25 February 2013

My First Fixie: A Peugeot U0-8 Conversion

Thirty years ago, the only people who rode fixed-gear bikes were racers.  Even messengers, for the most part, hadn't glommed onto the simplicity and "cool factor" or riding a "fixie."

That meant, of course, that very few people knew about building them and that parts weren't readily available.  Bike books, at the time, contained little or no information about how to build, maintain or ride a fixed-gear bike.  In fact, the authors of those books most likely never rode or owned a track or fixed-gear bike.  If I remember correctly, Bicycling! never had any articles about them.

Back then, I knew only one person who rode a fixed gear.  That is what he used for his winter training; sometimes, he'd take his "fixie" on rides with the Central Jersey Bicycle Club, of which both of us were members.  He was a bit of a gearhead as well as a fitness fanatic; he meant well, but his enthusiasm for fixed gears probably scared a few people off.

One of my few sources of pride is that I wasn't one of those people.  I figured that if he could ride a fixed gear, so could I.  And I couldn't help but to notice that his "fixie" wasn't a fancy bike:  If I recall correctly, it was a mid-level Italian road frame (a Legnano made from Falk tubing, I think) and the components, while good, were nothing special.

So I set out to convert a Peugeot U-O8 I'd been using as my commuter and "beater."  I don't have a photo of it, but when I started, it looked like this:

My U0-8 was the same color as the one in the photo and, from what I can see, the same size. Like most French bikes of its time, it came with French-threaded parts, including the Normandy rear hub.  I knew enough not to thread an English- or Italian-threaded freewheel onto such a hub.  So, I looked and I looked (Remember, we didn't have the Internet in those days!) for a track cog that would fit.  Finally, I located a source:  Mike Fraysee, who imported French bikes into the US and sold them under the name "Paris Sport", had a few. He also had the requisite lockrings.  A few days later, I had both and a Sedis 1/8" chain that Peugeot used on its three-speed bikes.

Although I had worked in two bike shops, I had never worked on a fixed-gear bike.  So, I had no idea that track hubs (or, at any rate, hubs made for fixed gears) had two sets of threading:  a right hand-threaded "step" onto which the cog was installed and, in front of it, a left hand-threaded "step" for the lockring.  That design "locks" the ring against the cog and prevents it from unscrewing when you decelerate or stop without hand brakes.

Well, I installed the cog and tightened the lockring as much as I could in a vice.  Before installing both, I coated the threads with LocTite.  

Believe it or not, I actually got away with riding that arrangement for a few months.  Then, one day, I locked my legs when a taxicab made a right turn from the lane to my left on Lexington Avenue near Grand Central Station.  Although I managed not to run into that cab, I toppled over when the ring and cog unscrewed.  When I got back up, I screwed them back on, but they wouldn't stay:  The threads stripped.

I got the bike to a nearby shop.  "Wut da fuck iz dis shit?," the grizzled mechanic growled.  "U coulda got yerself killed!"

He was right:  Not only did I have an unsafe rear wheel, I had a terrible chainline.  It's a wonder that the chain stayed on the chainring and cog, let alone that the cog stayed on that hub for as long as it did. 

And I wasn't wearing a helmet.  But a parked Mercedes broke my fall and kept my head from hitting the pavement.

I wouldn't repeat the fixed-gear experiment for another decade.  By that time, I had a real job and bought a real track bike.  That will be the subject of another post.


  1. That is the nicest thing I recall anybody saying about a Mercedes!

  2. Steve--Ha! I never imagined I would say anything nice about a Mercedes, or any other luxury car. As the wise old philosopher said, "You never know!"