Sunday, July 26, 2009

334. my first fixie


Um, so I haven't been posting lately.

Sorry about that.

No good excuses, I've just been busy doing other things (and yeah, I've also been lazy and...well, more on that in a future post).

Anyway because of an experience a couple weeks ago (which I'll also write about soon), I should be back on the writing bandwagon now.

And so...

[end preface]

It all started with a craigslist ad for an old, beat up bicycle frame that was my size (48cm).

I already have two bikes, one of which is an old (circa late 80's) Fuji bike that I built up as a commuter. It has fenders to guard against the Seattle rain and a rack on that back that I'll use to carry my books once school starts. My other bike is a Vitus 992 racing bike. This is the bike I take out on fun, fitness rides. I've been wanting a Vitus for a long time and I thought my chance had passed a long time ago since I don't think they're in business anymore (even their wikipedia page is tiny) but when one came up on craigslist for a price I couldn't resist, I didn't resist and snatched it up.

So I have two bikes that basically cover all of my bicycling needs. Why did that old, beat up bicycle frame catch my eye?

Two reasons. One, because the guy was selling the frame for $10 or a case of beer. I drove a 12 pack of PBR out to his house and drove away with an ugly, rusty bicycle frame. And two, because I wanted to build up a fixed gear bike.

For those who don't know, the easiest way to describe the difference between a fixie and most of the other bikes out there, a fixed gear bike is one where it's impossible to coast - to not pedal if the rear wheel is moving. Imagine a unicycle where the pedals are affixed to the wheel - if the wheel is moving, the pedals are moving. A fixie is kind of like a unicycle with a front wheel.

With all the bicycle technology that's out there with gears and all, why would anyone want to ride a bike with just one gear that can't coast?

Well, when asked, fixed gear riders say that they feel at one with the bike, that it fosters good pedaling technique, that it's more fun than riding a multi-geared bike, that one just needs to ride one to understand.

Which brings me to the guy selling a frame for beer.

My goal was to build up this bike for less than $200. Trading the frame for a case of beer gave me a head start but if I had known then what a time and money sink it would be, I probably would never have bothered. But I didn't know and by the time I figured how much the rebuild was costing me, I was well past the point of no return.

I'll spare you the gory details of the build and fast forward to the photos.

This is the whole hog. I've temporarily nicknamed it "The Terror" because as a first time fixie rider, it's pretty scary to ride especially when coming to a stop.

Those green bits are painted with chalkboard paint. The idea is, I can write words or draw designs on those parts with chalk, erase and change them later. I've tried this out but haven't taken any pictures that include chalk drawings yet. It's hard to write words on tubes but drawing stripes and other designs is pretty easy.

I stole this idea from the Fixed Gear Gallery website (see this bike - my version is nowhere near as elegant as that guy's Bianchi but it works). The left brake lever operates the front brake as usual but the right brake lever rings the bell (no rear brake). The first time I took it out for a ride and needed to brake, I grabbed both levers (like I do on my regular bikes) and pulled and was surprised when I heard the little "ding ding" sound. Now when I ride on the hoods I make sure to keep my fingers off the brake lever.

One gear. 42 tooth chainring, 17 tooth cog. Nice and easy on the flats, a bit of a struggle on the hills and I haven't had the balls to try it out on any big downhills yet. I don't want to die a virgin.

I actually built up the front and rear wheels myself. Like I said, once I got into the project it started costing more money than I had wanted to put into it. One cost-cutting measure was to buy the hubs and rims separately and build them up. As a bonus, not only did I save money (most shops charge around $50 to build a wheel), I learned a new skill. Win, win.

So this is kind of cool. The night before I (finally) finished the build, I was perusing craigslist when I found a guy selling a Fuji saddle for $20 (did I mention the frame was a Fuji? match - match). I needed a saddle but wasn't willing to shell out $20 so I offered the guy $15. After threatening to walk away from the deal, the guy sold it to me for that price.

And finally this is me with the fixie. Don't let the shaka and the smile fool you - I was frustrated and pissed off at the bike when the picture was taken. Like I said, it was a really frustrating build and I had to make three four trips to Recycled Cycles to find little bits and pieces to get everything fit and working.


So I finished the build on Friday night and started writing this post that evening. I'm finishing and posting the entry on Sunday night and I've gotten to ride "The Terror" a few times now and I must say that I'm already becoming fond of this bike. It definitely demands respect - forget you can't coast and the bike reminds you in no uncertain terms - but it's also a pretty sweet ride. Again, I haven't taken it on any big down hill runs (or big up hill slopes) yet so I haven't had the full fixie experience yet.

I did swap out the platform pedals in those photos for egg beater clipless pedals but that pedal system is so easy to get in and out of that it wasn't as hard to learn as I thought they would be. It was hard at first to clip in while the cranks were moving but again, egg beaters are really easy to engage so it didn't take long to figure it out.

One last bit.

There are lots of people who ride fixies to look hip. I built up this fixie and am learning to ride it because one, I want to see what the whole one-with-the-bike-Zen-experience is about and two, riding fixie is supposed to teach proper pedaling technique. And putting this thing together from the frame on up has been a huge learning experience. Before this I thought I knew a fair bit about bikes but once I started the build I quickly ran into all the things I didn't know. Thank God for the internet where I learned some cool tricks like how to build my own headset press and how to get old paint off of a bike (my favorite low-cost methods: wet/dry sandpaper and wire wheel brushes on a drill - an angle grinder is supposed to work better but I wasn't about to spend money on a new power tool).


Blake said...

Hey dude! Awesome post couple posts (including your most recent about the temp job). You're a talented writer and I look forward to being roommates over the next year+ :)

Dale said...

Nice work Randall!!

Yeah, building up bikes sounds like such a rewarding, joyful experience. And then you actually try it and realize that old bike parts basically NEVER fit with each other unless you drill or zip-tie them. So huge props for finishing it, even though it turned out to be more than you bargained for :)

Ian said...

nice build -

If you got through the build only going to RC four times you are doing just fine.

The zen part comes with time... it is strange, but after a while of riding one I finally agree with it.

Be careful with your technique - riding fixed helps some things (RPM), but other parts of your pedaling technique (turning circles, moving through the back part of the stroke, etc) will get super-sloppy if you aren't careful.