In praise of terrible bikes

A paean to a rusty old friend

What kind of bike do you dream about? Is it made of carbon? Does it weigh less than a bag of kittens and come with the promise of KOMs and eternal tailwinds? I’m as keen on the latest and greatest as any of you — the stuff of my daydreams is shiny and expensive; it’s exotic and exclusive. But at the same time, I take great pleasure in the simple things.


There’s a lot to love about a basic, functional bike that just does its job with a minimum of gimmickry, and which you’ve tailored to your needs. In that spirit, meet my On-One Pompino, the hackiest of hacks from Hackistan, my do-everything ride-about-town fixed gear* from when I lived in Edinburgh.

*”Fixie” if you’re under 35 and wear hats indoors, “fixed wheel” if you’re over 60 and have skin like a well-worn Brooks.

My On-One Pompino, 70 gear inches of iron oxide and love
My On-One Pompino, 70 gear inches of iron oxide and love
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

In God we rust

I bought this bike secondhand from a man on a cycling forum a few years ago. Its principal selling points were cheapness, and the fact that it had a relatively desirable rear hub, a pricey double-fixed Goldtec that in the mind of a relatively recent convert to cycling conferred instant street cred. I was naive like that.

That's not dirt, it's character
That’s not dirt, it’s character
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

My intention had been to prettify this machine with perhaps a lick of new paint, but ultimately I only ever made changes that helped the bike work better, wilfully ignoring its aesthetic deficiencies on grounds that ‘patina’ (i.e. rust) made it less of a target for thieves.

I replaced the flexy Tektro front brake and the lumpen matching levers. I experimented with an assortment of saddles. I fitted a rear SKS mudguard and a pannier rack, then catastrophically destroyed the former when the latter came adrift as I foolishly dropped off a kerb with a full load of shopping on the back.

I replaced the guard, but never added the matching front as toe-overlap, a lack of eyelets, and profound laziness got in the way.

The bottom bracket and the headset are the ones the bike came with, and they still work smoothly despite prolonged exposure to the worst of Edinburgh’s climate. (Remember when bottom brackets had threads and lasted forever? Happy days.)

I took the latter apart out of curiosity two or three years ago and was quietly delighted to find that the bearings felt all but new, testament to the wisdom of Cane Creek’s engineers.

They probably envisaged less seedy surroundings for their components
They probably envisaged less seedy surroundings for their components
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

Finally, and of the most sentimental value, the Pompino was the recipient of the first wheel that I built myself after getting my bike mechanic certificate.

I used an old but buttery-smooth XTR hub acquired at the first shop that hired me, and splashed out on one of those gorgeous grey-anodised Mavic Open Pro CD rims to celebrate my newly learned skill.

Two hub pictures in one article? Achievement unlocked!
Two hub pictures in one article? Achievement unlocked!
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

As this is BikeRadar, where we’re all about the details, here’s the full spec:

  • Weight: I really don’t care
  • Frame: On One Pompino DN6 cro-moly with copious rust
  • Fork: ancient Lemond carbon-legged thing that the previous owner got from a bike shop’s box of old crap
  • Brake levers: Shimano R600 – second-hand
  • Front brake: Shimano 105 from the Scott Addict which I bought, stripped, and fitted with a Campagnolo groupset
  • Rear brake: NONE, because I don’t work for The Man
  • Cranks: Shimano 105 FC-5500, 48t chainring of unknown origin which a man on the internet said was 3/32in but which turned out to be 1/8in, forcing me to buy another chain
  • Pedals: Gumtree Shimano XTR which I swapped in for photos because I was embarrassed about the M324 combination pedals I had fitted in case I needed to wear civilian shoes
  • Chain: KMC 1/8in single speed
  • Cog: 18t 3/32in
  • Front wheel: Mavic Open Pro CD rim, XTR M95 hub
  • Rear wheel: Mavic Open Pro, Goldtec fixed hub
  • Saddle: Scott from aforementioned Addict
  • Bars: ditto, wrapped in slightly abraded Deda Mistral tape
  • Tyres: Continental Ultra Sport 23mm scrounged from one of my bike shop employers
  • Rack: Second-hand Bor Yueh
  • Mudguard: SKS P35 Chromoplastic

Notice a theme? The Pompino’s build is the result of a combination of opportunism and a measure of outright laziness, but ultimately it’s about basic functionality. I wanted a bike for all weathers that required no more maintenance than the occasional squirt of chain lube, and by and large it fulfilled that role perfectly.

I was inordinately proud of this mudguard retention solution
I was inordinately proud of this mudguard retention solution
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

The bike has MTB-like geometry which would arguably suit a flat bar better, and the Lemond road fork interferes with this further, dropping and steepening the already low front end. It seems to work though, aided by a deeply unfashionable stack of spacers and a relatively short stem.

The saddle is a faux-Arione that would kill me on longer rides, but I rarely covered more than five or six miles at a time on the Pompino, so it really didn’t matter.

Consider this a middle finger to the 'slam that stem' Gestapo
Consider this a middle finger to the ‘slam that stem’ Gestapo
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

Of late, the bike has languished somewhat as my circumstances have changed and I no longer live in the big city. It lurks in a corner and judges me quietly for riding machines with gears, some worth 10 times its monetary value.

But I’ll never sell it. My Pompino is just a bike. It’s a mechanism of steel, and aluminium, and rubber. It’s a rusty and unlovely heap of a thing. But in every sense, it’s utterly and completely mine.


Editor’s note: the Pompino’s story continues here.