Fixed gear fever
New York City bike couriers have been riding fixed gear bicycles for years. The ultimate bike for them was a trail bike; Single speed “fixed” gear, no brakes. Films have shown messengers entering and exiting traffic, grabbing taxis and buses, and portraying themselves as bicycle outlaws, if not scoffers.
This minimalist bike has now gained a resurgence among universities and urban centers. Bicycles have fewer parts to break or wear, cost less, and are less desirable to a thief – or at least they were before the new popularity. This article will explain what all the fuss is about and how this unusual bike can be a valuable part of an adult recreational rider’s bike stable.
First, let’s take a look at some background on this interesting bike to explain how it came to be where it is today. Bicycles of the late 19th century had single speed “fixed” gears and the “freewheel” did not arrive until the early 20th century. When people are not familiar with a fixed gear bike, they ask “How can you stop it?” and “Can you cost yourself?” I like to use the analogy of a child’s tricycle to explain. The trike has the pedals and cranks directly attached to the front wheel and when you pedal, the trike moves forward and when you resist the pedals, it brakes. This is exactly how a road bike without brakes can change gears.
When bike racers are riding a track bike at a velodrome, everyone is riding bikes without brakes so no one can slow down faster than the next person. This allows a group of cyclists to coexist safely on the edges of the track. When one rides a trail bike on the road with no brakes other than the braking ability to resist the pedals, the situation changes. Bicycle messengers think that it is very good to ride a bicycle in traffic without brakes. However, they tend to be expert drivers who can plan well enough ahead to avoid collisions in most cases. What makes this concept interesting is when a college student or recreational cyclist with undeveloped skills goes out into traffic on one of these machines and can’t deal with the limitations. This is not only incredibly dangerous but it is insane! Many cities like Austin, TX are banning unbraked “repairs” in their urban environment for legitimate safety reasons.
I have a track bike that I ride on the velodrome and I also have another one on the road. How can it be done safely? The answer is simple; I installed a front brake at the fork in the road and now I have a bike that can stop as easily as any other. It also has the advantages of a fixed gear that I am about to comment on and that revolutionizes my training and driving experience. It can also do it for you.
Fixed gear road bikes were used in the Tour de France until the 1930s. The organizers knew that the single-speed bike was much more challenging than multi-gear bikes and therefore they banned bikes. ” ladybugs “for years. These bikes actually had two speeds. The rear wheel had what was called a “flip-flop” hub that had a gear on each side. Smaller gears were used on the flats and descents, while a larger gear (read: lower gear) was used to climb the mountains. Riders had to stop at the end of steep climbs and remove the rear wheel, flip it over, and install it in the lowest gear. They climbed the mountain, stopped at the top, and reversed the process.
As a side note, Tullio Campagnolo invented the “quick release skewer” in 1927 which not only made the business of racing puncture repair easier, but revolutionized wheel changing in races like the Tour de France. Riders had a huge advantage with quick release rather than dealing with wing nuts, which were the standard problem.
Enough of the background! Why the heck would an adult recreational rider want to train on a fixed gear bike? I think there is a better answer than Sir Edmund Hillary used when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. (The answer was: “Because it is there”). The answer lies in the concept of cycling as the Fountain of Youth: intensity.
While we spent a lot of time discussing the best ways to change gears, we didn’t spend a lot of time working on pedaling and cadence. With a fixed gear, you free yourself from the worries of gear selection, as you only have one. Well, you’re not exactly relieved of gear selection worries, you just are when you’re driving! It is very important to choose the right equipment before the trip.
Assuming you agree that intensity is a key ingredient to enjoying cycling as a way to stay young, and the fact that as we age we tend to be busier rather than less busy, a fixed gear bike is an amazing way to prepare an amazing workout. in a short period of time. The reason is this: a 30-mile ride on a road bike will involve a significant amount of slippage. 30 miles on a fixed gear is 30 miles! Also, there is a bonus that is not available on normal road bikes: turning downhill.
When I take the fixie on the highway around San Antonio, I have to pick my gears so I can go up the hills and still be able to hang on after the hill is crowned. It is an interesting challenge to think about the trip before it happens in order to choose the right equipment. I have a collection of chainrings and sprockets, so over time I’ve learned which gears work and which don’t. This is one of the best parts of cycling. We can “fail” by doing something like poor gear selection and the worst that can happen is that we have to go up a hill, hit the brakes on a descent, or get dropped by other riders. That “failure” is what makes us learn. That’s why we train and cycling is so amazing.
Every time I ride the fixie I am fascinated by the elegance and simplicity of a bicycle. It’s amazing to think that this same type of bike was ridden over incredible distances and incredible terrain by riders like us, but born on a different day. The options are simple. Pedal faster, go faster. Pedal slower, go slower. When the hill comes, your energy is what takes you to the top with the tools you have chosen before the trip. When you climb to the top of the hill and everyone else advances, your real work has begun, the descent that turns your legs into a whirling dervish. At the end of the journey, you will know that you have really accomplished something.
This feeling of accomplishment is what makes riders wake up in the morning to brave the elements, traffic, and their demons, and ultimately makes us different from other sedentary people. Cyclists are truly a tough breed and surprisingly, we can become a cyclist at any time in life.
I know this article may not make you all a fixed gear fanatic, but I hope you get some perspective on how we reach the Fountain of Youth. It is through efforts that exceed our limits and recovery, as our bodies respond by becoming stronger and more capable. A fixed gear bike isn’t the only way to stay in shape, but it certainly is interesting!