition, simple! They have no gears, and thus no need for derailleurs. Furthermore, with the ability to slow down manually, there is not even a need for brakes! Generally though, at least one brake is used.
  3. More stylish. Since fixies are not produced in bulk (for the most part), almost all fixies garner a unique style. Often featuring showy color schemes, these fixies stand out among “production” line bikes
  4. Lightweight. Being simple, fixies are also lightweight. The small components really do add up. Combining the lost weight of extra gears, and freewheel, derailleurs, derailleur cables, brakes, brake cables, and extra chain links, and you’ve saved yourself at the very least several pounds. This may seem insignificant, but it does not go unnoticed while riding.
  5. Good for strength training. With only a single gear, accelerating and slowing down takes extra muscle. Spend a few months riding around on a fixie, and your quads will definitely get a bit bigger.
  6. Every fixie is unique. As you will see from the rest of my blog, no one fixie exactly the same. And this makes building/modifying fixies so addicting. In each future blog post, I will feature a unique fixie and detail its specs, riding style, and overall feel.

 

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