Friday, December 16, 2011

Singlespeed Cyclocross: How to

There are a few great reasons to ride singlespeed cyclocross:
  • you like simplicity
  • you're tired of mud and gunk jamming up your drivetrain
  • you're cheap and don't want to break $300 STI shifters
  • you win too often and want to make it fair on the rest of the pack
  • you're a sucker for pain
Honestly, though, the first three make up the reasons why most people ride a singlespeed cyclocross bike. If any of the above reasons appeal to you, but you're not exactly sure how to build your bike to ride singlespeed cyclocross (here on out abbreviated SSCX) this is your DIY or how to guide. Below, I've saved eBay searches for you, by clicking the link it will take you to eBay and perform the search for the item you just read about.

First, you need a cyclocross bike or frame. You can basically convert any cyclocross bike into a SSCX bike. Even a bike with vertical dropouts (most bikes now days) can easily be converted to SSCX. 

You'll need new brake levers (that don't have shifters integrated). Just regular brake levers. The cheap kind. These Tektro R200 levers can be picked up pretty cheap on eBay like around $20 LINK

Congratulations, you can now brake! Next, you'll need to make some changes to your drivetrain (front chainring, rear cassette) Regarding the front chainring, you'll need to change the ring first. Most cyclocross bikes come with 48 and 39 teeth. Neither of those will really work as a single ring. Most racers use either a 44 tooth or 42 tooth front ring. So you'll need to buy one of those (click here to search eBay for one). Make sure you get a new ring that will fit your current cranks. Most likely, your cranks will either use 130 BCD or 110 BCD rings. 

Now, you need to keep the chain on the ring, to do this you have a few options: 
  • Double chainring guard (more expensive, little more bombproof)
  • Outer chainring guard with a chain catcher on the inside (little cheaper)
  • No guards or guides and take your chances of your chain coming off as you pull away from the pack and you curse bloody hell. (free)
Okay, next, you'll need to set up your rear gearing and again you have some options: 

If you currently have a cassette on the rear wheel, you can remove the cassette, and use a spacer kit with a cog that slides onto the rear hub. This works great. Search eBay for a singlespeed kit 

Your other option which can be a bit cheaper is to take an old rear wheel with one of those old school freewheels (the kind where the gears screw on ---- these are typically 5 or 6 speed cassettes made before 1985). Next, you buy a singlespeed freewheel typically designed for BMX riders. One of the advantages of this set up is that you can buy an old set of tubular racing wheels with a freewheel and get a very light set of race wheels that are tubular and that you can run a single speed freewheel on. Search eBay for a freewheel

Either way, you'll need to determine the size cog to buy. This largely depends on your fitness, amount of hills where you're riding and racing cyclocross and desired pedal cadence. A good way to determine the cog size is to determine what feels comfortable with a 42 tooth front chainring using the cassette you currently have. Find a rear cog in your current cassette where you can get up the hills and also get up a decently high speed for the flats and pavement sections of the course. 

Lastly, you're going to need some sort of chain tensioner. This little bit of technology allows you to use that bike/frame with vertical dropouts. Notice the first picture in this post, there is no chain tensioner, that is because I had semi-horizontal dropouts (the frame was a vintage 1980's Nishiki). There are a lot of different types of tensioners, buy the best you can afford. Paul Components makes a pretty nice looking one too, and who can argue with made in the USA? Though it is $82. Search eBay for a chain tensioner


Paul Components "Melvin"

You're set, all of these modifications can be done by you at home with minimal tools. One of the advantages of doing you're own wrenching is that when it falls apart you can only blame yourself. 

In conclusion, nearly any cyclocross bike can be converted into a singlespeed cyclocross bike. All you'll need is: 

Let me know in the comments if I missed something.

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