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The finished bike

December 7, 2012

With new rims, tyres, seat post and pedals. It runs like a dream.

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Finally, the bike has a full new life.

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Looking down on the final chainline. The 25mm width is a beautiful light tyre with just a little more padding than the 23mm for the London potholes

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Showing the back wheel from the other side. The chain is a bit droopy in this picture – but that was easy to fix with an adjustment of the wheel

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Back wheel with new rims and tyres. The quick release skewer has been replaced by a hex-key skewer for security

Tyres – Continental Gatorskin. Strong for the London roads and more resistant to punctures, the 25mm width is still light but has more padding than the 23mm to compensate for the London potholes. They aren’t cheap tyres, but the grip and strength given by them over others make it more than worth it.

Rims – mismatch. New rims with screw-on thread for the freewheel are actually quite hard to come by as most rims now fit the cassette systems. I first bought a secondhand pair of Rigida Nova 700C wheels from ebay, only to buy another new rear Raleigh Trubuild 700C rim later due to the following. Can of worms 1: The problem with the Rigida wheels was with their hub – it didn’t exactly fit the current cones and axle. Without a perfect alignment between the cones, the bearings and the hub, the wheel would run badly and could possibly fail. Options included – buy a new hub (pointless because the expense of a) the hub and b) fitting it to the wheel would far outweigh the value of the rim), find new cones that perfectly matched (very very hard to do) or buy a new wheel. I chose the latter. The rims were a part of the bike that, had I planned more in advance how much I would change on the bike, would certainly have been one of the first components to replace as they dictate choice of tyre, choice of singlespeed freewheel vs modified cassette, choice of brakes, and choice of skewers vs axle.

Skewers – Halo Hex Key 6mm. For added security, I replaced the quick release on the front with hex key skewers. Can of worms 2: I thought I could replace the quick release on the back with a hex key skewer, but it turns out that hex key skewers cannot generate enough grip on the frame to prevent the wheel from falling out of the horizontal dropout. The quick release lever can, so this had to stay. It just means locking the back wheel as well as the frame.

Pedals – Wellgo LU 950 Alloy. Though budget, the Wellgo pedals are a vast improvement on the old heavy-duty ones. Lighter and with an improved grip in wet. You can get more expensive pedals, but for a cheap and effective upgrade, these will do just fine.

Seatpost – Valvert single bolt 26.4 x 400mm. A part that is totally dependent on the frame. The width has to exactly match your frame, so make sure you either note the frame width from your previous seatpost or measure it accurately. My frame is a rather unusual 26.4mm, which restricted my choice of post somewhat, but I went for a longer-than-necessary 400mm as the other option would have been too short. Not optimum for weight reduction, but again, an improvement on the old post.

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Cones and hubs need to match. In my case the cones on my axle didn’t match the hub, so were incompatible. I had to find another option.

New components and lessons

December 6, 2012

As I said in my last post, my goal for the new update is to replace the wheels, give an overhall of the rolling running of the bike and to finally get a proper sized seatpost.

So, what have I got?

  • Second hand 700C wheelset, Rigida Nova rims on Quando hubs (more on this purchase in the next post. It’s fair to say it has been another can of worms)
  • New Raleigh Trubuild 700C rear wheel
  • Continental Gatorskin tyres
  • Vavert seatpost
  • Halo hex key quick release skewers
  • Lots of tools 🙂

I’ve learnt a number of lessons from these purchases and subsequent installations. One to do with wheels, hubs and cones; and the second to do with hex key skewers and horizontal dropouts. Both of these topics with be the subject of future posts. I’ve been learning the hard way.

New life 2

November 25, 2012

I’ve been running the singlespeed for a year and a half now, and it’s run great.

Now it’s time to really finish the job.

This time I’ll be:

  • fitting new wheels (and finally, new tyres!)
  • getting a seat post that actually fits me
  • making the ride as smooth as possible by fixing the hub bearings.

And still keeping it singlespeed (although even that may change in the near future…)

Running update

January 3, 2012

After my last post I decided that I needed the bike to cycle on more than I needed it to be perfect, so I took it out on a ride to work and have been using it ever since. It has been running fine, with only minor adjustments to the chainline, and replacement of the rear inner tube.

It’s been a great ride. Despite having a slightly harder gear ratio than I had planned (due to the availability of singlespeed freewheels), it is easy to ride, even from a standing start. Riding up the shallow hills of London is fine too, although I’m yet to try it out on a proper hill. But then again, that’s why I chose to convert it in the first place; I only need the bike for commuting. If I needed/wanted it for proper cycle rides, then I would have replaced the gears! I am fully converted to this singlespeed way of riding, next on the list of things to try is a fixie!

I’ll post more on the repairs and adjustments I make as I have to make them, and I’ll post a check list for converting an old bike soon.

Happy singlespeeding!

The chainline

September 8, 2011

Switching from multispeed to singlespeed not only involves switching the freewheel, you will almost certainly have to alter the position of the hub on the axle. This is in order to set the chainline. On a multispeed bike the chain will go through varying degrees of movement side to side, depending on the gear you select. This is fine to an extent as the chain has the ability to bend slightly side to side, but you usually don’t want to use your largest chainring with the largest sprocket (nearest to the hub) because this will begin wear the sprockets. It’s less efficient and a weaker arrangement.

An example of an extreme chainline. Note the lateral movement the chain goes through.

So, given that for this conversion I have effectively forced my bike to use a gear closest to the hub, I need to adjust the position of the hub to bring the gear into line with the chainring.

How do you do that? well, another illustration from Sheldon Brown will help (see below).

The hub of the wheel sits on the cones nearest the centre of the axle. The locknut to locknut dimension will fit the spacing of the rear of the frame, so the position of the hub is dependent on the amount of space between the locknuts and the cones on each side of the wheel. The hub for this axle will sit slightly right of centre with respect to the frame. This is fine because the dish of the wheel can be set to compensate so that the rim is centred with respect to the frame. I’ll cover this later.

A picture of the rear axle with uneven spacers

The first job therefore is to find a position that the hub can sit on the axle so that the singlespeed freewheel will be in line with the chainrings on the bottom bracket. You can calculate this using the distance from the centre tube and the chainwheel, and matching that to the distance from the centre of the axle (or half the locknut to locknut dimension) to the middle of the sprocket – Sheldon Brown has a good page on this method, but for this first run through I did it by eye. (In the final adjustments, I’ll be more precise). I had two spacers from the original axle spacing – one 20mm wide and one 7mm, which allowed space for the sprockets when it was a multispeed bike. I needed to adjust this, but with only two sized spacers I wouldn’t have much luck. Online these things are ridiculously priced, so I went down to the friendly people at Fitzrovia Bicycles to see if I could get them. They found some brand new 1, 2 and 4mm spacers for me (which relieved me of only £3 compared to £6 or more online for fewer spacers), and on a second visit they gave me a 12mm one for free (that’s what a local bike shop will do for you!). With a range of sizes I could play around with the axle spacing adding different sized spacers to each side until I got the perfect chainline.

In the meantime I needed to adjust the dish of the wheel to bring the rim central. All I did for this was go round the entire wheel using the spoke tool to tighten the spokes on the non-freewheel side and loosen those on the freewheel side by a turn to start with, then half a turn until it was centred. This moved the rim away from the freewheel side, and therefore compensated for the new axle spacing. Since I dont have any of the workshop tools to check centring perfectly, I used my eye and the brake pads to find when the rim came tool close to the pads. This method also allowed me to check for any bending in the rim and correct that too by adjusting the spokes at the point of the bend. I’ve since found out that one mistake I made was not oiling the spoke nipples which meant that the turning of the spokes was sometimes hard, but it worked ok for now.

The chain attachment is next, and then I can take it for a test run!

The singlespeed freewheel

August 27, 2011

It’s been a while coming but finally I have my wheel with the original freewheel removed, and a singlespeed freewheel in my hand. I’ll take you through this final process

The singlespeed freewheel

It turns out chains and sprockets come in a number of sizes, but there are two common ones: 1/8″ and 3/32″. Most multi-geared bikes will use the slightly thinner 3/32″ chains and sprockets, whereas a BMX might use the thicker and more robust 1/8″ components. The singlespeed market has many BMX components on it (I suppose singlespeeds, until they become really popular on road bikes, will always be a thing for BMXers), and so most of the freewheels you find are 1/8″. At this thickness you are not able to use the original chain used on the multi-geared bike, because it would not fit on the teeth of the singlespeed sprocket. A 1/8″ chain will fit onto 3/32″ sprockets, and so is compatible with the original chainwheels, but not the other way round. So you have two options when converting: buy the singlespeed freewheel and chain at 1/8″, or find a 3/32″ freewheel and use your original chain.

I did a bit of research to find out which of these combinations is preferred by most singlespeeders, and which is cheapest. I couldn’t find any serious evidence for one size to be preferable to the other (google search ‘3 32 freewheel vs 1 8 freewheel’), other than a few people suggesting if you put down the same amount of power as a track cyclist then you might want 1/8″. There are 1/8″ freewheels at as little as £6 on some sites (velosolo.co.uk, sjscycles.co.uk), and at the Condor Cycles London store, and chains at around £10. These sites also do a range of cheaper 3/32″ freewheels. So there wasn’t much in it price-wise, and no difference spec-wise. I settled in the end for a 3/32″ Shimano freewheel from Parker International. At £18.15+p&p I thought it was a reasonable price for a brand I’ve heard of, not that I’ve read anything against the other brands.

I’ll cover the installation of the freewheel, plus the further alterations I need to do to the bike to accomodate the new freewheel (axle spacing, wheel dishing) in the next post.

A weekend of work

August 17, 2011

Finally I got time to work on the bike last weekend. My friend and fellow bike enthusiast Will came down and we spent a good day and a half on our bikes and drinking many mugs of tea.

Patio workshop

My aim for the weekend was to at least make the bike at least rideable, and the priority therefore was to fix the bottom bracket. Anything else would be a bonus.

We started on Saturday with our tools ready to take the cranks off. Here came the first problem – my socket set was too beefy to fit inside the cranks to remove the nut that held them to the axle. So, off we went to Condor Cycles round the corner, and asked the friendly man in the workshop to give us a hand. He removed the nuts to reveal that my axle was male threaded, and the cranks were held on by nuts (rather than the cranks being attached to the axle by bolts which thread into the axle itself which is the modern way round). Great that he got the nuts off, but it did mean that I wouldn’t be able to put them back on without another visit to the bike shop.

Cleaning ball bearings - some shiny, some not

Back home we set about removing the cranks with a crank puller, and then we attempted to remove the bottom bracket. We didn’t have the tool to do this properly (who knew every component had a different thread or bolt type!), so we used a hammer and a big screwdriver. This fitted into the notches on the bracket and with good old brute force we loosened the thread on the chainwheel-side. Out dropped the ball bearings which revealed the extent of the damage. Half of the ball bearings were fine (shiney and, amazingly, still greased) but the other half were rusted, as was the cup they sat in. That’s why I could hear crunching when I put down any force while pedalling! I tried to clean these up (with a novel sanding method – a mixture of bits of pumice stone plus suncream), but it was clear, even after reassembly with new grease, that this bottom bracket was dead. We stopped for the day.

I ummed and erred that evening about the project and the amount of money it was costing me relative to buying a whole bike (Will has just acquired a Raleigh for £60) knowing that a new BB was going to set me back around £10-£20. Eventually I found a BB at Evans Cycles, which wasn’t too bad a price (Shimano UN26, £11.99) and so I decided to just go for it. I had to measure the shell length and the axle length (68mm and 122mm respectively, and pretty standard racing bike measurements) and hope that the thread pitch was English type (apparently even the thread on bottom brackets isn’t standard – Bottom Brackets at Sheldon Brown). We bought it on the day from the Evans down the road. Now we had to remove the cup from the other side of the shell to make way for the new component. Our attempts to remove it failed, even with the largest of spanners. So that job was left until Monday, when I could visit the workshop at Look Mum No Hands.

At this point I thought I could kill two birds with one stone: get them to remove the cup with an even bigger spanner, and at the same time get them to take the freewheel off, since I saw no point in buying another component specific tool that I’d use only once. I fired them a quick email to see if they might have the right tool for the freewheel, and Sam in the workshop quickly replied yes. I took it down on Monday morning and the job took no time at all. This was a great way to end the weekend – I was finally moving closer to the goal of a singlespeed bike.


Thanks Look Mum No Hands!