Tag Archives: Fixie

I’ve got only one gear

Even though I wasn’t riding my bike much over the last month, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t been thinking about bikes and playing around with them. Most of my focus in that regard has recently been centered around my SE Bikes Draft. It’s been a lot of fun getting it to its current setup.

SE Bikes Draft on the streets of Austin

SE Bikes Draft on the streets of Austin

I got the bike a couple years ago. It was an end of the year sale at Sunshine Cycle Shop. I had done some work for the shop and Mike let me roll it out the door for $75. At that time it was a single speed with a free hub. I used the bike to ride to work on nice days when I didn’t have meetings planned in town.

Out of the box, the bike looked just like the one you see in the above photo. I happened across the above bike while walking through Austin. However, I couldn’t just leave it alone! It just didn’t seem to have enough character. The first thing I did was to add a fixed gear to the rear hub so I could flip the wheel if I wanted a “fixie.”

What I really wanted to do was put drop bars on the front and switch out the pedals from the meat grinders that came with the bike to a set of clipless pedals. I quickly discovered that it wouldn’t be that easy. Replacing the bars would mean replacing the brakes. I also learned that the threads on the single piece crank were too small to accept the SpeedPlay pedals I wanted to put on it. So, for a year the bike pretty much hung up in the back of my basement.

Then I busted up the “Demon Bike” and had a bunch of high end spare parts — like a seat, a nice stem and bars. Just for fun, I put the seat on the Draft. I chuckled because I realized that the seat cost twice as much as I paid for the bike! Then I turned my attention to the bars.

Taking the straight bars off was simple enough. Even replacing it with the drop bars was fine. However, I’m not a hipster and the thought of riding that bike without brakes does not appeal to me. First I tried to find a way to mount the original brake levers on the drop bars. I ended up breaking the brakes in the attempt.

So, at Sunshine, I bought some 20 dollar brake levers (I just haven’t gotten into the eBay habit) and stuck them on there. That also lead me to order some more solid brakes. The original brake calipers had huge gaps between the pads and wheels and once I put some skinnier wheels on there it was even worse. The new brakes were more for safety than looks — though they look better as well!

Drop bars with brakes – done. Now it was time to move to the crank. This got complicated real fast. First I tried to just screw in some clipless pedals. The higher end pedals were too large to fit in the standard single piece crank set. So, I decided to have a machine shop widen the existing holes and tap in new threads. After finally getting hold of the proper taps, I had the new threads bored in and I now had clipless pedals!

SE Bikes original crank with clipless pedal

Clipless pedal on the right with platform pedal on the left

Then I took it for a ride. Hmmmm, this wasn’t going to work. It felt all wrong. First of all the crank worked okay for tooling easily around town or back to work, but actually taking it out at speed showed me 1) the pedals were not entirely straight, 2) the crank arms were not long enough for my comfort, and 3) I didn’t have confidence in the amount of mass left around the threads. I had been told of instances where people had done similar things with their cranks and had them snap.

So, now things were getting more complicated. I went searching online for a way to replace the single piece crank set with a three piece unit. I found one on the site by the late Sheldon Brown. I placed my order and soon received a bottom bracket adapter kit.

Crank converter by FSA

FSA single to three piece converter

At that point I busted the budget and sprung for a SRAM Omium track crank. You can see the bottom bracket caps screwed into the adapter in the picture above. Basically, the adapter is made of two caps that go in the hole left in the frame once the sealed single piece crank set is removed. Rods connect the two caps and once tightened create a standard style threaded bottom bracket.

New crank in adapter

New SRAM crank in the adapter

Then it was just a matter of sliding in the new track crank. Wow! What a difference. The bike was now a joy to ride. The biggest change to get used to was the gearing. The SRAM gear was larger than the original Draft front ring. I was now turning a 48 x 16. It allows me to get more speed, but when I took the 24 pound steel framed bike up Paris Mountain I ended up having to walk a couple times. I was able to climb all the way with the original gearing.

That isn’t a problem. It just gives me something to aim for — climbing Altamont all the way with the 48 x 16. The trade off of having more speed on the flats and not spinning out so quickly on the downhills is well worth it. Besides… doesn’t it look sweet?

SRAM Omnium crank

SRAM Omnium crank

Taking my SE Draft single speed from this…

SE Bikes Draft

SE Bikes Draft - Before

To this…

SE Bikes Draft with conversions

SE Bikes Draft - After

It has been a blast. I’m not done yet. Wait until you see what I’ve done to prove I’m not a hipster.

That will have to wait until another day.

Getting my fix

Today my gear came for my SE Bikes Draft. I thought I had an idea what it would be like to ride a fixie for the first time. Thankfully, I didn’t kill myself!

The way it works on my Draft is that I have a free wheel gear on one side and a fixed gear on the other. If I want the ease of the free wheel, I put that side on the chain. When I feel like the fun of the fix wheel, I just turn the wheel around and here we go.

In my first ride I headed up to Sunshine Cycle Shop to have them take a look at it. It started out no different than with the free wheel. I had been warned about the way the cranks can throw you if you relax your pedaling motion.

Things got interesting when I started down a hill for the first time. I hit about 25 miles an hour and my legs just couldn’t keep up with the pedals! I ended up lifting my feet and letting the cranks go mad. It was time to figure out how to control the bike in a decent.

I kept practicing to keep control. I found that I could “walk the bike” down. You really had to think ahead. It was okay to go fast, as long as I didn’t go too fast. So, I would start off down a hill slowing the rotation. At a point where I felt I could keep the revolutions manageable, I would just let it go.

It was fun. I can see why people say it is a more “organic” kind of riding. There is never a time when you stop thinking about the feeling of the bike. You use your legs not just to propel the bike forward, but to slow it. Really, your body becomes the gearing.

As a commuter, I would probably prefer the free wheel. The fixed wheel makes for some interesting fun. I think I’ll keep it.