[FRANKENBIKE] What Do I Need To Know To Build My Own Single Speed?

As anyone who reads this blog knows (does anyone? A few? maybe?) I’m looking at replacing my venerable Devinci Stockholm as my commuter. I’ve been looking at single-speed (flip/flop single/fixed) bikes from the likes of Republic Bikes, Regal Bicycles, and Bigshot Bikes.

BUt still, in the back of my head, is the “Why don’t you just BUILD it, moron?”

And the answer is… there is no answer. I don’t know why I don’t. Well, I do, sort of. And it’s lack of knowledge.

I’ve talked about needing the right language, the correct discourse, to actually do things. In the past, for me, that’s been cars, cameras, computers, etc. Now, I’m looking at bikes in the same way.

The thing is, I’ll need a bunch of parts.

I definitely need to replace:

  • Crankset
  • chain
  • rear hub
  • new wheels, front and back
  • Saddle

    That’s the basic mechanical stuff to get it going, I think. On top of that, I’d like to add:

  • Bullhorn Handlebars
  • brake levers to match

    What I can cannibalize from the Devinci?

    Frame, I think. I don’t think it’s cracked, although I’ll need to get it disassembled and cleaned up to find out for sure.
    Brake calipers. They need new pads, but otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with them.
    Tires. Really, really good Bontragers (700c X 28) I bought two years ago. Theyv’e got another year in ’em, for sure, and even if I buy an assembled bike, I’ll keep the tires as spares.
    Seatpost. The saddle is pretty much done (cracked, etc)
    Pedals. they’re beat to shit, but they still hold my feet where I want ’em, and that’s good enough.
    Handlebar stem & Headset. I think this’ll still work with whatever handlebars I decide I want.

    Why am I suddenly thinking about this again? Well, @dogandgarden and I were headed out on Saturday, and one of the guys in the neighbourhood was just getting dropped off with his bike. And it’s obviously a frankenbike. Chatted for a little while, and found out, he built it with scavenged parts. I am impressed.

    So, what I’m wondering is, if I tear down my Devinci to the bare frame, clean it up and check it for cracks, how do I convert it to a single-speed bike? What tools do I need, what do I need to know in terms of measurements (as obviously, a single-speed flip/flop hub is not the same width as the free-wheel/cassette set-up it came with, and that’s going to need to match up with the position of the crank, too), what do I need to know in terms of TOOLS, as a vast majority of bike tools are job-specific, and I don’t have ’em in my general tool box.

    Funnily, reading about some of this stuff today, I found that one of my favorite manufacturers now makes a couple of single-speed bikes, and a 2-speed model of one I know I like. That’s Marin Bikes, and they make a 2-speed Hamilton 29er, and the Dominican single-speed/fixed

    Probably gonna need or at least want a bike stand, if I do this, hunh?

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  • 2 Responses to [FRANKENBIKE] What Do I Need To Know To Build My Own Single Speed?

    1. Hmm, it’s been a while since I’ve done it, but way way waaaaay back in the past I built and repaired bikes for a living. They’re pretty simple when you get down to it on a component level and I think you should have no problems pulling this off yourself. As for specialty tools, it’s hard to say without seeing the parts in front of me, but things you’ll be wanting to look for are:

      – Chain Breaker, for breaking chains. They’re pretty universal.
      – Hook spanner, for the ring nuts on your bottom bracket. A flat screwdriver and a hammer can be substituted, but you risk marring the ring nuts.
      – Cotterless crank puller. There are two different sizes of these IIRC.
      – Brake tensioner. Nice to have but not absolutely essential.
      – You *might* also need what we used to call a Shimano tool. It looks like a socket with splines on it to hold the freewheel in place while you spin off the smallest gear with a chain wrench. I seem to remember there being another style that had two pins sticking out the bottom for the style of cassette with the integral freewheel that spun on to the hub. This might have been the Suntour tool, or I may have the two of them reversed. It’s been a long time but I do remember one of them taking a nasty gash out of your knuckles if you didn’t do it right.

      Things to consider about the frame:

      – As you mentioned above, you’ll have to do some measuring to make sure your sprockets align nicely. On your current n-speed bike, you have about an inch of lateral travel between the large and small sprocket, but better alignment leads to fewer headaches down the road.

      – Can you tension the chain? My current ride has fixed rear dropouts that don’t allow for this relying instead on the rear derailleur to handle tensioning. You want dropouts that allow you to slide the axle back and forth.

      – How close is the hub width to the dropout width? You may need to invest in a frame spreader/closer tool (i.e. a 2×4). There’s a good article about frame adjusting and aligning here: http://sheldonbrown.com/frame-spacing.html

      – Think about a sealed bearing bottom bracket. Weigh the cost of not having to muck around with grease and tensioning the bearings just right versus the cost of replacing the whole damn thing if it fails. The key measurement is the outside diameter of the threads on the bearing cups (if that’s your style) and the width of the bottom bracket itself.

      – Seat Posts come in a bunch of different diameters.

      – It would stand to reason then that headsets diameters are different.

      – Handlebar risers are different diameters too. Oh, and invest in the right wrenches for the locknuts on the headset. Mine needs a little twist every once in a while and it drives me insane.

      – A bike stand is another one of those nice to have things, but can be improvised if you think about it. One setup that I used quite successfully was to run a piece of 1″ conduit between the rafters of my shed, then bend some hooks out of 3/8″ copper tube and hang the bike by the top tube at eye level. It worked pretty well and had a net cost of zero.

      Good Luck!

    2. markramsden says:

      Yeah, the more I’m looking into it, this may end up being a long-term project, where I strip everything down, and then start buying parts slowly when I find them.

      It’s a vertical dropout, so I’ll definitely need a tensioner, and there’s no guarentee I’ll find a hub, or kit, that fits properly, easily. From what I’ve read, it all agrees with what you say: sealed bottom bracket, solid spacing ,etc.

      So, short term, I think I’m back to the $500 single-speed (possibly the Marin). But, I also think I’m gonna keep the frame etc, from the Devinci, and see what I can build over a year or two.

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