If you’ve got an old bike lying around, transforming it into a fixie is quite a fun little project.
Image by georgeXchelebiev via Flickr
I like having pet projects and I also enjoy biking, so its unsurprising that I got excited about the idea of transforming my old 1987 Vitus 979 into a fixed gear bike, or ‘fixie’ as people have taken to calling them. I made a few silly mistakes here and there, and it took some figuring out (with the help of a YouTube video or two), but I managed, and it really wasn’t that expensive.
I would say you could convert just about any bike from the 70’s or 80’s so long as they have horizontal dropouts, I’ll explain why later. And on that note, see if you can find some spacers for them too. Add a single gear chain and new back wheel to the list, and you’ll soon have one of many single speed fixie bikes in London.
Strip the frame
One of the benefits of a fixie is how light it is. The only way to do that is to strip the bike of all the parts it will no longer need. Remove the back wheel, chain, and rear and front derailers. You won’t need them for fixed gearing and they just add weight to the frame. If you want, remove the front wheel as well, it will make working on the bike much easier.
New rear wheel
It is possible to convert a standard wheel into a fixed gear one, but it’s not really safe. With fixies, you break with your pedals which put a lot of tension on the cog, causing it to unscrew which means you lose your breaks. Not exactly ideal. So rather look at getting a track wheel, it is by far the safer option. You may need to get some spacers to keep the track wheel aligned; this will help with keeping a straight chain line, but more about that later
There’s no particular ratio which is best, but a good starting point is 3 to 1. Bear in mind that you’ll want to avoid putting the chain on at an angle from the track cog of the back wheel, so stick to the inner chain ring unless you like having accidents. Gear ratio determines how far the bike goes in one rotation of the chain ring. More teeth on your cog is great for flat surfaces and down hills, but makes for tiring work when going up a slope. So really it depends on how you plan on using your bike.
You can buy a single gear chain just about anywhere. The chain is under a lot of tension that would normally be handled by gears or breaks, so get a good one. I spoke a bit earlier about chain line; if the chain is at an angle from the track cog, it can easily slip off, essentially taking away your breaks. To adjust the chain tension, loosen the rear wheel and slide it backwards along the horizontal dropout, tighten it by hand and test it. It should be tight, but with a little slack, if it is too tight the chain could snap, which is not ideal.
Once you have gotten the tension just right, tighten the rear wheel properly and test it. Rotate it both ways, see how it reacts to the friction of changing directions on the pedals. If the chain slips off either the track cog or the chain ring, then your chain alignment is probably off.
Once you are done, reassemble your bike if you must, check everything is at it should be, tight and sturdy, not likely to drop off and take it for a spin. Be gentle at first so that in the unlikely event that you made a mistake, you won’t hurt yourself too badly. After all, you won’t be able to adjust it and get it right if your hand is broken from a fall.