My fixed gear

During my second year at UVA (fall 2000) I turned an old Nashbar Road Alpha 5000 into a fixed gear by reusing the existing 36-hole rim (I believe its an Araya; it’s a single-walled piece of crap) with a new hub and some used spokes for the rear wheel. While goofing off trying to skid on at the 24 hours of Snowshoe its cog came loose on the wheel and the threads got toasted before I could tighten things up. I rebuilt the rear wheel again with the same rim, this time using a cheap Suzue hub. Many, many, many trips to class later, a move to Pittsburgh, and two more years’ worth of trips to the lab, the rear wheel was so out of true that it was rubbing the frame. We lost three spokes along the way. The bike then went into storage for two years as I was then living within walking distance of the lab. I have moved a little further out, and I now need to resurrect it.

I belive the rear hub to be a Suzue SIL-SP, though printed on it is “Suzue Japan 1 b”. With the Araya rim, 301mm spokes seem to work well. I did my best to bring the wheel back into true, but the rim is pretty far gone. I will likely be replacing it soon, along with all of the spokes. Using used spokes when I built the wheel in the first place was a mistake.

In Charlottesville, my commute was fla, but slow and windy, and I built the fixed gear as much for fun as for commuting. As such, it has low gearing and some very upright “Englishman” handlebars.

My commute in Pittsburgh is downhill to work, and uphill home, though not too steep. The gearing I had on the bike previously (32:15) is simply not acceptable on the descent. I swapped in a 40 tooth chainring up front, which has helped some, but it’s still not a high enough gear. I’m also interested in taking this bike when I hit the rail trails with my fiance, and I need a bigger gear to comfortably maintain 16~17 mph.

Another customer at Iron City Cycles suggested that a gearing ratio of close to 3:1 is good for the Oakland / Squirrel Hill area (40:15 = 2.67:1). He also said not to use exactly 3:1 or else I’ll skid my tire a lot. Now, I have been trying like hell TO skid my tire, but I’m not sure why that exact ratio would make it easier. Once I learn the answer, I’ll try to post it here. UPDATE: The skids would always be in the same places of the tire with a 3:1 ratio.  A not-quite-exact ratio distributes them around the tire.  Clipless pedals make it much easier to skid. Practice in the snow, then the gravel, then the rain, then the dry pavement.

I also plan to chop some drop bars and make myself a set of bullhorns, as the uprights don’t make sense once I start to pickup speed. Also, the Road Alpha 5000 isn’t as big as I remember it. My 60cm Cannondale ‘Cross bike is much bigger.

In other disturbing news, I went to adjust the front brake the morning and part of it snapped off, the victim of corrosion and metal fatigue. I am currently telling myself it must have cracked in a careless racking, but who knows.


2 thoughts on “My fixed gear

  1. Warning!!!
    Clipless pedals are very dangerous.
    I’ve been riding bicycles continuously since I was 5. Have even commuted to work year-round in suburb north of NYC, Had been using Shimno clipless pedals for about 10 years and had several occasions when I couldn’t release from the pedal and dumped over. The last time, at age 58, caused my right hip to fracture. I needed 2 surgeries and 6 months of rehab. After the accident I found out about two other cyclists who suffered hip fractures because they couldn’t release from their pedals.
    Needless to say I took them off my Trek and will never use them again.
    The Pain was not worth the gain.

  2. Hi vicp,

    I have tipped over numerous times such as you describe, and I agree that it’s an inherent risk of using clipless pedals. I’m sorry to hear about your injuries. For me, the gain in power and control outweighs the risk of the occasional tip-over. Also, clipless pedals are much safer than using toe-clips and fully tightening them.

    That said, this article is about a fixed-gear bicycle. It’s been nearly 10 years since I began commuting with one, and it is far, far more dangerous than an ordinary bicycle. However, I am an experienced cyclist, and I choose the risk to heighten my awareness and improve my bike-handling skills. It also stops my commute from being boring. 🙂

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