Over the past few months, I have become much more interested in bicycles. I commuted around Dublin on bicycle for years but was never very interested in different kinds of bikes or performance characteristics or anything of that sort. I viewed a bicycle simply as a way to get around. However, in March I spent a few hundred dollars on a (to me at least) pretty nice road bike. I use it to ride to and from work, mostly, and I very much enjoy this. It takes 20-25 minutes to cycle in in the morning and 25-30 minutes to cycle home, owing to the fairly steep hills on Page Street. Compared to driving to work, which I am pretty much forced to do if I want to go to the gym unfortunately, bicycling is far more enjoyable. Its good exercise, cheaper, much less stressful, and faster. Apart from a $30 cycling computer (which tells me my cruising speed is around 22MPH and that I sometimes reach 37MPH going down hills) I have not invested much in my bicycle. One thing I really appreciate now that I own a car though, is the simplicity of the bicycle. Its highly impractical to perform any serious repairs on an automobile yourself - for example, replacing a clutch is something that takes an auto-shop a full day at least to perform. Reliance on professional mechanics to repair or modify your auto is not very satisfying in my opinion. Bicycles, on the other hand, are simple enough that its plausible to build your own one or perform extensive repairs or modifications.
I would very much like to learn more about how bicycles work, and about tuning the various parts. At the same time, I have become intrigued by the numerous fixies I see being ridden around San Francisco. It seems to me that building my own fixie would be a great way to learn about bikes, find out what is so great about these fixies and have a lot of fun in the process. I suspect that riding a bicycle which you put together painstakingly with your own two hands would be very satisfying indeed, even if it is really a pretty ulgy thing you cobbled together ;-)
To this end, I have been looking to buy bicyle frames through Craigslist and eBay. A frame with a horizontal droupout is much more suitable for a fixie project, and mostly these are old steel frames from the '70s and '80s. I am looking to pay $30-$100 for a frame - the going rate on Craigslist, when the parts show up, seems to be $50-$60. eBay is better, but shipping is an additional $30-$40.
I have found Sheldon Brown's fixed gear site highly informative on the nitty gritty details of building/converting a fixie. I plan to ask a local bicyle shop (surely one of the many around Haight-Ashbury will do it) to build the fixed rear wheel for the bike. I also plan to install at least a front brake and get some SPDs. My main apprehension with riding a fixie is going down the steep hills on Page Street on my morning commute. My reading so far suggests that heavy pedal-braking can create a lot of strain in the knees which is something I would very much like to avoid after getting highly painful shin-splints from boxing training. Being able to walk without sharp pains in my legs is something I'd like to continue to take for granted. However, I'm sure that some combination of brakes and intelligence will result in a satisfactory outcome.
I am also thinking that I should get a digital camera (after having lost my last one a few months ago) in order to take pictues of the project for this site - in addition to other things. We shall see. Anyway, I hope to press on with this project and post regular updates about it.
Niall O'Higgins is an author and software developer. He wrote the O'Reilly book MongoDB and Python. He also develops Strider Open Source Continuous Deployment and offers full-stack consulting services at FrozenRidge.co.