We did the Première Manche - the first round - of A Travers riding across France from Dieppe to Marseille in the summer of 2009, and it was the original inspiration for this blog. The plan to put the 'band back together again' for another go in 2013 for the second installment fell on stoney ground, with life just getting in the way for too many of us, much to our disappointment. However, our enthusiasm for the bike remains undimmed, and so I'll keep posting my thoughts on the diverse and beautiful facets of the sport regardless. But there's bound to be another big 'adventure ride' coming soon - quite possibly in Italy - so potentially a name change too: Attraverso l'Italia in Bicicletta anyone?

Friday, 22 May 2009

Urban Chic (or How To Convert an MTB to Fixed)

When I'm riding around town, I really don't want to look like a Tory MP on a bike - who would? - but if possible a bit urban and cool, without going completely down the tattoo, nose-piercing and mohawk look of some of London's more eye-catching bike messengers. I bought a Ridgeback Nemesis back in 2007 because I thought it looked good with its low-slung sloping geometry and straight-bladed forks reminiscent of a Kona - design I've always liked - but without the expense. I also thought it'd be a perfect zero-maintenance bike for commuting into work thanks to the Shimano Nexave-Nexus 8-speed roller brake hubs, and whilst I initially liked them for their robust feel, I soon started to resent that weightiness. However, the reason for my decision to undertake a fixie conversion was not solely with the weight, but more the time it would take to get either the front, but in particular the rear, wheel out whenever I punctured. Here's the required palava. You'll need around 30 minutes and a well-stocked toolkit:

1. Loosen the rear hub's track nuts using a 15mm spanner (I carried my trusty Campag track version);

2. Use a 10mm spanner to disconnect the brake arm where it connects to the brazed-on bracket on the left-hand chainstay;

3. Disconnect the rear brake cable using two 10mm spanners, one on the inside nut to stop rotation, loosening the one facing you. This is supposed to be possible simply by forcing the connector from its home at the brake drum, but I could never manage it;

4. Use a 2mm Allen key to rotate the gear pulley to allow you to disengage the gear cable, again by forcing the connector fron its seating, but I'd end up having to use the blade-ended driver from my multi-tool;

5. Now proceed as normal with the puncture repair, noting sadly that the standard-issue Conti rubber seems to have impossibly tight beads;

6. If you haven't pinched the tube putting the tyre back on, and you've successfully removed the bit of sh*t from the tyre that caused the puncture in the first place, you're now ready to repeat steps 1 - 5 in reverse order to get going again.

This kind of disaster always seems to have happened to me on the journey home to South East London in the dark during the winter, when the British drizzle has washed all manner of crap into the gutters where we're forced to cycle, and I've got cold, numb hands.

So, the Nemesis: really nice bike until you cop a flat. Something had to change, and I'd been noticing for a long time the beautiful simplicty of a fixed wheel and got caught on the wave, suckered in by youthful sites like Milano Fixed, No Brake and Fixedgearlondon. I thought that the Nemesis still looked fundamentally good, so used it as the basis for a makeover project. It had already been modded with a 14cm Deda stem (long arms, me - plus I like the roadie cachet of the same brand of stem I run on my Colnago), and a Sella Italia Turbomatic saddle, and I'd removed all the superfluous crud like plastic chainring covers the moment I got the bike home. Now to convert it to fixed.

have become real specialists in this kind of conversion, and their input has been invaluable. Sheldon Brown's excellent website contains all you'll ever need to know about chainline, and so was also a must-read. My little local bike shop, Balfe's Bikes, built the wheels and fitted all the new components for £100 - excellent value and highly recommended. Thanks guys!

Some pics:

Shimano Deore Hollowtech II MTB triple chainset replaces original Ridgeback single to give the correct chainline for single speed, 46-tooth outer ring held in place by replacement single chainwheel bolts, two inner rings removed.

Flopped Deore XT rear MTB hub from Velosolo, converted with track axle.

Now you've flopped the rear hub, use the disk brake mounts to bolt a Velosolo 16-tooth cog. Even though the cog and chainrings are 3/32", Pete at Balfe's Bikes used a 1/8" chain because it seems more robust and in keeping with the overall look and feel of a single speed bike. I've read around on chain-width compatibility, and it looks like there's no problem. Certainly rides fine.

Hope Mono Mini hydraulic disk brake lever up front, cut-down hose and 14cm Deda stem.

Mavic rims with grey surface anodising to match the overall 'stealth' look. IMHO all rims should be this colour - for an old roadie like me, it's clearly an SSC thing ...

Hope Mono Mini disk brake stopping a standard 160mm disk on the Deore XT front QR hub. This and fixed wheel is ample stopping power.

Another shot of the Deore Hollowtech II MTB chainset, converted to single ring.

The result is a super-light, low-maintenance urban commuter that has the kind of estehtics I was looking for all along. Now to sort out the wardrobe to match; there's not gonna be much lycra in there.