Adventures in building my own single speed bike

The first version of my single speed bike build

It’s true to say, there’s a certain romance surrounding building your own bike. Knowing that the bike you are riding is the result of hard work, sweat and many trials and even more errors. More through the power of perseverance, as opposed to extensive knowledge, I recently completed my single speed project. Here is what I learnt in the process, for anyone else considering the same endeavour.

Getting everything you need

The first thing I needed was a frame. I spotted a great looking Raleigh Team Ti frame circa 1979 at Cloud 9 Cycles and quickly snapped it up for £100.

Next up was the components. As opposed to buying each bit individually I took the quick route of acquiring another bike that I would then transfer the parts over from. This solved two problems. The first was not knowing what parts would be suitable. The second was the time it would take to source all these bits from various locations. I also reasoned that by selling the old frame at the end I’d be able to recover some of the cost.

Fortunately, after a quick look on LFGSS forums I spotted a great looking fixed gear complete bike for £250. This also gave me a chance to ride around London fixed gear for the first time.

After another trip to Cloud 9 Cycles I bought myself a Halo rear wheel with flip flop hub. This meant I could switch between fixed and single speed. This cost around £40.

Frames and components scattered all over the floor in my apartment

Strip it and rebuild it

Then it was time to get my hands dirty. It took me around 3 hours to strip apart the old bike. I managed it by referring in part to my Bike Doctor app, where my memory was fuzzy, and my good old friend Google. This helped me make sure I was not turning things in the wrong direction which had the potential of causing irreversible damage to the frame.

As I lack a vice and only have a basic set of tools it took a lot of strength to remove components that hadn’t been touched in a while. This inevitably resulted in lots of swearing and alcohol drinking to calm the nerves. Both I’ve concluded, are essential components to a good bike build.

Rusty bottom bracket in need of clean

With the parts removed I went about giving them a good scrub and re-greasing them. Then it was time to mount them to the new bike.

Starting with the bottom bracket, then the cranks, pedals, handlebars and saddle. The wheels went on and then finally, after a couple of hours, the brakes. Here I realised I was in trouble. Cursing under my breath I went to bed and promised to deal with it in the morning.

The problem was the length of the bolt on the brakes was too short. This is a common problem in a build on an old frame. I wheeled my bike down to Cloud 9 Cycles and picked up a new set of brakes, levers, cables and housing. A larger hole was drilled in the front forks and I asked them to fit the front brake for me so I could ride home.

They also tightened up the bottom bracket. Which I hadn’t managed to tighten all the way. Finally, a problem was spotted with the old crank being too worn so this too had to replaced at a cost of around £10.

Cost:

  • £250 – initial bike (LFGSS forum)
  • £100 – Raleigh frame (Cloud 9 Cycles)
  • £40 – new rear wheel (freewheel) and levers (Cloud 9 Cycles)
  • £60 – brakes, front brake installation and new crank (Cloud 9 Cycles)

Sold:

  • Made £100 by selling frame and spare fixed rear wheel.

Total spend: £350

Not bad, for a first attempt

Overall, I’m happy with how the build has gone. Admittedly my budget was around £250 as opposed to £350 and I wished I hadn’t relied on a bike shop at all but you live and you learn. The bike looks great, it rides well and weighs a lot less than I thought it would.

Building it wasn’t easy but nor was it an impossible task that should remain only in the realm of enthusiasts. There’s plenty of gaps in my knowledge but these were plugged by searching online and asking Kris at Cloud 9 Cycles.

If you’ve ever entertained the idea of building your own bike then I’d thoroughly recommend it. However, do prepare yourself for hiccups along the way.

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9 Responses to Adventures in building my own single speed bike

  1. TIW 04/10/2011 at 2:26 pm #

    I converted an 80s Raleigh Winner to a singlespeed, donated (for the price of a bag of nappies!) by a nice bloke over on cyclechat. I solved the brake problem by fitting Al Honga deep drop calipers from Velosolo. Very effective, and quite cheap. Chopped ‘n’ flipped the original handlebars into bullhorns, fitted with Blank BMX brake levers. Wheels are a pair of Rigida Chrinas. I was on a very tight budget so I didn’t touch the cranks, I just ran a new chain from the big ring to a Superstar Components singlespeed cog (part of a kit with spacers) on the back. The hardest part was ‘cold setting’ the rear triangle to fit the wider axle of the new wheels. That was nerve wracking!

    It turned out to be a great bike – very fast. A few things to be fettle over the winter and it should be even better. It was a very satisfying project, even for a mechanical dunderhead like me.

    Some pics here (with old brake levers) if anyone’s interested:

    http://teninchwheels.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/monoculture/

  2. JonF 04/10/2011 at 3:59 pm #

    The old ‘Team Replica’ has a certain cachet – it was the one at the back of the Raleigh catalogue and therefore the one to aspire to. Or was it the front? Anyway, that’s a great 70′s colour.

    Which parts did you use from the donour bike? It hasn’t got many parts anyway! Seems to me there was no guarantee that the parts you took off the donor bike would fit your retro frame. For e.g. seat posts come in many sizes so I’m amazed you were able to swap them between bikes of different eras. Are you going to keep the rear brake? Anyhow, job well done – looks good.

    • Andreas 04/10/2011 at 9:50 pm #

      Yep, as you can see rear brake still needs to be fully installed. Hoping to do that tomorrow morning if I get some time.

      Was fairly fortunate with swap over – pretty much used all parts from donor bike. I have a feeling the bottom bracket is going to be the next thing to be replaced. It’s a little too small (Cranks coming close to frame) and I can feel it clonking occassionally when I pedal which makes me think its worn.

  3. Pedalingfuriously 05/10/2011 at 10:36 pm #

    Hi Andreas, I treated myself to a fixie self build three years ago and it brought back the memories reading your post. I chose to celebrate a new job and a new child by building a Bob Jackson (as you do!) the only task I had done for me was cutting the forks and fixing the headset but otherwise it was a return to childhood when I was continually stripping and rebuilding bikes, sometimes with my siblings’ permission……I went to town on the spec with Nitto stem and bars, Chris King headset, brooks saddle and Campag chainset but it is unique to me, and I love it.

    • Andreas 07/10/2011 at 2:37 pm #

      Good to hear a similar story about a bike build – it was a lot of fun and I’m trying to resist building another one and instead just enjoying this one! (And 100% finishing it!)

  4. Adam 08/10/2011 at 3:01 pm #

    Hi Andreas,

    Great to see the final bike built and working :)

    Thanks so much for mentioning us in the article and we are glad that we could help….a few more builds and you will be an expert in no time!

    If you want to build another one we have an amazing Harry Quinn frame we have just taken in that I think would look incredible!

    Anyway have a nice weekend and hope you enjoy your bike!

    Adam @ Cloud 9 Cycles!

    • Andreas 09/10/2011 at 4:46 am #

      Thanks Adam would have been stuck without you guys! But no tempting me with any new frames! Need to enjoy riding this one first!

  5. Pete 13/10/2011 at 2:14 am #

    I did a similar thing with building a singlespeed a few years ago, I got it painted and still get comments from other cyclists on my bike.

    I am now doing the same thing with a MTB. I am getting a custom frame and have been accumulating all the bits over the months while I wait for the frame to be ready. It will be great feeling at the end to have a very personal ride.

  6. ENDUROELITE 10/06/2014 at 9:25 pm #

    Sooo that Raleigh, nice bike……

    seat height?

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