Fixed Gear Rear Wheels
with some special insight on converting a rear hub for a fixed-gear wheel

There are three types of rear wheel configurations that might work for your fixed gear project. The critical factor in any fixed gear drivetrain is always chain-line. You want the chain running as close to a straight line as possible - thrown chains on a fixed gear bicycle can be dangerous, and a misaligned chain-line makes for a noisy drivetrain too.
You can always build a new rear wheel with a single-gear specific rear hub such as a Surly 1x1 or a track hub, but I think it's more in the true spirit of the fixed gear to make use of something you have or something that somebody gives you. So, here are at least a couple of low-cost options for you.

Let's take a closer look at all three types, ok?

1. What I call "Just Good Enough."

This is obviously the easiest and cheapest way to get out and riding on a fixed gear.

On an older bike with a 120mm wide rear hub it might be possible to just take off the freewheel from an older hub, spin on a track cog, and secure with a bottom bracket lock-ring. With your chainring on the inside of the crank spider, your chainline might be good enough, just as it is on my FUJI. This is a 700c wheelset that I bought new for a whopping $60 in 1989 and it still gets used a lot. Riding this bike always reminds me that, no matter what happens, I can always still have fun on a simple bike just like this.

Not very aesthetically pleasing, but it works just dandy for me. Make sure that you take a good look at the chainline if you do this. This bike is running a BMX chain and a 43x18 gear set.

2. Of course, you can always build yourself ... A New Wheel.

The second choice is to lace yourself up a spankin' new rear wheel using a single speed specific rear hub like this rear wheel on my singlespeed mtb - da' Swamp Donkey.

It's got a 32H Surly 1x1 hub laced 3 cross to a Syncros Lil' Snapper rim. Of course I totally blew it cost-wise since I used black DT Revolutions spokes. The matching front is laced radially to a black LX hub that I bought on sale for $7.95, so that made up for some of my extravagance.

Of course, a track cog could be screwed on the other side, or two track cogs might be used on a fixed gear road bike so you could have 2 different ratios like they did in the old days, when they would swap going up and down big hills.

Bomb proof, a no brainer, but it costs some money to build.

Now that brings us to the real feature of this page, so read on.

3. Hey, Let's Re-Space and Re-Dish Instead.

I'll just bet that you've got a nice older freewheel style wheelset hanging out in the garage. Probably a nice set with Dura-Ace hubs and maybe some Mavic Open4CD rims? A nice straight set with plenty of miles left in 'em....just no bike to put 'em on, right? Wrong. Let's update 'em instead. The advantage of this, besides the low cost, is that we'll end up with a "balanced" wheel, with an equal dish on both sides. It's both stronger and it looks great.

First we'll re-space the hub si its centered between the dropouts. This is really simple and it'll give you a good reason to completely clean and re-grease your rear hub too.

Let's take a look at how your rear hub is built up. Remember that the axle is threaded for it's full length. All the other parts are just threaded on and locked into position by jamming the bearing cones tight to a lock-nut.

I'll admit that I was really lucky with the rear wheel I converted this way. Take a look at this schematic view. On my conversion there were two equal-sized spacers on the drive side. I was able to simply move one to the non-drive side, pretty darn easy. I didn't even have to buy one single new part. You probably won't be so lucky. You'll either have to spring for a big $0.50 for two new spacers...or steal some spacers from some old, dead rear hub - either way, still pretty cheap.

Got the idea? Good. Pull your hub apart and clean it nice and purty, then re-assemble it loosely. I simply used a small (metric even) ruler to measure the distances from the hub flange (where the spokes attach) to the end of the axle and by "trial and error" I got the right combination of spacers so that it was in the center. Tighten up every thing and toss the wheel into your trueing stand.

Now let's re-dish your wheel. So, are you feelin' lucky? Good, because if the stars are shinin' your way today you won't have to buy any new spokes because the non-drive side spokes won't be too long or the drive-side ones won't be too short.

Here's how my rear wheel ended up.

And here's it's story. Murphy's wife kept banging her head into some of his old wheels that were hanging in their garage. She kept telling him that if he didn't do something with those wheels - she would. Murphy asked me "Hey, Swede, do you want some old road wheels that I've got in my garage?" "Yep."

That's how I got 5 nice older rear wheels, all with good Ultegra or Dura-Ace hubs. This one was originally laced 3x to a 36HMavic GL330 tubular rim and I'll bet it didn't have 300 miles on it. The sidewalls of the rim were totally unmarked.

I was able to not only move all the spokes over to this red Mavic MA-2 clincher rim, but I was able to re-space and re-dish it to a FG wheel as well. Talk about luck eh? How about the fact that a mail order bike shop somehow sent me this nice rim by mistake, and said "O, just keep it" instead of sending it back!

I hope you're this lucky too!

So, now let's see how lucky you really are. Loosen all the spokes on the drive side 1/2 turn at a time until they're pretty loose. Now start tightening the non-drive side until the rim is centered.

Have your non-drive side spokes bottomed out yet? Yes. If that happens, you'll probably have to buy a new set for the non-drive side. Chances are that you'll be ok on the drive side....we hope.

If they haven't bottomed out, then tension and true the wheel just as you would for a front wheel. Nice an' easy, do a nice tight job.

Now, take a look down at the spoke ends sticking out front the nipples. Will they protrude far enough to flat your tube? Mine did. I had two choices. I could have "corked the holes" - an old trick used before rim tape - small plugs of cork were stuffed into the holes and trimmed flush. Or, as I actually did - I could grind down the protruding end of the spokes. I very gingerly used my Makita Side Grinder to grind down the ends - I could have used my Dremel Tool but I opted for the "Tool Time Technique" and used my Side Grinder. Tim Allen would have been proud of me, don't you think?

So there you are.

Since Murphy hadn't given me any front wheels, all I needed now was a front wheel to complete the set.

For this Nobilette, I used a nice older 32H Shimano XTR front hub and laced it to a used Mavic Open Pro rim that I had taken off a front wheel some time ago, and which was just waiting to be put to some good use.

Voila! A really nice fixed gear wheelset for next to nothing.

I'll just bet you can build up a nice set like this for yourself this way too!

Happy Riding, Dennis

Copyright 2003 Dennis Bean-Larson