10 May 2010

Capricious Markets

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It takes a hell of a lot of work to bring a second hand bike to market.

This isn’t some self-justifying or pitiful diatribe. This is just a fact. Anybody who has bought a second-hand bike online and received it only to find a host of mechanical issues lurking just below the surface will have sympathy with this position.

We get a few poor sods come up to us on the stall and say, ‘how much is it going to cost me to turn this into a fixie?’, having been appalled enough by the (honest enough) price quoted them in Brick Lane Bikes to seek a second opinion from people they perceive as being able to do it cheaper.

The honest truth in this instance is that you’re better off buying something as near as dammit complete than subscribing to the romantic notion of building your own bike which (in the first instance at least) is fun, frustrating and expensive in equal measure.

With it only being our second month doing this we’re still acquiring the know-how, and more importantly the tools ourselves. Though between us Johnny and I have years of experience riding, breaking, fixing, building and piking bikes there are elements of turning a hobby into a business which continue to take us by surprise.

The capricious nature of market trading is one of these things, how you can turn up one week very well equipped and stocked and sell very little, and yet on other weeks sell what strange stock we’ve got at our target prices. This provokes an unlikely amount of soul searching and blame. In the long run i think you’ve got to stick it out.

The other thing is, that when we buy bikes, people still try to flog us things that don’t work properly.

They say you can’t polish a turd; but you can roll it in glitter.

23 Apr 2010

Fixed or Single speed?

Heavens blog 2 Comments

While riding a fixed gear has a long history – witness those early Tour riders in the mountains – its co-option for around town use is a relatively recent phenomenon. Popularised by the courier community in urban areas worldwide,. riding fixed gear had taken off spectacularly. You can also blame enthusiasts and entrepreneurs like Janosch at Brick Lane Bikes for help turning this into a trend, for seeing how fixed gear might become a fashion statement as well as the most stripped-back mode of transport. To see the endless parade flocking down Broadway Market you’d think there was something fundamentally better about fixed gear. But what are the real advantages and disadvantages of riding in this way?

Riding single speed is of course simpler – simpler to build, to service, in some ways simpler to ride. That’s not to say building your own single speed can’t work out expensively. To build up a bike from a bare frame for the first time as many people are doing these days can be a rewarding experience and teach you a lot about mechanics; but you’ll make a lot of mistakes, but then that’s the way to learn. Again, do bear in mind that to add all components to to a bare frame from ebay can be complicated and expensive.

Around town all you really need is one gear. You can pull a reasonably-sized fixed gear up even Raines Lane or Shooter’s Hill if you’ve got the legs, though this is not recommended, and not really the point. Single speed is about functionality. Fixed gear is the hardcore version of this, single-speed freewheel the tamer but much more sensible version.

Single Speed Freewheel

Your first bike was probably a single-speed freewheel, uncluttered and uncomplicated with no gears to worry about. The key component is the freewheel itself [see diagram], the device which sits on the hub at the rear wheel and which connects the chain to the crank. The freewheel structure contains ball bearings which allow the single cog to turn freely. The main benefit is that, if you are in motion and choose to stop pedalling, the freewheel (and rear wheel) will keep spinning and the bike will maintain momentum while you rest your legs on the pedals.

Fixed Gear

The main difference between riding freewheel and fixed is that you can never ‘relax’ your legs with fixed. The rear cog is simple and locked to the wheel hub via a lock ring, running direct and fixed to the crank. if you try to relax your legs while in motion the crank will try to keep turning fixedly, kicking your legs around and, if you are unprepared, will try to throw you from the bike. It’s an entirely new way of thinking about cycling and can be rewarding. You have to keep an eye on it until it’s second nature, especially after a few drinks.