Experimental music, photography, and adventures

An unexpected find

Monday, February 7th, 2011

I’m in the habit of keeping my eye out for used bikes. It’s surprising how infrequently I find anything worthy of serious consideration, but maybe that’s a good thing. I’ve long wanted to try single-speed riding, so that’s been mostly what I’ve been watching for.

A couple days ago, my wife sent me a link to a Craigslist posting. Someone was selling a Schwinn-made Little 500 bicycle, which they had setup in what they described as a “cyclocross build.”

Long story short: today I connected with the seller, took the bike for a test ride, and bought it. It’s a little hard to tell in the photos, but it’s a very nice cream color. By the way, I was thinking about passing on this deal, but my wife encouraged me to go for it. I’m very lucky.

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The Little 500 bicycle is a bit of an oddity. Stock, they come as a singlespeed with only a coaster brake, single-piece cranks, fairly wide tires, and platform pedals. In fact, the race rules require them to be ridden much like this.

There are only two sizes of these bicycles. It just so happens that the “men’s” size is 56cm, and I ride a 56-58cm.

This particular Little 500 bike is odder still. It has cantilever brakes. But, the frame/fork weren’t designed for them. So the rear brake has a weird bracket thing that attaches to the caliper mount. The front brake was added by swapping the fork out with a Surly Cross Check fork. It also has a nice SRAM crank, which I believe was installed with some sort of bottom bracket adapter. Obviously, someone had gone out of their way to set this bicycle up just how they wanted it. Conveniently, this is just about the ideal setup from my point of view, too.

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So far, I’ve found one issue that is sort of problematic. When you apply the front brake, it squeaks and shimmies rather badly. I’m hoping I can figure out a solution (any suggestions would be great). The previous owner hadn’t even attempted to fix this problem. He pointed it out to me before I even did a test ride, and he knocked the price down a bit to compensate, too.

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The bike came with everything, except pedals and saddle. I put my Brooks B17 saddle on there, which I haven’t used for a while, along with a pair of platform pedals.

I also need to adjust the handlebar height. The bars are just too low. I plan on flipping the stem, but it looks like I’ll have to buy new brake cables/housing so they’ll reach.

I did another test ride after dark around the neighborhood, and the bike is a lot of fun to ride. I went down a large-ish hill so I could try climbing with the single gear. It was very doable.  I’ll be curious to see how it fares on bigger, steeper hills. I’m excited to log some singlespeed miles on this fun bicycle!

14 Responses to “An unexpected find”

  1. Pondero Says:

    Congrats on having another arrow in the quiver. Enjoy the simplicity!

  2. Bill Lambert Says:

    Sometimes a bike just finds you. It’ll be fun to see where it takes you.

  3. the flat tire Says:

    Nice find!
    Seems like you got some Banshee Brakes there.

  4. Scott Loveless Says:

    Front brake chatter can be a real pain. First, I’d start by cleaning the canti posts with steel wool and then applying liberal amounts of grease to them. Make sure both arms are moving freely. Next, adjust the pads. Toe in the leading edge a bit and make sure they’re vertically parallel to the rims at the point of contact. Finally, if that doesn’t do it, get some Kool Stop pads.

  5. David Crowell Says:

    Welcome to the single-speed club!

    As far as the brakes, toe-in is key. I’ve also found the Kool-stop salmon pads to be noisy, but they stop well.

  6. Apertome Says:

    Scott: Thanks for the tips. I think I’ll try for the adjustment first, they look a little off and if that does it, I won’t have to take the whole thing apart. It already has Kool Stop pads.

    David: This problem goes well beyond noise. The chatter is quite aggressive, and it makes the front brake very grabby. It’s not safe, especially in slick conditions.

  7. mike Says:

    fun looking ride! canti’s are sometimes difficult to get setup. i run kool stop salmon pads year round. a trick to get the ‘toe in correct’ that i’ve used is to wrap a rubber band around the trailing edge of the pads when you are adjusting the position and ‘swivel’.

    you might want to be sure the headset is installed properly. when i had my crosscheck the shop tightened down the carrier that acts as a cable stop on the steerer before the headset was properly tightened. this let the fork chatter in the frame… a few turns of the allen key was the remedy – but it was maddening at first. also – i’ve had low end cantis that just sucked, regardless of how they were set up. on my cc i eventually moved to v-brakes – more power, some claim less modulation and feel. you can run those with a flat bar or with a lever designed to pull enough cable.

    can you post a better pic of the rear? if the rear bridge is drilled and in the proper location you may be able to get a long reach caliper on there to hit the rim. would be cleaner looking, and likely offer more consistent braking.

    does that wheel offer the ability to mount a fixed cog on the other side? that’s when the fun starts – especially for a commuter… 😉

  8. Doug Says:

    What a fun bike.

    My first gut reaction to the chatter was the same as Mike’s. Was the headset installed properly with the appropriate spacers and tightened down correctly?

    My Kool Stop pads on my Cross Check squeal all the time. They’re hard to toe in. Maybe I’ll try the rubber band tip.

  9. Apertome Says:

    I don’t really know how to properly install a headset, but I suppose this is a good time to learn. That’s one good thing about this bike: it’s not my main transportation, so I’m not afraid to try working on it more. And, being a singlespeed, it’s simple. There’s less for me to mess up.

    I’m also considering intentionally putting weaker brakes or pads on the front. I don’t want or need to be able to lock up the front wheel, and I have a feeling less stopping power might mitigate the problem.

    This bike does NOT have a flip-flop hub. That’s an upgrade I’d like to make, at some point. I definitely want to try fixed-gear riding.

  10. Tim Says:

    Well that’s fun! Congrats and something to be excited about come warm weather.

  11. Robert Rowe Says:

    Congrats on the new ride! I have the “bikes” section of my local Craigslist in my RSS reader, and try to keep an eye out for deals (right now, I’m trying to convince my girlfriend that I need a single-speed “mountain-bike” for winter/messy riding…we’ll see…)

  12. Jon Grinder Says:

    Sweet! I’ve always wanted one of those Little 500 bikes (at least since I first saw Breaking Away, anyway).

    While you are working on the front brake, check the rim for damage. Sometimes, a dent in the outer circumference of the rim will produce a wide spot, which can result in some pretty bad grabbiness.

  13. Jeremy Says:

    Congrats on the new ride! Single speed is so nice. just. simple. riding.

    Cheers:)

  14. Doohickie Says:

    That’s a good lookin’ bike. I hope you have many happy miles on it.

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