I promised Baz I’d do a blog post about the singlespeed we put together.
What’s It For?
Mrs Walker and I moved out of town last year. We live about a mile from the nearest village. My vintage Bontrager Race-Lite cross-country bike is obviously entirely unsuitable for cycling into the village for milk, bread, sausages & beer. I needed to find another one.
I wanted something I could skip down the farm track on without much care, so a delicate road bike was out of the question. I’ve got one of those too now, but that’s another story. I wanted to try this new-fangled single speed thing I’ve been hearing so much about. I love steel bikes, so anything aluminium was right out. I wanted road bars but cantilever / V-brakes in case it gets muddy or gravity & me get carried away.
The market for steel single speed cyclo-cross bikes is pretty small (but getting bigger!). There weren’t many pre-built options available. With Baz’s help & advice I started collecting parts.
Frame & Forks
For the frame & forks I settled on an On-One Il Pompino. I didn’t like the only colour option or branding so I sent it off to be bead-blasted & re-painted. I choose BS 14-C-35, intended to match Brooks ‘honey’ leather.
Baz built up the wheels, joining track hubs to DT rims using a kooky modified crows foot lacing. This combines radial spokes with a 2-cross pattern. Difficult to tell the difference if you’re not looking for it, but I know.
Despite carrying my weight over rocky ground for a few hundred miles, the wheels have stayed tight & true. Tyres are Continental Travel Contact – a quality hybrid favourite.
When you’ve only got one gear, it’d better be the right one. After trying various different cranks I installed the Truvativ ones from Baz’s Pista, which seems to be a special one made for that bike. The rear hub has both a fixed (16T) side and a freewheel (18T) side.
The crank came with a 48T chain ring. I tried this out with the fixed gear before the brakes had arrived. At 48/16 I found it hopelessly over geared for anything but gentle gradients. The smallest chain ring I could find to fit the roadie bolt circle was 38T Surly one, but thought 39T sounded better so I went with that. For the most part 39/18 seems to work well, but I can’t help wondering about 39/19 on the steeper bits.
Since the brakes arrived I’d been running the bike with a freewheel. Now I’m finding I ride over fields, paths and on farm tracks more than tarmac, I’ve switched back to fixed. This means I can control my speed without covering the brakes.
I wanted leather bits. A Brooks Swift saddle & matching bar tape. These are both expensive options but make the bike look great and satisfy my tan leather fetish. I also managed to find some tan-coloured brake cable outer from A-Bike, who make bits for colour-concious BMX pilots.
I got really excited when Baz found the Cane Creek brake levers with natural gum hoods. Goes really well with the leather. Unfortunately they don’t work with V-brakes without adapters so I had to go with cantilevers instead. In retrospect some of those wide-angle cyclo-cross ones might be better than the Shimano ones.
Interesting fact: It’s impossible to source a silver coloured front brake hanger these days.
The seat post, headset & stem are all parts bin pieces, chosen mainly for colour. I’m about to replace the stem with a longer, lower one. Pedals are Crank Brothers Egg Beaters to match my other bikes & shoes.
So How’s the Ride?
I’ve done loads of miles on this bike in the last six months, shop runs, lunchtime runs with the dog through the woods & a good couple of hours in the hills. A combination of the steel frame & leather contact bits makes it a really comfortable bike. There are lighter bikes out there, but those are for lighter riders with different aesthetic sensibilities. It’s very quiet on and off the road, and there’s not a lot to go wrong. What’s not to like?
If you’re looking for your own bespoke bike (pun intended), I highly advise getting in touch with Barry at Firth Cycles. He really knows & cares about his stuff and will be happy to help. Caveat: You might have to write a blog post upon delivery.