Finding your Fix

August 25, 2009 at 6:19 pm (Fixie) (, , , , , )

Think you’re ready to grab your first fixie?

Before emailing, calling, texting – stalking – all the fixies for sale on Craiglist or other blogs, we need to consider a few things. For starters, think about why you might need a fixed-gear bike. Will you commute with it; how far? Is the bike for velodrome racing, tricks, bike polo, exercise, or just plain beating around town? What size bike do you need? Where will you store it; do you have bike friendly roommates, or will the poor soul be left out on the cold streets?

mashsf-yellow wheelie

More specifically, why a fixie? Do you need a bike that looks sweet, requires minimal maintenance, is about half the weight of the average bicycle? Ever wish you could ride in a light rain and still have good control of the bike? Would you prefer riding with a fluid, smooth motion that proves better health for your legs by keeping your muscles warm – or maybe you just want to go faster?

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to whip up and down the block a few times on your friends wheels, but if not – just go look at one that’s for sale. Don’t expect a seller to ride you around on the handlebars though, or even let you take the bike for a ride yourself unless you’ve got cash in hand.

Overall, a fixie purchase can be broken down into three elements… style, quality, and of course price. Although you’ll most likely get two – you may never get all three – so you need to decide which trade off is more important. If you buy a nice new Specialized Langster, or Bianci Pista from a bike shop you obviously get style and quality but will easily cough up well over $650. On the other hand you can definitely find a nice clean fixie conversion for under $400 but it might only have a few brand new components. The beauty of Craigslist though… negotiations – bargain hard. Here are a few other key points to think about while looking:

Sizing

The most important thing about bicycle sizing is comfort. You really never should buy something like this without seeing and feeling it. One of the perils of buying any unique item online – sight unseen – is that you don’t really know what you’re getting until it gets there.

Many bike shops offer ‘free’ sizing measurements when purchasing one of their $1,500+ road bikes. They usually use a formula similar to the one laid out in the Correct Frame Size article at eHow, which tells you how to take your inseam measurement. Once you get that… just plug it into the frame size calculator at Totalbike.com.

bicycle description

Common rule of thumb though… just stand over the top tube (or ‘crossbar’ in the diagram above) and make sure you can lift the bike an inch or so without interfering with your tender parts.

Gear Ratio

Although your gearing needs may change depending upon what it is you’re doing with the bike, it’s important to have a good idea as to what your ideal gear ratio is. The best way to get an idea of what suites you best is to play around with Sheldon Brown’s gear calculator, and take note of how each gain ratio feels when you go on test rides. A popular beginner set for NYC is 42T/16T (42 tooth chainring/16 tooth cog) which gives a 5.2 gain ratio. The higher the ratio, the harder it is to start and stop, but the faster your top speed.

Chain Line/Tension

As you could imagine… seeing how the bike is controlled directly and, if you have no brakes, – only – by the drive train, it is extremely important to have a straight and tight chain line.

Brakes

Your first fixie should have a front brake… if you look at one without, ask… chances are the seller has the original and can easily throw it back on. Rear brakes are fairly pointless for fixies because you’ll naturally apply back-pressure on the pedals (and hence, the rear wheel) when stopping.

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