How to Build a Fixed Gear

Fixed gear riding has been undergoing somewhat of a revolution in recent years. As well as the inner city hipsters that are rediscovering the joys of riding fixed, increasingly roadies are becoming increasingly interested in the training benefits a fixed gear bike can provide.

One of the cheapest, and fun, ways to get up an running with a fixed gear bike is to build one yourself by converting an old steel framed racing bike. In this post I’ll detail how I went about the process of building up my own fixed gear bike that I plan to use for winter training.

1. Find A Frame

Ok, so the first step is to find a suitable bike/frame. Most old steel framed road bikes are suitable for conversion into fixed gear rides. The two things to look out for are horizontal dropouts (see below – these are essential) and also to take your time to ensure you pick up a frame with the correct sizing.

Fixed Gear Bikeimage credit

Road bike geometry has changed quite a bit over the last 20-30 years and these old frames tend to come up a lot bigger than their modern day equivalents so be sure try standing over some frame before buying. You can usually pick up some very cheap bikes on eBay or other online classifieds sites as well as garage sales and local junk shops.

Luckily I got talking to an old family friend (who used to be a keen roadie) about my plans to find an old steel framed bike to turn into a fixie for winter training. About 1/2 an hour later I left with his old (and rusty) Peugeot steel frame road bike in the back of my car.

When looking at old steel frames the most important spec to look out for is the grade of steel it is made from. Higher grades such as Reynold 531 or 501 are worth looking out for. The bike I acquired was made of Peugeot’s ‘Carbolite 103’ which was their mass market steel, unfortunately not as light as 531. Despite this it’ll do for my first conversion project – I can always upgrade the frame at a later date.

After sitting in his shed unused for many year it was in a bit of a state. Perished tyres, rust spots everywhere and of course all of the brake cables were knackered.

2. Work Out What You’ve Got

After inspecting all of the components and looking for serial numbers on the frame I managed to figure out what most of the bits were. Below are the exact specifications of the bike I was given:

Size: Middle of BB to seatpost is 22 1/2 inches
Front Wheel: Mavic Model E 27 x 1 1/4
Rear Wheel: Unidentified. Seems a bit thicker rim than the front
Brakes: Shimano Tourney
Saddle: Brooks B17 Champion Narrow
Cranks: Solida
Frame: ‘Peugeot Tube Special Carbolite 103 by Peugeot France’
Bottom Bracket: ‘FAG Germany’
Deraileur: Sachs Huret
Distance between rear stays: 120mm
Stamp on rear chainstay dropout: – ‘310 18112’
Frame stamp underneath BB:  ‘123’

From this excellent website about vintage Peugeot bikes i found out that the checkered decals indicate that it was produced between 1979 & 1983.

3. Horizontal Drop Outs

The first check you need to make when sourcing a frame is to make sure it has horizontal dropouts. It doesn’t help that the above photo was taken with the bike at an angle but essentially you need the dropouts that hold the rear axle to be horizontal and as long as possible.

 

Horizontal Drop Outs

 

The reason you need a horizontal dropouts with a fixed gear is that there is no derailleur to tension the chain. Instead this must be done by pulling the rear wheel back into the dropout before tightening the wheel nut. As the chain stretches over time, you’ll need to move the wheel axle slightly further back to maintain a good tension.

4. Strip Down The Bike

The first job is to strip down the bike and decide which components you are going to re-use and which you’ll need to source. For this bike my plan was to re use the stem, saddle, brake calipers.

 

How to Build a Fixed Gear Bike

 

Obviously all the old derailleurs can come off, along with the brake cables (these will be replaced), cranks, bottom bracket etc. Basically I wanted to strip everything back to just the bare frame and thoroughly clean it before figuring out which new parts I’d need to rebuild the bike.

 

5. Shopping List

Based on the assessment above here is what I figured I’d need to get the bike back on the road.

  • 700c wheel set
  • Freewheel: to allow single speed riding as well as fixed
  • Drop Bars
  • Brake Levers: to fit the drop bars
  • Chainring: about a 42T
  • Crank Arms: good quality as riding fixed places more strain on the cranks
  • Chain:  1/8″, stronger than a standard 3/32″ chain used for geared bikes

 

6. Bottom Bracket & Crank Threading

After doing a fair bit of reading about vintage Peugeot bikes online I had read that most pre 1980 bikes had French threaded bottom brackets. Unfortunately my fears came true and indeed the threading on the bike was not ‘English’, which caused me two problems.

Firstly I was unable to remove the cranks with a standard crank removal tool which meant a trip to my friendly local bike chop. Secondly the bottom bracket turned out to be french so I had the bike shop re-tap the threads on the inside of the frame so that I could fit a new, regular English threaded bottom bracket.

 

7. Sourcing Fixed gear components

Inevitably when you build up a fixed gear bike from an old frame such as the the end result will be that the sum of all the components will be more expensive than the value of the finished bike. Despite this I was keen to rebuild the Peugeot, learning some more mechanics along the way but keep the cost down as much as possible.

Despite wanting to keep costs to a minimum, it is worth investing in good quality cranks, chain ring and chain when building a fixed gear bike as these come under quite a bit of strain when riding fixed. As a result I decided to try and pick up good quality second hand components where possible.

A friend from my local cycling club gave me some old aluminum drop bars he had kicking around his shed.  Tektro RL520 LeversAfter keeping an eye on ebay I managed to pick up a pair of secondhand Tektro RL520 brake levers for about $10.

Next i found a set of cranks and chain ring on the  excellent London Fixed Gear Single Speed (LFGSS)  forums, which not only has a great classifieds section but lots of information about building fixed gear bikes. A pair of Sugino RD2 175mm crank arms and a Brick Lane Bikes 48 teeth chain ring for £30 to be precise.

The local bike shop provided some new brake cables, chain and bar tape as well as a new set of wheels. I found an old pair of used Gatorskin tyres in the garage to get me going.

8. Fixed Gear Brakes

I planned to re-use the existing brake calipers that were on the bike when I was given it. As the bike was designed to have 27 1/4 inch wheels on which I was replacing with 700c rims I wasn’t sure if the drops on the brake calipers would be enough to reach the rims.

Luckily after fitting the new wheels the pads just reach the braking surface on the wheel rims.

Fixie Brake Calipers

One thing I have noticed since starting to ride fixed is the speed at which you get through brake blocks. Most of the riding I have been doing since building up the bike is on club rides, riding at close quarters in a peloton of geared riders. As a result of not being able to coast I have found I am braking a lot more than when I was on a geared bike, therefore increasing wear on the brakes.

 

9. The Finished Build

So, here she is, my first fixed gear build. She may not be the prettiest bike ever but I have fallen for her. Not only is the bike going to be low on maintenance but it is also incredibly comfortable to ride.

There are quite a few rust spots on the frame – I would have got it resprayed if it were a better grade of steel however my aim was to do the build for as cheap as possible so I’ll put up with the rust.

 

 

Complete Fixie

The biggest surprise has been how comfortable the Brooks B-17 saddle has been. After really struggling to break in my Selle Italia I feared I’d face another long battle to find comfort however I’ve found it to be the most comfortable saddle I’ve ever used.

So, there you have it, hopefully this goes to show that building up a fixed gear bike is a relatively simple process. With a little patience you should be able to pick up all of the parts you need for very little money meaning you can get a nice training bike for not very much at all.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: