Friday, July 23, 2010

Marianne's Conversion

Poor, faithful Marianne. She has led so many lives, and has suffered through her reiterations with remarkable stoicism. Nothing she did for me was good enough. I railed against her when she was a road bike with drop bars. And though things improved with upside-down Albatross bars, the poor creature continued to be verbally abused for being "uncomfortable," "unstable" and "twitchy". Faced with the prospect of redundancy, Marianne shed bitter tears and begged me to take drastic measures: "Make me a fixed gear!" she cried, "I would rather go under the knife than be sold and make yet another owner miserable with my ridiculously steep geometry. Who could say no to a beauty in tears?

I will not bore you with too many technical details of the fixed gear conversion, except to say that with the right bike it is not difficult for the mechanically inclined. Marianne was the right bike, because she had the horizontal(ish) dropouts necessary for the conversion and not too many braze-ons.

To convert this type of bicycle to fixed gear, you need to remove the rear and front derailleurs, the shifters, and all the wiring between them, and replace the rear wheel with a fixed gear wheel. In theory, you could also rebuild the original wheel with a fixed gear hub, but this is not recommended for old wheels - Given that a complete fixed gear wheel can be had for as little as $60, it is not worth the risk. You will also need a new chain, a fixed rear cog and a lock ring.

The cats were skeptical about the process, but it took the Co-Habitant just a couple of hours to turn Marianne into a ridable fixed gear.

But while the bike was ridable, the aesthetics of the result were not spectacular. As you can see here, the Motobecane crankset was the kind that had both the inner and outer chainrings attached to the spider and included an integrated chainguard. There was no way to remove all that stuff and just leave one chainring and the cranks. But we did not want to get a new crankset (and the new bottom bracket that would have to go with it) - both for financial reasons, and because I really like having the original Motobecane cranks. So we decided to modify the existing set-up.

We first removed the large chainring and cut off the spider arms starting after the small chain ring. This required the Co-Habitant to spend some quality time with somervillain's dremmel.

He then polished the edges of the remaining spider arms.

All this took longer than the initial conversion, but the result was worth it.

I painted the inlays of the cranks with red nail polish.

Marianne emerged from the operating room more beautiful than ever. She even lost weight.

No more stem shifters!

I know this might invite criticism, but we did cut off the derailleur hanger from the rear dropouts and are thinking of popping off the little braze-ons for the shifter cables. I think this bicycle is better off as a fixed gear/ single speed (it has a flip-flop hub for the option of being turned into a freewheel) and will stay this way. Even if I should sell it down the line, I would rather sell it to a girl who can ride a bike like this, than to a girl who is hoping for a cute cruiser-type mixte and will be disappointed by this bike's handling. Also, this is a mass produced and very common frame that is not some fantastic piece of French bicycle history. I would not do this to a valuable or historically significant bike.

I've ridden the bike already, and I love it. I haven't the energy to discuss the riding experience in this post, so will save that for next time.  Doing the fixed gear conversion on our own was an educational experience, and the DIY crankset turned out beautifully.  Of course, all this was mainly the Co-Habitant's handiwork; I was the helper. He does not like fixed gear bikes, but did this for me anyway - which was kind of him. But maybe he will come around want a matching bike as well some day... Though personally I see him on one of these!

38 comments:

  1. Nice conversion, but you are now officially a "Drew".

    In the folklore of fixed conversions, someone first hacked off the RD hanger. Who was it? Some kid named Drew.

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  2. while i wouldn't agree with lopping off the derailleur hanger (or the cable guides), i think you and the co-habitant did a great job with the conversion. the red paint-filled flutes came out great, nice custom touch.

    i'm curious though, how is the bike's steep geometry better suited to the bike now that it is a fixed gear? if it made you "miserable" with its "ridiculously steep" geometry, how is that sentiment offset now? just curious...

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  3. Look out! Before you know it you'll be trading your skirt for skinny jeans and a messenger bag :p

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  4. hmm ... I believe that I may have ridden by both of you last night on Broadway. I was heading towards Harvard Square and just between Inman Street and the top of the hill, I recognized the Co-Habitant's Pashley and a blue mixte that looked like Marianne coming in the opposite direction.

    Coincidentally, I'm working on my own fixed gear conversion -- mating a Raleigh Supercourse to a wheel that I'm building around the new Sturmey Archer 3 speed fixed gear hub -- and I was contemplating putting on a pair of inverted North Road handlebars. Is that what you have installed on Marianne?

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  5. The fingernail polish is a classy touch!

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  6. Cris C. - Yes, that was us! The bars on Marianne are upside down Nitto Albatross. See here for a post about this.

    Eric - or installing a skirt guard : )

    somervillain - The bike had 2 main points of discomfort: the steep geometry and the responsiveness. The first was not impacted by the fixed gear conversion, but we did finally have the brilliant (as in "duh!") idea to get a seatpost with set-back and shove the saddle back further. I am guessing this slackened the seat tube angle by a degree and a half, maybe more. It has made a positive difference in weight distribution and I no longer feel that all the weight is in my hands. The responsiveness "problem" however, is actually an asset now that the bike is fixed gear, and that is one thing I was hoping for when doing this conversion.

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  7. I have the same question as Somervillain, although I suspect that the answer is that you now intend to ride her in a different way than if you had all of those gears. She's a nimble urban get-around bicycle now, rather than a distance machine, and you can take advantage of her riding qualities without feeling as if you were missing anything.

    BTW, for those that are calling V a "drew", be reminded of three things:

    1) She did this to keep the bike, as she already loved much about it.

    2)a great majority of 1960s-1970s French Mixtes had bolt-on derailleur hangers from the factory, and Marianne can, too.

    3) if she goes multi-gear again, she'll probably get a 7 speed Sachs IGH or something similarly awesome.
    V has *standards*, you know. (sniffs)

    I agree that you and MDI did a nice job on the cranks. Perhaps a way to tie in that red elsewhere on the bike? A really fine red stripe outside of the gold lug lining?

    Congrats on finding a way to keep a bicycle in the fold. May she grace your stable for decades to come.

    Corey K

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  8. somervillain - I forgot to add that a bike with steep geometry is actually considered desirable for fixed gear conversion, so I thought that if I do try to sell her later this would be a bonus feature. Interestingly, the track bike I rode in Austria did not have overly steep angles, and it was explained to me that this was normal for its time - the "steep angles" being a relatively new thing.

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  9. Velouria~

    She looks great but remember I still get 1st dibs;)

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  10. Corey K said...
    "I suspect that the answer is that you now intend to ride her in a different way than if you had all of those gears. She's a nimble urban get-around bicycle now, rather than a distance machine, and you can take advantage of her riding qualities without feeling as if you were missing anything."


    Yes, pretty much exactly. She did worse at being a roadbike, or even a light touring bike than other bikes I own. But she is perfect as a fixed gear, where the over-responsiveness works in her favour.

    Also - after riding a track bike in Austria, I knew that I wanted a fixed gear of my own when I got home. I actually have an old frame that I planned to use for this, but I realised that the whole thing would cost too much and was not realistic to accomplish this summer. So converting Marianne seemed like a particularly appropriate solution.

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  11. Bear with me, I don't know much about the world of seatposts, but would it be absolute heresy to try a similar seatpost fix with Eustacia? Maybe you'd get the geometry closer to that of the Raleigh.

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  12. Pashley uses a B66s for the Princess, which is an old-style saddle with double rails. It wouldn't work in a modern set-back seat post which is designed for single-rail saddles such as 99% of the modern bike saddles and the Brooks B17 or B67 (which itself is identical to the B66 safe for the single rails). So we would either have to hunt for a B67s in honey ($100?) or get an ugly looking seat sandwich. So, unfortunately the Pashley has to stay as is.

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  13. sliding a saddle back is a good way of overcoming steep angles. i did this with my raleigh comp, which has a 74 degree seat tube angle. sliding the saddle back a bit had the effect of "slackening" the angle by about a degree.

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  14. Exactly; and mine was also 74 degrees.

    Sadly, on the Pashley this would be a more expensive procedure, as explained by MDI.

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  15. does the double-rail B66 not have enough travel to slide back farther from its current position? does the pashley have an old-style seatpost clamp (the kind that clamp onto a plain seatpost tube and then clamp onto the double saddle rail)? and if so, have you tried inverting it? that can gain you a couple of inches of travel!

    this is the clamp i'm talking about:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/4788155078/in/set-72157622744184820/

    if i flip it 180 degrees around, the saddle can move back two inches.

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  16. Somerviilain- that's the one. You had me all excited, and I ran to turn mine around only to find I had it backwards already! Curses! No more cheats left for me. Might work for V, though. If she has hers forward now it will make a big difference. Imagining my Pash with the seat 2" closer to the crank sounds very snug indeed.

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  17. That's wonderful. I like fixed-gear bikes set up with fenders and saddlebag, I rode mine to work today. IMHO conversions are best when they don't try to look like track (or tarck!) bikes.

    Are you planning to add some kind of foot retention? It's probably fine without it since you have two brakes and a sensible gear ratio. I like retention because it makes it easier for you to rely solely on your legs to stop. Descents are less scary, too.

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  18. jhvu - It's definitely not a tarck bike : )

    Re foot retention, that is indeed the question of the day. I cannot ride with clips; If I do it, I feel that there is a 75% chance I will fall at an intersection. On the other hand, given the speed at which I ride and the fact that I have brake, there is maybe a .75% chance my feet will fly off the pedals and I won't be able to get them out of the way or brake fast enough. But I am still thinking of a solution. Maybe I will try the clips again and keep them extra loose. What did those ladies do when they rode fixed loop-frame bikes at the turn of the century? Surely they did not have clips!

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  19. what about half clips? the idea seems like an intriguing compromise, in that you get most of the benefit of a clip, but it's much easier to bail out when needed.

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  20. We have a set of VO half-clips and they suck. I can't understand how people use half-clips. Nothing personal, but it feels like half a belt holding up half of your pants. I don't know.

    Pashley's seat collar has been pointing tailways since the get-go. :)

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  21. I don't think they "suck". But I did not do well riding with them either, and felt like they were neither nor. Some people love them, so it must be one of those things you just have to try yourself.

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  22. I should add that I like "real" clips only a little better than half-clips. It's a shame that fixed gear bikes practically necessitate foot retention. If I had a fixed gear, I'd be forced to put SPDs on it and maybe buy a couple walkable SPD shoes. Velouria has nice ones. I've seen men's SPD shoes that don't even look like bike shoes. Nothing like my current ones.

    Actually, yeah... I never own that many pairs of shoes at the same time. Maybe I should just buy all-SPD shoes and... SPD on the Pashley. Yes, yes... I have to go now. :)

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  23. I LOVE half clips and have them on both my single speeds. I have the MKS version though - perhaps they are better than the VO version? In fact, today as I rode one of these bikes up a few hills, I marveled at how well the half clips work.

    Nice work btw! Both my mixtes are single speed conversions. For the Nishiki we bought new wheels and for the Raleigh, we just used what we had. It's not the prettiest thing, but dang that bike rides like a dream! We did the same thing with the cranks as well. Ended up with a funny ratio, but it's super comfy for me.

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  24. I really like your conversion. And I absolutely agree with you that there was no good reason NOT to do it. There are so many common,inexpensive bikes out there just begging to be Hot-Rodded into something better.
    The world is not a grimmer place with one less perfectly preserved Motobecane, but your world might be more interesting with a lithe, nimble fixed gear to mess around on.

    I don't think flat pedals are a big deal on this bike unless you want to learn to do trackstands, but even that is only a little more difficult than with clips or SPDs. Every BMX racer since the dawn of the sport learned to do trackstands with flat pedals without ever knowing it was a big deal. And I agree about halfclips, I never made friends with them.

    About your seatpost issues on the Pashley, it isn't too difficult to modify a seat post by adding a short horizontal extension pointing backwards. It uses the same clamp you have on your seat now but requires turning it 90 degrees. If you look at pictures of old pathracers you will often see the reverse, a seatpost with a forward extension to allow moving the seat forward to compensate for too RELAXED seat angles. If you have a fancy aluminum post on it you will need to use a steel seatpost in the conversion but they are cheap and easy to find in any imaginable size.
    I've made a couple of these over the years for cruisers and it works slick. There is even a simple way to keep the seat from rolling sideways.

    Spindizzy

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  25. "What did those ladies do when they rode fixed loop-frame bikes at the turn of the century? Surely they did not have clips!"

    Sheldon Brown remarked that riding fixed without retention is for advanced riders only. Perhaps they were just more skilled at it because they rode fixed everyday and knew nothing else!

    Regarding half clips: I've heard that it's not the clip that makes toe clips effective, it's the straps. But few people tighten straps, at least not on the street. Without the strap it wouldn't figure that clips would do much.

    A less elegant but more effective solution is Power Grips (or one of the many variations that are so popular with the fitted-cap crowd). You can ride in any shoe and they are very grippy if adjusted right yet easier to get out of than anything else. They aren't so ugly if you set them up with the logos hidden.

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  26. Cats!! I love the black one who's all eyes.

    Oh yeah, the bike's nice, too :) Red nail polish accents are priceless. I've never ridden a fixed gear before, but I know a lot of people like them. I'll be interested to hear about your experiences.

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  27. Guarantee you never get on this bike five times. Wanna take me up on it?

    You like the IDEA of bikes; it's the bikeriding that you don't like. Dilletant.

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  28. Anon 11:04 - You are on. If only you weren't anonymous we could even bet on it.

    And of course you are so right. I obviously hate every minute of "bikeriding". Can't stand it.

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  29. I recently painted the insets on my new blue Origin8 crankset, except then I took it a step further and filled the niche with red and violet glitter.

    And I always use nailpolish to touch up my Schwinn Collegiate, which is why I'm really excited about my "new" chrome Lygie frame!

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  30. The Conversion of Marianne: Sounds like "The Ten Commandments" if it were made by a French director. So, when Marianne's converted, does she become a Huguenot?

    Seriously, I really like the way she looks now. As for Anonymous: He/She likes the idea of tweaking people rather than an actual challenge or debate.

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  31. Justine - You are the only one who picked up on the Huguenot aspect!

    This anonymous is an odd bird; he(or she?) makes the same kind of comment every month or two. I am starting to feel special that whoever it is keeps reading Lovely Bicycle and offering such deep analysis!

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  32. So how often do you have to ride a bike to justify having it? Thats going to be a riveting discussion...

    Spindizzy

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  33. Anon 11:04 sounds to me much like Mencken's Puritans:
    suffering from "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be enjoying themselves."

    May Marianne be the belle of the midnight ice cream runs for a generation.

    Corey K

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  34. Thanks Corey : ) - though I did see at least 5 other fixed gear conversions during the midnight ice cream run. This is Somerville after all and Marianne has many competitors!

    Spindizzy - I don't think that would make a worthwhile discussion. This is a free country and if a person chooses to use a bicycle as a lawn decoration, that is none of my business. That is the point of view I am coming from at least.

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  35. Regarding the method used for the conversion, did you end up rebuilding the existing wheel with a new hub, or simply buying a new wheel?

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  36. david - We bought the rear wheel. It is a Weinmann RM19 27" wheel with flip-flop hub.

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  37. Corey: Don't you just love Mencken?

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