The place for fixies and other rides without gears
19 posts • Page 1 of 1
Ok. I'm a bit annoyed.
I only get to ride to school twice a week to due to heaving tombstone-like textbooks about most days. I'm a mediocre hill climber. I got blasted apart by my dad, on a mountain bike. I regurlarly get destroyed by my dad's riding partner (the one who gave me the Apollo).
I want this to change. I want to be a better cyclist. So, hearing the high praises sung of fixies for assisting in such endevours, I'm now thinking a fixie might be the part of the soultion to some of my problems.
So, I come here, asking for guidance from the Fixie riders. I don't want to tinker with the Apollo, so I'd be looking for another frame to convert. Should I be looking for a frame suited to 27x1.25 rims or something for 700Cx23s? I'm thinking at the moment that a visit to the tip recycler's shop may yeild a decent frame, which then can be worked apon. Then, a track hub for the back wheel, what sort of cash is that looking at? What gearing should I be going for here?
Any help would be muchly appreciated!
(Sorry if this is a bit all over the place, it's been one of those sort of days!)
Any good, straight frame will work. However, you will make life a loootttt easier for yourself if you choose a frame with horizontal dropouts ie, slots close to horizontal for the rear axles to slide backwards and forwards in.
Modern bikes have a vertical dropout - the rear wheel just falls downwards out of the frame. They do this because the rear derailleur controls the chain tension.
However, on a fixie, you have to adjust the chain tension by moving the rear wheel backwards and forwards in the dropouts. You can buy special, eccentric hubs to help you adjust the chain tension in a bike with vertical dropouts, but they are expensive.
There are chain tensioners available but it's generally accepted that they are a bad idea and anything floppy, such as a derailleur, is just dangerous - on a fixed gear bike, you apply both forwards pressure on the chain, AND backpressure.
So, you need a frame with horizontal (or close to it) dropouts - have a look at my Europa shots and you'll see what I mean.
The most cost effective way of finding this sort of frame, is a seventies or eighties roadster. Just make sure it fits.
Although you can slow down and stop using your feet alone (backpressure on the pedals), you are a mug not to use brakes on the road. So make sure your donar bike has brakes (new cables and pads go a long way towards rejuvinating old brakes).
Now, the wheels. Doing it on the cheap, you can use whatever wheels come with the bike. My Europa did this for the last six months, my son's Gitanes does this as well. 27" tyres are available but can be hard to get.
It's better if you get a bike that already has 700c wheels, but don't fuss on it.
Now, the fixie conversion. You do NOT have to remove the extra chainring (check the early photos of the Europa), but it's neater if you do. It costs about $10 for the bolts to do the conversion, but for a variety of reasons, it's not always practical - the Europa has only now lost her spare ring.
Geared bikes run a 3/32" chain (or thinner with modern bikes). These chains are not only thinner, but have a different spacing between the pins. Track cogs take 1/8" chains with a wider spacing between the pins - the same chains used on BMX bikes. The old 3/32 chain will NOT fit on 1/8" track cogs. You can buy 3/32 track cogs but these are hard to find. However, the 1/8 chain works nicely on 3/32 chainrings.
So, the cheap and easy conversion is to keep your existing chainrings, but buy a bmx chain (about $11) and a 1/8 track cog. It'll all work - that's what's running on the Europa now.
To convert the rear wheel, you have to remove the old cluster of gears. This varies between simple and horrendous (both the Europa and the Gitanes chose 'horrendous' and I had to destroy the old clusters). We can discuss this closer to time. Once you've got the gear cluster off, you can just spin on your track cog. Proper track hubs use a locking ring on a reverse direction thread - you don't have this option on a normal road hub and so, too much back pressure on the pedals can spin off the cog. This is why these hubs are called 'suicide' hubs - a misnomer. If there are enough threads, you can fit a bottom bracket locking ring to a suicide hub, but it's not as effective as a track hub locking ring and, as happened on both the Europa and the Gitanes, there often aren't enough threads.
However, you can just spin off the gear cluster and spin on a track cog (with a special tightening process we can discuss at the time). This works very well and many bikes have travelled many miles with such a conversion, PROVIDED you use brakes to stop yourself.
Finished? Not yet. Now you have to look at the chain line. A straight chain line is important on a fixie, otherwise you'll find yourself throwing chains - this is unlike a geared bike which gets away non-straight chain lines.
If you are lucky, like I was with the Europa, the cog will line up with one of the chainrings. However, you are more likely (like I was with the Gitanes), to find that the rear cog is offset to the inside of the small chainring. To get around this, you have to mess about with spacers to move the hub across the axle (thus getting the cog to line up with the ring). This then places the rear rim offset to the frame and so you'll have to re-dish the rear wheel to get the rim back in the centre of the frame. This is scary but not overly hard and a good introduction to wheel building.
Therefore, if you buy an eighties road bike, to covert her to a fixie, all you have to do is remove all the gear changing stuff, take off the rear gears, spin on a track cog and a fit a new chain, plus redish the rear wheel. Total cost? About $40. The process is scarier than it sounds - the Gitanes took me a weekend because I had to replace a couple of spokes.
This gets you a basic fixed gear bike like the Europa was until recently.
I've since gone a bit further and had a pair of track wheels fitted, plus removed one of the chainrings. This is a neater job but not necessary. My son's Gitanes served through last summer as a track bike (on the velodrome) but has now been reconverted to a geared road bike.
Whew indeed! Who's the writer then?
Sorry to throw a stick in your spokes McPete, but to be a "better rider", you need to ride many more times than twice a week. And if twice a week is all you can fit in, you'd better carry those tombstones with you when you ride .....
As far as I can see, there is no quick fix (1) to your desire to be a better rider - the equipment is not what needs fixing (2) it's the engine which needs a good tune up.
(1) - pun intented
(2) - again, pun intended
Thankyou Richard, I knew you'd be a vast resource in this. It's looking like it will have to wait until the end of the HSC, but I do want to to this, despre my dad's opposition to such a thing...
And Graeme, Point taken mate, but have a go at understanding quite where I'm coming from. Huge, big text books. Hunched over position on a racing bike. Books in backpack coming diretly down on my spine. I really begin to feel that after a few days. I do try to ride more than I do, but at the moment, the weather and the HSC are getting in the way a bit...
Anyway, thanks for the help folks,
Start looking for your donor bike now, because you can still find some wonderful old frames going for next to nothing in second hand shops, garage sales, lost under bags in someone's shed. The trick is to be at the right place at the right time. The project is ahead aways, so be fussy at this stage - get something with good steel and in good nick for not much money.
I understand what you mean about the school books - I watch my son riding with his backpack and wonder why he does it. My personal recomendation is to fit a rack, even if you just occy strap the back pack to it. If your bike doesn't have the fittings brazed into the frame, you can buy clips that go around the tubes - they aren't as good but they are better than nothing.
Fitness and strength, especially with hills, only comes from doing it. There are no short cuts. The fixie will help accelerate that but we're talking relativity here. The fixie will also improve your bike control and pedalling action - they're worth it for that alone.
More importantly, they are a blast to ride. The range of things you can do on a fixie is more than a normal bike, particularly when you start getting into tricks.
Then there are the lunatics who ride fixed gear mountain bikes ... on the trails **shoots sideways look at mtb**
Seriously man, get a rack and some panniers. Carrying heavy loads in a backpack is not the way to go. With most older bikes you will be able to fit a rack. You can use a single pannier with 5+kgs of stuff in it and you'll barely even notice it on the bike.
I'd question weather trying to ride a fixed gear is going to improve your hill climbing - the way to get good at hill climbing is to climb a lot of hills! It's all about your power to weight ratio, and your ability to sustain power output for the duration of the hill. Having only one gear is not going to help this - it may give you a better feel for cornering and braking, but it doesn't sound like that's what you want.
That is a good read, thanks for the link. I was rather surprised at how interesting and informative it is (how's that for a response from a confirmed internet cynic).
Two points I disagree with though -
Firstly, please fit brakes - sure, you can ride without them and one of the joys of fixies is not using brakes, but when the choice is to use your non-fashionable brakes or to bump into something solid ...
Secondly, 'suicide' hubs do work and work well and aren't in the slightest bit dangerous if you do it properly (no, you do NOT need loctite or anything like it), are not doing skids or other tricks that rely on a lot of back pressure and use brakes for hard stops. Track hubs with locking rings are safer and better, but suicide is a good interim move for those short of money.
Apart from that though, 'tis a good read (even if it is a ruddy pdf and you have to dial the zoom up something horrendous to see the print )
Yes, do lots of hills but not having ridden geared for several years, I thought that most gearies changed to their granny gear comming up to a hill and rarely if ever changed while on the hill thereby riding "fixed" up the hill.
an interesting article on fixed/free gear riding
No, you start the hill standing on the pedals and blast away as hard as you can, then start shifting down as you can't push the gear any more. That's if you want to go fast. You can also just use the gears to maintain an even cadence and preserve your energy - it gives you options. Normally I drop one at the front and put two on at the back at the start of a hill, so I have more room to change down at the back.
Most road riders don't have triples, I have one for very long or steep hills.
Mountain bikers use granny gears more (22-34 combinations and such like) but that's more to do with the nature of the bike, suspension, and traction on the terrain.
Now a fixed gear, sure you might do better blasting away at the start of a hill - but if you can't push the gear any more after only 1/3rd of the hill? No options, you're walking the rest of the way up.
I suggest you read the article linked to by tallywhacker Bnej, I think it will modify your thoughts a little ... and the article is written by a physicist, someone who understands this sort of stuff.
I read it, I don't agree. It makes a lot of assertions about a cycling power stroke without real research to back it up. I don't believe that a fixed gear gives you anything like 50% more torque in the same ratio, an astounding claim like that needs experimental evidence rather than just a discussion about the length of the power stroke.
Fixed gears might be fun, but I don't see them being some kind of miracle weapon that turns you into a super hill climber if you weren't already one - and I think for most cyclists, it would be counterproductive, as instead of being forced to shift down on hills, you'd fail on the hill completely and have to push the bike.
Now, the day I see someone who has previously struggled getting around my normal hilly loop hop on a fixie and suddenly fly up the hills easily, then I'll change my opinion. In reality I think the reverse would be true.
You're being too defensive about it mate. I don't think anyone's claiming they'll turn you into a super hill climber, however if you dial the claim back to 'a better, stronger hill climber', they are dead right. I'm seeing that already with the limited time I've had on mine. Fixies are more than 'just fun', there are definite benefits as well and dangers if you over gear your bike. Like all facets of cycling, there are pros and cons.
I'm reminded of a thread on an American forum I attend regularly. This was posted in the 50+ section - the old phart's forum. This bloke rode his fixie along a ridgeline, an unsealed track reknowned (apparently) for its ups and downs. Other posters on the forum who knew the track were amazed and commented that it was a nasty ride on a geared bike, let alone a fixie. The point I'm trying to make isn't that the fixies make superior climbing machines (I like my granny too much ), but that they can be and are ridden in some pretty nasty areas.
Me? I'm aspiring to it
The claims about longer power strokes made in the article make perfect sense to me, based on what I've experienced on my fixie. Sure, not scientific, but what I'm feeling on the ride.
And I still say that you become a better, stronger hill climber by climbing a lot of hills, not by fiddling with the mechanics of your bike.
Maybe you can do the experiment for us, since you have one of each. Can you really climb faster with the fixie? And if you can, does it help you with your regular bike too?
I can and do pull a larger gear up the hills around here on the fixie than I can on the geared bike. However, I can't climb all the hills around here on the fixie (there are some where I need the super low granny).
I am typically a spinner - mashing the pedals just isn't for me. You'd think a fixie would lead to mashing ... and it can if you start with too high a gear. Mashing is really just bashing away at the bottom part of the pedal stroke but with a fixie, as described in that article, you can develop and use a much longer power stroke and yes, the power does flow in one continuous movement, not a series of hard shoves which is what typifies mashing. I'm learning the skills on a lower geared fixie, learning how and when to come out of the saddle to work up a hill - it's a very different matter to doing the same on a free wheel bike.
One obvious difference between riding the fixie and riding the geared bike is the way you attack a route.
On a geared bike, I use the gears a lot to keep my cadence within a reasonable zone (80-100, depending on what I'm doing) - I've got the things there to make my riding efficient so by cripes I'm going to use them. I regard that as one of the skills of geared riding.
A fixie doesn't have that facility, so you have to provide that same efficiency by when and how you apply the power to your pedals - it's a completely different skill set. That doesn't mean I go blasting down hills so I can roll up the other side. My regular fixie ride along the Linear Park includes a number of underpasses (under main roads). Typically, these dive off to one side and down under the road, have a very narrow track under the road (one bike only) and a steep climb back at an angle on the other side - you enter blind, have to be ready for someone coming towards you and have to climb hard out the other side on a blind corner - you can't go bombing in there fast to allow momentum to carry you out the other side. On a geared bike, your brakes and gears make this a relatively easy task. On the fixie, I'm using the pedals to slow me down intially, then to control the speed down the slope, maintain a good speed under the road then I have to power up the other hill. It's all about leg strength (both in back pressure and forwards pressure), speed control using those legs, then body weight distribution as you stand to power up the other hill.
It's very satisfying. Just as with a geared bike, the satisfaction comes with a clean, smooth flow of effort as you soundlessly flick through the gears, on the fixie the satisfaction comes from a smooth and seemingly effortless
progression from one state to another. Done properly, you do NOT feel any great exertion from powering up a sudden, sharp rise. It's just a completely differently way of distributing and using the power in your legs.
How has this helped on my geared bike? Rather than relying on the gears, I can and do use raw power to beat a small rise. Okay, maybe you are dong that now anyway, and maybe this is a straight fitness thing, but it wasn't that long ago that such an effort would spike my heart rate - standing to climb does take more effort than sitting and spinning. Now, standing to power up a small rise on the geared bike produces a hump in my hr.
Riding fixie forces you to clean up your pedal stroke - try riding at revs of 110+ for any length of time and you'll understand why you need to clean that stroke up. Normally, my power band for climbing hills is a cadence of a bit over 90 - I just surge up big hills at that (yes, on my wee granny gear - we're talking Flagstaff Hill and the Expressway here). I noticed on wednesday, when I was on the geared bike and had to face both those hills, that I ran up those hills with a cadence of over 100. That was speed my legs chose and I was surprised to see the numbers. The lad got left behind - for once, he couldn't stay with me. Sudden improvement in climbing. Was it due to the fixie? Well, it's interesting to note that it came immediately after a week that included two long rides on the fixie - the 2.3km climb up Flagstaff Hill took me 1m23s LESS than only two weeks before (I've got a lap timer on my computer ) and I came over the top, not changing up from the granny ring, but from the middle ring onto the large ring
Summary (I'm writing as I think - to quote a famous author who's name I can't remember, might have been Hemmingway - Sorry for the long letter, I didn't have time to write a short letter):
Fixed gear riding and geared riding require two different skill sets.
The skill set developed in fixed gear riding can be translated to geared bikes but not completely because you can't use back pressure (braking isn't the same).
Fixed gear riding IS making me a better climber.
Bnej, I have to agree with Richard. Once you find your "sweet spot" gear ratio on a fixed you work on useing your muscles through each part of your stroke - I was taught at the track you "pedal in circles".
I was forced to ride my geared bike one day a couple of weeks ago and climbing a hill on my normal route, my stroke was all over the shop in the 5-7 oclock transition, it wasnt as Richard said "smooth and seemingly effortless progression from one state to another" that you get riding fixed.
Try one legged pedaling, if you dont have a "surge" during your pedal stroke great but I bet you do. riding fixed helps remove it. Must be some reason alot of the pros (Lance included) have some fixed gear/track riding in their training regimen.
Most geared riders dont do this but should be
Well, if you say so, maybe it does help some people improve their pedal stroke, I'll have to try one one day and see how it affects my opinions.
I still think re. the O.P, the people he's talking about blasting past him up hills are riding geared bikes with freewheels. I think it's either a fitness issue, or a technique issue. I can climb hills half again as fast now as I could last year, which is due to better technique, better fitness, more practice and a lighter bike.
So McPete, you should go and get a fixed gear, and tell us if it improves your performance or not.
Mate, I agree that McPete needs to ride and climb more to improve, regardless of whether it's fixed or geared (man do I identify with that advice ). My angle is that fixed will help and my understanding of him suggests that he'll have a blast at the same time. I think he's suited to the mad world of fixed - and to be honest, that's the best reason to do anything on bikes.
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