A Nurse with a Gun

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fixie Fixations

"I still feel that varable gears are only for people over forty-five.
Isn't it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailer?
We are getting soft...As for me, give me a fixed gear!"
Henri Desgrange, L'Équipe article of 1902
When I first started riding bikes again, although I purchased a derailleured Raleigh Passage, I eschewed the road bike clubmen. I could just not see myself in multi-colored lycra pedaling away on an overly complicated object of mechanical lust. If I wanted to get somewhere quickly, I would just get in the car. Bicycling for me was to be healthy, but mainly enjoyable.

The more I read about bicycling, (I had never actually read about it before, I just did it), the more I read about fixed gear bikes. I heard there was an almost zen like quality to riding them, a oneness between the man and the machine that other bikes could not really match.

I suppose that before I blather further, I should elucidate on what a fixed gear bicycle is. A fixed gear bike is a bicycle that does not have a freewheel. In other words, there is no coasting. The pedals are always moving when the bike is in motion. Frequently, these bicycles have no brakes, as the riders are generally able to use the pedals themselves to stop the travel of the cycle. While a fixed gear bike can be any type of bicycle, most people who ride them are of a minimalist mindset. They want the simplicity of no derailleur, indeed the simplicity of no brake cables. No coaster brake. The frames are typically those of a Track Bike, tight, strong, tucked in, and light, with horizontal rear-opening fork ends for chain adjustment.

I considered building my first "fixie", and after I added up the expense, even with an old garage sale special 10 speed, the cost to build what I wanted would reach near the range of a new entry level bike. A Bianchi Pista sold for $549, while a Tommaso Agusta cost $399. The Agusta required an additional $89.99 for a brake package. The Pista would require a Shimano or Campagnolo brake set-up, even more expensive. Yes, I wanted brakes on my fixie. There was the Motobecane Messenger on ebay, but it was in horrid colors and the wrong size. I wanted a tall bike, at least 21 inches, with a horizontal top tube. I detest the look of a seatpost cranked up like a television antenna. I wanted real track fork ends, a 1/8 inch chain, a flip-flop hub, 700c wheels, bullhorn handlebars, and a discrete paint job.

I decided to pay a visit to my local bike shop. Last year, I had purchased three four bikes there. I saddled up the Raleigh Passage and rode on over. As I pedaled, I thought about how my perceived biking needs had changed over the past year. I locked my bike outside, and entered the store to take a look around. The owner greeted me, asked if he could help, and I told him what I was interested in. He recommended a Trek T1. I asked if he had one in stock. He did not, but he could order one, since he was a Trek supplier. We looked it up in the catalog, and I gazed on the red rocket that was the T1. I asked how much one would run.........$1200. I asked if there was any fixed gear bike any less expensive. He looked at me as though I had just dropped a dog turd in his bowl of granola. He did not speak very much after that, and he finally left me alone, ignoring me, to ponder what a podknocker I was for not dropping twelve Franklins on his counter while thanking him for the privilege. Worse than a gun shop. I decided to check the classifieds and ebay for any deals on frames and I did not let the door hit my lycraless butt when I exited.

The newspapers yielded three old 10 speed bikes. The first did not have horizontal drop-outs, the second was too small and also lacked horizontal drop-outs, and the third was overpriced as well as matching the first two for not meeting my purpose. I went to ebay. I found a beautiful, ornately lugged Puch Bergmeister frame in a copper color, with a fork, bars, and a bottom bracket attached. I did some calculations.......If I could obtain the frame at less than $100, even with shipping of the components, I just might be able to keep my fixie under $400. It looked like decent new wheels would run between $150 and $200 after shipping, and then there was the issue of converting the rear wheel to a fixie. A Brooks seat would be another $75 off ebay. Cranks and a chain wheel would be needed. It looked like shipping was going to eat my lunch. Damn. I thought about combining the nice ornate frame with one of the used 10 speeds I had looked at. Each example had rusty chrome wheels. I wanted alloy. Then there was tires and tubes. Handlebar tape. The little stuff was going eat a hole in my budget. Finally, I considered the fact that using a 10 speed's chainwheel, cog and chain would result in increased risk of chain dropping due to the shorter tapered teeth designed to slip a chain onto another sprocket. That's not good.

I saw a Trek T1 on ebay........US $499.00 and rising. No telling how high it would go. Frankly, it was too short. I decided not to bid. Several Bianchi Pistas were up for bids, and obviously held their value well. Bike thief bait. I keyed in track bike though and I found........exactly what I wanted.

An outfit in Colorado, Fly Bike Shop, was selling the bike I had in my mind. It was simple, clean, discreet. It even came in my size, 59cm. Reading over their Buyer's Guide to "Fixie" Bicycles, it was quickly apparent they understood the animal. The auction said to call Chris to check availability. I called. The phone conversation was nothing short of thoroughly comforting and convincing. They had the bike in the size I desired. I placed an order. I now wait on the big brown van of joy.

4130 double butted Chromoly frame
Straight blade aluminum fork
Track fork ends
18 tooth flip flop hub
46 tooth crankset.
Bullhorn bars
Tektro dual pivot front and rear brakes
Velo saddle
700c alloy rims with decent rubber

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you've never ridden one before, might I recommend a front brake at least? They are awful handy when the chain breaks or things just get out of hand.

I found it took a while to settle into the groove of riding the fixie...

-Less, the "discontentedcookie"

3:49 AM  
Anonymous Mike Y said...

I haven't ridden a fixed gear in many years and your post has me "Jones'n" for a fix. All my bikes are single speed and I think I'll convert one back to a fixed.


6:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

check out the Trek Soho S. It is a singlespeed witha flipflop hub that can be change to fixed in no time flat. I think it retails for $549, roughly.

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Kristopher said...

I think he made that decision already.

In most states you have to be able to make your rear wheel skid if you don't have a front brake.

It can be done on a fixie ( hop the wheel up, stop pedaling, and brace like hell before the wheel comes down ), but a lot of practice is required.

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be very careful. Get used to it before heading out into serious traffic . Nothing like it for pure riding though.

8:31 PM  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

Wow, cool! I can't wait for your practical report on this one. It sounds like a great bike to ride.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did a search on Puch Bergmeister and found your blog. I have a Puch like the one in the photo that I made into a fixed gear bike. It looks pretty cool:

Tim K.

9:47 AM  

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