Introduction: Single Speed on the Cheap

Picture of Single Speed on the Cheap

Want to see what everyone is talking about with this whole 'Single speed revolution?' Before you commit several hundred dollars to a single speed bike, try it out on your current bike without costing you a dime. All you need are basic bike tools to get it done.

Step 1: Choosing a Bike

Picture of Choosing a Bike

Since the aim of this project is cheapness, use a bike you have laying around. Many bikes will work for this, as long as it has one crucial component, a horizontal ( or horizontal-ish) dropout. While it is possible to convert a bike with any dropout to single speed, it takes either a great deal of time or money, neither of which are appropriate for testing the waters of single-speed bikes.

Other things to look for:
If the bike has horizontal dropouts, it will work, but if you have the choice, get a frame without brazed on cable stays. They will only affect how your bike looks, but appearance does count sometimes, and single speeds look cool, so why mess with it.

Step 2: Break the Chain

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Use your chain tool of choice to break the chain.

try to avoid pushing the pin all the way out, it's just bad form, but in this case it doesn't really matter since you'll be loosing several links anyway.

Step 3: Take Off All the Stuff You Don't Need

Picture of Take Off All the Stuff You Don't Need

Derailers, front and rear go
It helps if you remove the cable first, sounds obvious but don't forget.
Shifters go
any cable guide you can get off
All the cables also

Step 4: Admire the Nice Clean Lines of Your New Bike

Picture of Admire the Nice Clean Lines of Your New Bike

Ain't it pretty without all those derailers in the way?

Step 5: Running the Chain

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The main problem with this design is that you really have no choice of gear ratios. The chain line chooses it, and you have to take it. With a derailer-less bike a straight chain line is extremely important. If it bends too much, it will skip off while riding and leave you in a bit of a lurch.

Step 6: Attach the Wheel

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screw on the wheel, but not to tightly, just finger tight is good enough for now. Try to have it as low in the dropout as you can.

Step 7: Establishing the Gearing

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sight down the chainwheel to try figure out which sprocket best lines up with each chainwheel. Pick the gear ratio you are most comfortable to use. It's a bad picture, but hopefully you can get the idea.

Step 8: Tensioning the Chain

Picture of Tensioning the Chain

The chain will likely be too long. If so, adjust the chain tension by moving the rear wheel further back in the dropouts until the chain is nicely taught. The easiest test is it should run smoothly; if it's too long it will buzz, if its too short it will bind.

Step 9: Test Drive

Once the chain is in place, tighten up the axle bolts and take it for a spin. Take a wrench with you just in case the chain comes off and you need to readjust it.

Step 10: Clean Up

Picture of Clean Up

After all this mucking around with your chain your hands are likely covered in a layer of grease, making you unfit for human contact. This plagued my bicycle filled existence until I discovered the best degreaser, Laundry detergent. Just rub some on your filthy hands and watch the grease melt away. It's amazing.

Step 11: Verdict

I've had the setup for about a week, no way in hell am i going back to a derailer, at least for my urban bike (on a mountain, thats something different). Give it a few days before you stop having that impulse to switch into a higher gear when your spinning away, after that you really start to enjoy it.

Also, depending on the gear ratio, give it at least a few days to adapt, at least until your not crying 'rape' from spinning so fast after every ride.

Step 12: Observation

It's been a while since I turned my bike into a single speed by this less than secret method, but since I did it, I seem to have noticed a fair number of other single speeds pop up. Most of them follow the same methodology, just removing unused parts. Fair enough, I encourage it, but a fair number decide to do away with one of the brakes. Now it is true that the front brake does generate most of the stopping power, that is still no reason to remove the rear, and its a great reason not to only ride with a rear brake. By limiting yourself to only one brake you greatly reduce the versatility of your bicycle. While you may be fine most of the time with only your front, there will come a day, maybe on a long downhill, maybe a wet road, or maybe a cable snap that you will wish you had another method of slowing down. But if you're really willing to castrate your bicycle in such a manor, be my guest, just try not to crash into me.
By the way, the above only applies to freewheel bicycles, and seemingly only so single speeds. I have yet to see a person with a derailer equipped bike decide one brake is enough. If you ride a fixed gear, the fixed gear is a rear brake, and is more than enough stopping power most of the time. It's not a bad idea to ride with a front brake though, just for when the inevitable happens and your chain snaps, or something like that.


MaxwellC1 (author)2015-07-30

rmcfisher (author)2015-05-26

Just go to a local bike shop and buy a cassette Freewheel!!!!! It will look so much better! I got one for like 6 bucks. And spring for the tool or use a screw driver and a hammer

jaseridesbikes (author)2014-12-30

The chain line chooses the ratio? That's a very sketchy way to convert. Given you are pulling the bike apart, dismantle the cassette and find another one to pull to bits. Use the spacers to space out the correct ratio cog and use a magic gear ratio to get the right tension.

Here's a more thorough guide you may find useful:

upnorth777 (author)2012-06-06

I've just tried this on a dumpster bike I'm restoring. I'm going to spring for a conversion kit. But so far it works.

jchamberlain1 (author)2011-06-12

I have personally tried this method and it was a bad decision. The rear wheel kept slipping when the chain jumped onto a higher gear and locked up the drivetrain so I tightened the wheels a lot more. In the end the dropout snapped because the wheel couldn't slip forward.

This MIGHT work if the chainline is PERFECT but not for a long time.

80 bucks will buy you a new rear wheel without looking that hard.

tradtimbo (author)2009-05-23

Are people still doing this? This instruct-able needs to be removed. It just makes a bike more dangerous. If you want one gear, do a proper conversion, or don't shift. read more here:

chadeau (author)tradtimbo2010-05-21

...she said-'without a chain tensioner and adjustments to rear cassette/freewheel,the bike keeps wanting to align the front chainring and the rear cogset-which locks up the drivetrain,and at times breakes the chain '...and without a chain or all the parts you removed,how you gonna STOP !?!?

Wasagi (author)chadeau2011-04-18

And Fuzz clearly stated that the gear ratio is mostly determined by the alignment of the chain, so once you get the tension tight enough, it won't need to derail itself, although a thicker gear would be nice, multi-gear bikes tend to have fairly thin gears.

tradtimbo (author)Wasagi2011-04-19

Wasagi - Even if your chain alignment is perfect, when the bike flexes so the cogs and chainrings get closer together, the chain will slack a bit. If during this slack time, the chain is "bounced" or engages the adjacent larger cog your in for some problems.

This setup is dangerous and pointless. pointless because the main goal of creating a single speed from a multi speed bike is to simplify and lighten. This setup does neither.

chadeau (author)tradtimbo2010-05-21

...also see Chainbreakers' book by same title...this is the most DANGEROUS way to make a Bike,Period...Pull this Instruct !!!

mrdepo96 (author)tradtimbo2009-11-23

 dangerous? how? (i actually want to know!)

mrdepo96 (author)mrdepo962009-11-23

 lol nevermind sorry wasn't looking at the links

chadeau (author)2011-04-18

Dawn dishwashing liquid,and you canget it scented,too !

BtheBike (author)2010-11-24

Great tutorial ! Other options for bikes:

* the derailier can be used as a tensioner .
* Spacers can be added to the bottom bracket for perfect chain line
* half links area cheap way to get a tight chain
* If not running a back brake the whole rear wheel can be slid horizontally on the axle
for good chain line.

Dig the Detergent . Works great as a bike degreaser . Lb for Lb nothing is cheaper. I just de-gunked a 30 year bike with 1 oz of liquid laundry detergent , toothbrush and hose .

pdlbooboo (author)2010-09-15

couldn't wait till the day to take the pics lol

mastermakoko (author)2010-08-11

i use a "torpedo rear brake hub"

qdogg (author)2007-10-04

I really don't understand why you would want to do this! If you want only one speed just don't shift the gears.

bobbyderf123 (author)qdogg2010-03-22

I'm completely with you!

mrdepo96 (author)2009-11-23

 Could you put a piece of plastic around the sides of the cog that you wanted so it wouldnt jump? Also would a chain tensioner help keep it on?

gear-guy (author)2009-08-14

when i did this with my old bike recently,i couldnt get the front one off cleanly becaause the bolt was rusted hard onto the nut.i couldnt find a hacksaw,so i used pliers to get a few of the importand bits off and then used a big hammer to force the rest

phreek (author)2009-07-19

generally, those who remove the rear brakes do so because their bike is set up "fixed gear" style, so the fact that they provide rear wheel braking by resisting on the pedals deems a rear brake assembly unnecessary.

beauwalker23 (author)2009-05-31

are you some kind of special stupid? listen to tradtimbo

pyrotechnical (author)2008-12-11

On the note of this becoming less dangerous, anyone know how to remove gears from a cassette or freewheel. Or if this is even possible.

GEAR (author)pyrotechnical2009-02-18

It has been a while since you have posted this but if you still need an answer perhaps this will help. As you can see it depends on which set up you have. If you have the older set up where stuff threds onto the hub then it should not be a problem. I know this because I just changed two wheels down to single speed this way. One of them I welded into a single speed fixed gear hub, so far so good. If I like the fixed setup I am going to make a proper fixed gear wheel. If you have the new set up with a free hub and cassette then you can buy spacers and a special cog and just get rid of the whole cassette. Check out Charley the bikemonger on YOu tube he does a better job showing rather then me telling. I hope this helped.

krak_attak (author)2008-10-10

thanks for the idea. got an 86 mesa runner from my neighbor and its been years since i rode a bike. i live in florida we have zero hills. the terrain is flat, flatter, flattest, and then a few bridges which i have to walk it over anyway so a single-speed is perfect... AND I LOVE BACK PEDDLING! i understand the risk of chain pop and slippage from gears meant to have a chain slip off but i was not about to drop 40 bux or more buying s.s. gears before i find my comfort zone. so again... thanks man.

tradtimbo (author)2008-09-25

This is a dangerous setup, and you should not promote it. People have gotten hurt using this setup. Please read the following:

Thank you

Fuzz2050 (author)tradtimbo2008-09-26

While the article you linked to does make sense, and it would be prudent to replace the multi-speed freewheel with a single, I think the dangers are greatly exaggerated. I rode my bike for many hundreds of miles like this, with no trouble, and I know of countless others who have done the same. If the bike were to auto-shift the way you describe, it seems much more likely that the chain would snap, or the wheel would come loose in the dropouts. Under both of these situations, the bike is still fully under your control, and no major harm is done. I find it hard to imagine that the force holding your wheel in place is greater than the strength of your bike frame. It seems that so long as the rider keeps the chain properly tensioned, and they keep both brakes on the bike, the risk of this is very low, and the consequnces less than dire. I have not heard of a single accident caused in this matter, but if you have, please post some more details. I'm more than willing to be proved wrong on this.

tradtimbo (author)Fuzz20502008-09-26

In the link I provided to the blog there is a link to a BikeForumsBikeForums discussion on this very thing. Two users in the conversation, including myself, have had accidents with this set up. The axle bolts were very tight on the bike I used because I wanted to keep the tension tight. The bike folded. Steel bike chain stays are not designed for that moment (force x distance) at the joint. Chains are very very strong in tension because this is the force they are designed to take.

If your chain tension is good and the larger cog adjacent to the cog you have the chain on is a few teeth larger, then your probably ok as you said. final point: It doesn't make much sense to make a bike potentially more dangerous if your not really making it lighter. The freewheel is the heaviest component removed in a conversion. I want people aware of the danger.

negnin (author)2008-09-12

I use coffee ground.

zzpza (author)2007-09-09

working on your bike, on your bed? crazy! ;)

Grey_Wolfe (author)zzpza2008-07-08

Bit harder to bust your knuckles on the bed when you slip with a wrench though.

Wish I'd thought of that. Bruised mine pretty well taking apart an old tire on a wooden floor.

That sounds like fun. Better bruised than busted, though. At least it wasn't concrete or asphalt.

Woodenbikes (author)2008-08-30

For more tips on How to use a chain tool

Grey_Wolfe (author)2008-07-08

Personally, the ONLY time I use the front break is when I need more stopping power than my rear can produce alone. I don't hit the front break by itself. Gravel's not my favorite flavor. lol

jamanesii (author)Grey_Wolfe2008-08-21

You'll never have to taste gravel or asphalt if you follow this great advice=]

Grey_Wolfe (author)jamanesii2008-08-25

No, I like the taste of asphalt. Just not gravel. lol Actually, there is some very sound advice on that site.

Scandalnavian (author)2008-05-30

gojo orange hand cleaner. nuff said.

_diyMATT (author)Scandalnavian2008-07-24

seriously, GoJo is lightweight compared to laundrey detergent like he said. Give it a shot you will be amazed.

bedbugg2 (author)2007-12-18

not to be nasty or anything but why would you want to just want to have one gear?

harryman (author)bedbugg22008-01-05

well, for one thing...simplicity, not having to worry about gears or accidentally jamming your chain. you won't ever really have to do anything to it ever....maybe the occasional grease. but really i think one of these would be ideal for say a city biker or any place that is level. its not a bad idea..its just nicer in my opinion to just have something simple....but instead of all the hastle why not just put the chain on the gear ratio you were thinking about for a single speed on your current bike and leave it that way for like a week? and not even bother to remove the gears. i mean, i makes no sense really to downgrade you know? there is only one good reason to really have a single speed bike. and thats if its a junk bike, like on bre pettis's weekend projects thing. he made a junk bike and that would be the only true gain i foresee. cheap, reliable, and fun....but not so efficient... sorry but its true.

bedbugg2 (author)harryman2008-01-05

i see, it would be good in a town area, but not in a hilly area

Grey_Wolfe (author)bedbugg22008-07-08

I usually only use the highest gear, but I was wondering the same thing. I can see where it's more stable on the rock-shock (center spring)bikes. They always seem to have a crappier gear system that wears easy. Like the mongooses (mongeese? :-P) with plastic tension gears. What's that about. Still, I like the option to shift down a gear or two when going up a 30 degree grade that's a quarter mile long. But, it'd be good exercise.

bedbugg2 (author)Grey_Wolfe2008-07-11

i will always have as much gears as possible because im lazy, the plastic tension gears are for downhill, downhill bikes somethimes dont have gears and so they have a tensioner instead of a derailleur cage.

Grey_Wolfe (author)bedbugg22008-07-15

The one I had was a 21 speed mountain bike, But with the center hinge. It was a Mongoose, and I've noticed a lot of their multi-speeds have the platic tensioner. I'd prefer the tensioner be a metal gear. Like my old huffy.

y0urm0msname (author)2008-06-23

i just completed this project in a little over an hour. I've never used a chain tool before and this guide was helpful. The bike just feels better now and the chain doesn't fall off randomly like it used to when a gentle breeze would caress the ole stem shifters. However my gearing now leaves something to be desired at 40/22, so until I get the flip flop hub i want and new crankset i'll be spinning away

nphorcer (author)2008-06-04

Did this to my 21 spd Mtn Bike. My rear derallieur, long suffering and original to the bike (almost 15 years old now) finally ended up jamming and binding to the rear sproket. So my bike sat in the corner waiting for me to 1. get the time and 2. find my chain tool to do something about it. Saw the tutorial and decided to give it a go. Ordered a new chain tool and went to work today. About an hour's worth of work (i'm slow). Bike runs fine. I'll be keeping it this way for a while. Thanks for the inspiration. And to the nay sayers - i did it just to get my hands dirty and my wheels back on the road.

Luuke (author)2007-04-15

is it possible to remoove all the other gears? this way it makes it look EVEN COOOLER!! great instructable... befor i read this i was considering buying a expensive single speed bike. thanks for saving my wallet :]

carpe_noctem (author)Luuke2008-01-22

i found , on two separate occasions, two really old huffy bikes. One had everything(wheels, bars, fork, seat), but was an old single speed granny gear coaster brake beach cruiser. The other had only the fork and headset, the pedals and front sprockets, and the derailers, but was a better bike (lighter). I'm currently putting all essential parts onto the lighter (and higher gear, 56 tooth front sprocket) and i hope to make some bullhorn bars from electrical conduit, replacing the current cruiser ones. I'm was thinking of making it a fixie, but realised the trouble and cost. Nearly finished, i haven't spent a penny.

JP215 (author)Luuke2007-12-13

not sure about road bikes, but when i made my mountain bike 1 speed i removed the extra gears in the back. the cassette was made up of the gears with plastic spacers between them. i basically took a few scrapped wheels and harvested the plastic spacers. that way i picked the exact gear i wanted on back and used spacers to line it up with the front chainring. the cassette was held together with 4 or 5 rivets, nothing that a bench grinder could not handle. i once found a bike shop's site that sold the spacer rings (plastic or aluminum), but i can't remember who that was. it may be cheaper to find some trashed mountain bike wheels (like when cars back into locked up ones?). i once got a few sets of spare MTB wheels at a university auction. those poor kids that just lock up the bike's wheel not understanding "quick release". sorry i don't have any pix of the bike if that made no sense. hopefully by now you figured all this out?

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