Building a Fixed Gear/Single Speed
The fixed gear/single speed trend is the most visible trend to take off in the bike world over the past couple of years. Fixed gears are altered track bikes, traditionally used by bike messengers, but now used as stunt bikes or commuters. Single speeds are bikes in their purest form, 1 gear, a freewheel and some brakes. Most any type of frame can be built up as a single speed.
Fixed gear bikes do not allow the rider to coast, at all. The rear gear is "fixed" to the hub. This allows for a variety of tricks as well as unique ride feel. Ask any fixed gear rider, "it feels like your body is one with the bike!" Fixed gear rides are also popular with racers in the off season, putting in miles on a fixed gear is good for muscle memory (but hard on the knees).
Single speeds are a bit more practical than a standard fixed gear. Single speed bikes are generally cheaper than standard road bikes, as they lack spendy drivetrain components, and easier to maintain. Single speeds are great for commuting and recreational riders.
Track frames are also designed for very quick handling. Forks usually have ~35mm of rake, bottom brackets are postitioned higher, and wheelbases tend to be relatively short.
Single and fixed gear riders generally use platform pedals, such as Soma Fabrications Hellyer Track Pedals, with Soma Fabrications Double Gate Toe Clip Set. Toe clips also require Soma Fabrications Leather Toe Strap Pair, which are a cyclist's version of duct tape. They can be used for anything.
Track racers tend to use standard road pedals, with the tension set as high as it will go.
Fixed gear bikes rely on purpose built wheelsets with a gear "fixed" to the hub. Fixed gear wheelsets usually utilize 120mm wide hubs and are built without dish, the front and rear wheels are both built symmetrically around the hubs. The Mavic Ellipse is designed for the velodrome, but sturdy enough for city streets. Track wheels utilize a track cog on the rear wheel which simply threads on to the hub and is secured by a lockring.
Wheels for a single speed are an easier proposition. Track wheelsets with a freewheel are ideal for single speeds, but regular road wheels with a single rear cog are perfectly adequate. Spacers can be used on the freehub of a road wheelset to provide an adequate chain line.
Components for either fixed gear or single speed bikes are the fun part, because there aren't very many. Standard handlebars and stems can be used with either. Though track specific handlebars, like the Deda Pista Track Handlebar, have deep drops for the real sprinters. They are not designed to accommodate brake levers.
Standard road cranksets are easily converted for use with single and fixed gear bikes. Standard double cranks will have no problem running a single chainring, a 42 tooth is a good size for most terrain. There are also track specific cranksets. Track cranks utilize a 1/8 in. drive and have much bigger gears which are best suited for velodrome use. When shopping for chainrings, remember to consider your crank's BCD(bolt circle diameter) road cranks are 130mm (or 110 if you're using a compact), track cranks have a 144mm BCD.
When shopping for track components, it's important to note that, unlike road parts, track components are built with only strength and stiffness in mind. Velodromes do not go uphill, so weight saving anywhere but the wheelset is generally not an issue in track racing.
If a fixed gear bike is your chosen means of two-wheeled transport, a front brake is essential. Tektro R730 Long Reach Brake Calipers are an inexpensive brakeset that provides plenty of stopping power and accommodate a wide range of fork/wheel combinations. Running a brake doesn't mean you have to sacrifice the clean lines of your fixie, Tektro Cyclocross Brake Levers provides stopping power and a subtle appearance. Single speeds handle best with brakes on the front and rear.
Whether your riding style includes match sprints or sick wheelies, our staff at WesternBikeworks.com is experienced on city streets and the velodrome. Feel free to contact us at email@example.com or 1-800-651-4050 with any questions about building up your dream urban ride, single or fixed.