I think I want a flip flop hub, to keep my options open. If I get one off amazon, do I need to buy a freewheel and fixed-gear cog as well, or will those come with the hub? Also, does the hub have to be specifically sized for my bike, or are they universal? I'm trying to learn how to do this, but it's hard not knowing anyone around who has done it before. Any info would be appreciated.
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Fantastic ! Building a fixed gear conversion is a lot of fun.
tommy_o gives a great list of all the parts that go on a conversion, but when I try to imagine what it's like to have an old bike that you want to hack on, I think it's helpful to imagine what you'll have to change about your bike, so I'll give that a shot.
As long as the existing bike is in decent shape, you actually have a lot of freedom in deciding whether to get new parts or reuse existing ones. At a minimum, though, you'll need a new rear wheel, and then from there it gets more and more up to you.
You can either buy a wheel, or build one yourself. I've found that buying is actually cheaper, but I think it's a good exercise to build at least one yourself to see how it's done. Either way, like tommy_o mentioned, you'll need to pay attention to the size of the rim that you want to get. If your bike has 27" wheels and you decide to get a 700c rear replacement, then you'll need to be ok with having different size wheels, or you'll also need to get a new front wheel.
If you decide to build, you'll need to buy :
You'll also need a spoke wrench, but that's a good tool to have around anyway.
For the hub, there are indeed different sizes, both in terms of axle length and flange size. However, for the axle length, there are really only a few different standard sizes, so you should be good to go with a road hub.
For the flange (which only matters if you're building a wheel), pretty much anything will do, but the flange will have a significant impact on the length of the spokes that you'll need. I always take my rim and hub to my local bike shop and get the folks there to cut spokes for me, since it seems like some sort of black magic.
Once you've got a new rear wheel, you need to connect it to the pedals. At a minimum this means you need a cog on the rear wheel (typically hubs do not come with cogs), but depending on what size you get, and personal preference regarding the chainring, you might also need a new chain and chainring.
You'll definitely need a cog, the gear that goes on the rear wheel. You should also get a lockring.
Getting the cog is actually a little tricky, because it turns out there are two different widths of bicycle cogs, and they are not interchangeable. (There are actually two different widths of bicycle chain, but the chain, chainring, and cog all need to work together.) The wider setup, usually seen on track bikes, is 1/8", and the narrower one is 3/32". Here you'll need to decide if you want to stick with the 3/32" setup that's already on your bike, or move to the 1/8" ; again, mostly this has to do with personal preference, but be aware that whatever you pick will affect your options for the other items.
If you get a flip-flop hub, you should probably get a freewheel cog as well as a standard thread-on one. Typically the freewheel cog has a higher tooth count than the fixed one, since you won't need to pedal like a rabid gopher while you're coasting downhill on your freewheel side.
You'll definitely need a new chain if you go with a 1/8" drivetrain.
Sometimes it's a good idea just to get a new chain, even if you're sticking with the existing sizes. New chains are really nice.
Chainring and crank
There'll already be a crankset on your existing bike, which can probably be used just fine for a conversion (provided it works with the chain/cog). There are a couple things to think about it however :
Also, on a fixed gear, the length of your crank could be important : If you're taking a tight corner, you might lean over far enough that the bottom of the crank scrapes the road as the pedal turns, which can lead to a wreck. You can get a crankset that has shorter arms to avoid this, though if you're not into tight cornering it might not be a problem. It's something to be aware of though, since you never really know when you might need to pull an emergency maneuver.
Once you've gotten the rear wheel and drivetrain set up, you're technically good to go. You can opt to switch many other things on your bike, but chances are that it already has a seat, headset, fork, handlebars, etc.
The cog and/or freewheel will not come with the hub unless it explicitly states it (it is not typical to come with it, as rear cogs come in different tooth count and width)
To make this easier, these are all the parts required for a fixed gear bicycle with a threaded headset:
For the front wheel, these are needed:
For the rear wheel, these are needed:
Keep in mind, your bike may have been designed with 27 inch wheels originally (which I think it did), but you'll probably want to build new wheels with 700c rims. That will offer you more choices and, because they are the current standard, will most likely be cheaper. This will affect the geometry slightly (the wheelbase will be shorter) and you will need to make sure your brake reach is correct.
Read this page here, as it covers a lot of necessary topics. While it's not always practical, you might want to start getting to know your local bike shop now (one that is friendly toward people that build fixed gear conversions). It will save you pain in the long run (from not letting you buy the wrong sized part to helping you reuse what you have).