Classic bikes abound for sale cheap on sites like Craigslist. Our contributor stripped a 10-speed to build a svelte urban fixed-gear, all at less than $300.
There are currently 171 bikes classified as “10-speed road bikes” for sale on the Craigslist in my town. They include Raleigh, Trek, Fuji, Schwinn, Bianchi, and more, and each one sells for less than $200.
I know because I bought one. But my goal was not to procure a retro geared bike. I needed a frame, and I wanted to convert it to a bike for use in the city. A fixed-gear bike, that is, single-speed, light and fast.
Build Your (Budget) Urban Bike
The framework for building a single-speed or fixed-gear bike is at your fingertips if you’re up for a simple, cost-effective DIY. Here’s what I did to make it happen.
The Search. Use Craigslist or another site that sells used bikes. Type “10-speed” in the search. If the hundreds of postings are too much for you to digest, filter the results by price or brand. Trek, Fuji, and Raleigh all made durable, relatively lightweight 10-speed frames in the 1970 and 1980s that will work.
Necessary Factors. As you continue to sift through the results, be sure they meet a few criteria, including light weight and the right size frame for your body. Also, important: The bike must have horizontal dropouts to work as a fixed-gear, and most single-speed riders prefer horizontal dropouts, too, so as not to need to deal with a chain tensioner. (See details in the next bullet.)
Get Horizontal. A frame’s dropouts are the space where the rear wheel mounts to the frame. Horizontal dropouts, which are horizontal to the ground, are more rare than vertical dropouts. (See image below.) Horizontal ones let you tension the chain and lock it in place when you mount the wheel.
Unnecessary Factors. Don’t worry too much about items such as handlebars, brakes, saddle, and tires — they will mostly be discarded in this kind of build. And as for aesthetics… all those eclectic paintjobs of the past are now cool again. You are building a fun city bike after all, so my thought is the bolder the better.
Buy The Bike. Ok, you found the bike and have dropped the (hopefully small) cash. One trick to avoid stolen bikes on Craigslist: Ask the seller if you can photograph their ID or license plate before you give them the money. If the bike is stolen, it gives you a way to point police toward the real thief.
Now the real fun begins: Taking it apart. Time to strip the bike of brakes, shifters and cables, derailleurs, chain, rear wheel, crankset, bottom bracket, and anything else you’ll no longer need.
New Bike Build. After the mayhem of stripping down the frame subsides, you’ll be in need of a few key parts, including possibly a rear wheel hub (fixed or free); rear cog and lockring; bottom bracket; crankset; chain; toe straps or clipless pedals; and a front brake (optional for fixed-gear, necessary for freewheel).
Get The Parts. Build a plan at a local bike shop and buy the needed parts, new or used. A local mechanic can be hired to help get the bike in condition. Or there are “kit” options. One company, EightInch, sells a “singlespeed conversion kit” for $80 that includes everything you’ll need.
DIY. If you assemble the bike with purchased parts (as I did), here are a couple tips: Start by installing the bottom bracket, crankset, and pedals. Prepare your rear wheel by tightening the lockring on the fixed hub, and then situate your rear wheel in the dropouts.
Adjust your chain length by removing links with a chain tool. It should pull taut when you move the wheel back in the dropouts. Add the brake and final parts, then trick out your ride with new handlebars and tape, toe straps/clipless pedals, and a water bottle cage.
Taut Chain. It’s important on a single-speed or fixed to have a tight chain. Place the chain on the chainring and rear cog and tighten the rear wheel in the dropouts by pulling it back, ensuring that the chain is tight but can still be lifted up by about 1cm once everything is situated.
Ready To Ride. Before you know it, you’ll have a rad fixie or single-speed on your hands, likely for less than $300. My bike, pictured in this article, came to $245 when it was all said and done, parts and Craigslist frame included.