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The Power of One

campagnolo

A Campanolo track hub with two threads:
one for sprocket, one for lockring

The winter is bad for your bikes. Gears and brakes need regular cleaning and if you are putting plenty of miles in, then chains and cassettes wear out at an alarming rate. And how fast should you be riding in the winter anyway? I’d suggest that there are few riders who would benefit from some pedalling lessons. And if your ‘big ring’ wears out every few months you could be missing something…

Winter kit
Sadly single speed bikes with mudguard eyes and braze on fittings for racks and waterbottles are rare. However Condor, St John’s, Surly etc. do make them and custom builders like Mercian and Dave Yates can build them too. ‘Pure’ track racing bikes tend to be a bit twitchy for road use and you can’t get mudguards to fit – but the main problem with pure track bikes on the road is they aren’t too comfortable for long journeys, but more about hardware later.

Try to ride singlespeed from October to January. For several reasons:

  • It means you don’t have to clean your bike
  • You can ‘re-learn’ how to spin a gear effectively
  • You have an excuse for being slow
  • Learn how to spin a gear properly, for faster acceleration and sprinting
  • Love the purity
campAG not CamPY

A Campanolo track crank, it doesn’t get much better…

Fixed
Fixed can be a wonderful experience, but only if the riding in your area is suitable and remember that you can’t stop pedalling… so riding fixed can be hazardous if you are not familiar with fixed gear riding (it’s best to go to the track to learn how) or the hardware you are using isn’t up to the job. Fixed has the main advantage of maintaining momentum, one of the reasons it is favoured by time trialists and hill climbers. Your pedalling action will become very smooth (which is why track riders always have good pedalling actions) and after thousands of kilometers you will begin to use more of the pedal stroke to get the power down. The climbing technique is also useful as a single gear means you have to get up the hill in the only gear you have. So it stops you getting lazy and using the gears, but it also teaches you how to squeeze every bit of advantage out of your technique.
Fixed can also add another dimension to riding in the wet or in slippery conditions, fixed offers better balance and speed control than a freewheel bike, one of the reasons to ride one in the snow…

Fixed Advantages – Smooth action. Great for hill climbing and good in the wet
Fixed Disadvantages – Comedy legs in hilly areas and can be just as harmful if you are not up to it.

Free
A single freewheel is not a soft option (although die-hard fixers won’t agree) It has all the benefits of fixed but the ability to freewheel down hills is a welcome one, especially if you train in a group in the hills. Freewheel conversion is also fairly straightforward on most road bikes.

Free Advantages – relax on the downhills
Free Disadvantages – no fixed momentum

Tips on the hardware…
Ideally go for a frame with track style (horizontal, rear facing) dropouts and 120mm track hub spacing. You can buy a fixed hub converter for 130mm spaced Shimano road hubs (Surly make these, it’s called a Fixxer) or if you want freewheel only try a Single speed converter which allows for spacing a 8 or 9 speed freehub body for single gear use. If you have to use a standard front facing dropout I wouldn’t use fixed, as the twisting forces can crack the dropouts if they aren’t up to it. Also for fixed make sure you use a hub with nuts rather than a QR skewer. Threaded nuts will hold the chain tension far longer than a QR skewer which can slip. You can also buy threaded axles should you need one.
For plenty of hardware (freewheels, hubs and conversion kits) take a look at Ison Distribution’s website. ID

Fixxer

Surly Fixxer a cheap and easy way to go fixed

Cost
If you already have a frame that can be used you could convert to single for £17.99 for freewheel or, if you want a fixed gear, about £70.00 using a Surly Fixxer (this comes with a threaded axle and retro-fits to a Shimano Freehub). Complete bikes from St. John’s Street start at £520.

Fix up an old frame
If you have an old steel frame you could consider having it renovated and returned to the road as a single speeder. This can be expensive but if the bike is in good condition and made from decent materials (Reynolds 531 etc) It could be ‘fixed’. Several frame builders will offer this service, but remember that you can buy a new frame and fork for as little as £175, so if you want to do this it can be just a labour of love. Also if you are riding fixed, check that the frame will allow for pedal overlap. Take a look at Mercian’s prices for a guide.

What size gear?
Use a 42×16 if you live in a flat area, 42×18 if it’s hilly. I know some people push bigger gears but it really doesn’t make that much difference on the flat – you can cruise at 20/22mph easily if riding in a group. But your RPM goes a bit bananas after that. Ride a freewheel, unless you have experience of riding fixed – you should certainly try fixed but I don’t use it (my Sunday ride is always too lumpy). Larger sprockets seem to hold the chain better and don’t seem to wear out so fast 44 x 18 is quite a good combination for all round fixed use.
N.B. Always use a 1/8″ chain (wider than a 3/32″ derailleur one) and if you use a single chainring check the chain tension regularly. Beefier chains stay put if the chainline wobbles a bit over bumps or when pedalling fast.

Gear conversion charts etc
Try this site to work out your gear ratios. There’s a useful mph table too and they also have plenty of valuable information and advice. fixedwheel.co.uk

Chainline and tension
Buying a track single chainwheel (Miche, TA, Campag etc) and suitably matched BB is the best option to get the chainline accurate. This could cost a bit but it will save time messing about trying to get a standard double BB and old crank to work. You can change the chainring bolts to shorter ones on a double and ditch the outer ring. However you must line up the chain so that the sprocket is directly behind the chainring (Park make a easy to use tool for this). This is especially important if you are riding fixed as the chain will unship if the chainline is wrong. Chain tension is also important and why vertical dropouts don’t work so well with single speed as you cannot move the wheel fore and aft. You can buy singulator tension devices that attach to the gear hanger and take up the slack, they work very well but look untidy.

TA

To get the chainline spot-on it’s best to get a
Track crank and matching BB, like this TA

RPM…
200 rpm is the most I’ve seen anyone do which was on a 38×16 downhill. Madness. You will normally spin at 90-100 and you will feel slightly undergeared at first. But stick with it as it gets better in time. Eventually you will iron out the flat spots in your pedalling and become silky smooth…

Pedal overlap and BB height
If riding fixed there needs to be two things the frame has to accomodate constant pedalling for road conditions:

1. A high bottom bracket

2. Clearance between the feet and the front wheel (pedal overlap)
They aren’t essential features but worth considering for perfect fixed gear performance and safety when riding around corners or fitting a mudguard.

Other fixed tips
The hub has two threads (see the Campag hub at the top of the page) the sprocket is a right hand thread (larger one) and tightens as you pedal, the lockring is left hand thread and prevents the sprocket undoing. Many riders remove the lockring from the rear hub. This is to allow the sprocket to spin off should the chain come off and get tangled, which can cause a nasty accident. Also buy a decent sprocket; Campagnolo, Surly and Shimano are expensive but worth it as cheap pressed cogs aren’t round and can have tightspots which wears your chain out. You can centralise the chainring too, but I will save this for another feature…

cog

Sprockets, like this Surly, need to be perfectly round

Which Freewheel?
Most people run a Shimano BMX freewheel. They cost £15 and last a few years. However if you want the Rolls Royce of single free wheels take a look at White Industries

Bikes we like the look of…
Surly’s Steamroller is a stripped down street bike with horizontal dropouts and loads of clearance. No mudguard eyes. No frills.
Surly
Also the Karate Monkey is a bike to be whatever you want it to be, take a look and you’ll see what I mean. Surly

Trackends

Remember: track ends are best

St John’s Street do a great entry level cheap and cheerful single speed trainer. They are superb value at £175. St. J’s

A Mercian fixed winter bike has to be one of the classic road bikes of all time. Simple, retro and beautifully made. Mercian

Condor will build you a winter fixed too…Condor

Want to try off-road one speed? Outcast

Lastly for anymore technical information: Sheldon Brown

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