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Where to start with un-fixed-gearing my bike

Old 07-16-20, 01:15 PM
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android606
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Where to start with un-fixed-gearing my bike

(Disclaimer: I don't hate fixed-gear bikes- they're great for strong-legged city bike people living the bike dream. They are, however, useless or downright dangerous for kids looking to get to school in areas with hills. Please don't kill me, thanks.)


Hello,


Several years back was the height of the fixie-fad, when every kid everywhere wanted a fixed-gear bike with no idea what they were getting into. They begged and begged, until their parents finally collapsed from the exhaustion of explaining repeatedly how terrible it will be to learn to ride a bike, on a bike with no brakes. Opining endlessly about how awful it will be to attempt to ride to school every day, uphill both ways (like we did), on a bike with one gear and no ability to coast.


I finally gave in to the maddening incessant barrage and bought my daughter a fixed-gear bike. To my great surprise, she actually rode it a bit, probably just trying to prove me wrong. She's 17 now, and when I ask her why she walks everywhere, she sheepishly tells me that her bike is too hard to ride with only one gear.


So, her bike didn't start out its life as a fixed-gear bike. It's a mid-80's Schwinn World Sport that was gutted converted at some point later. Besides the obvious modifications, it's in pristine condition. Beautiful red scratch-free paint, and a nice lightweight frame. I was thinking of converting it back into a 10-speed. I know this is not a very valuable bike, and I don't want to put a ton of money into it.


My thought was that I might patiently keep my eye on Craigslist for a cheap bike I can swap parts off of, but I don't know exactly what I should be looking for. How much variation is there in compatibility of parts? Will I be stuck trying to find exactly the same bike from the same year to get any useful parts, or can I just look for any 10-speed at all? Ideally, I would swap pretty much everything over. Realistically, I expect to buy a few common items new, like control cables and maybe a chain. I hope I can use the tires I already have- they're practically new.


For reference, I was a motorcycle mechanic for years. I am 150% mechanically inclined, but I'm not very experienced with the specifics of bike components.


There's a really beat up 80's Schwinn Varsity on Craigslist right now for $35, with a scraped-up rusted frame. I'd pick it up right now if I knew the components would work. I might even put the fixed-gear components on it and sell it for $50, haha.


Thanks for your help!
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Old 07-16-20, 01:24 PM
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Brake mounts for rim brakes or disc might be a bigger issue if this is a true fixie. Distance between the rear dropouts might be another. Might just need to watch for the fad to come around again. Fixies really don't meet most state requirements for being used on the road.
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Old 07-16-20, 01:50 PM
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You might be better off cost-wise to try to find a used but newer geared bike that fits your daughter then to try to restore that Schwinn.

Assuming the Schwinn was geared to begin with, you will need a new rear wheel of the proper spacing (probably 126 mm), a cassette or freewheel, rear derailleur, chain, shifters and one additional or both brakes. If she is ok with 1x6 or 1x7 gearing you may be able to use the current crank, otherwise plan on a new crank and bottom bracket and a front derailleur.

As you can see this is going to get expensive fast unless you have a good source for used or bargain parts and you will also have to pay someone to install the parts or get some specialized tools to do it yourself.
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Old 07-16-20, 02:57 PM
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short term you might check to see if the rear wheel if flip/flop...ie threads on both sides on for a fixed gear and a lock nut and another for a single speed freewheel. if so flip it and if it does not have the freewheel add one and make it a bigger tooth count than the fixed cog for easier pedaling. and if there is no brake add at minimum a front brake, but better to put both brakes on.

If there is a local bike co-op you could find all the parts you need including wheels Doing the bike as 1x6 or 7 is not a bad idea....depending on the bars you could just use a cheap thumb shifter.....

also important is whether the frame was modified....ie cable stops removed, derailler hanger removed. posting a pic when you get to 10 posts would be a big help
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Old 07-16-20, 03:29 PM
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Thanks for the info!

I'm looking to scavenge an old bike, not buy a bunch of brand new components. I know it would definitely not be at all worth it if I bought new components. Also, as I said, I was a motorcycle mechanic for years. I might fat-finger some things and get them wrong, but I have full confidence that I can figure out how to do this myself, well.

Also, this definitely was not a fixie originally. It has a threaded ear where a derailleur used to be attached, on the rear of the frame. It also has the little cylinder-shaped keepers on the frame, where the shift cable sheaths used to be.

According to bikehistory.org, this bike originally had 12 speeds, 27x1-1/4" wheels, Chang Star 630N side-pull brakes and levers.

Let me go through my thoughts one at a time:
Wheels
  • Right now, the spacing at the rear hub is 120mm...it's probably 126mm but it's been squeezed down to 120. It springs open a bit when you take the rear axle loose. So, I need a "donor" bike with 126mm hubs.
  • The current wheels are 700c, but I'm guessing that's really close to the same size as the original 27" wheel. So, I need a donor bike with 27" wheels.
  • 6-speed hubs would be 'original', but 5-speed would still work, right?
Crankset
  • Technically, I could keep the existing crankset if I only want 5--7 gears. But, that sucks. I'd rather have 10-12 gears.
  • If I want to change out the crankset- are they all the same size? Can I pull a two-speed crankset off another bike and put it in this one, or is that a hornet's nest of different sizes and specs?
  • Do I need a special crank puller tool to do this correctly?
Front Derailleur
  • It looks like these just mount with a strap around the frame. Are they pretty much universal?
Rear Derailleur
  • It looks like these mount with a single bolt through a flange. Are these pretty much universal?
Cables and Chain
  • I will probably just buy these new, unless I happen to get a donor with a nice not-completely-rusty chain.

What am I missing here? What are my unknown unknowns?
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Old 07-16-20, 03:31 PM
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Originally Posted by android606 View Post
For reference, I was a motorcycle mechanic for years. I am 150% mechanically inclined, but I'm not very experienced with the specifics of bike components.
Mechanically you won't have a problem doing the conversion, but finding the right parts that will be compatible will take a fair amount of research/leg work.

As others have said, it might not be a bad idea to just find an appropriate bike with gears.
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Old 07-16-20, 04:22 PM
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Originally Posted by android606 View Post
Thanks for the info!

I'm looking to scavenge an old bike, not buy a bunch of brand new components. I know it would definitely not be at all worth it if I bought new components. Also, as I said, I was a motorcycle mechanic for years. I might fat-finger some things and get them wrong, but I have full confidence that I can figure out how to do this myself, well.

Also, this definitely was not a fixie originally. It has a threaded ear where a derailleur used to be attached, on the rear of the frame. It also has the little cylinder-shaped keepers on the frame, where the shift cable sheaths used to be.

According to bikehistory.org, this bike originally had 12 speeds, 27x1-1/4" wheels, Chang Star 630N side-pull brakes and levers Better stuff out there. Brake reach matters on wheel size used. Probably also looking for "nutted" not "recessed" calipers. .

Let me go through my thoughts one at a time:
Wheels
  • Right now, the spacing at the rear hub is 120mm...it's probably 126mm but it's been squeezed down to 120. It springs open a bit when you take the rear axle loose. So, I need a "donor" bike with 126mm hubs. In the interest of cost saving 126mm FREEWHEEL hub for an english threaded freewheel. Alloy not steel rims.
  • The current wheels are 700c, but I'm guessing that's really close to the same size as the original 27" wheel. So, I need a donor bike with 27" wheels.700 or 27. 700 gives more versatility as it is the de facto standard today. as long as brakes chosen reach the smaller OD 700.
  • 6-speed hubs would be 'original', but 5-speed would still work, right? 6 is probably easier to find and maybe gets you HG hyperglide shift ramps on the freewheel. YOu can probably pull the existing fixed rear cog and thread a new freewheel on the existing rear wheel
Crankset
  • Technically, I could keep the existing crankset if I only want 5--7 gears. But, that sucks. I'd rather have 10-12 gears.
  • If I want to change out the crankset- are they all the same size? Can I pull a two-speed crankset off another bike and put it in this one, or is that a hornet's nest of different sizes and specs? General specs are length of arm (165mm, 170, 172.5 etc), bottom bracket interface. square taper, external ISIS, octalink. Generally your project is looking for a square taper crank. Until you know the crank you can't get the bottom bracket as the spindle length is determined by the crank. I have to assume that bike is a 68mm wide BB shell and BSA (English) threaded.
  • Do I need a special crank puller tool to do this correctly? Yes, and the correct tools for the bottom bracket
Front Derailleur
  • It looks like these just mount with a strap around the frame. Are they pretty much universal? No, the calmp has to have a range that fits your tubing diameter. Anothe option is braze on mount clamp and braze on mount derailleur as separate items.
Rear Derailleur
  • It looks like these mount with a single bolt through a flange. Are these pretty much universal? Thread wise yes, M10 X 1.0. Derailleur wants to know if you're using indexed (click) shifting or friction to ensure compatibility. Depending on gearing chosen long cage or short cage to ensure adequate capacity to wrap chain as different gears are used.
Cables and Chain
  • I will probably just buy these new, unless I happen to get a donor with a nice not-completely-rusty chain. 6/7/8 speed chain all the same. 9/10/11 are all different. If you buy new get one with a quick link. You'll need a chain tool to typically shorten the chain as purchased.

What am I missing here? What are my unknown unknowns?
See above. Determine what it is you want this to be as far as gearing (double/triple chainring, cog tooth count in rear)

Last edited by dedhed; 07-16-20 at 07:37 PM.
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Old 07-16-20, 04:27 PM
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Originally Posted by android606 View Post
Thanks for the info!

I'm looking to scavenge an old bike, not buy a bunch of brand new components. I know it would definitely not be at all worth it if I bought new components. Also, as I said, I was a motorcycle mechanic for years. I might fat-finger some things and get them wrong, but I have full confidence that I can figure out how to do this myself, well.

Also, this definitely was not a fixie originally. It has a threaded ear where a derailleur used to be attached, on the rear of the frame. It also has the little cylinder-shaped keepers on the frame, where the shift cable sheaths used to be.

According to bikehistory.org, this bike originally had 12 speeds, 27x1-1/4" wheels, Chang Star 630N side-pull brakes and levers.

Let me go through my thoughts one at a time:
Wheels
  • Right now, the spacing at the rear hub is 120mm...it's probably 126mm but it's been squeezed down to 120. It springs open a bit when you take the rear axle loose. So, I need a "donor" bike with 126mm hubs.
  • The current wheels are 700c, but I'm guessing that's really close to the same size as the original 27" wheel. So, I need a donor bike with 27" wheels.
  • 6-speed hubs would be 'original', but 5-speed would still work, right?
Crankset
  • Technically, I could keep the existing crankset if I only want 5--7 gears. But, that sucks. I'd rather have 10-12 gears.
  • If I want to change out the crankset- are they all the same size? Can I pull a two-speed crankset off another bike and put it in this one, or is that a hornet's nest of different sizes and specs?
  • Do I need a special crank puller tool to do this correctly?
Front Derailleur
  • It looks like these just mount with a strap around the frame. Are they pretty much universal?
Rear Derailleur
  • It looks like these mount with a single bolt through a flange. Are these pretty much universal?
Cables and Chain
  • I will probably just buy these new, unless I happen to get a donor with a nice not-completely-rusty chain.

What am I missing here? What are my unknown unknowns?
my commments in italic

Wheels
  • Right now, the spacing at the rear hub is 120mm...it's probably 126mm but it's been squeezed down to 120. It springs open a bit when you take the rear axle loose. So, I need a "donor" bike with 126mm hubs. that would best
  • The current wheels are 700c, but I'm guessing that's really close to the same size as the original 27" wheel. So, I need a donor bike with 27" wheels. You can use either, just have to get brakes with a long enough reach to handle 700cc
  • 6-speed hubs would be 'original', but 5-speed would still work, right? yep, but should be tons of 6 speed stuff around
Crankset
  • Technically, I could keep the existing crankset if I only want 5--7 gears. But, that sucks. I'd rather have 10-12 gears.
  • If I want to change out the crankset- are they all the same size? Can I pull a two-speed crankset off another bike and put it in this one, or is that a hornet's nest of different sizes and specs? Lots of different sizes and combinations of cranksets and bottom brackets....easiest is to take both off of the donor
  • Do I need a special crank puller tool to do this correctly? yes
Front Derailleur
  • It looks like these just mount with a strap around the frame. Are they pretty much universal? sorta of not 100%
Rear Derailleur
  • It looks like these mount with a single bolt through a flange. Are these pretty much universal? unless it is a french frame with a huret dropout prettymuch so
Cables and Chain
  • I will probably just buy these new, unless I happen to get a donor with a nice not-completely-rusty chain. yes, cheap and saves lot's of aggravation

You did not mention shifters so need to think about those also

Like others I think if you find a donor with decent parts it is likely to be better to use it than swap parts (still overhaul it) 80's japanese bikes offer great mix of quality and value..... make sure rims are alloy not steel as a starter. brands like Nishiki, Miyata, Centurion, Bridgestone, fuji, panasonic, univega

see
https://www.parktool.com/blog/repair-help for some help on wrenching
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Old 07-16-20, 04:41 PM
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Thanks!

Thanks everyone, for all of your help. This is awesome information.

I figure I'll give it a month or two scouring Craigslist for a suitably-busted donor bike, now that I know what to look for. If I can't find one in a reasonable condition / price / time frame, I'll just have to talk my daughter into getting a different bike. Also, great idea trying to find a bike co-op!

Thanks again!
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Old 07-16-20, 04:43 PM
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Originally Posted by android606 View Post
Thanks everyone, for all of your help. This is awesome information.

I figure I'll give it a month or two scouring Craigslist for a suitably-busted donor bike, now that I know what to look for. If I can't find one in a reasonable condition / price / time frame, I'll just have to talk my daughter into getting a different bike. Also, great idea trying to find a bike co-op!

Thanks again!
if you add your location and frame size people often can help the challenge is busted donor bikes most often have busted parts that you don't want to reuse
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Old 07-16-20, 05:04 PM
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Consider a 3 speed, with or without coaster brake. You're mechanically inclined, so you can build a 3 speed wheel. An 80s Schwinn frame will accommodate conventional caliper brakes. You can cold set the frame if necessary. This eliminates a lot of the fuss over things like frame dimensions and derailleur compatibility.

I've converted approximately 4 old Schwinn frames, presently riding single speed coaster on one bike, 3 speed freewheel on the other. Having the lower gear is enough "help" that I don't mind the hills. You can follow Sheldon Brown's suggestion of gearing the bike so high gear is the normal cruising gear, then you have two low gears.
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Old 07-16-20, 05:18 PM
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A Bike Co-op is a great place to explore doing just what you propose. I volunteer as a mechanic at our local co-op and would love to help you with your project; however, knowing how much work you would have to put into this project, just to attain a mediocre bike, I'd first advise you to look over some of the newer, more complete donated bikes.
Here are my comments in bold italics to your list of ideas. Good luck:

Wheels
  • Right now, the spacing at the rear hub is 120mm...it's probably 126mm but it's been squeezed down to 120. It springs open a bit when you take the rear axle loose. So, I need a "donor" bike with 126mm hubs. 126mm is a relatively ancient standard, so you would have a challenge finding wheels that match. Why not open the frame to 130mm and take advantage of modern road hubs.
  • The current wheels are 700c, but I'm guessing that's really close to the same size as the original 27" wheel. So, I need a donor bike with 27" wheels. Again, this is an ancient standard. You may be able to find 27" wheels but it would be far easier to find 700c. The only issue with these slightly smaller wheels is brake reach, but since you don't currently have brakes, it should be easy to find them with the proper reach. Also 27" tires are readily available but the selection would be more limited.
  • 6-speed hubs would be 'original', but 5-speed would still work, right? Probably.
Crankset
  • Technically, I could keep the existing crankset if I only want 5--7 gears. But, that sucks. I'd rather have 10-12 gears.
  • If I want to change out the crankset- are they all the same size? Can I pull a two-speed crankset off another bike and put it in this one, or is that a hornet's nest of different sizes and specs? I'm guessing that you have a square-taper bottom bracket on this bike. It may work for a double crank, however it would depend on the spindle length. If the person that converted it to a fixie put in a short spindle bottom bracket you may have to replace it. It all depends on the chainline.
  • Do I need a special crank puller tool to do this correctly? You'll need a crank puller plus some tools appropriate to the bottom bracket.
Front Derailleur
  • It looks like these just mount with a strap around the frame. Are they pretty much universal? Yes and no. Vintage fronts were close to being universal, with some difference between double and triple models. Modern ones vary a bit more based on the way they mount and how the cable is routed. Going back to my suggestion of using a 130mm hub - if you opt for this you can mount a 9, 10, or 11 speed cassette in the back and keep the single chainring in the front.
Rear Derailleur
  • It looks like these mount with a single bolt through a flange. Are these pretty much universal? Not really. It has to support the number as well as the tooth differences of the cogs. If you opt for indexed shifting, your shifters will need to match.
Cables and Chain
  • I will probably just buy these new, unless I happen to get a donor with a nice not-completely-rusty chain. Probably a good idea.
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Old 07-17-20, 10:57 AM
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I just changed my Lemond from single speed back to the original configuration with 3X7 gears. It costs way more than I thought because the little parts really add up. If you are trying to save money- you'd be better off shopping for a multi-geared used bike on CL. On the other hand, if you just like to wrench then go right ahead!
In any event, the first thing you should try is to convert the bike from fixed gear to single speed freewheel (usually just swapping the rear wheel around) and changing the gearing. That might solve the issue already. What gearing is on the bike right now?
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Old 07-17-20, 12:38 PM
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A derailleur Rear wheel for a 120 frame spacing was for 5 speed freewheel.
I have re centered the axle to put the hub in the middle, with some new spacers, done a little spoke re tensioning..
and made such a wheel into one for a single speed freewheel wheel ..
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Old 07-17-20, 12:44 PM
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And there are 3 speed Sturmey Archer hubs that fit in narrow frame.. internal multi speed with a single cog on it..
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Old 07-17-20, 04:43 PM
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I think the best option would be to swap the wheel with one with a geared hub (or build the wheel yourself, if you're a patient sort of person). Not the cheapest option if you only consider money, but unless your time is worth zero you need to also consider the hours you'll spend wrenching to get a derailer system working on the bike and looking up the parts online waiting for the appropriate deals to come by - and at that point the geared hub might end up costing you less.

Bonus point: the bike would retain the clean fixie lines, save of course for the brakes you'll need to add - which, of course, should never have been removed in the first place.
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Old 07-18-20, 03:18 PM
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Old 07-18-20, 03:33 PM
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I went from 27 speeds to 11 speeds and don't like it. I'm getting used to it, but going down hills I easily max out the gear system and wish I had more gears so that my pedal strokes are useful instead of useless.

Why would it be a good idea to have only 1 gear?
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Old 07-18-20, 04:08 PM
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android606 https://sfbay.craigslist.org/scz/bik...161763163.html this should work for a doner bike
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Old 07-18-20, 04:16 PM
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Buy the donor bike and then give it to her. You won’t need to worry about compatibility at all.
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Old 07-18-20, 04:59 PM
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3alarmer
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...if you ever get enough posts here so you can post up a photo or two, it would make advising you on this a lot easier. Don't buy the Varsity. The co-op idea is a good one, but many of them are closed down now because of the virus pandemic, and it's problaaematic figuring out when they might again be a resource. Donor bike for something like this is an excellent idea, but it requires some sophistication in the decision making process. As stated, it would be much easier with a picture of what you are starting with.

In the meantime, have you considered going with lower gearing ? You can often accomplish that with the simple swapping out of the current rear cog. If it's a flip flop hub, with a threaded side for a freewheel, freewheel is also much easier and less iffy to ride than fixed, where your pedals are turning constantly.
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