Why you should build your own

So I recieved this email the other day on whether or not to build your own bike

From: Jack
To: Wease
Subject:[Feedback] fixie beginner
Date: April 17, 2008 5:12:58 PM MDT (CA)

Hey, I've been riding for a pretty long time, having braved Boston, NYC and Dublin (and now SF). I'm looking to expand into the fixie world and wondering what you would suggest for someone beginning. Get a new one? Convert a vintage bike? Plead with the local store to help me? I obv know Sheldon for if I were to do the deed myself, just wondering if that's
the route you would suggest.

Any info would be appreciated


Where you start really depends on what you want to get out of the experience. If you are looking to jump on the fad, amass another bike, then by all means buy a pre-built bike and please stop reading this entry.

If you want the full meal deal, then I suggest slaving through the ups and downs of building your own rig. We live in a society now where everyone expects things to be instantaneous. Few are willing to work for what they want, to struggle through things they weren't sure they could do. As a result many miss out on amazing life journeys. Do you find life dull? This is probably the reason why.

You will never truly appreciate nor understand a bike until you put one together piece by piece, bit by bit. It forces you to look long and hard at all the details you passed over. With a fixed gear bike, you will get an even better appreciation for the brilliance that lays in the simplicity. You will come to appreciate everything from the lowly spoke nipple to the cable end cap on your front brake... yes I said front brake, cause I ain't no hipster fool.

By building it yourself, it becomes an extension of yourself. You will inevitable find creative ways to make it your own (read customize) and you take pride in the bike each and every time you go for a ride. Some who only buy pre-built bike will undoubtedly be insulted at such suggestions, and will be quick to use labels such as "elitist", but I speak the bike gospel, brothers an sisters.

Throw down the shackles of consumer society, learn to DIY! Be responsible for how your bike rides.

Personally, I put in a deal of great effort great in every bike I build. I always try and start with a frame set and a pile of parts. I then build it up bit by bit. And when I say bit-by-bit I mean everything! I take pride in building each and every wheel I ride on. For example, last December (2007) me and my grandpa drank a bunch of scotch and made a video of a front wheel build I was doing. It was acutally for my commute bike, the trained bike geek might be able to spot the fact I built it with a disc SON hub.

Getting Started on your own rig

Okay, enough is enough, you want to DIY, so where do you begin? The first step is finding a suitable frame. This can be hard. I refer you to my long and sorted tale of how I found the right frame for my first fixed gear. (Coles notes: I found it in the trash heap).

Given the current fixie crazy, I forgive you if you buy new.

Getting a frame and fork takes care of 50% of the build job as it is likely to already come with a headset installed. Also make sure the fork has a spot to mount a front road brake caliper, some track specific frames/forks omit this hole.

Once the frame is out of the way, you will need

  1. Stem
  2. Handle Bars - current choices include, classic road bar (good), bull horns (good), straight or riser bars (lame)
  3. Front road brake caliber brake
  4. Brake lever - can depend on choice of handle bar (ask if you have questions)
  5. Seat post and seat. Make sure the seat post diameter is correct for the frame. Ask you LBS (local bike shop) if uncertain. This is why buying off the internet can be bad. BTW no triathalete gear allowed
  6. Crank, bottom bracket. Keep the crank length short if possible (i.e. 170mm) as you can spin faster on shorter cranks. Contrary to popular belief, fixed gear is about spinning, fast. On the track the big boys can hit a cadence of well over 220 RPM in a sprint. Many newbies I see on the street, spin at a painful 50 RPM (say goodbye knees). Also finding the right crank/BB combo for your frame that will give you the correct chain line can be all over the place depending on what you are using. This is where it helps to buddy up to your LBS.
  7. Drive train: Front chain ring (45 tooth), chain and cog (16 tooth). The gear ratio I gave you is lowish, but you are in San Francisco and it has evil hills! You will learn to spin, especially as you descend.
  8. Wheels

I left one of the hardest components to build for last. I highly recommend building your own wheels. It will take a lot of work but boy-o-boy will it be a point of pride when its done. To build wheels, you have to be anal. You have to cover every detail, every angle. For example, even the direction of the of spokes relative to rotation is important depending on whether it is a front, rear or disc (front) wheel.

The Big S's opinion on spoke lacing pattern for disc hubs. They got the money and will to research such things. FYI - The last wheel I built was a disc.

Even the valve hole needs to be considered, so that it is properly aligned once the wheel is finished building. For those not in the know, you should be able to read the hub label through the valve hole. The reason is largely aesthetics, but it shows other wheel builders you know what the hell you are doing (again a point of pride).

For your first wheel, you will build the standard 3 cross spoke pattern. I have included 3 internet articles to get you up to speed on wheel building (attached at the bottom). The last article is by the Cycling Legend Sheldon Brown (RIP).

Of course I don't expect you to be fully able to do this on your own first time. This is where you have to buddy up to your local LBS. I suggest read up as much as you can first so you don't overwhelm them with inane questions (you will be asking a big favour to have them teach you). Next tell them of your project, goals, hopes of building your own wheel set... once you have got them good and drunk off of some fine micro-brew beer you just happened to bring.

Good luck!

Wheel_Build-Peter-Verdone(20080417).pdf138.59 KB
Building_a_front_disc_wheel-Fettling(20080417).pdf464.06 KB
Building_Bicycle_Wheels-Sheldon_Brown(20080417).pdf576.29 KB


Thanks for the speedy response, the build will soon begin...


Wease's picture

Glad I could be of help- And sorry to all the other emails I haven't responded to, whether or not I respond really depends on my mood and if I feel like procrastinating that day!

BTW - I would like to learn how it goes for you. Feel free to make an account and right about it as a story (just notify me and I will give you the proper privileges).

The above offer is open to everyone.

Evan's picture

A fantastic article Wease! I've had an ongoing fixie love-affair / project bike for almost two years now. I'd love to write it as a story. I'm not so "H-core" as to be building my own wheels though; but one day...

I'm in fact about to embark upon a new front end for said bike so now might be a good time to look back a reminisce.

Since I logged-in to make this comment, can you rig me up with that new fanggered story-writing feature you mention above?


Wease's picture

Since you would like to write something, I made you an "Author." With that you may now add content: Stories, blog, images and videos I believe (I would have to check in on the admin settings again). Videos are experimental. I emailed more info on posting.

See boys and girls all you have to do is suck up and I let you run wild.

If anyone else would like a crack at writing contact me

Hey, as per your suggestion, bought a frame, a gold 1970's Raleigh, next step, parts collection... gonna need a new back wheel/hub (going to build it methinks), new cranks, etc... Very excited! What's my process for an account to write?

Wease's picture

Its cool you are going to build your own wheel. Now you are the shizznitz.

As for writing, I say yeah, go for it. First you will need to register. Then I will promote your account so you can post content. Contact me when you are ready with your user name.

I stopped leaving FG completely open because of all the bastard spammers and human SEO's - you know who you are! I don't like you using this site as free advertising for your own commercial sites.

I just found this site after starting out on my own project. got there in a slightly different way but its great all the same.,.
i found a late 80s Bianchi with a busted back wheel, and singleated it to start with (http://www.flickr.com/photos/threetalook/sets/72157605242881137/) and am now on a new fixed wheel (more photos to come)
this has been great as I have the bike to ride, and its a work in progress as well.

Wease's picture


Upload ur picks to the bike porn section

Hey, I work for Dish Network (so what) and after a hard day installing dishes, it was nice to read your blog.
It's a measly-Mc-Job.

I should defintitely take a minute and slow down. Life's too short.

Sorry for the rant. Cheers.
Big D

P.S> Your CAPTCHA system sucks ass. 10 attempts