After a long break I’m finally back to explain how to convert your used road bikes to single speed. There are many reasons you may want to do a conversion but that is a big enough subject to save for another post. Today I am focusing on how to do the conversion. And keeping with the used road bikes theme, I will be showing the fastest, easiest, and least expensive way (within reason) to do the conversion. There are many other things you could do to make the conversion more “perfect” and permanent; however, for most people the conversion I’m showing will suffice. Also, as I’ve said in earlier posts, I did this conversion to my bike right after getting it because one of the detailer cables was broken. Therefore, to the experienced mechanic, some pictures may seem slightly out of order if you know what to look for.
Also, I’ve decided to include the cost of doing these conversions and repairs I’ve been talking about, so from now on I’m going to include the cost of any parts necessary to do any work I talk about. For this conversion I spent ~$25 for a new freewheel and that’s it. If you need to buy the single speed conversion it is about the same cost. The only other expense my be to pay or tip your local bike shop for any assistance they provide. If you choose to replace the hub and/or front sprockets/cranks the cost could quickly jump into the hundreds.
1. Phillips and flat head screw driver (to remove derailleurs and shifters)
2. Crescent wrench or socket (to remove the axle nuts)
3. Chain breaker
4. Wire cutter (speeds up the process)
5. Freewheel/Sprocket remover (don’t worry if you do not have one)
6. Depending on your bike you may need allen wrenches
Break the chain with your chain breaker. This is somewhat tricky if you plan to reuse it and do not have a master link.
First, place the chain in the breaker and start pushing out the pin until it is almost out, but not entirely.
Then, pull the chain out of the breaker by loosening the pin pusher.
If you’ve pushed it out enough you will be able to bend the chain and it will pop apart. If not, place it back in the breaker and push out the pin a little bit more and try again. Continue until you get it to pop apart…it should look something like this
Pull it off the bike. If you plan to reuse it (which you can, as far as length is concerned), place it aside.
Next, is to go ahead and loosen and remove all the derailleur and shifter bolts. And remove the shifter(s) and derailleur(s). If you don’t plan on ever using the wires again I suggest just cutting the wires, it makes it much easier to pull them off the bike.
Remove the rear wheel by loosing the axle nuts and pulling it out of the dropouts.
If you have the freewheel/sprocket removal tool you can go ahead and remove the rear cassette or freewheel. Depending on how old your bike is it may be a freewheel with multiple gears (which is what mine was, as the picture shows it just unscrewed from the hub) or it may be a cassette, which means there a many separate gears all locked onto the hubs cassette. Either way you need to get them off and if you are not very experienced with this I suggest taking it to a local bike shop and just tell them you want to remove the gears from the wheel. I did this and they removed it for free.
(alternative to Step 4)
The other thing you could do is simply skip to step 6 and not take out any chainrings, instead just choose one to use and make the chain fit that setting. This is possible and works, however, it leaves a lot of unnecessary weight and ‘junk’ on your bike. It is much cleaner and lighter to do this part correctly.
If it is a freewheel, all you need to do is simply buy a new single speed freewheel and screw it on the hub. The only trick is finding out what gear ratio you want. Mine is 40/16 and as a relatively new single speed rider it is perfect. The best way to figure out what works best for you is to try some different gears before starting the conversion process. Lots of places across the web sell Freewheels and removal tools as well as local bike shops.
If it is a cassette, you can pick out one of the gear that you’d like to use as your single speed and save it. There are numberous single speed conversion kits available online that come with a gear or multiple gears. Here are a few for starters… single speed conversion kits. Just find one that will work with your type of hub (which is most) and the number of gears on your cassette and you will be set. These will come with directions on how to install and it is fairly straight forward.
Put the rear wheel back on and finger tighten the axle nuts. Get the chain you are going to use and lay it over the gears and pull the ends together to figure out the length you are going to need. You will need to shorten the chain since it is not going to go through the derailleurs and multiple gears. Make sure you break the end that does not have the pin in it. If you removed your chain correctly (as I stated above) you will be able to break the chain completely this time (push the pin completely out) and just snap the other end into the new break and press the pin in. You’ll obviously need to take the chain back off the gears to get enough slack to put it together but make sure it stays on the bike, it must loop around the chainstay in order to go back onto the gears properly.
Place the chain back on the gears and tighten the rear wheel making sure the chain is taught. Double check the chain alignment by looking at it from above and pedaling backwards. If it continues to jump off the gears you will need to change the spacing either on the front or back gear so that they are aligned better.
Enjoy! Go for a test ride and make sure everything is functioning and if you replaced the freewheel you may feel it tighten as you pedal the first few times.
Again, depending on your bike there may be a few differences. Also, there are a number of other things that are beyond the realm of this post that could be done such as replacing the rear hub or the front chainrings. If your front chainrings are just bolted together you can unbolt the ones you are not using and leave the one you are using to further reduce weight and clean it up. If there are any questions do not hesitate to ask in the comments, I’m sure many others will benefit from them as well.