Being a hipster at heart, I love my little fixie and treat her as both a road bike and commuter. She’s absolutely gorgeous – powder blue, vintage-style steel frame; white Token wheel set with bladed spokes; aggressive geometry – and for the first year I rode I was growing into her. The last few months though, I’ve outgrown her. We’ll be racing down a hill and I’ll spin out, but her gear is too tall for climbing. It was time to get a proper road bike.
I wanted a bike that was fast but good for endurance riding and potentially something I could attach panniers to for touring. Most importantly though, it had to look good. And by good, I mean pink. Looking at what was available, I was unimpressed. A lot of modern road bikes really unattractive, especially when the frame is basically a billboard for the bike’s brand, or worse when it’s a ‘womens’ specific’ bike in washed out pastels with vector hibiscus details (why any girl want her road bike to look like a wilting garden is beyond me). I’m not opposed to carbon fibre or aluminium, but I couldn’t find anything in these materials that I was willing to blow a few grand on and I’ve always loved the look of vintage steel road bike frames. After a bit more research, I decided that to get the look and components I wanted, it would be better and much cheaper to build the bike myself.
My other motive for taking the DIY route was to improve my bike knowledge and skills. Sadly, girls are still in the minority in the bike world, and there’s comparatively very few of us tacking faster, longer rides. I’ve had a lot of unintentionally patronising and offensive comments from males on Beach Rd who assume that my friends and I can’t keep up, or can’t fix a puncture, or don’t understand how our bikes work. The best way to show these guys that we’re just as strong, fast and competent as they are is to prove it on the road. I figured there’s only way to do that better than kicking their Lycra-clad-$10,000-carbon-fibre-bike-owning-arses on my fixie, would be to do it on a bike I made and maintain myself.
When I started this project I didn’t know a lot about bikes beyond basic maintenance (ie: replacing a tube, lubing a chain, etc.) and I really had no idea about the mechanics of gears. Fortunately my Mister knows HEAPS about bikes, in particular how they go together. So I owe a huge thank you to him and his bike obsession.
The process wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped and it took a lot longer than I would have liked as getting all the parts took time and a few had to be replaced. It was also physically harder than I thought. It would have been harder still if I didn’t have a lot of bike-nut friends to help me out along the way. I learnt a lot. I’m not sure that I could necessarily fix the bike if anything substantial goes wrong, but I could at least figure out the problem.
More importantly, she’s fast! Being steel, she’s on the heavy side but once she gets rolling there’s no stopping her. My first ride out I held 40kmph (admittedly, not for long) and that would have killed me on my fixie. Even this morning on a casual ride home from breakfast I was surprised to find myself cruising comfortably at 36kmph. This may not impress the hard core roadies out there, but for me it’s a giant leap and I’m really excited to see just how far I’ll be able to push myself when I’m really used to her.
Finally, I named her Elsie (my old roller derby name), and she has a little zebra scarf to a) protect her from scratches when I lean her up against a pole and b) to pay homage to the best roller derby team ever: ADRD Team Zebra (I hung up my skates when we moved to Melbourne, and I still really miss hanging out with the herd)!