Son Of Singlespeed

It’s getting colder, which means I’m spending less time on the road and more time on the dirt:

Unlike those silly people who live downtown, I’m fortunate to have easy access to a variety of trails. By now I figured I knew every inch of dirt from the Bronx to the Tappan Zee Mario Cuomo Bridge, but as is so often the case I was wrong. Recently I was on a road ride when someone on a mountain bike emerged from the woods, revealing to me the existence of a trail I’ve been unwittingly riding right past for years now. So yesterday I went to check it out, and I feel like a complete idiot because it was lots of fun and like 20 times better than the other trail I was riding right across the street:

As for the Riv-ified Jones, I’m really enjoying it. Getting up this sort of thing with a super-swept bar is a bit of a problem:

But other than that it makes the bike both comfy and playful, and anyway, as I eventually figured out, you’re supposed to ride down the trail and not up it.

Then when I was almost home I noticed a brown substance on my glove:

I had no idea what it was (though I had my suspicions), nor did I know when it got there or how many times I’d touched my face since. This was highly disconcerting, and I immediately scanned my surroundings for an animal to blame. This one was like, “Hey, don’t look at me:”

Meanwhile, further to my most recent Outside column

…in it I suggested that the very best way to clear out your parts bin is to build a parts bike. In fact, not too long ago I did just that:

Sadly, it hardly made a dent, so today I embarked upon another one.

My older son’s been enjoying the velodrome, but now that it’s the off-season I figured it would be good to get him doing a little bit of so-called “mountain biking.” He’s long outgrown his first mountain bike (not to mention his vintage one), and we’ve been sort of sharing the Jones, though I’ve old-man-ified it so much it doesn’t really seem appropriate for him anymore. So I figured I’d build him his own singlespeed–but first I took my own for a quick spin for inspiration:

Back in 2010, just for the hell of it, I bought one of those super-cheap singlespeed 29ers from Bikesdirect. Here it is after I fell off of it on Long Island:

Though ostensibly a “Dawes,” the bike had no decals or branding whatsoever, which was kind of cool–though I did briefly turn it into a Folgers “collabo” bike, which was even cooler:

While the bike seemed like a bargain, it really wasn’t, because I ended up changing pretty much every single part on it in short order. Then I got my Engin, and eventually cannibalized the Folgers bike for other projects and stuck the bare frame in the basement, thinking it might come in handy for my son one day. And here we are.

For the wheels, I had the budget pair I built myself–originally for the Folgers bike, as it happens, though I’ve used them plenty since:

Despite the fact I built them they’ve held up very well. The front hub is a Deore:

And the rear is a Nashbar-branded cassette singlespeed hub you used to be able to get for next to nothing, though other brands also sold the exact same one for considerably more:

It weighs about 500lbs, but it’s extremely easy to service and and to change cogs–though to get a 17mm wrench that was actually portable I had to order one from AutoZone or something like that, I don’t remember exactly:

The difference between bicycle wrenches and automotive wrenches is that bicycle wrenches are expensive and feature integrated bottle openers, whereas automotive wrenches are cheap and incorporate features that are actually useful, like ratchets.

As for stopping this bike, both the frame and the wheels are fully disc- and rim-brake compatible. Furthermore, I had rim brakes, mechanical disc brakes, and hydraulic disc brakes on hand. Ordinarily I’d have opted for something cable-actuated, since I don’t like dealing with hydraulics:

Alas, I didn’t have enough cable housing for rim brakes or mechanical discs (the frame has guides, not stops, and requires a full run), and as always my goal is to spend $0, so hydraulic it was:

One thing that annoys me about disc brakes (dry or wet) is that the difference in thickness between a new pad and one that needs replacement is like half a millimeter. These seem fine for now, but in a quarter of a millimeter they’ll need to be replaced:

Another reason I was loath to use discs was that I’d never used them on this budget frame before, and I didn’t trust the tolerances of the cheesy-looking rear disc tab, especially in conjunction with a horizontal dropout. (On your nicer singlespeeds the disc tab is slotted, or else slides with the dropout.) It’s easy to account for rear axle position and all that stuff when installing rim brakes, but with disc brakes fudging it can be a lot trickier, and even if you prefer discs I’d put forth that when putting together a parts bike there’s a strong argument to be made for saying, “Fuck it, I’m using rim brakes.”

Nevertheless, I pressed on, and as I suspected it’s proving quite tricky to align the rear caliper, though I suspect I’ll be able to sort it out in the coming days. Also, the other day, I tweeted this:

These brakes have been sitting buried in a bin since I pulled them off the Marin back in like 2017 or something, and the rear in particular did in fact go all soft, probably because whatever air was in the system made its way down to the caliper. Vigorous lever-pumping does seem to have restored firmness, but perhaps a blood-letting bleeding is in order…or maybe not, since I gather haphazard long-term storage like this will probably result in softness no matter what. (I’ll defer to the Brake Freds on that one.) Either way, I suppose at some point I’ll have to get used to dealing with hydraulic disc brakes–if not for my own bikes then for my kids’ bikes, we’ve already got two others with the things including the Woom–though I reserve the right to complain about them.

Still, the beauty of the singlespeed mountain bike is its simplicity, and while I still have to dial in that rear brake and do some other stuff I had it mostly together in relatively short order:

Oh, wait, wrong bike:

Gearing is 32×21:

Brake lines are too long, but better that then too short:

And if it rides like I remember it then it should go down the trail pretty nicely despite its relative heft:

Maybe eventually I’ll upgrade it to v-brakes.

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