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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 frame: a 1975 (I think) Peugeot road frame and fork I found on eBay for $75. The team at Grip Sport were champs and powder coated it Barbie pink and attached a modern derailleur hanger for me.

I chose Vittora Rubino tyres as they're a hardwearing road tyre that doesn't puncture easily, and because they come in a range of colours. The wheels are Shimano RS30s - lightish, bladed spokes, clean & sleek.

This was the original headset I was going to use. In the end, it didn't fit the bike, but I learnt how to pack and grease a headset with unsealed bearings!

The headset attached

Attaching the SRAM ten speed cassette

Bottom bracket installed!

Handlebars and stem are go! As it turns out, the stem is waaaaay too long. I ordered a 90mm (which was ambitious to begin with, but I wanted it to match the handlebars) and what arrived turned out to be 100mm. I feel a bit stretched out so have ordered a 70mm to see if that does the trick.

It's almost a bike!

I had trouble finding a seat post to fit the seat tube and had two false starts before a bike buddy from Adelaide generously donated one from his spare parts box. I've just got a cheapy saddle on there for now. I've got a $12 saddle on my fixie that's absolutely perfect and this should have been an upgrade, but I'm thinking of just getting another one of those.

Me concentrating hard on setting up the gear cables. I was very lucky to get a SRAM Force group set at a discount from a work friend who's sponsored by a bike shop.

Happy cycling face!

Sadly the lovely SRAM Force brakes were too short, so I had to substitute for some not-quite-so-flashy Radius ones, though not before I swapped the brake pads over. The SRAM brakes are being donated to my fixie (if you're tut-tutting my use of brakes on a fixie, shame on you! A girl can't be too safe).

So close!!!

The first test ride! Sadly, what we discovered on this little adventure was that the front derailleur wasn't working. Bummer. It was a two part problem. Firstly, there was trouble with cable tension. There was no way to secure the cable housing under the bottom bracket so it kept moving around and messing up the shifting. The Mister solved this by routing it through a hole intended for a attaching a stand and adding a barrel adjuster. Secondly, the derailleur clamp was too loose and the rubber shim we'd used was too spongy, so the derailleur kept slipping down. Fortunately, another friend at work happens to keep a giant bag of shims in his desk draw and was able to help me out.

FINISHED!!!!

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)!

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