Wabi Cycles' fixed gear bicycle design philosophy

Wabi Cycles' fixed gear frame design philosophy

Wabi Cycles' fixed gear wheel design philosophy

Wabi Cycles' fixed gear component philosophy

Wabi Cycles' fixed gear bicycle design philosophy

I first started riding fixed gear bikes in 1978 for off-season training for road racing. But I quickly found that I actually enjoyed riding fixed just for the sake of riding it. Now, fast forward to the 2000's and we are seeing a major increase in the sales and use of the fixed gear, which is very cool in my opinion (what took everybody so long?). However, virtually all of the fixed gears now available from the cycling industry are really pretty basic machines designed for high volume selling- most are cro-moly steel frames, using the lower level straight gauge or double butted tubing, or 6061 aluminum frames, with decent components. Very serviceable machines and fun to ride, but designed more for sales volume than for riding. Over the years there has been a lot of improvement in cycling technology, and it doesn't matter whether you ride a city bike, a touring bike, a mountain bike, a racing bike or a fixed, the design and materials used have a significant impact on the ride quality and enjoyment of the bike. The two critical elements are the frame (for ride quality, fit, rider positioning and comfort) and the wheels (for responsiveness and ride quality). For the Wabi fixed gears, I chose to use higher quality materials than you'll find in any of the ones out there that are designed for use on the streets. My frames use higher quality tube sets (Reynolds 725, for example), which are lighter, stronger and more responsive (and costly) than the lower quality cro-moly used on the other fixed gears out there, resulting in a lighter frame with better ride quality. I am able to offer these high end bikes at the prices I do simply because Wabi Cycles is a no frills company, with low overhead costs, and direct relationships with the factories. The goal is to first, provide excellent bikes, and secondly, provide them at the best possible price. For more thoughts on frame and wheel design see the info below.

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Wabi Cycles' fixed gear frame design philosophy

Like with most things, there are many opinions on frame design. When it comes to fixed gears it's especially true. The street fixed is inspired by the track bike, which uses a frame with generally more upright angles, less fork rake and round fork blades. This is great for the track, both for the type of riding done, and for the riding surface. But once you get on the street, that design has some shortcomings. The upright design is not as useful for climbing or descending, where it helps to be able to shift your weight rearward in relation to the bottom bracket, and is uncomfortable to ride on rough roads, since the frame is built for a smooth track surface. The round fork blades are not designed for use with a brake- they will flex tremendously under braking forces. My approach is to find the best combination of quickness and "streetability", so the Wabi fixed design is based on a mix of track and classic road geometry. The seat tube angle is designed to allow the correct positioning over the bottom bracket for road use, but the bottom bracket is higher than a standard road bike, to avoid digging a pedal while cornering. Also, I incorporate the traditional track style rear drops which allows the most flexibility in gearing choice. The front end of the bike (head angle and fork rake) is designed to produce a specific handling characteristic- quick and manueverable but stable. By using higher quality tubing the weight is reduced and the ride quality is enhanced over the basic steel or aluminum frames that are used for pretty much all of the other fixed frames out there.

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Wabi Cycles' fixed gear wheel design philosophy

Over the past several years there has been a move to the aero, or V section rims, initially for aerodynamics, but then for aesthetic and to some degree, strength aspects. The V section rim design is stronger, more resistant to deformation than the older style box section rims. It has also allowed the use of fewer spokes, which is good for aerodynamics. One big ride quality drawback is that the increased vertical rigidity of the V section design makes for a harsher ride, and the shape requires more material, so the rims are heavier. For a fixed, aerodynamics is not really a big factor. Lighter, quicker wheels are better- more fun when accelerating or attacking a hill. When it comes to fighting gravity, rotating weight has the most impact. In addition, the further away from the center of the rotating mass (the wheel in this case) the more effect the weight has. So, tire weight is more important than rim weight, which is more important than spoke weight, etc. For my wheels, here's the design- light tires (folding, Kevlar bead) and light rims, built around sealed bearing hubs. This combination harkens back to wheel designs from many years ago (pre- aerodynamic craze), but uses today's better engineered parts. On a fixed, the result is strong, light (where it's important), fast, comfortable wheels.

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Wabi Cycles' fixed gear components philosophy
Several factors were considered when choosing the various components for the Wabi bikes, but they did not include using specific brand names. Quality, value and appearance were the criteria used. Here's a discussion about each part used:

Cranks: I spec a Taiwanese made crank that uses cold forging (the best method) to make the crank arms, and CNC'ed chain rings, again, the preferred method, in 7075 aluminum. The processes used ensure precision, and the 7075 material is harder and more durable than the vast majority of the chain rings available (generally the softer 6061 material is used). Bolt circle diameter (BCD) is 144mm, to eliminate chain ring flex.
Bottom bracket: The BB used is a fully sealed unit, super smooth. It will last for many years with no maintenance required.
Headset: The quality and proper adjustment of the headset has a very direct impact on the handling of the bike. The headset used features cartridge sealed bearings. The result is a maintenance and trouble free system in a component often skimped on in the specing process.
Brakes: The brakeset uses cold forged arms and levers for minimal flex. Braking is light and solid. Brake pads are cartridge type, easily replaceable. To see my thoughts on brakes for fixed gears, click
here.
Rear fixed cog: The primary criteria for a fixed cog are that it must be round and concentric, to minimize varying chain tension, must have a precisely formed tooth shape, for smooth, quiet operation, and must be precise in the threaded portion, to avoid damage to the hub threads. The cogs I use are machined, not stamped, to achieve all of these criteria.
Chain: A fixed gear chain needs to do only a couple of things well- be smooth and quiet. Obviously, strength is a requirement, but any decent brand of chain will have enough of that. However, I have tested several different chains and actually found a less well known maker that makes a superior product, and at a lower cost (not much, but still) than the brand used on probably 90% or more of the bikes on the market. Keep the chain reasonably clean and lubed, and it will last for years. The primary reason to change it would be if you go to a new cog after a few thousand miles and there’s roughness from the chain pins having worn along with the old cog.

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Handlebar: Being one of the 3 contact points on the bike, the choice of handlebar can be quite personal. What I did was test and review several models and brands of bars, and based on the (admittedly subjective) evaluation of these samples, chose a square shaped, medium drop bar. There are many, many types and shapes of bars out there- why did I choose the drop style road bar? Because of the multiple hand positions possible, the drop bar is by far the most versatile. With the brake levers in place you have even more positions available. This allows you to utilize many different muscle groups, as well as obtain a more aerodynamic position when needed. There’s a reason this is the bar shape used for all serious road bikes.
Stem: The main goal for the stem is to be rigid enough to adequately resist torque (again, strength is an issue, but all quality stems are fully tested before getting into the market). There are only about a thousand models of stems out there that would be appropriate to use, and I chose this one.
Seatpost: Like the stem, the options for seat post are plentiful. I chose one whose design has been around for many (20+) years, based on functional design, appearance and weight. Two main design points- 1) the post and saddle clamp base are a 1 piece forged design, for maximum strength, and 2) the saddle clamp design allows for infinite saddle angle positioning. There are no interlocking grooves as on a lot of posts, which only allow adjustment in 3 or 4º increments.
Saddle: Being the main contact point on the bike, the saddle is the most personal component choice of all. I chose a minimalist racing style saddle (that I happen to like quite a bit, actually) with a narrow nose and flexible base. Some like more padding, some have their favorite model, etc. But remember, the base flex is more important to long distance comfort than the padding is. So, a good base design plus the correct shape of the base (how it conforms to your shape) are the key ingredients in saddle comfort. In addition, proper adjustment (height and angle) are critical, along with how the handlebars are positioned in relation to the seat.

Component weights: weight is an important element (more for some than others) in the choosing of components. To see a listing of component weights, and some general thoughts on the subject, click here

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On this page I'll try to explain the thinking behind the bicycles in more detail. What is the philosophy used for the basis of the design of the
bicycles? How did I decide on each of the components used? If there is anything else you want to learn about the bikes, just let me know.
Technical information
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