Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thoughts on Fixed Gear Cranksets?

Fork Ends
I am guessing you would welcome a break from Interbike at this point, so I am going to take advantage of that by asking for advice. Just in time for the cold season, I finally have a dedicated fixed gear frame to replace my Moser conversion. I will tell you about the new frame later, as it's part of a larger story. But suffice to say I have it and it's nice. My plan was to simply move all the parts from the Moser onto this frame. The parts are rather plain and cheap-ish, but they will do for now and maybe in a year I will upgrade to something fabulous and Phil Woodsy. But the one thing I forgot is that the crankset I have on the Moser (Sugino RD2) has the wrong length cranks for the new frame. The Moser had a low bottom bracket, so the cranks I have on it are 165mm, but the new frame has a high bottom bracket and I want to use 170mm. So I need a new one and therein lies my dilemma: I am clueless about single speed cranksets.

Royal H. Stainless Rainbow Bike
For example, one option would be to just buy another inexpensive Sugino RD2. However, I am told that this is ultimately an iffy idea for a fixed gear roadbike, because it's not made for a track chain. Also, if I do plan to upgrade the components, it doesn't make sense to buy cranksets twice - maybe I should get the nicer version already.

ANT Truss Bike, Sugino 75
And the "nicer version" is apparently the Sugino 75. It is a Keirin-approved track crankset and is extremely expensive. Why I need it, I couldn't tell you - since my fixed gear frame is not a track frame and I won't be racing on it. Even in terms of aesthetics I don't find it all that spectacular. A friend might have one to sell secondhand, in which case it may be worth it - but otherwise I don't get the appeal of the Sugino 75 for non-racers.

White Ind crank
image via antbike
There are also the American made cranksets, such as this one by White Industries. Expensive, but less so than the Sugino 75. And while beautiful in its own right, I can't decide whether it will look right on my frame - the design seems a bit busy.

Cranked
image via Winter Bicycle
The Paul's "circles" crankset is simpler, but part of me thinks it should go on a bike with Paul's  drop-outs, which mine does not have. Is that silly?

It is also worth noting that the "nice" cranksets call for equally "nice" bottom brackets, so the real price differential between these options and the Sugino RD2 set-up is even greater than it seems initially.

Of course my ideal scenario would be not to go with any of these, but to find a beautiful vintage Campagnolo Pista crankset - for a miraculously low price, of course, and with just the right length cranks. No such luck though, after months of looking.

So, dear readers: Any thoughts? What is your preferred crankset for a fixed gear roadbike and why? My frame is lugged and fairly lightweight and I'd like the crankset to look classic. The bike is not for the track, so all the debates about tiny differences in stiffness are not really relevant. Beyond that, I have no idea. Help?

56 comments:

  1. I have the Sugino 75 on my SS cyclocross bike as well as the Sugino 75 Grand Mighty gold finish crankset on my Panasonic Keirin. Both are terrific but if you aren't using them for racing they do seem an expensive option. The companies that do sell a lot of Keirin equipment do have quite a lot of secondhand sets though so maybe not as expensive as they appear.

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  2. I dont know a lot about fixies, but I do enjoy reading the London Fixed Gear Forums for the memes and bikeporn. I'm sure some of the folks there would have wonderful advise for you.

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  3. Ride the 165's, It's not a big deal.

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  4. You could run another Sugino RD2 just use a 3/32" sprocket on the back and a 3/32" chain. 1/8" is track and trad' but many people use 3/32" quite happily.
    The FSA Gimondi is an atractive looking chainset that wont break the bank.

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  5. yeah. stop obverthinking that stuff. you wont experience any difference between a 170 and your 165er. and " I am told that this is ultimately an iffy idea for a fixed gear roadbike, because it's not made for a track chain" what does that even mean? you mean it's not a 1/8"? than you are lucky because 1/8" chains are rubbish.

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  6. I have a basically the same project in process. I went with a new Campy crankset. After much looking I decided you just can't beat a classic for looks and performance. Not the least expensive route to go, but a good one. A friend once told me "sooner or later everything will be for sale". I have recently sold bike stuff that I have had for years and thought I would never sale. You can't go wrong by buying quality in the form of a Campagnolo crankset for lasting value.

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  7. I use IRD defiant. It is gorgeous and high quality. The only drawback is that it only comes with 46t chainring. Of course you can change to whatever chainrings fit 144bcd but that will not be as classy looking as the original. The cheapest price online is $117 plus shipping. You won't regret if 46T is fine with you.

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  8. I would go with nice second hand, but not Campag. That market's too busy. I'd try old Sugino or even old TA or Stronglight but they're a bit pricier. I have a Sugino Mighty track crankset on my Aerospace Victor. 144BCD which is a classic diameter for track cranks. Sturdy, beautiful and affordable. Some pics - http://tinyurl.com/3wwmaea (with Super Record ring) or http://tinyurl.com/3b5c4f9 (with its original drilled ring). They pop up regularly on fleabay and other vintage sites like Hilary Stone. b

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  9. My thoughts from experience:

    Run 1/8" chain instead of 3/32"' being beefier less likely to snap. Sugino cranksets are very nice I had one but they are just bling. I have used an All City for years and its great. The company is from MN and head designer is Schwinn's daughter all their stuff is urban fixed gear focused made overseas but good quality. As for length you may want 165mm since you will be pedaling thru turns and dont want pedal strike especially if you go with toe clips over SPD and shoes. I am 6'1" and use 170mm. Hope this helps!

    Danno

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  10. I've become a big fan of IRD components (I have their cantis and front derailleur on my LHT). They make a lovely track crankset: http://www.interlocracing.com/cranks.html

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  11. Mike put a VO on my Truss bike, looks nice, and they sell track chainrings that look like TA's. I like the new Phil set, yet to come out.

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  12. Not sure why you don't want to use the 165s. With the higher BB on the new bike, your pedals (and presumably your saddle) will be higher from the ground than they were on the old one, but installing 170s will only move them back down by half a centimeter. That seems trivial to me in the context of the $$ you might be dropping on the new crankset. So, what's the reason? Inquiring minds want to know. BTW, loved your reports on Interbike. The photos of the bikes had me wishing I'd chosen a more financially rewarding profession. Either that or decided not to have children. (Just kidding!)

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  13. +1 on what bikewrider said. Crank length is about knees at least as much as bottom bracket height, and 5mm is not a big difference anyway. (I have 165s on my Cross Check which I believe has a relatively high(ish) BB? For me, it's ALL about the knees.)

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  14. I am not sure if it is silly to use Paul's crankset without Paul's drop-outs.
    If it is i am one of the silly riders as you can decide here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericx-galerie/sets/72157626327851881/

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  15. I agree with Neil and bikewrider, with one addition.

    Get the Phil Wood BB. On a non-statistical sample of a single track BB, they wear out. The Phil Wood BB is not that expensive. Phil BBs are nice, in that you can tinker with the last mm of chain line adjustment, if it suits you.

    However, tempering that advice (but supporting Neil and bikewrider) I ride 2500 miles per year commuting on my main bicycle, never weigh less than 215lbs, and sometimes it suits my mood to bear down on the pedals. You probably don't have the weight to wear out the BB or a 3/32 chain at any particularly fast pace.

    And also, I have 165mm cranks, and those might be perfectly appropriate for you. I ended up with mine (Sugino RD2, also) half-by-accident, but they are supposed to be marginally better for your knees.

    Are you planning to put a chaincase or chainguard on that bike? (V-O Porteur chaincase is nice, but a tight fit on a Sugino RD2, unless you carve away some of the inside. Dremel is my friend.)

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  16. IRD makes a very attractive track crank.

    http://store.interlocracing.com/irdde144trcr.html

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  17. Maybe "Sugino Messenger" crankarms + 1/8" chainring? Looks like it is around $150.

    Alternatively, you _can_ use a track chain on a 3/32 existing chainring. Or you can just try to replace your 3/32" sugino RD chainring with a 1/8" version.

    The reason the 75's are so expensive is that they have a reputation for very tight tolerances on concentricity and dimensions. This allows folks to swap chainrings and not worry about tight spots during a crank revolution (this assumes that the cogs/chainrings also have tight tolerances).

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  18. A TA Pro Vis crankset with a single chainring is always a good thing, the Velo Orange Grand Cru 50.4 cranks are a more affordable option. Miche make track cranks (Primato Pista) that are well received.

    I use old Stronglight model 93 cranks with the ring mounted on the outer position, ground and polished away the the tangs for the inner ring: looks beautiful if I may say! That the chainline is spot on was pure luck!

    I use a 3/32" chain. I'm slightly north of 200lbs and never had a problem with the chain itself; I was once "unhorsed" most suddenly when the half-link I was using gave way when I was out of the saddle in the midst of a "stop light grand prix". Pride goeth before the fall, indeed! I seem to recall that Sheldon Brown favoured the 3/32" chain himself for several reasons

    While the sensible option would be to use the crankset you already have, the smaller arms could arguably be a good thing, a new frame surely calls for new components!

    By the by, thanks for the Interbike reports!

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  19. Those Phil cranks are beautiful, but really, you can use any old cranks you have lying around that you think look nice on the bike. Just take off one of the chainrings (you'll need narrower "BMX" bolts). Or run a bash-guard sorta' outer ring and use the inner ring.

    And as bikewrider mentioned, just use the 165 you have. That way you're extra ok in corners :-)

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  20. The crankset itself has nothing to do with fitting the chain. The thickness of the chainring does, but chainrings can be swapped out independent of cranks.

    Since you're not building a track bike, don't feel obligated to use a crankset with a 144 bcd. You can use any old road crankset with a 130 bcd and put on a singlespeed chainring (an old Shimano 600 crankset with a new chainring has always been one of my favorites).

    Finally, thoughs on chain thickness: You can get chainrings and cogs in either 1/8" or 3/32". Thicker 1/8" chains are a little beefier and may hav a bit longer wear life, but it's not a dramatic difference. The narrower 3/32" chain may wear out a bit quicker but has the advantage of having beveled links (because it's also used on derailluer bikes) which means it's more tolerant of minor imperfections in chainline. You can mix and match, too, with a 1/8" cog and 3/32" chainring, for example, as long as you use the wider chain, and it will work just fine, but as it wears out it will tend to be a bit noisy.

    So... my advice, pick whatever crank you want and just slap on a Velo Orange or Salsa singlespeed chainring.

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  21. IRD Defiant is a Campy-copy. Harris can get em'

    http://ep.yimg.com/ca/I/yhst-3773699254952_2171_12680619

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  22. Thanks for pointing out the IRD Defiant, I forgot about that one.

    The Miche Primato crankset is really nice, but seems impossible to find. Who sells it?

    Re crank length: I generally prefer 170mm on a roadbike, and the only reason I had 165mm on the Moser was the BB height. I was looking forward to no longer having that limitation. Also, I think that many people can feel the difference between 165mm and 170mm cranks.

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  23. Can you elaborate on why you like 170 on a road bike? Can you feel a difference? Even with my long legs (I ride 25" frames) I can't tell the difference between 165 and 170 cranks, and I've been told that unless you have monstrously long legs, a shorter crank length is going to be better for your knees. I would think that when riding a fixed gear and not having gears to maintain an even cadence, knee strain is more of a concern than with a geared bike. But that's just speculation on my part.

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  24. I think we've all ben told (or read) that, and in the beginning I just assumed it to be true. However, I now have bikes that I've tried with both crank sizes, and I find that I have an easier time with 170mm cranks. The Rivendell, for instance, was one bike where I felt the difference after switching to 170mm. The loaner Seven I rode had 175mm cranks and my knees hurt the least on it of all the bikes I'd ride and I had no problems with keeping a smooth pedal stroke.

    Having said that, this is not something I want to debate. I don't want to challenge anyone's preferences or theories, but simply want 170mm cranks on this bike.

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  25. If the frameset is brand new, I would get a new crankset. Many have suggested the IRD crankset which is a close copy of the Campy and looks quite good in person. I got mine shipped from the UK from Velo Solo (the "Andel" ones) sans chainring for about $100 shipped to the US - I haven't calculated the costs with current exchange rates:

    http://www.velosolo.co.uk/shopcrank.html

    In reality any crank should work just fine with the correct bottom bracket so just go with what appeals to you aesthetically and fits in your budget. You are not dealing with any derailleur or freewheel/freehub compatibality issues here.

    Lastly, as this is not presumably a dedicated track machine I would go with a 3/32 chain and chainring. They are lighter, easier to source, and there is no way you will ever break one.

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  26. Unless you're going to race the track crank is absolutely unnecessary.
    I rode fixed for yeas on a regular road crank with 3/32 chain and a single chainwheel - no problems at all.

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  27. Hi there- I followed a link back and found a photo of one of my bikes/ cranks.

    All of the options you listed a solid performers. 3/32" and 1/8" chains are quite prevalent, as are chain rings, cogs, etc. The Paul rings are only available in 1/8", and it takes a Campy tapered BB. That limits your options, but still gives you some great choices. The bike linked to above doesn't have Paul frame ends- while I'm biased I think it came together quite well.

    For a get-around-town scoot they will all preform admirably- I think a lot of it comes down to style, and how easily/ often you are planning on changing your gearing. The White and Paul units run proprietary (very nice, but not as widely available) chain rings- great options if you are pretty settled in you gearing. The 75 is overkill, pro track level, but makes a great piece of kit if you can live with 144bcd for your city needs. The RD crank is my least favorite from a style and finish quality perspective, but it works well and is reasonably priced. The FSA Gimondi splits the difference and also works well.

    The White BB is another fine option if you are using a JIS tapered crank, too.

    Best of luck-
    Eric (Winter Bicycles)

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  28. Anon 8:08 - That is one nice bike, and crankset. Will have to look up Vogel frames now.

    Eric from Winter Bicycles, thanks for stopping by : ) Okay, so maybe I don't need Paul's dropouts to use the crankset; it looks just right on both yours and the Vogel frame.

    The bike is not for around town but for roadcycling, 20-40 mile rides.

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  29. Excellent- for longer rides you still won't notice a difference "functionally". The RD is probably the "least stiff", but that isn't a real world issue for what you are going to ask of the bike. The good news is all of your options are fine ones.

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  30. Given you have a large readership who are more about "sensible" (see Alcyon's final para) than about bling (see many others above), there remains a hunt for a balanced cross between practical/affordable and pure/wanton sex appeal.

    We all like a little (or a lot) of both.

    Not a debate, but a question. Given your large readership of smaller-than-most-men people (aka: women), I might think many of them would feel very happy at 165mm. I'm among those often hunting for shorter crank arms (in my case for the women among my family and friends). On a road riding bike, I understand your desire to stretch out into a 170 crank. Do you still appreciate the shorter arms on a tradition upright / deep loop frame bike? Do you think your comfort zone in crank arm length has changed over time? If you might reflect on that (perhaps in another place, even?), it might be useful to others besides me.

    In the meantime, while practical to keep this 165 crank for another bike, the reason to change is pretty clear.

    Back to the "sensible" discussion.

    Who suggested that you might snap a chain? Really? In our mutual living memory? How many chains have you (known of) snapped? Go with the most common, easiest to swap around with your other bikes. Why be precious with anything short of a show bike?

    I'll second a vote for a selective consideration of vintage cranks. I'm quite partial to the Stronglight 93 arms. They pass thru auctions daily, often at very reasonable price. They are 122bcd and rings begin at 38t. They polish up easily and very nicely. The odd size chainrings aren't daily, but the 40 and, say, 44-46 tend to go cheap.

    Unknown to most, but if you deal with them in French, Stronglight still makes the 38t in the 122bcd. VERY sexy. Economical. Even available with (cheap) bash guard, except it looks a bit too heavy off a cyclo-cross setup.

    Anyway, a conversation on a nice build to come. Your choices await. While we await the photos of this new frame.

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  31. One can always justify buying something if it's an integral part of an obsession.

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  32. could I put in a vote for a Stronglight 49d? Old school and I think they're fantastic looking. Not cheap, but not nearly the price of the older campag, and have the advantage of polishing up without worrying about anodising. Hilary only has a NOS pair of arms on his site at the moment, so they're expensive and then you've got to fight for the rings, but he obviously gets them fairly regularly as he's a bunch of pictures of them in various states and sizes that have been sold.

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  33. It's your money and your crank length preference.
    It's not like gossamer-thin 11sp chains are fragile. That's like saying one needs a set of double toe straps cinched tight on a Sunday road ride.
    Seriously, you aren't cranking out a 2000 watt sprint.

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  34. bepoq - That's the thing with those, and others in their category. You'e got to buy everything separately and it takes months and costs $$$. If someone were to offer me a complete crankset, I might go for it, but I am just not ready to go on a scavenger hunt.

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  35. Don't rush, take your time and find the crank you really want. It could
    be a vintage Campy BMX or wait for the new steel Riv crank. Whatever
    it is, you will know when you see it.
    1/8" is not critical for strength. It is important for durability and if you
    choose quality it can be smooooth. A bushing chain (Izumi V or KMC
    D101) matched with any level of EAI cog can make a drive train that is
    as silent as a belt drive.
    Any crank can have any chainring you want. there are several custom
    chainring manufacturers. CycleUnderground made me a 1/8" ring for
    my long obsolete steel, Campy, 3 bolt road crank. ~$70.

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  36. I think that IRD crankset looks nice.

    Does anyone know if it's 1/8" or 3/32?

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  37. Check out Eighth Inch http://www.eighthinch.com/cranks.html

    I have some of these cranks on a few of my bikes. They are not high end but are very nice I think.

    Also, this issue of Bicycle Times has an article - French Bred - about a build-up that used VO's Polyvalent crank sans the inner chainring.

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  38. I was in a similar situation and I just stuck an Origin 8 on it. Voila.

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  39. Wow, does everyone really not feel the difference between 165mm and 170mm cranks? I'm short, so I prefer 165mm cranks, and if I try something longer I INSTANTLY feel the difference. It's not necessarily bad, but it feels totally different.

    I've always thought this Soma Hellyer crankset was really pretty, and from what I've read about it seems solid: http://www.somafab.com/archives/product/hellyer-track-crankset. Only $165, too.

    Are you opposed to just getting new crank arms for your RD2 chainring? I have only one bike and it's a fixed gear with a super budget crankset (Pake cranks, which do the job), so everything sounds like an upgrade to me lol. I'd love to get the Sugino 75, and have been thinking about those Soma Hellyers for a while now, but who knows, maybe I wouldn't even feel a difference.

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  40. Go to your LBS, the one where they let you root around under the counters and the back rooms.
    You'll find a nice old crank, ask him where to find the nifty old crankset and a chain ring.
    Once you have the cool old chain ring, then buy a cog. Fixed gears are great for helping your LBS get rid of old inventory. Scott G>

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  41. Have you looked on campyoldy.co.uk?

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  42. Check out www.businesscycles.com (in Miami) for stunning photos of track equipment. They have the Miche cranks in their photo catalogue, but no price is listed; out of stock? I do see them once in awhile in the local shops, so I assume somebody's bringing them in.

    Four hundred and ten dollars for Campagnolo Pista cranks...I'm glad I was already sitting down when I came across that!

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  43. The thicker 1/8 is less likely to flex and pop off of a chainring mid-ride but you don't need to run a 1/8 ring to take advantage of that. Find a crank that appeals to you and just run one ring. There's no compelling reason to run a track/ss crank unless the one you like most just happens to be one.

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  44. It's totally fine to run a 1/8" chain on a 3/32" crank. Nothing bad will happen and almost no one will notice.

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  45. I have been using Sugino RD2 cranks from Velo Orange although now they sell their own. I have a pretty nice nuovo record crank and some old Avocets I really like, but they are 144 bcd. The advantage to a smaller BSD is the inside spider on 144s can strike the chainstays, 130 work well for me. I like 170s because I delusively think they give a little extra leverage in the wind and up the Wyoming hills where I live. What matters to me is getting a nice chainline very close to 42 mm. A 103 BB and the RD2 usually work very well. Less friction and chain stress and unlikely to pop the chain. Just encountered this blog a few weeks ago and must say what a treat to read a well written blog and comments that are polite and well reasoned, too.

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  46. I have built several fixed gears with AL7-CNC 1/8" 144 BCD cranks I got from benscycle.com. I like 144 because the larger BCD is less likely to have chainring bolts come loose: probably some science there, but this perennial fixie problem has never occurred on bikes with these cranks. Nice looking, and I believe they were very reasonably priced.

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  47. "Nothing bad will happen and almost no one will notice."

    Sage words. That's why you get to be El Presidente.

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  48. Steel cranks. Six and three quarters inches. Lots and lots to choose from. Pick one w/ good chrome and a ring that fits the style of the mystery bike.

    In aluminum the Stronglight 49D. Maybe expensive if you need NIB. I still see old Motobecanes for sale all the time w/ Stronglight for under 100. The bike not the cranks. Often seems a shame to break them up but they are there.

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  49. Wow. I have never seen a $100 Motobecane with Stronglight cranks on it. Take me to them!

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  50. Well, I've been through two Moto Grand Tourings w/ Stronglight under $100 in the past year, those have found homes. Presently I've a 23" Grand Jubilee available, it's a little more. Not that much more. They are so available around here it does not seem worth it to ship. Anyone really interested in a '73 G.Jub all original except rubber(including snapped band front changer), fair paint, all graphics there, crazed and lightly peppered chrome (really little rust on this thing but no show bike), near-new 80 saddle, sharp points on the 52 but trivial wear on 38, second set wheels very clean Shimano/Union db/Super Champ Gentleman/English thread FW send an email to wilsontaxiatyahoodotcom.

    If the second wheels were 700 and not 27", as US Motos were sold, the rims alone would be worth more than I want for the whole thing. I can only guess Motos weren't much sold in Boston. Not Gitanes or Peugeots either? My bike is presently stored in Madison, can deliver free near Chicago. Shipping to Boston would seem silly but I will.

    When you look at NOS/NIB prices from established vendors that's another world. Among friends or at swap meets a pair of 49 arms should be $20. With new or very good ring and hardware a little more. If the arms are scarred past polishing they should be $5 or free. This stuff is not scarce. And realistically used arms are liable to breakage so they should be cheap. You're taking a chance so why should you pay?

    Check Harris and menotomy and any other recycling points for old out of fashion steel cranks. BSA, Magistroni, Duprat, Williams. They are often free. All those cranks were raced and are race-worthy. The extra weight is trivial. Bracket bearings cheap or free, always available.

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  51. Go with whatever satisfies your aesthetic sensibilities and hang the cost. There are so few components on a fixed gear that unless you really have a limited amount of money or you plan on using it in a way that results in the bike being banged around a lot and/or put at a high risk for theft you might as well equip it with the good stuff.

    I used a new Campagnolo Record Track crankset, ring and bottom bracket when, two years ago, I finally built up the track frame I bought back in '96. I liked the way it looked and so far I've had no problems whatsoever with it.

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  52. You might like the Sugino Mighty Comp. It has classic looks, is a true single/track crankset and is available in a number of lengths, in silver or black. Best of all, it has the 130 Bolt Circle Diameter (BCD). This means that you can use road chainrings on it, and that a variety of chainring sizes are available from a number of manufacturers.

    It's the crank I have on Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear bike. You can read more about the crank here: http://www.alexscycle.com/cranks/fixed-non-njs-1-2-3-4-5-6/sugino-mighty-comp.html

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  53. My crankset of choice for my current single-speed build is the Condor cycles 'Legacy' chainset; a worthy classic Campagnolo Pista copy.

    http://www.condorcycles.com/Components/9734-Condor-Legacy-Chainset/flypage.tpl.html

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  54. aye, I know what you mean. it took me a bit to get my last one together. Hilary seems to have full ones sometimes though, so perhaps keep a weather eye on his site and get something inexpensive in the meantime? Oh, I also bought a set of arms from him once and asked him if he had a ring, bolts and spacers that he'd sell me too, and he did - that time I got it all at once for a very reasonable price. Might be worth asking him (but only if you really fancy the 49d I suppose).

    ever block out the colt? not planning to put that on the fixed are you?

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  55. My best crankset to look classic is Grand Cru 50.4bcd Crankset.
    It's very simple style and can be used as a single speed.
    The BB width would be around 122, it depends on your frame.

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  56. Update: I got a good deal on a current production Campagnolo track crankset, so that is what the bike is now fitted with. The only downside is that it's got a 49t chainring, so I am now waiting for a 44t replacement, which had to be special ordered. Works nicely though and looks all right : )

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