How To Change Your Track Bike Into A Fixed Gear – For many people, riding a Fixed Gear represents the best bicycling experience available. Imagine feeling the flow of the road with your legs, and keeping a riding cadence that will strengthen your legs and cardiovascular system. However, for many people, purchasing a brand new Fixed Gear Bike from a retailer is not a budget option – prices for decent fixed gear bicycles can range from hundred to tens of hundred of dollars. Secondly, there are a large number of products available to purchase for fixed gear conversion. It’s difficult to understand what products you need to complete your bike if you have no experience in the subject. Fixed Gear conversion is possible, it’s just going to take a little effort.
STEP 1 – Take a look at your rear wheel.
Your track or road bike will most likely be either 27 inch or 700cc size, measuring the diameter of the wheel. There is only a four millimeter difference between the two sizes. You may want to stick with the same size of wheel that you currently have – if you change wheel sizes, you will have to adjust the reach of the front brake. This is important later on. (Keep reading.)
Understand that Fixed Gear bikes do not need a rear hand brake. You have control over the rear wheel using the pedals. I highly recommend that you KEEP your front brake. Relying on the pedals for breaking is not safe in a city environment. Stay safe; keep that front brake.
VERTICAL VS. HORIZONTAL DROPOUTS
Take a look at your frame where the rear wheel is bolted to your frame. There are two types of dropouts (the area that your frame is bolted to the wheel axle) either horizontal (meaning that the rear wheel slides out at an angle or horizontally) or vertical dropouts.
Dropout types affect your chain tension. Understand that the chain must be tight on a fixed gear bicycle. With a horizontal dropout, you can simply slide the axle back and forth to find the BEST chain tension.
With a vertical dropout, you will NEED an additional item – the chain tensioner. Chain tensioners keep your chain tight and in a line.
MEASURING YOUR DROPOUT
Remove the wheel from the dropout and insert a metric ruler in the space where your axle goes. Most track and road bikes have a length of 126 to 130 millimeters. Keep this measurement in mind when you choose your hub.
STEP 2 – Do you want to purchase a new Rear wheel or convert your current hub?
The hub is the metal cylinder at the center of the wheel. This is by far the MOST important part of a fixed gear. Without a good hub, you risk having a shoddy bicycle or even worse, a dangerous bicycle.
DIY hubs are often referred to by bicycle enthusiasts as “suicide hubs”. Don’t take the risk, make sure to get a decent hub or a decent hub converter kit.
HUB CONVERSION KITS
Hub converter kits are available at many bike retailers. Essentially, these replace the rear sprocket (rear gears) with a single track cog. I recommend the Surly brand hub converter kit; it ranges from about $60 to $80 dollars at most retailers. You tend to get what you pay for; I think it’s a good idea to spend the extra cash.
You may need special tools to remove the rear sprocket and replace it with the conversion kit. You may also want to have a bike professional perform this assembly; labor should cost tens of dollars. If you have no experience working on bikes, I recommend taking it to your bike store, they will assist with the spacing and lining up the cog.
Hubs are the most expensive piece of equipment on a fixed gear wheel. If you are purchasing a new hub, I will make one important recommendation: Sealed Bearings. Lower-quality hubs will not be sealed, and will have a serviceable ball bearing. If you want a quality fixed gear wheel, make sure to get a sealed bearing hub.
Again, if you want a quality hub for a decent price, look to Surly, Formula, or Dimension.
If you want a bit higher-quality and have the cash, I recommend White Industries, or Phil Wood.
There are also many alternatives – again, look for sealed bearings and good reviews.
BUILDING A NEW WHEEL
Hubs come in 32 to 36 hole variations. Make sure that if you’re building a new wheel, you choose a hub that fits your rims.
I recommend taking the hub and your rims to your local bike shop – most custom wheel builds are around $50 dollars – it’s a good idea to have a professional handle your wheel building rather than attempting to make a wheel from scratch.
FLIP-FLOP HUBS (Fixed/free hubs)
Flip-flop hubs are a good idea for many first-time fixed-gear riders. These hubs feature a side for a single-speed freewheel (cog with bearings) AND a fixed gear cog. So, by flipping the wheel around, you can choose between a single speed and a fixed gear bicycle.
Understand that fixed-gear hubs will have a reverse-threaded portion on the hub. This is to fix a Lock-ring on the track-cog. Do not ride without a lock-ring, your cog will spin off when you brake.
The lock-ring is threaded in reverse; braking causes the lock ring to tighten against the cog.
STEP 3 – Gear Ratios and Tooth size
Choosing a cog size and tooth number is something to research on your own. However, I will say that larger rear cogs will result in a lower gear. Choose wisely, most likely you will want a middle ground between the highest gear and lower gear.
In a city environment with flat landscapes, you won’t need a lower gear. In a hilly environment, you may want a lower gear ratio.
I recommend purchasing a higher-toothed cog for city riding. More teeth = faster acceleration, lower top speed. Less teeth = higher top speed, lower acceleration.
FRONT CHAIN RING AND PEDALS
For the front chainring, you may want to retain your original and keep the chain on one of the gears. Or, purchase a new Chainring for your own gear ratio.
I like to keep my chain on the high gear, this allows a medium stroke and a comfortable speed for city riding.
Keep your pedals high. You cannot lean around corners when you ride a fixed gear, you have to keep pedaling.
STEP 4 – Keep the Chain Straight
Here is the rule with fixed gears – KEEP THE CHAIN IN LINE. You may have a difficult time finding the best chain size for your bicycle.
Purchase a new chain; ($9 to $30), fixed gear bikes tend to cause a large amount of stress on your chain. Get a new chain and stay safe.
As stated earlier, for vertical dropouts, you need a chain tensioner for accurate chainlines. (Some people even have chain tensioners on horizontal dropouts.)
I will mention that White Industries has produced an Eccentric Hub that does NOT require chain tensioners – a chain tensioner is included on the hub itself. White Industries Eno Eccentric Hub ranges in price from $140 to $170 dollars online.
If you enjoy fixing bikes and don’t mind getting a little greasy, by all means build a fixed gear. Fixed Gear building is an incredibly rewarding hobby – you have control over a large number of variables as you assemble the bike. There are many other details when assembling a fixed-gear bike, this article can only handle a few of those details. Most bikes are unique.
However, if you DO NOT enjoy working on bikes, I recommend simply purchasing a new wheelset and simply taking it to your bike shop for assembly.
Again, building a fixed gear is NOT a spectator sport. Poorly-assembled or poorly-maintained bikes are dangerous – you are at your own risk when building a bike, do NOT push the limits of your technical expertise.
As with any technical project – ask a professional for advice before you invest time or money.
Option 1 – Simple Hub Conversion
Hub converter Kit – $60-$80
LABOR: $50-$100 or three to four hours
COST: $120 – $210, not including shipping
Including a new chainring ($40-$100): $160 to $310
Option 2 – New Wheel or Wheelset
Wheel – $80 to $200
Chain – $9 to $30
LABOR: $25-$50, or two hours.
COST: $115 to $280, not including shipping
Including a new chainring ($40 to $100): $155 to $380
Option 3 – Build a new wheel
Hub – $60 to $150
Chain $9 to $30
LABOR: $75 to $100, or three to four hours
COST: $140 to $280
Including a new chainring ($40 to $100): $180 to $380
Here is an excellent resource for Fixed-Gear Information, if you are interested, please check out Sheldon Brown’s website – it’s fantastic!
I found most of the equipment I needed on these websites. There are many additional shops online, these were my favorite.