Sunday, April 10, 2005

Road Bikes and Fixies

Road Bike I:
As requested, here is a picture of my new ride, a 2005 Bianchi Brava (pretty him up with a rear rack and fender, though):

He is definitely of the same mind as the Tank, and is using some of the same sneaky tricks.

On Sunday morning I took a trip down to Hyde Park to run some errands. I was looking forward to this ride along the lakeshore, because it was going to be my first opportunity to ride the Bianchi without stopping every two blocks for a red light. I really wanted to see what he could do. He wasn't as cooperative and instead was slow and required work to make him go.

Today, I finally cut off the 'earflaps' that I sewed onto the straps of my helmet in November. The flaps had kept the sound/feel of the air rushing by me from reaching my ears. Without them it seemed like I was riding in a windstorm. This tricked me into thinking that I was working against the wind and explained how hard it was to pedal for the speed that I was riding. At first when I hit the lakeshore path I was keeping a 20 mph pace, but then this started dropping 19..18...17....finally 16 mph was all that I could do without gasping for air.

I berated myself for being so out of shape and slow. Down in Hyde Park I wheeled my bike backwards away from a rack--and the front of the bike lifted off of the ground as the rear wheel stuck firmly to the pavement. Obviously I needed to investigate. The rear wheel was (surprise) rubbing against the frame by the bottom bracket. There was a decent-sized build-up of rubber on the frame, too. I must have unseated the wheel when I thwacked it against the wall on the stairway.

He rolled much easier after I adjusted the wheel correctly. However, after 13 miles of riding with the wheel against the frame, I wasn't in any condition to ride him really fast. On the return trip we rode about 18 mph. That's not bad, but after yesterday my bike computer shows my fastest speed as 24.9 mph and I really want to see how much faster I can get him going.

The clipless shoes are getting better--I really like feeling the pressure on the top of my foot as I pull up. Still there are times where clipping in seems impossible. I have had a few starts where I clip in perfectly at the first downward pedal stroke. This worked beautifully as I made a left turn from Michigan Avenue to Randolph. As soon as I got the green arrow I engaged the pedal and flew through the large intersection--way ahead of the other vehicles in both left-turning lanes. Two intersections later I squeezed through a yellow light, but all of the cars I turned with got stuck back there. I felt like a super-star racer.

After the Cycling Sisters meeting today, I got to show the girls my new bike. They cooed over her like she was a baby I just birthed. It was fun and silly. Yet another (road bike) person expressed apprehension about riding with me now that I am off of the Tank and on a road bike. I don't think it is warranted, but somehow I have gotten a reputation as a fast rider. I'll have to make sure to let other people choose the pace when we ride together, because I'd hate to make my friends work harder than they'd prefer on fun rides.

Road Bike II:

On Saturday I went to Working Bikes to pick up a roadbike frame to convert to a fixie, and I found a perfect frame. She is a light Chicago-made steel Schwinn Traveler, and she is going to be wicked fast once she is stripped of all of her unneccessary parts. I looked for a serial number on the left rear drop-out, but couldn't find anything, so I don't know what year she is. Right now she has really beat-up steel wheels and still feels damn light. She is a minty color (almost exactly like the traditional Bianchi green) and I think I will call her Mint Julep.

My friends Sarah and Sam were there helping their students pick out frames for the 'build a bike' workshop that they teach. After looking at several other bikes, Sarah found this one for me. She has a fixie with the same frame and says it is a great bike. It has horizontal drop-outs and a solid pressed crank/chainring instead of a fused one. Sam said that the fused ones can turn into 'pizza cutters' from the stress put on a fixed gear. Sarah and I will have matching fixies by the end of April.

In the meantime, I guess I need to buy a new set of wheels for this bike. I'll ask around first, but I should probably get a flip-flop hub for versatility, as recommended by Gilby. I wonder if wheels are a good thing to buy off of ebay, or if I should just order them from a bike shop. Wheels/tires, chain, pedals--this is at least what I'll need to convert the Schwinn into the Mint Julep. I think I'm going to keep her front brake on until (if) I get brave (stupid) enough to try to ride brakeless.


At 12:28 AM, Blogger Frick said...

When you say fixie, are you talking fixed gear, or fixer upper? If fixed, are you talking all hard core, no brakes even?

At 8:35 AM, Anonymous Jim said...

You are developing an interesting pattern of continuing to ride with fairly serious mechanical difficulties slowing things down. It wasn't that long ago, if I recall, that Tank's inner-tube got all tangled up in the drivetrain.

Be sure you are locking your quick-releases down tight enough. Wheels shouldn't come loose when they get bumped. When a rear wheel comes loose, it's an inconvenience. On the front wheel, it can be deadly.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger jojo said...

Jim: Actually, this pattern is quite well-developed. There are plenty of people here in Chicago who are shaming me into braking this habit. Plus I am taking bike maintenance workshops. My bike repair knowledge is growing by leaps and bounds.

I didn't set this quick release, it was another person who helped while we were wrestling with the fenders. I've never had a tire loose from just a wall-bump before. So the initial problem I'm going to blame on Eric, but not doing anything sooner is all my fault.

Frick: Why not read the last three paragraphs? If you still have questions I'll gladly answer them (while mocking you).

At 1:00 PM, Blogger hereNT said...

I tell everyone this - when getting a fixed hub, DO NOT get the fixed/free ones. You can run a freewheel on a fixed hub, but not the other way around. If you end up loving fixed, you'll either need a new hub or be stuck with one gearing...

Just my 2 cents.

At 9:48 PM, Blogger jojo said...

Jeremy (or any other fixie rider),

Thanks for your $.02. Do you have any additional advice on parts to get or avoid?

There is a three/four night workshop at the end of April where I will convert the bike, but I want to make sure that I get the right parts in advance, instead of scrambling to get parts at the last minute.

Do most fixie wheels have a different gear on each side of the hub for versatility? Are there recommended gear ratios? On my new Bianchi I have been riding in the 52/17(?) gear and that seems fine. Chicago doesn't have any hills worth mentioning, so I rarely shift.

Also, any clue on what size chain to get (thicker than a geared bike, I assume)?

So far this project is making me realize how ridiculously little I know about bikes.

At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

I'm not a fixed gear rider yet, but I've been researching the topic heavily, as I'm putting together a fixie myself. Sheldon Brown, as usual, has the most comprehensive info on the topic and is well worth a read.

Here's what I know so far. For best results, you're going to need a track hub. Some of these are threaded on both sides and some just on one side. As Jeremy said, some of the double-sided hubs are fixed on both sides, and some have one side fixed and the other side free (i.e. so you can coast). I think I agree with Jeremy that it is better to get a fixed/fixed hub rather than a fixed/free one. You can buy a single speed freewheel that threads onto the fixed hub (at least on one side). You also need locknuts to keep the sprockets from unscrewing.

For the gearing, most fixies have a chainwheel about 42-48t. It would be bad to use a high 52-17 ratio as on your Bianchi, because you wouldn't have any mechanical advantage in trying to stop the bike by fighting the pedals. The setup I just ordered (from Sheldon) is 48t in the front with a 17 and 22 in the rear on a fixed/fixed track hub. I'm going to try it to see how it feels, but I have a feeling I'll eventually want a smaller chainring, maybe a 42 or 44t. Those gears are lower than I normally ride, but when you only have one or two, instead of thirty, I feel it's better to be too low than too high.

As for the chain, you can use any chain. Sheldon recommends the 3/32" standard chain (normal size), but some riders use a more antiquated larger 1/8" chain. If you get the sprockets for the narrower (3/32") chain, you can use a 1/8" chain in a pinch, but not the other way around. I think 3/32" makes sense simply because it's easier to get and is a teeny bit lighter. Also, there are problems, as Jeremy will agree, with finding certain tools that work with the less common 1/8" chain and sprockets (namely a chain whip).

At 11:52 AM, Blogger hereNT said...

I'd say go 1/8 all the way. You can run a 1/8 chain on a 3/32 cog, but it's noisy, and it bends the teeth a lot faster. The 1/8 stuff just seems like it's higher quality and more durable. I've also had links break on the 3/32. I'd recommend Dura-Ace for the cogs, and a machined chainring.

A Surly fix/fix hub is a good entry level one. The pre-built Quality Bikes wheels laced to Mavic MA3s go for $120 out here. Avoid Suzue basics/juniors.

As far as tools, you just need a burly chain tool that can fit a 1/8 chain. I modified the one on my multitool for this - there was a little ridge so that the 3/32 fit better, and the 1/8 didn't fit. I filed it down, and the tool works fine now.

You don't need a chainwhip :
The method there is supposedly supposed to work without a lockring, but I put a lockring on anyways. It also worked to get my 14t cog off, which broke my chainwhip last time I tried.

Hozan makes some of the best lockring tools.

If you have any other ?'s feel free to drop me an email :

jeremy.werst at


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