Sunday, January 10, 2016

My Steeds: Number Two: The Single Speed

This was my first bike build.
My cycle commute involves no real vertical challenges... and on my road bike there was no need to ever shift gears; I quickly realized it was "too much bike" for such a simple route. Meanwhile, I spent six months intrigued by the notion of a fixed gear bike, reading about its aesthetic, philosophical, and practical benefits. I agonized over whether to buy one... including an internal struggle on whether I had the right reasons. In the end, I thought it best to take on the challenge of building my first bike as a fixed gear. It was, at first, an intimidating prospect, but I committed to the project in April 2015 with the acquisition of a 1970s Sekine frame for 40 dollars. And through hours of Youtube videos, internet how-to articles, helpful blogs, and much trial and error, my first bike was built in the summer.

Doing some research on the now defunct frame maker was a great way to feel an affinity with the bike even before I built it -- a Japanese bike manufacturer operating in the hinterlands of the Canadian Prairies. Despite its modesty, the frame is well crafted; it's an emerald green, lugged steel frame with beautiful chrome fork ends. The rest of the bike is a mishmash of new and used parts -- new Tektro brakes (they needed to have long reach because of older rim sizing) and 700C wheelset, with the remainder being whatever second-hand stuff I could get my hands on. Most of what I learned about the mechanics of bike-building (and I don't profess to know that much... quite yet) was from putting together this bike.

On my first test runs, I ran into major problems: first I realized my rear cog was too small, then the left crankarm fell off, and finally the bottom bracket suddenly seized up. The fixed-gear thing was uncomfortable too. Modifications followed, and I settled on a flywheel. I've not looked back. It became my default commuter through the whole summer, and I've appreciated the bike's practicality, elegance, and sense of sheer freedom that comes not only from the way this particular bike with this particular setup handles, but also from the satisfaction that I can build and power my own means of transportation.

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