Sunday, 27 September 2009

Order from chaos

I decided to rationalise the contents of our garage - too much junk. But before throwing out old bicycle frames, wheels, bits and bobs, I did something I'd been thinking about for a couple of weeks, namely building a fixed-gear bicycle (result below).

The frame and forks were from an old Trek 800. The wheels from an old Raleigh roadster (with a fixed-gear rear hub). The front brake, handlebars, stem and seatpost came from my old Klein Pinnacle (I loved that bike! Cracked head tube put the frame out of action), and the saddle was the one from my Cannondale Caffeine F2 that I replaced with a classic Brooks B66.

Fixed-gear riding is a philosophy in itself; you'll see urban bicycle couriers adopting this type of mount. It is the lightest, simplest of bikes; there's no freewheel at the back, when the wheels turn, the pedals turn and vice-versa. You develop supple legs. You truly become one with your bike. Fixed-gear bicycles are traditionally used for winter training by cyclists; there's no gear mechanisms for the road grime to get into. When you see a cyclist riding one of these around town, you will see a cyclist with attitude and commitment.

Putting the bike together put me into a reflective state of mind; there's something about mechanical engineering that is deeply satisfying to the human soul. Working with tools. I still have a vast box of bicycle-oriented tools, bottom-bracket extractors, chain-link separators, axle spanners, etc however, I was missing a flat 10mm spanner, which I needed to adjust the brake.

I bought one at the supermarket. Less than one zloty. Big mistake. Uh... too small. Buy an 11mm spanner. Ah! Too big. But the nut is 10mm. Being from a Shimano XT brake, it is 10mm. That cheapo spanner's the wrong size. Moral: NEVER SAVE ON CHEAP TOOLS.

Today's consumerist world is about production, not craftsmanship. Churn out a much as possible, as cheaply as possible. So that repair, by a skilled craftsman is not economically viable. The craftsman is a dying breed. The watchsmith, cobbler (as opposed to 5-minute heel bar operator), locksmith, and indeed bicycle repair man, are driven from the market by goods which cost less to replace than to fix.

Here I blame Adam Smith and Henry Ford. In his famous treatise about pin manufacturers, Smith notes economic benefit of the division of labour (with workers doing separate tasks involved rather the creation of the pin, than craftsmen crafting entire pins themselves). Ford took this notion to its logical conclusion - the assembly line.

But where is the human satisfaction from stretching wire or tightening the same nut all day long? Hundreds of millions of people do this, for the money, so that billions more can enjoy a cheaper washing machine, television or car.

Yesterday, though, I had immense satisfaction from building a working bicycle out of, well, junk, and having a clean garage to show for it.

For the record, it has a 36-tooth chainring and 16-tooth sprocket, giving it a 60 inch gear (i.e. for every one revolution of the cranks, the bike moves forward 60 inches, just over a metre and half.) The combination of 27" wheels and small off-road frame alters the geometry. The rear tyre has to be deflated in order to get the wheel to fit in the rear triangle, clearances are small. But ground clearance on the cranks is greater (essential, as you cannot hold the pedals in horizontal position when going around a tight bend as you can with a freewheel hub).


Neighbour said...

Good morning,

Nice bike. Weighs probably less than 9 kilograms :-)

One remark - fix the front brake handle on the left bar, you're used to a certain handle grip pressure while braking on your yellow one and may be surprised when braking front brake suddenly with rear brake power.
OTB is not very pleasant.

More on fixed gear (and other) bikes on:

Happy pedaling,


Michael Dembinski said...

Funny that - habit from England. I went OTB on the first bike I bought in Poland - mobile phone rang, I grabbed it with my right hand, lightly squeezed the (front V-brake) with my left - front wheel seized, and I went over the bars rather than just slowing down.

As a right-handed person, cycling in a left-hand drive country feels wrong. Like, what foot do you put down when you come to lights?