One of the things that stands out about a "Single Speed" is the clean appearance of the rear wheel assembly and its fit into the frame set.  Beauty is achieved through uncluttered simplicity.  And it is the uncluttered appearance that adds considerably to the perception of light weight.  And, I might add, that the perception of light weight is repeated both in actual bicycle weight and riding feel.

Converting the rear wheel for "Single Speed" use is the one task that will prove to be just too much for most people.  Wheel work is both knowledge (read all about it) and skill (do it over and over) based.  Without both, the person attempting to convert a wheel set is doomed to fail.  Fortunately, both knowledge and skill can be acquired and through the process of acquisition you might seem the odd glimmer or two of hope to improve your own skill set.  Building and converting wheels is not all the difficult but only learning how to do so will lend credibility to that claim.  Additionally...

If you are going to spend a lot of time riding your vintage road bicycle, be it Street Restored or Single Speed Converted, you will be best served if you learn how to maintain your own wheels.  The old school hoops are no unlikely to go out of true from time to time and knowing how to deal with this will greatly improve both your bicycle's daily performance feel but also the dependability factor.

My first attempt to build a wheel set was filled with wonder.  I wondered how to do this and I wondered how to do that.  Fortunately for me, Sheldon Brown's article on wheel building proved to be about the best instructional resource around.  Following that well written and illustrated document, I managed to build the wheel set for my first ever vintage road bicycle Street Restoration project, a mid seventies mid lever Sekine I came to call "Big Green".

The tasks or steps involved in converting a rear wheel for "Single Speed" use are few but each is absolutely important.  However, before even beginning to attempt to convert a ear wheel ensure that the wheel is in good shape.  Cosmetics are an issue that you can fool around with.  You can go for the anti-theft look with a grungy set of wheels, or go all out and opt for new everything.  Of course, going new will cost a pretty good sum of money.  I personally cannot afford to do that even though I have gone that route from time to time.  So, with cost saving in mind, ensure that your wheel set is in good shape mechanical shape.

Take a moment to lubricate each and every spoke nipple with WD-40 or some other similar product.  Do not pour the stuff on.  Rather allow just a wee bit to drain down a spoke and into the spoke/nipple fit.  Go all the way around the rim repeating this individual spoke lube.  Now move your attention to the inside of the rim and add a small bit of WD-40 to each threaded fit there.  Allow this penetrating solution to soak in for a while.  Of course, many people would wonder why bother to do this and the answer is you might have to.  Notice I said, might.  More often than not spoke/nipple fits are a bit seized thanks to the ravages of the passing of time.  A little lube will work wonders even if the spokes are not semi-seized.

Once you have lubricated every spoke/nipple fit, take a moment to check results.  Try and unscrew each nipple by one half turn or so.  While attempting to unthread a nipple ensure that you hold the spoke itself between your index finger and thumb.  Feel for spoke torque or twist.  You want to keep spoke twist to an absolute minimum! Once the nipple turns freely, thread it back to its original position and go on to the next.  You are trying to ensure that there are no seized nipples.  Even one seizure will make wheel conversion impossible to achieve without replacing the spoke, nipple or both.

Next, turn your attention to the wheel hubs.  Some specialty tools are required to work on vintage bicycle wheel hubs.  A set of Cone Wrenches will be lead the list and are pretty much necessary for any hub work to take place.  In addition the the special Cone Wrenches, which are not all that expensive, you will also need a means to clean of the hub, both externally and internally.  I like to use a soft brass wire brush for external cleaning following up with a clean rag or even one with a bit of WD-40 dampened.  I also use a small aluminum tool that I made throughout the hub rebuild process.  This special tool can be used to scrape bearing surfaces and apply grease.  Finally, a magnet is a handy tool to have on hand for reaching into the hub cavity to extract the ball bearings.  Other than that, grease and some clean rags to work with should be all that is required to rebuild a hub.

But, before the hub can be rebuilt, the freewheel must first come off and this will mean another special tool.  You will need the proper Freewheel Remover Adapter to complete this task and there are lots to choose from.  You must ensure that you get the correct adapter, the one that will fit your freewheel.  And then you might as well pick up a second one that will fit your new "Single Speed" freewheel.  Or, you can just rely on the Local Bike Shop to do the freewheel removals for you but this route will definitely become a pain in the butt and very quickly, I might add.

Install the correct adapter in the Freewheel, loosely secure it with the axle nut or quick release and then unscrew the unit.  Considerable pressure might be needed to free the assembly up and I use a 12" adjustable wrench for this task.  I support the wheel on my feet, grip the rim with my elbows, sort of, and break the freewheel free.  It this fails, the adapter can be clamped in a heavy vice and the wheel rim turned.  This second method is highly effective for stubborn freewheels but do not forget to secure the adapter as mentioned earlier.  Failure to do so might result in a damaged adapter or, worse yet, freewheel.  Either situation would make removing the freewheel very difficult.

Once the freewheel has been removed, it is time to take the hub apart.  This is where your Cone wrenches will come into play.  The design of the wheel hub components demands the use of very thin wrenches and this thinness is what the Cone wrenches are all about.  Once again, without them the task would be very difficult to accomplish.

Using appropriate sized Cone wrenches, remove the axle lock nuts and bearing cones on one end only for the time being.  Two wrenches will be needed to break loose the lock nut.  Fit one wrench on the lock nut and the second on the nut or bearing cone adjacent to the first.  Hold the second nut stationary and loosen the lock nut.  Once loose, remove the lock nut, spacer, second lock nut and/or bearing cone.  Now is the time to be careful of falling balls...

I suggest that you work over a place where falling ball bearings can be caught easily.  With one end stripped, pull the axle out slowly and only far enough to allow for the bearings on the open side to be removed.  Grease smeared ball bearings can actually be difficult to remove from the bearing cavity of the hub.  With this in mind, I usually just insert my magnet and out come the balls, no problem at all.  Next, pull the axle completely out of the hub and collect the second, non-drive side ball bearings.

Once all of the parts are removed from the hub and laid out in some sort of order, it is time to carefully and thoroughly clean off each piece that makes up the wheel hub axle and bearing set.

Ensure that the bearings and races are not worn badly or pitted.  If the hubs are in poor condition, either replace the worn/pitted parts or go find another set of wheels to convert.  There is no sense in building a wheel set if the hubs are worn out.  That said, if you just can't find or afford a replacement set, work with what you have.  At least you will get the old bike, and after all it is just an old bike, on the road.

Checking for pitting is not a difficult thing to do.  Often times a fruitful check can be conducted at a glance.  The pitted bearing surface will look pitted.  Sometimes, however, the pitting will be slight and perhaps a bit difficult to see.  If this is the case, try using a fine point ball point pen and attempt to draw on the surfaces of the bearing races.  What you cannot see, the ball point pen will help you feel.  You will actually feel the roughness of the bearing surface if there is any pitting.

Once satisfied that the hub and its internal parts are in good condition, assemble the hub.  Put just enough grease into each cavity to hold ball bearings in place while assembling the hub.  With the balls, usually nine each side for a rear wheel, in place simply thread the bearing cone and any necessary lock nuts and spacers into place.  Set the hub up so that there is just a hint of play for a quick release hub and neither play nor preload for a non-quick release set-up.  Install the freewheel (finger tight is fine for the time being) and slip the quick release skewer into its fit.  Finally, install the rear wheel in the frame set.  Now it it time to adjust the spacing of the hub to accommodate the much thinner single cog freewheel.