How to have the coolest fixed gear for commuting

Back in 2005-2010 I was training really hard. We’d regularly do 20-hour weeks of cycling in the nasty conditions of the Pennsylvania winter roads, which meant many many kilometers in bike-wrecking, ice-melting road chemicals. Only the true crazies were the ones riding their nice bikes in those conditions, however, my squad on our fixed gear bikes were considered crazy… I don’t get it. Maybe this is because I’ve always been a poor student, but it’s quite possibly because my squad was crazy!

We rode on old Schwinn roads bikes converted to fixed gears. Generally these cost us less than a hundred dollars to make reliable, and arguably rode a bit better than a track bike converted for road riding (I wouldn’t recommend riding a track bike; the geometry sucks).


Fast forward to today: with the internet, it’s cheap and easy to put together your own seemingly unique fixed gear without breaking the bank. Living in NZ and commuting to uni every single day year-round for my PhD, I wanted another fixie…however, I didn’t want to break the bank.

So I took to the internet.

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Other than the seatpost, crank and wheelset, everything was sourced online. Nothing is name-brand. I sourced the Alex track wheelset secondhand for $NZD200. This came with tyres and a cog. I can’t remember what level wheels these are, but they are nothing special. They bolt on and I haven’t touched them since my last flat. I also sourced the crankset and BB second hand. NOBODY likes the ISIS BB, so these were free. They are 130 BCD 172.5mm road cranks, nothing special. I used some track chainring bolts to attach a worn 39 tooth chainring. The BB isn’t any good, but it spins.

Then there’s the juicy bits.

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The frame is your bog-standard steel fixie. Headtube is standard 1 1/8 inch. It’s not overly light, and really I can’t remember if it’s cromoly steel or hi-tensile steel. It cost $USD100 shipped. I run a 54 cm top tube, which is great for me with flat bars (I’m 165 cm). Here’s a link to the frame I have:

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The bars are no-name carbon fiber and are all one-piece with the stem. I love the look! the stem is 90mm and the bar width is 700mm with a comfortable sweep. I don’t plan on hucking any jumps so I’m not overly concerned with the strength. What, is it going to break in a pot hole? the main thing is that they have never come loose, which is inspiring to say the least. These are really light and I think that helps keep the weight of the bike down. The grips are Giant lock-on. This kind of thing normally comes down to personal preference, so you’ll probably put on something different.

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The headset is King. King is not a real headset brand and is not to be confused with Chris King, which are the best. I’ve run Chris King before and they really are awesome–you know, smooth, reliable, long-lasting; they’re the standard in high-end builds. Right, this isn’t that. This headset however is really nice. i was surprised. I’ve had it for over a year of commuting with no issues and the bearings are still good. It cost $USD20, which is a deal.

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The seatpost is a branded 25.4 aluminum piece of junk. I paid way too much for this ($NZD70), but it does the job. I greased this heaps, and grease it every few months. I’ve seen aluminum posts oxidize in steel frames and it isn’t pretty. Make sure to grease yours.

The seat post clamp is another no name, but only cost $USD3 shipped. Annoyingly it didn’t come with a bolt, but it’s the same size as a disc brake caliper bolt, so I was saved.

The saddle is an old Fizik Aliante . I really need to stop riding in jeans because it’s getting worn.

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I was riding clip pedals because, as you can see, there isn’t a brake. However, commuting in clip pedals is lame and really reduces the coolness of your bike, so 3 months ago I decided to switch. In this case, I opted for these MTB platforms. They are not great, but the grip is OK, even in the wet (with the right shoes). These were $USD25 shipped and should last.

As you can probably guess, it’s hard to stop without a brake. I really can’t recommend not having a brake on your bike. Even just today I was nearly hit! I have about 1 km to ride until I get to the bike path, but on wet days I often opt to miss the wet segment of the track–this was nearly to my own demise today! Anyway, get a brake.

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It might sounds ridiculous, but I built this bike with allen keys, a mallet, and adjustable wrench and a hacksaw. Seriously. I turned the BB in by hand (rag over hand, turn as tight as possible), and pressed the headset in with the mallet. Lots of grease and patience did the trick, being sure it went in mostly straight. I cut the fork’s steerer tube (it comes extra long) with the hacksaw and no guides. It’s not straight, but it’s the right length. Again, I pressed in the star-nut with a mallet and the supplied headset bolt, which is trick I’ve used even on expensive forks. The rest was just wrenches. If there’s ever a time to try out your steady hand, it’s on an internet-sourced fixed gear.

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My main accessories are the bell and the Monkey Light. The bell was free (most bike shops have a pile laying around, just ask–otherwise they are not expensive). YOU NEED A BELL. Don’t be the racer-douche on the bike path that blasts past everyone and scares them. I hate that. Anyway, the Monkey Light was a gift and really is a treat when commuting in the dark–it’s bright and the colors change and the shapes change as you ride. Pretty cool! If my headlight or rear light are dead, the Monkey Light definitely helps me been seen. If anything it’s been safe and cool at the same time. You can check it out here:

I also add on a blinky rear light and front headlight when I know I’ll be stuck in the dark. I wouldn’t advise leaving these on all the time as they will get stolen.

You’re probably wondering how it rides? It rides great. The BB is high enough that I can corner without hitting my pedals on the ground (this would be diabolical!), but low enough that it doesn’t feel absurd. The frame isn’t what I’d call responsive, but it is smooth. We have pretty crap road surfaces here in NZ (I can only guess because the sun intensity would melt the tar?), but the bike felt good on my longest rides. I guess the longest ride I’ve done on this has been ~70km, and I’ve really just used it for commuting ever since. The tyres are reasonably good, and I can get away with lower pressure–somewhere around 70psi (I’m 63 kg). The head angle is slack enough that it doesn’t feel sketchy, but steep enough to ride reasonably.

Overall, I absolutely love this bike!!

So there you have it: the coolest fixie in town, sourced mostly without going anywhere, and definitely without breaking the bank. This cost less than $USD500 and is exactly what I wanted. Give it a go!

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