About a year ago my friend, Sean, and I were at Tam Bikes in Mill Valley, California when I noticed a bike which caught my eye – a belt drive mountain bike by Spot Brand. I immediately feel in love with the belt drive concept due to the simplicity, but I was not in the market for a single speed mountain bike as I already owned a few. But if you can’t buy one, the next best thing was to build it, which is exactly what I did. Here is the story of building up a bike.
Sean and I frequently trained on fixed gear road bikes to help develop leg speed and muscle memory. We started discussing the concept of building a fixed gear road bike utilizing the Gates Carbon Drive System. We had the bike mostly worked out except for two issues – the locking of the freehub on the rear wheel and fitting the belt to the frame. I have seen Shimano freehubs welded on the internet and knew it was absolutely possible. The other issue is the frame we had to use was an older Specialized Langster. This aluminum frame would need to be cut in order to install the belt and a plate would need to be manufactured to reconnect the cut frame parts after the belt was installed. All the solutions were there, but we just never got around to undertaking this job.
The idea came back to life during the 2010 Interbike Outdoor Demo in Boulder City, Nevada. I was there with Sean and Quoc, who one of the owners of Tam Bikes. Tam Bikes is a Spot dealer and is closely located to the manufacturer representative in Northern California. They introduced me to the rep who set me up on a 2010 Wazee belt drive, fixed gear bike to test ride. That ride reignited my desire to have a belt drive, fixed gear bike.
After I returned to Colorado, I contacted Spot to inquire about purchasing a bike or frame. Spot sells through both dealers and directly through their website. They are located in Golden, Colorado which is only about 40 minutes from our home; and I figured that it was best to contact them directly since I had questions regarding the belt drive system and my options with the parts that I already owned. I am currently unemployed (unless you count blogging about building bicycles for KineticShift.com), so money was not unlimited and I needed to utilize some parts that I already owned. I decided on purchasing a 2010 Wazee after discussing my options with the Sales Manager. I was all set to pick up my new Wazee, but the night before I started to really dig into Spot’s website.
My stomach sunk because I realized that there was a better option for me… the 2011 Mod SS. The Wazee does not have a rear brake mount, but Mod SS, Spot’s steel cyclocross frame, does have rear cantilever brake mounts. Though on a fixed gear bike your legs act as the rear brake, I just wanted the rear brake for a bit of safety during quick stops and descents. The change to the 2011 Mod SS meant more money, but the Brand Manager completely agreed with the change due to my reasons. Along with the rear brake feature, the cyclocross frame has a little bit more relaxed geometry which would make the ride a little more comfortable when I encounter a dirt road or on longer rides.
I drove down to Spot and met with the Brand Manager. He showed me my Mod SS and the Wazee frame that I originally was set to purchase. Both frames are built in Golden, Colorado and were beautifully constructed; but I was still committed to my ‘final decision’ for the Mod SS. He faced the headtube, preped the frame and gathered my Gates Carbon Drive parts. I packed it all in my car and headed back home – there was still a lot of work to be done and parts to pull it together. First I started with the wheels. I had the hubs, spokes and rims, but they were all in boxes, not built wheels. I had to order the spoke nipples since I did not have the correct length and I had to order new axles for the hubs because the widths were not correct for the frame. The nipples arrived first so I laced up the wheels and then installed the axles when they arrived. I still needed a fork, cantilever brakes, cranks and various small parts – I had everything else. The Veloswap in Denver was just around the corner so I made my list.
In the meantime, I also searched eBay and local retailers for the parts I needed. I found the fork on eBay, but I waited until the Veloswap for everything else. At the swap I scored the cranks, front brake hanger and some sweet, vintage GT BMX chainring bolts, but now I needed a bottom bracket for the cranks and I still needed brakes. I purchased the bottom bracket from Excel Sports, the brakes from Jenson USA and the rear barrel adjuster for the frame from Community Cycles located in Boulder. I had all of the other parts either in bins or on another bike.
As I waited for the brakes, I assembled the drive train and swapped the axles in the hubs. During this whole process, I was also working on my Jeep. The Jeep had a leaking radiator, so I decided to completely overhaul that system since the vehicle have extremely low miles and the system looked as if it had not been touched in 13 years. This project overtook the Spot Mod SS build. A few weeks past and finally the Jeep project was complete, so I finally had a chance to finish the Mod SS. The remaining build went fairly smoothly. I was removing parts from four other bikes so I did not want to leave those incomplete in my garage. As I removed a part, I replaced it with another part to put the donor bike back together.
Finally I was down to the final stages of finishing the Mod SS. The only part that I had to rebuild was the headset. The headest was originally a part that we received from a team sponsor in 1997 and it was feeling a little ‘crunchy’. I used the Chris King method of removing the seals, spraying it with WD-40, blowing all of the gunk out with compressed air and repacking it with fresh grease. I installed all of the parts, cut fresh cables/casing and wrapped the bars with new handlebar tape… finally it was complete!
It was 3:30pm and darkness was quickly approaching, but I had to give the bike a test ride. I strapped on a rear blinking light and headed out towards Boulder. This bike is incredibly smooth and quiet – the only noise I heard was the clicking from the loose hardware in my shoes. I was afraid that the ride would feel sluggish since I was coming from a Trek T1 track bike, but I was pleasantly surprised with the handling. It was not as quick as the track geometry, but it did feel fairly close to my road bike. I made it to Boulder, passing a few riders on geared bikes on the way; one was obviously not pleased that a rider on a bike with one gear was leaving him behind. When I reached north Boulder, I headed down a dirt road towards an Open Space mountain bike trail. The Spot absorbed most of the bumps just fine, just throwing me slightly off track in the rocks. This is completely acceptable considering that I was on 25mm tires with 120psi. The steeper descents were a bit tricky, but not was not due to the frame, it was due to the fixed gear setup. The rest of the ‘off-road’ experience on this bike was an absolute treat. As I past the entrance to the Boulder Reservoir, a cyclocross course was being setup making me wish that I had also purchased a belt drive freewheel and knobby tires. As I was getting close to my home, darkness was quickly approaching and road construction stood in my way. I headed onto some more Open Space trails as a shortcut to minimize my on-road ride at dusk and finally made it home in the dark. The entire ride was approximately 30 miles and the way this bike rode. I could have easily ridden another 30.
Overall I am extremely pleased with how this bike turned out. I did not image that I would be on a cyclocross frame, but it really is a great all-around frame for where I live. The other unique feature of this fixed frame is the slider dropout which allows the use of quick releases for both the the front and rear hubs – no more hauling around a 15mm open end wrench for the hub nuts. As a bonus, I ever get tired with the fixed/single speed setup I can replace the fixed slider dropout with one that accepts a rear derailleur. The frame already has all of the necessary braze-ons so the changeover would just be as simple as building any other cyclocross frame.
This bike, as picture, came in at 19.5 pounds. I am completely satisfied with the build of this bike, but for those who are concerned with weight could probably shave maybe two pounds off of this bike through the replacement of the fork, wheels, stem and handlebar. The point of this article is the stress the point – if you cannot find it, just build it!
Here is the build:
Frame: 56cm Spot Mod SS (Made in USA)
Fork: Ritchey Comp with 45mm rake
Cranks: Shimano 170mm Dura Ace FC-7800 (discontinued model)
Chainring Bolts: GT BMX Aluminum Single Ring (discontinued model, Made in USA)
Bottom Bracket: Wheels Manufacturing Road BB (Made in USA)
Belt, Chainring and Fixed Rear Cog: Gates Carbon Drive (Belt is Made in USA)
Hubs: Paul – High Flange Front with new quick release axle and High Flange, Flip/Flop Rear with new 130mm axle and quick release nubs (Made in USA)
Wheel Skewers: Salsa Flip-Offs
Spokes: DT Competition
Spoke Nipples: 14mm Sapim
Rims: 32 Hole, Black Mavic CXP 33
Cantilever Brakes: Paul Touring Canti (Made in USA)
Brake Straddle Cable Hanger: Onza Chill Pill (product and company discontinued)
Brake Levers: Cane Creek SCR-5
Headset: Cane Creek (discontinued model, Made in USA)
Stem: Ritchey 4-Axis Pro
Handlebars: Deda Elementi Magic (discontinued model)
Handlebar Tape: Lizard Skins DSP 2.5
Seatpost: Moots Titanium (discontinued model – Made in USA)
Seat: Selle Italia Flite (Troy Lee Designs model)
Pedals: Performance Forte Carve
Tires: Continental Super Sport Plus 25×700