The Fixie Economy… custom builds on a budget
I bumped into a fellow riding a noisy fixie on Merri Parade a few weeks back. I rode up beside him and said hi. We got talking and by the time we’d ridden across to Heidelberg road, he had made a couple of interesting points about cycling and Melbourne that stuck in my mind.
One of these points was mentioning he’d dropped in to Human Powered a few weeks before hand. “You guys have got some awesome gear but I wanted to set this one up on the cheap.” And I agree, sometimes it’s really difficult to balance providing budget parts and trying not to stock parts that we know are too cheap and will cause headaches quickly. Also sometimes the bling parts can overshadow the bread and butter items on the shelves.
One good case of trying to balance providing affordable parts with not selling rubbish is bike tyres. You can get amazingly cheap rubber and sometimes we get requests for the cheapest of the cheap tyres but there’s so much difference in quality that it quickly ends up cheaper and less wasteful if you can spend a bit more up front. Particularly if the better tyre saves a few punctures. At $25 for a tube and fitting (or $5 for a patch kit, $10 for tyre levers, a spare 20 minutes and a handpump), an extra puncture or two means the higher grade tyre has paid for itself over.
I spent about 2 minutes and 13 seconds in the shop this morning taking some photos of different wall displays to show some of the cheaper and more pricey parts. There’s a photo gallery at the bottom of the post. Click the photos and read the comments for each one. I hope that this helps show that there often are cheaper options up on the walls but also why we stock what we do.
The most expensive single item on a budget fixie build can be the wheels. Check this old post about the 27″ flip flop wheel sets we’ve got. Basic? definitely. Functional? well, they’ll get you going on an old 27″ frame and keep you moving while you plan a long term wheel set. They’re 27″ so the only size commonly available is 1 1/4″ wide. Speaking of tyres, make sure you put something tough on the rear if you brake through your pedals. But also try to find something tough on the front. The front wears less quickly but if you had a bad blowout on the front end at high speed it can be extremely dangerous.
The crankset can also be expensive – see the image above of our custom assembled alloy crank and ring. You may be lucky and find a nice old alloy crankset kicking around. Single stack bolts so you can drop one of the rings are around $12-$15. We try to keep a range of bottom brackets in stock. In the shorter lengths (103 and 107mm) often the choices are the really basic or the top shelf options (Phil Wood etc). But in the readily available lengths (110, 113, 115mm etc), we try to stock the mid range Shimano cartridge units too. Again, paying for the mid grade part pays for itself in a year’s time when the unit is still running smoothly rather than the lower grade option whic hmay have worn out already.
This photo is some of our tool wall. It can be a bit more pricey to buy the tools to do the job once rather than having it done by the workshop. But if you’re getting into building and repairing bikes you’ll save money pretty quickly by being able to do more of the mechanical tasks yourself. If you’re building fixies or singles, it makes sense to have a lockring spanner and chainwhip or freewheel remover. We’ve also got the Save My Bike bike maintenance guide for sale. It’s a great starting point for doing more and more of the maintenance and repairs at home. Another option is to join the Ceres Bike Shed and as a member you can use the Shed’s tools and get advice.
Hopefully over the coming week I’ll have time to write some more about the Fixie Economy though I guess nothing I’ve written is fixie specific. It’s just that heaps of us are doing or have done custom fixie builds. And it’s a great place to start, given it avoids the added complexity of gearing systems (not to say fixie setups don’t come with their own nuances and traps!). But apply the text above equally to single speed builds, derailler gear builds or hub gear bike builds. And if you’ve got any questions, post them below and I’ll happily try to answer.
Coming back to my observation at the start about the noise from the fellow on Merri Parade’s fixie: it was a decidedly sick ISIS crank interface that was causing the noise. He was on his way back to have the retailer who supplied the parts to have it repaired (for the third time!). I’m hoping his bike is now a bit quieter. (Note: the cranks pictured above and below in this post are all the standard square taper that I definitely reckon is the simplest, cheapest most reliable system in general and for the Fixie Economy.)