The first step in building a fixie is in acquiring the base bike. You’ll notice that many of these are built from old ten speeds. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s the era of the 10 speed there were dozens of makers of bikes that collectors call lightweights. Most lightweight were built in Europe or Japan and of course featured 10 speeds (2 X 5). These came in many different levels of quality so this will help you to choose one. I am making assumptions here, the first is that you want the easiest conversion (least cost and headaches). The second assumption is that you want the bike to be relatively light, and the last is that you want to spend less than $200 on the whole thing. With this in mind I set out for a bike that has several features, horizontal dropouts are the most important. Here is what they look like:
The reason for this is it allows you to put a chain on and tension it without the use of chain tensioners.
Outside of this there are several things that will help you achieve the other goals (light and cheap).
First where to find. Well almost every teen in the 70’s and 80’s had a 10 speed so these are collecting dust all over the US. The cheapest place to find is garage sales but that is a process and not always successful. I usually look for sales that specifically call out bikes. Typically these will sell for $25-50 max. I have seen them lower but not often. Another place to look is craigslist.org and check your city under the For Sale - Bike area. Here’s the problem, people on craigslist know you are looking for this so the prices are outrageous. The other problem is that in most cases they have already done the conversion so they want to make a buck on it. Often they are building fixies out of the worst junk on the planet. You can look here but it’s not worth the time typically. Plus you need to deal with the normal flakiness of craigslist people. You can always check ebay but usually the shipping alone kills the deal even if you can find the great deal. If you want a really high end frame like a Colnago or a Merxck eBay is the place.
I went to a police auction which is the most fun way to buy. If for no other reason, go because you will not believe what some people will pay for a huffy. Take advantage of the preview. Look for bikes that are your size (standover them if you can’t tell, you should have about 1″ of clearance, for a fixie a little more is not a bad idea). Next make sure it has the following: Horizontal Dropouts, Aluminum Hubs, Stainless Steel Spokes, and Aluminum Handlebars. If it has all these and it looks like it’s not trashed it’s likely a worthy base. If you want higher end maybe look for a alloy seat post, look for a quick release rear wheel. Mainly look for something that looks like it was cares for. Spin the wheels, look out for rusted out chains and bent frames and forks. Try to pick out 4-5 of these. Our auction had 112 bikes and we found 6 excellent candidates and a few that would work but were just OK. Let someone else buy the first one unless it’s your perfect one. There will be others there for the exact same thing so the first one is usually the most expensive. We got ours for $75.
What we ended up with is a mid range Raleigh lightweight from the 80’s. The Alloy cranks will likely need very little change. The wheels have alloy rims and hubs and stainless spokes so there is a good chance we can either just add a freewheel if a single speed is the goal, or lace in a new flip flop or fixie hub. This has perfect alloy platform pedals. It also has a double butted frame so when we are done it will be nice and light. The tires are shot but usually you’ll want new tires anyways. The seat is also not perfect but could work. Fenders? Rack? We’ll see if they stay.