You can get a decent BMX bike for less than $400 bucks with a full cromoly frame. Logic would say the same would hold true for a single speed or fixed gear track bike. After all, when a bike is reduced to one gear and a rigid fork, things become pretty simple, since there really isn’t much there. When the rear wheel is fixed, there’s even less to deal with. One brake. Flip-flop hub. Sit on bike. Pedal. Go.
In this experiment, we picked up the least expensive track style ride we could find to see what you get for your money. The bare requirement was that the frame be cromoly as opposed to tensile steel.
My last track-style bike straddled the line between a traditional go-fast fixie, and fixed gear freestyle bike. Heavy duty Cro-mo tubing, 36 hole wheels with some BMX components sprinkled in made it solid all the way through. While I liked how it rode around and spent time learning how to properly ride fixed sans brake, (Including how to bunny hop a fixed gear- it was a bit tricky. I kept the front brake so I could still ride around while getting coffee, groceries and etc) I eventually passed it on to a co-worker. Although I keep trying to make room in my quiver for other bikes, around town I have been missing the fun of riding a bike you can’t stop pedaling on.
I started looking around for framesets and deals on completes. Fixed and single speed city bikes are pretty common these days, but being the gear geek I am, am biased against budget tensile steel frames.
How little can you spend and still get a solid and reliable city ride? I would say $325 is as low as I’d go. Especially if the $325 is a sale price. Go less, and a discriminating rider is bound to be disappointed.
I tried spending less. The bike I ended up trying was the Vilano Edge, having come across it one night during a random web search for “chromoly fixed gear bikes”. Claiming to be a full Chromoly bike and available in a number of various color ways, it had the most generic, bottom line spec you could imagine, and a low price. Claiming a retail price of $599, the bike was listed as on sale, with a price that was less than $300 shipped to my door. It was less than most of the frames I had been looking at. And it claimed to be cro-mo.
One night my curiosity got the worst of me, and I decided I wanted to check it out. If the frame was decent, I’d swap the parts out with the nicer parts on my vintage commuter road bike. If not, I’d put it on Craig’s List after trying it out for a bit.
When it showed up, it wasn’t that far from what I had expected. At $250, you’d expect to see low grade 4130 chromoly tubing. That doesn’t mean it isn’t strong or that it won’t hold up, but it does mean it will likely be heavier. And it was heavy. My co-workers didn’t think so- people walking by my desk would stop, comment on the bright colors of the bike, give it a lift, and comment on how “light” it was. But compared to what?
Light, strong, or cheap. You can have two of three
The old adage is in full effect here. It felt strong. It was cheap. But it definitely wasn’t light. While I didn’t get around weighing it, complete bike weight felt somewhere in the higher 20’s. Maybe even low 30’s.
I had my doubts on weather the frame was even chromoly. It was quite possible that one or two main tubes were made of the higher quality steel, with the rest being tensile steel tubes. After a bit or research online, I didn’t find an easy way to make a determination without damaging the frame. Even if the frame is actually chromoly, its clear by the weight that the bars weren’t.
For the price, you expect most of the corners to be cut. Or in this case, all the corners were cut. Much of the weight was in the budget deep-v wheels. There’s a lot of material here. For the price point rider this makes sense. The bull horn bars also added considerable heft. I have no doubt these things were tensile steel, and they felt like they could have been almost solid. They were that heavy. Swapping them out to a light alloy bar would likely drop pounds, as opposed to grams. Tires, wheels, seat post seat, bars, stem, headset, pretty much everything is as entry level as possible to get the price down. That’s the downside to purchasing a bike at this price point. If you want higher performance parts, you’ll eventually want to replace everything.
The build up went quickly; one gear means there isn’t much to put together. Out of the box the hubs were too tight, and the freewheel had some issues. The wheels were a bit wobbly as well, with extremely low spoke tension all the way around.
They did one thing right with this bike; it looks pretty sharp. Everyone in the office has commented on it. Strangers on the street comment while you’re stopped at a stop light. Although every part on it was the least expensive spec China has to offer, all the details are there, down to chain tensioners on the rear wheel. The chain is white to match the bars, spokes, bar tape and saddle. The graphic presentation of the bike is nice overall.
But how cheap is too cheap? That all depends on the individual, but at this price point, adding another $100 to the price of the bike would have changed the picture dramatically. In this case, it would have taken a department store spec and upped it to something you’d find on the sales floor of your local IBD. It would have meant parts you’d roll on for a while, as opposed to tolerate. I’m accustomed to riding quality components work well.
Nothing on this bike really worked that well.
The budget fixed gear market is a pretty big one, and it doesn’t cost a lot to get into a solid dependable machine that will get you around town from point A to B. Although the Vilano is about what we expected for $250, it doesn’t pull off the value proposition it claims. It’s not horrible; it’s a $250 bike. Available online, it claims to be a $400-$500 bike value on sale for under $300. Based on those parameters, you’d do best to give it a pass. If you spend a bit more, you’ll get something worth upgrading a piece at a time, on a chassis that will be dependable long after the shiny paint fades and is scratched up by life in the city.
In the end, the bike went fairly quickly on Craig’s List, and I’m planning out my next Fixed city project. This time I’m going the completely other direction, and going frame up.