Build a Single Speed Bike – Make: Video Podcast

Bikes Fun & Games

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Make your bike into a single speed hipster bike! This week Dave Neff joins me to take some old broken bikes and mash them up into a new radical ride. Everbody’s experience will be different, but we rebuilt the bottom bracket, put new wheels on, chopped and flipped the handlebars, took off one of the front chain rings and put on a single speed bmx-style gear in the back. We did this because we made a bike out of parts found in the trash, but if you’ve got a working ten speed, you can just strip the derailleur, chop and flip the handlebars and switch out the back gears for a single speed freewheel gear.

Single speed bikes are great for folks who live in a moderately flat city. There are less parts to get stolen and less parts to break.

Weekend Projects is sponsored by Microchip Technology. Check out their seminars and 16 bit contest.

Make sure to download the pdf and read the article for all the background and step by step instructions! – Link

Don’t miss a single video! You can get the Make: Video Podcast and PDFcast downloaded automatically by subscribing in itunes. – Link

30 thoughts on “Build a Single Speed Bike – Make: Video Podcast

  1. Dax420 says:

    Hey Makers,

    Before anyone gets on here and starts trashing on single speed bikes I wanted to make a few points:

    1. Less drive train loss without a dérailleur (96% vs. 93% efficiency)

    2. Less to think about when riding. Forget about switching gears, forget about “being in the wrong gear” because your always in the wrong gear!

    3. Reduced maintenance. You can pretty much just get on a ride.

    I will always have a soft spot for single speed bikes. Simplicity is bliss!

  2. Stublag says:

    Should have kept the original track drops!

    Those bars were pretty awesome :)

  3. Bre says:

    Hey Stublag,

    The track drops were awesome (cinelli) but had been in an accident and the bottom bit was bent, thus… perfect candidate for hacking!


  4. mastershake916 says:

    Not a full how-to but none-the-less it’s cool to to see a bike project.

  5. SpiderWrench says:

    A few words on the chain length. You can adjust the length all you want, but if you can’t tension it with the rear wheel you’ll have a bike where the chain falls off every time you hit a bump (too loose) or a chain that binds which will make it hard to pedal and most likely destroy the freewheel, the chainwheel, and the chain not necessarily in that order (too tight). A half-link might remedy this, but it still has problems.

    The donor frame will work best if it has horizontal drop-outs. Semi-horizontal will work, but vertical drop-outs will cause some big issues with chain length and tensioning. Most bikes made after 1980 +/- have vertical drop outs. You can still use them, but you will need either a chain tensioner (= loss of efficiency), an eccentric hub with a rear wheel rebuild (= big $$$) or hack up the hub and drop-outs to be able to tension the chain (= seems more up most peoples alley, but can destroy both the hub and drops as well as make the bike unsafe to ride if not done right).

    As for the 16t freewheel you mention, you never say what size your chainwheel is. Telling people that 16t is ideal for a mostly flat city is misleading and incomplete information. A 52t chainwheel with a 16t cog is a world away from a 36t chainwheel with the same cog.

    You should also mention that if you have a rear wheel with a cassette type freewheel that you can just disassemble the cassette and put in spacers (you can make the spacers with PVC pipe) to line up the cog size you want to keep on the cassette with the chainwheel. This does two things, 1) it keeps you from having to buy a $20-$30 freewheel hence saving money. 2) it gives you a stash of 5 or 6 different sized loose cogs for future projects.

    Sorry for the long comment.

  6. jovino says:

    If you want to make a single speed out of a regular geared bike without buying a new rear wheel or hub, all you *really* have to do is choose your gear and make it a straight line. If you want to get fancy you can remove all of the gears but one, and use spacers to set the position of the rear gear. I have one of each, and they are fantastic bikes.

    I agree about the simplicity and efficiency of the single speed as well.

    I also have to add that the bike chain inside the tube to lock the seat is a fantastic idea! I’m gonna bust that trick out this weekend.

  7. jovino says:

    A fantastic resource about building bikes, including a gear ratio and length calculator can be found at: the calculator can be used by entering your chainstay length, then finding the ratio you want and getting the correct gear combinations.

  8. jovino says:

    oh, and this is a really great online calculator for finding that perfect gear ratio so you can make a single speed with vertical drop-outs and no chain tensioner:

  9. TechNTools says:

    This is just cool.

  10. Bre says:

    A reader sent in the following info:

    “In the podcast they tell people not to grease steel crank spindles because you’ll crack the crankset. This is entirely untrue for two reasons.

    1. The torque required to do this would be enormous and break the bolt first.

    2. With no lubrication between the steel spindle and aluminum crank, galling will occur and prevent the crank from being removed:


  11. davepix says:

    Ref: Branford Bike “Crank Removal and Installation”

    Aluminum crank arms do not require lubrication for a secure fit. Aluminum by its nature is self-lubricating as it is covered with a thin layer of oxidation. Adequate torque is usually enough to keep the crank arms from creaking.

    Wipe all sides of the bottom bracket spindle and inside your crank arm mounting holes with a clean rag.
    QUoted from Branford Bike’s website information section… not my only resource but one you can read and reference.

    No, you likely won’t split your crank if you are using a torque wrench as we show though there are several other things you may do. Your lubricated crank may keep sliding up the taper, stretching the crank unilt the bolt bottoms out and strips. You may tighten it and then it will slide up the taper and be loose again after a few miles, and then you will tighten it again and it will once again stretch the crank…

    So, as I said, do not lube the taper though feel free to lube the bolt head and threads, that part is common sense, the taper is just specified by mechanics and thus we accept it.
    Lightly grease under the head and on the threads of both crank arm fixing bolts or nuts.

    Gently slide your right crank arm on to the right side of your bottom bracket spindle.

    Thread your crank bolt or nut by hand on to your bottom bracket spindle.

    Carefully tighten your crank bolt or nut to the manufacturer’s recommended torque.

    As for removal, there is a tool for that, don’t worry about Galling, you really don’t worry about cranks fusing to a spindle, Never heard of that happening. Lube your seatpost not your taper!

  12. nixdorf1 says:

    This is such a cool project! Hey, Bre where did you get those cool OBRE stickers made?

  13. michaelk42 says:

    Not the best detail pictures but:

    Here’s another way.

    The only thing a Shimano Positron II is good for anymore is being made into a singulator/tensioner. (I don’t think I’m going to notice that 3% efficiency loss) :)

    It’s not as simple and “pure” as a singlespeed, but it’s still simplified and well-suited to hillier places.

  14. JosefB says:

    Careful if you choose time trial break levers and the bull horn bar. My inner diameter was to small to insert the levers. I hear this is a common problem.

  15. Personal lubricant says:

    Your best bet is to get some tools and go to town on his bicycle. It is always more fun to do with more people. This weekend, get some friends for a bike hacking party.

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