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  1. #1
    ANTE UP a bit racialist's Avatar
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    questions re: bike brands for a SS conversion

    I'm looking to build a SS conversion on the cheap, but I'm not too sure of what to look for outside of the brand names I know of. (Old Schwinn, Bianchi, Raleigh, or anything with a horiz. dropout.) Any help with assessing these bikes would be appreciated, since I know there are alot of you out there who have forgotten more than I know now.



    This is a early 80's Panasonic. The seller wants $110 obo for it, I figured I'd sit tight and see how far down the seller comes on the price, since while I don't know much, I get the impression that this isn't worth $110.



    This is a 1970's era Gitane 10 speed. Seller wants $50 for it. I'm not at all willing to go that high, I wouldn't pay any more than $30 for it, if it's even worth buying for this use.


    So... any thoughts?

  2. #2
    cyclist/gearhead/cycli... moxfyre's Avatar
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    Other brands of Japanese bikes that I'll throw out there: Fuji, Shogun, Lotus, Miyata, Bridgestone, Centurion. As you said, anything with horizontal dropouts will work, but for a better fixie you'd like to have a good quality frame (at least chromoly steel aka 4130) and some components that are worth reusing. Most brands made a wide range of road bikes, from mild steel junk to beautiful rides with Reynolds 531 frames and high-end components.

    One thing in particular that I look for as a measure of quality is: a crank with replaceable chainrings. A crankset is basically the most expensive single component on a fixie, so if you get one that can be reused and tweaked as necessary, it's a great find. For example, my new fixie is a Fuji Allegro, which came with Sugino VT cranks with replaceable chainrings. By dropping in a new $15 bottom bracket, I was able to get the chainline perfect and can use any size road chainring that I want, 38T and up.

    Another sign of a quality steel frame is forged dropouts. You can tell them apart from stamped dropouts because stamped dropouts appear flat, while forged dropouts have a "3D" part that sticks out about 1 mm for the axle nuts or skewer to grab on to.

    Other parts that you may want to reuse are the stem, handlebars, brakes, seatpost, and saddle... so the nicer they are the better.

    I agree that the Panasonic you show is not worth nearly $110. I've paid $10-$30 for similar bikes. I would stay away from the Gitane, because it is likely to have a French-threaded bottom bracket, which means that if you ever need to replace it your only good option is the $150 Phil Wood French BB. Also, most of the 70s Gitane's that I have seen use an obsolete and virtually unreplaceable French headset.

    The Japanese bikes of the 70s and 80s, on the other hand, use standard English/ISO fittings throughout, so they are easy to upgrade (the one exception is that most use JIS headsets rather than ISO, but good JIS headsets are not hard to get)
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  3. #3
    Senior Member peripatetic's Avatar
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    Think he's looking for a singlespeed, not fixed. In that case, the quality isn't as important. Here in NYC, $110 for that panasonic is going rate.

    You may want to post on the Classic & Vintage forum. I've done several ss conversions for friends, and all have turned out great. If you PM me pics or links of your options, I can give you an idea of whether it's a good one.

    Good luck--they're always a blast to ride.

  4. #4
    cyclist/gearhead/cycli... moxfyre's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peripatetic
    Think he's looking for a singlespeed, not fixed. In that case, the quality isn't as important. Here in NYC, $110 for that panasonic is going rate.

    You may want to post on the Classic & Vintage forum. I've done several ss conversions for friends, and all have turned out great. If you PM me pics or links of your options, I can give you an idea of whether it's a good one.

    Good luck--they're always a blast to ride.
    Ah, yes I missed that it's a SS, not a fixie. But I'm not sure how the fixie would be different in terms of things you look for, actually. Pretty much the only difference is on the rear hub

    That sucks that used bikes are so expensive around NYC I've never glanced at the NYC craigslist before, but now I am looking at it and yep you're right... a lot of low-end 10 speeds going for $80-100 or so.
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  5. #5
    we are 138 Philatio's Avatar
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    Make sure the fit is right, that's arguably more imporant than anything. It looks like the 2nd one is several sizes larger than the first.

  6. #6
    cyclist/gearhead/cycli... moxfyre's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Philatio
    Make sure the fit is right, that's arguably more imporant than anything. It looks like the 2nd one is several sizes larger than the first.
    Yep, finding a bike that is comfortable FOR YOU is the most important thing with ANY bike. My first fixie was a low-end Lotus Elan frame, and I loved that thing... the frame geometry was just right, the tires forgiving, and the saddle perfectly comfortable for me.
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  7. #7
    Senior Member Grand Bois's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by moxfyre
    I would stay away from the Gitane, because it is likely to have a French-threaded bottom bracket, which means that if you ever need to replace it your only good option is the $150 Phil Wood French BB. Also, most of the 70s Gitane's that I have seen use an obsolete and virtually unreplaceable French headset.
    You are misinformed.

    I just bought a new Miche French bottom bracket for $25. You can use a Shimano UN-72 with French Phil rings. Banana Brain has Titanium French bottom brackets. There are French bottom brackets constantly on eBay. Harris has French bottom brackets and headsets. Chris at Velo orange will sell you a beautiful Stronglight A-9 in French thread for $35.

    The first sentence is not what I originally typed, but I decided to try to be civil.

    Aren't you the same guy that recommended using pliers on a headset?

    There's one complete Campy French BB and three French cupsets on eBay right now.
    Last edited by Grand Bois; 09-20-06 at 08:37 PM.

  8. #8
    cyclist/gearhead/cycli... moxfyre's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dirtdrop
    You are misinformed.

    I just bought a new Miche French bottom bracket for $25. You can use a Shimano UN-72 with French Phil rings. Banana Brain has Titanium French bottom brackets. There are French bottom brackets constantly on eBay. Harris has French bottom brackets and headsets. Chris at Velo orange will sell you a beautiful Stronglight A-9 in French thread for $35.
    Thanks for the correction on the bottom bracket, I'm glad to know that French BBs are still available. How can you use a UN-72 though??? The right-side threads are permanently attached to the cartridge on every UN-72 I've seen.

    I believe the caveat about the old French headset/stem dimensions still stands. I'm sure you can find a French headset or stems on ebay if you look hard enough, but don't believe they're made anymore.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dirtdrop
    The first sentence is not what I originally typed, but I decided to try to be civil.
    Why thanks, I do enjoy a good spot of civility now and then

    Quote Originally Posted by Dirtdrop
    Aren't you the same guy that recommended using pliers on a headset?
    Indeed I am. In this thread, I said the best way to adjust a JIS headset with knurled race was to use locking pliers on it, and you said only crappy mechanics do stuff like that.

    I decided to ignore your opinion, since you gave no indication that it was based on experience with this particular type of headset, unlike mine, which is.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dirtdrop
    There's one complete Campy French BB and three French cupsets on eBay right now.
    Glad to hear it! And some factory in Taiwan is cranking out, oh, I dunno... 10,000 ISO BBs a day?

    Look, what it comes down to is this: I don't believe French-threaded bikes are irredeemably bad, but given the choice between a French bike and an English/Japanese bike of similar quality, I'll take the latter because component upgrades will be easier.
    Last edited by moxfyre; 09-20-06 at 09:16 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dirtdrop
    You are misinformed.

    I just bought a new Miche French bottom bracket for $25. You can use a Shimano UN-72 with French Phil rings. Banana Brain has Titanium French bottom brackets. There are French bottom brackets constantly on eBay. Harris has French bottom brackets and headsets. Chris at Velo orange will sell you a beautiful Stronglight A-9 in French thread for $35.

    The first sentence is not what I originally typed, but I decided to try to be civil.

    Aren't you the same guy that recommended using pliers on a headset?

    There's one complete Campy French BB and three French cupsets on eBay right now.
    WOW, three whole cupsets!! And a Campy!!

    Fact is, while you can get all that stuff if you look hard enough, an English bike is a much simpler setup, with parts every where. Because, DON'T FORGET HERE, the rest of the bike is french, good luck on the stem search AND based on our local fixie fans, the English(threaded) bikes hold up way better to guys that ride more than they smoke/pose.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member Grand Bois's Avatar
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    "Thanks for the correction on the bottom bracket, I'm glad to know that French BBs are still available. How can you use a UN-72 though??? The right-side threads are permanently attached to the cartridge on every UN-72 I've seen.

    I believe the caveat about the old French headset/stem dimensions still stands. I'm sure you can find a French headset or stems on ebay if you look hard enough, but don't believe they're made anymore."

    You have to butcher the UN-72 a bit to use it with Phil rings. The right side threads are attached, but not permanently. A UN-71 will work if you can find one.

    I listed two sources for new French headsets. I think the Stronglight A-9 is a bargain at $35.

    Both of my French bikes have sanded Nitto stems. You don't need to use a French stem unless you're doing a restoration.

  11. #11
    cyclist/gearhead/cycli... moxfyre's Avatar
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    Well, clearly some improvisation is required to make common modern parts work with French bikes. It's cool that you have some clever methods for doing so, but I still don't think these are appropriate for a first attempt at a bike build

    Quote Originally Posted by Dirtdrop
    You have to butcher the UN-72 a bit to use it with Phil rings. The right side threads are attached, but not permanently. A UN-71 will work if you can find one.
    Hmm, interesting. How do you get mounting ring off? Is it a very tight press-fit?

    I have a couple of cheap TH Industries square-taper BBs from Nashbar. The bearings are clearly press-fit onto the spindle, meaning that it should be possible to replace them. I've wondered about whether it is possible to remove the right side BB mounting ring in order to replace the bearings.

    This is one thing that's always irked me about cartridge BBs: when the bearings wear out, you have to replace the whole thing, even if there's nothing wrong with the spindle and mounting rings.
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  12. #12
    Geek Extraordinaire sivat's Avatar
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    So the choice is butchering a bb and sanding a stem, or using off the shelf parts? I agree, the stronglight is a good, inexpensive bb, but if you're looking for cheap and easy, a japanese frame is probably the way to go. I agree with moxfyre about the forged dropouts. Things to avoid are stem mounted shifters and suicide brake levers. While there are some exceptions, these features usually came on low end bikes. That means you may have to deal with a heavy frame, cottered cranks, and heavy wheels. I realize that some bikes have these features that were added by a previous owner (today i saw a lightspeed frame with a cheap adjustable stem on top of 4" spacers and bmx platform pedals, looked wrong) but unless you know what you're looking for you're more likely to guess wrong than to get lucky and find a diamond in the rough. In addition to the list moxfyre gave you, I would add nishiki and trek. they both have some nice, higher end frames that can be found for a bargain. Given a choice, i would go for an 80s era frame instead of 70s since the newer frame is more likely to have 700c wheels, and finding new tires will be easier.
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  13. #13
    Senior Member peripatetic's Avatar
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    Dirtdrop knows whereof he speaks, and yes, he's a talented improvisor. Follow his links to the photos of his bikes.

    There's a benefit to using stuff that once was common and now is considered obsolete: it's easy to find and not very desireable. Everyone made me think swapping out my old cottered crank bb on the Raleigh Grand Prix was going to be hellish (and Sheldon Brown's website also made it sound so) but my lbs did it without even mentioning any difficulties.

    BTW, while a fixie really demands a perfect chainline and some secure lockring/locktite-suicide hub issue, converting to a ss isn't nearly as demanding--while I'd want to get a new rear wheel for a fixed, I'd have no such qualms with a ss. That's why I reiterated this point in the first place.

  14. #14
    cyclist/gearhead/cycli... moxfyre's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sivat
    So the choice is butchering a bb and sanding a stem, or using off the shelf parts? I agree, the stronglight is a good, inexpensive bb, but if you're looking for cheap and easy, a japanese frame is probably the way to go. I agree with moxfyre about the forged dropouts. Things to avoid are stem mounted shifters and suicide brake levers. While there are some exceptions, these features usually came on low end bikes. That means you may have to deal with a heavy frame, cottered cranks, and heavy wheels. I realize that some bikes have these features that were added by a previous owner (today i saw a lightspeed frame with a cheap adjustable stem on top of 4" spacers and bmx platform pedals, looked wrong) but unless you know what you're looking for you're more likely to guess wrong than to get lucky and find a diamond in the rough. In addition to the list moxfyre gave you, I would add nishiki and trek. they both have some nice, higher end frames that can be found for a bargain. Given a choice, i would go for an 80s era frame instead of 70s since the newer frame is more likely to have 700c wheels, and finding new tires will be easier.
    +1 to Trek and Nishiki

    How could I forget about Nishiki?!?! Nishiki made excellent bikes in the 80s. I got a 1983(?) Nishiki Sport for my girlfriend, and it is excellent! Though it's low end, it has forged Sugino cranks, nice Maillard hubs, chromoly frame, forged dropouts, decent Suntour derailers, SR cockpit, and Dia-Compe brakes. The only crappy parts were the suicide levers and the awful knurled headset (the type that I argued about with Dirtdrop ).

    I agree that 700c wheels are preferable, but there's nothing wrong with a good quality 27" wheel. You can still get a wide variety of tires between 25 mm and 38 mm, including knobbies and kevlar-belted types.
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    For a really sweet ride find a mid 80's Raleigh Technium. The 400 and 420 frames had the shifters mounted to the stem so no ugly shifter bosses on the downtube to deal with. Aluminum main triangle with a steel rear triangle and steel fork made this an extreemly comfortable frame. Also the early ones were made in Kent, WA.

  16. #16
    cyclist/gearhead/cycli... moxfyre's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peripatetic
    There's a benefit to using stuff that once was common and now is considered obsolete: it's easy to find and not very desireable. Everyone made me think swapping out my old cottered crank bb on the Raleigh Grand Prix was going to be hellish (and Sheldon Brown's website also made it sound so) but my lbs did it without even mentioning any difficulties.
    I dunno about this. Some stuff that "once was common and now is considered obsolete" is easy to find and HIGHLY desirable, e.g. Suntour Barcons and lugged steel frames. And some of that stuff is hard to find and not desirable, such as cottered bottom brackets. But I don't think there is much stuff that is easy to find and yet not very desirable. Supply and demand and all that

    Swapping out a cottered BB isn't too bad. Sure, it's a pain in the ass to remove the cotters, but once that's done (destructively if necessary, since you're replacing the part) there's no problem. You can go straight from cottered cranks to 2007 Campy Record Carbon cranks... if you have an English or Italian threaded BB, but NOT IF YOU HAVE A FRENCH BB!

    Not sure what my point is... guess I'm rambling. Time for bed
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  17. #17
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    ...I'm getting suntour barcons, new in packaging, with original cables, for $35au a pop...don't know what you guys are complaining about... but I'll stock up since you think the American market is overvaluing them

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    Quote Originally Posted by tomacropod
    ...I'm getting suntour barcons, new in packaging, with original cables, for $35au a pop...don't know what you guys are complaining about... but I'll stock up since you think the American market is overvaluing them

    - Joel
    And shipping to the US would be?....
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    Quote Originally Posted by InTheTrenches
    And shipping to the US would be?....
    a moot figure my friend!

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  20. #20
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    I skipped all the UN-73 talk It was good stuff, just stay away from the french and dutch and belgium

    If you are looking to build a SS, the existing 27 inch wheels will take you thru much

    However, if you ever want to build a Fixie, my opinion is that you should start with a 700c bike. Life will be easier, less costly, parts readily available on CL or ebay, or at swaps.

    The note on forged vs stamped drop outs was very good. To me stamped drop out = not much of a bike even when new
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    Senior Member mihlbach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dirtdrop
    I believe the caveat about the old French headset/stem dimensions still stands.
    Twist, shove, twist....you can sqeeze a regular stem in there. I'm was able to twist a Japanese stem into my (late 70s) Motobecane headset with no real trouble. Its so tight I hardly need a stem bolt. I can pull it out, although it takes more twisting and pulling...but this is not a major setback. The obsolete bb threading is more of a PITA that the headset peculiarities.

  22. #22
    Senior Member mihlbach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by poopncow
    However, if you ever want to build a Fixie, my opinion is that you should start with a 700c bike. Life will be easier, less costly, parts readily available on CL or ebay, or at swaps.
    I agree, but older 27 inchers have their charms. Many of them have fender eyelets and always good clearance for big tires..they make for excellent ss/fixie conversions especially for commuters. But yes, good 27 inch wheels are hard to find, although tires and rims are still widely available, but if you want a good 27" ss/fixie wheel set, you will probably end up having to build your own. But a good vintage 27 incher is still well worth the trouble IMO.

  23. #23
    cyclist/gearhead/cycli... moxfyre's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mihlbach
    Twist, shove, twist....you can sqeeze a regular stem in there. I'm was able to twist a Japanese stem into my (late 70s) Motobecane headset with no real trouble. Its so tight I hardly need a stem bolt. I can pull it out, although it takes more twisting and pulling...but this is not a major setback. The obsolete bb threading is more of a PITA that the headset peculiarities.
    Yep, yep, yep... it's possible to make some modern parts work with old French stuff given sufficient butchering, brute force, and ebay parts-finding skills

    All that being said, a Japanese or British bike will be easier to upgrade or refurbish given the much more standard threading and dimensions.
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  24. #24
    Senior Member peripatetic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mihlbach
    I agree, but older 27 inchers have their charms. Many of them have fender eyelets and always good clearance for big tires..they make for excellent ss/fixie conversions especially for commuters. But yes, good 27 inch wheels are hard to find, although tires and rims are still widely available, but if you want a good 27" ss/fixie wheel set, you will probably end up having to build your own. But a good vintage 27 incher is still well worth the trouble IMO.
    27 inch wheels are not hard to find. You can get good new ones for cheaper than 700cs easily online, and used 27-inch wheels for a song on places such as ebay or craigslist. Hell, you want some 27-inch wheels, PM me and I'll rummage through my surplus of 'em.

    A major benefit to a fixie conversion is the hassle-free character of it. You don't build it up to continue worrying about upgrading it all the time. People who throw top-end track components on vintage road frames are usually just waiting till they can score a really great track frame and move all their parts over to that. If you're looking to just do a conversion with what you have, then go for it with what you can find. You build it, ride it, swap out a chain and tires once in a while, keep the tires true and the brake cables tight and don't worry about it. A vintage French frame is nice, well-made and--once set up--as hassle-free as a decent toilet. That Gitane is def. nicer than the Panasonic, and I'm not partial to either nationality. I built up my first conversion with a Raleigh Grand Prix, 27" wheels and the original Dia-Compe centerpull brakes. The only upgrading I did was to swap out the bb and cottered cranks for some 165mm cranks and a cartridge bb. It's a wonderful bike for which I never worry. The only luxury I afforded myself on it was a vintage saddle, and that's all it needed. Now I'm building up a Univega fixed, but only because I want something without such a long toptube.

    If you like it, get it, and don't worry about what's theoretically a problem, because practically, it's likely not.

  25. #25
    cyclist/gearhead/cycli... moxfyre's Avatar
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    Homebuilt tourer/commuter, modified-beyond-recognition 1990 Trek 1100, reasonably stock 2002-ish Gary Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo
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    Quote Originally Posted by mihlbach
    I agree, but older 27 inchers have their charms. Many of them have fender eyelets and always good clearance for big tires..they make for excellent ss/fixie conversions especially for commuters. But yes, good 27 inch wheels are hard to find, although tires and rims are still widely available, but if you want a good 27" ss/fixie wheel set, you will probably end up having to build your own. But a good vintage 27 incher is still well worth the trouble IMO.
    I agree. A good 27" wheelset is a perfectly good wheelset. My first fixie conversion came with good 27" wheels, so I simply tore down the rear wheel and rebuilt with a flip-flop hub and new spokes. Saved me a new rear rim and a whole new front wheel, not to mention I could keep the same tires

    Like peripatetic, I must've sold 10 or so 27" wheelsets for $15-30 on craigslist, many with tires. If you want to build a whole new wheel set, you ought to make it 700C just to be future compatible, but if you can find a good existing 27" wheelset there's no reason to avoid it unless you want ultra-narrow tires or big fat knobbies, which is probably not the case for those building an urban beater fixie or singlespeed.
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    Sheldon Brown, I miss you. Thanks for the advice, ideas, humor, and infectious enthusiasm for everything bikes...

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