Friday, September 16, 2022

The Evolution Of My Schwinn Fixed Gear Bike

 Last month I picked up what my lovely wife would call "yet another bike" and while I've typed various pages about it over on my other, more active blog at I figure it makes sense to post the full story of the bike's evolution here.

Now I should be clear, I didn't strictly need this bike. I'm retired, I have three perfectly good bikes and to be honest, one would really do just fine for the riding I'm doing these days. But here's what happened.

Christine and I get around town by biking and walking and in walking and biking around I'd seen this old Schwinn World Sport locked to a lightpost a half a block from our house. The bike had been locked to the post for at least a month. Now I should note that this is something that make Superior, Wisconsin different from Seattle or Portland or Eugene. Here in Superior, you can leave a bike locked to a lightpost with a flimsy lock and it will stay untouched for a month. In those other cities I mentioned, the bike would be stolen or stripped within hours.

Anyhow, after about a month I happened to walk past the bike in a course different from my usual direction and I saw this sign on the lightpost:

Holy crap! Fifteen dollars! A bargain I could not pass up. Even so, I ran the purchase past Christine and she said OK. It was a nice bike. I called the guy up, met him at the corner, took the bike for a test ride and bought it. I didn't even try to dicker on the price because $15 is a screaming deal.

This is how the bike looked when I bought it:

It was basically in working shape. The shifters and brakes worked and the (worn) tires held air.

The Schwinn World Sport was a not fancy but decent sport touring bike of it's day. The lugged frame was made in Taiwan for Schwinn and the main triangle is 4130 ChromeMoly tubing. The internet help me decode the bike's serial number and told me that it was made in 1984. The dealer sticker told me that the bike had originally been sold by Stewart's Wheel Goods, just over the bridge in Duluth.

I pretty much always wind up modifying my bikes to suit me and I have a big pile of bike parts and tools and I can usually do the modifications without having to buy much in terms of new parts. Since I'd gotten this bike for so little I wanted to keep that frugal trend going and see how little I could spend.

I knew I wanted to change the handlebars around and my first attempt was something I'd done with bikes in the past, chopping off the lower portion of the drop bars and then inverting them to make cowhorn bars, an operation known as the "clip and flip"

The two pictures above show my first cut at customisation. The mirror, the bell, the light, the yellow cable housing, the bar tape and the Jandd frame bag were all things I had in my bike shed. I really wanted to make the bike into a fixed gear, but it turned out the one thing I didn't have in my parts stash was a fixed cog. But when I posted about my initial conversion on my blog, my pal Steve in Minneapolis dug through his parts stash, found a 16 tooth Surly fixed cog and dropped it in the mail to me.

My initial riding with the bike still in its 12 speed configuration told me that I'm no longer as young as I once was and the cowhorns had me too stretched out. The bike handled great, however, very stable and I could go no-handed for blocks if I wanted to. One upgrade from my parts stash that's not obvious from the photos is that I upgraded the 40 year old brakepads to an unused set of Scott-Mathauser salmon-colored brakepads that had been sitting in one of my parts drawers for the past decade. I knew they'd come in handy some day!

I did have the proper freewheel puller in my tool kit to remove the freewheel, but I didnt have a bench vise for leverage. I did, however, have a big wrench and the seatmast from my Bike Friday Pakit that worked great as a cheater bar. A casual observer of the work in progress would think that I was building a unicycle.

Steve's gift cog came in the mail and I mounted it to the wheel using loctite. I'm not one of those hipster kid fixie riders who run no brakes and skid stop so the loctite should be sufficient. I have both front and rear brakes with really good brake pads and I use them PLUS my legs to slow down and stop.

I did have to swap a big spacer on the rear wheel from the drive to non-drive side and re-dish the wheel. There were just enough threads on the spokes to do this. I also replaced the flimsy rubber rim strip with a double layer of gorilla tape and I repacked both the front and rear hubs and trued both wheels.

I reached the point where I had to spend some more money on this project so I rode my Allant over the bridge to Duluth. The Schwinn has old style 27" wheels which are no longer a common size, but Twin Ports Cyclery had a variety of tires in stock because they know some folks like to keep the old things going. I got a nice pair of kind of knobby cyclocrossish tires for $20 each. I also needed a 1/8" single speed chain, but the ones at Twin Ports were a bit fancier (and fancier priced) than I wanted, so I rolled over to Stewart's where I got a chain and a spare tube for a total of $18.

Back at home I installed the tires and chain. I had already removed the derailleurs and shifters and they are now in my parts boxes waiting for some other project or to be traded away. The bike now looked like this:

I tipped the bars up a bit more and trimmed off a bit more of the cowhorn, but things still didn't feel right.

Then I got an idea:

I really liked the way the brake levers worked in this position, I can apply them with either my index or middle fingers or both, and with the bars swung back towards me I was in a more comfortable upright riding position. I was getting closer to having things dialed in.

Now things were really starting to come together. At the Goodwill store I found a perfect little blue bag for two dollars and I knew what to do with it, I made it into a handlebar bag.

I also found my Orp in my parts pile. The Orp is an electronic horn & light combo that I used to think was too loud but given how distracted everybody is these days I've decided it is damn handy.

I made the mount for the handlebar bag out of coroplast and zip-ties. I have a big stash of coroplast and zipties in my bike shed and I also made a set of mudguards for my bike. The rear is a full coverage fender and the front is a splash guard that runs along the downtube together with a small bit that extends over the front brake


I figured out that I wanted the portion of the handlebars that swung back towards me to be a bit longer and in my eclectic parts pile I had just what I needed to make that happen: an oak wood dowel and some JB-Weld.

I let the JB-Weld set for 24 hours and then re-wrapped the bars with innertube rubber for padding and then cork tape.

I was also chagrined to find that while I had various water bottles in my stash of parts, I had no bottle cages. Naturally I made one from coroplast, zipties, and a bit of plastic tubing I had left over from my backyard pond project.

I also figured out that the front bag would sag too much when loaded with my bike tools, but I fixed that with small support cords running from the front fender to the stem.

The last bit I added to the bike was a rear rack. I found this in the Bike Cave, a non-profit DIY free bike shop over in Duluth. I donated some of my extra bike lights and tools to them (I had way too many lights!) and I took this nifty rack home.

It mounted quite nicely to the bike with some p-clamps and rubber spacers. The toe-strap running to the straddle rails helps take some of the stress off the p-clamps.

The fixie Schwinn is currently my favorite bike to ride, For those of you who care about such things the gear ratio is 40*16 which seems just about perfect to me. And yes, I'm running stupid flat heavy rubber block pedals on it with no toe clips or straps and no my feet don't fly off the pedals and yes I can go up and down hills without dying.

I have a weird accounting method in that I don't count the cost of anything I already owned when tallying up what I've spent on a bike. So I don't count my bike lights and coroplast and zipties and other bits I had laying around. So by my accounting this what the Schwinn cost me:

The bike itself:            $15
Two new tires:              $40
Singlespeed chain:          $10
Spare innertube:            $ 8
Handlebar bag               $ 2

I think it turned out to be a pretty good deal. And oh yeah, the bike has a fair amount of what Grant Petersen calls beausage. It's a nice looking bike, but I don't have to worry about getting it dinged up.