A New Fixation

June 13, 2011

I spent most of one summer of my youth riding a fixed gear, of sorts. It was a unicycle.

Fixed gear on two wheels?

Not so much.

I’m not a fixie type.

Oh, I took one of the U.S. Cycling Federation Project ’96 Super Bikes for a spin once, back when I spent my time chasing around the likes of Marty Nothstein, Mike McCarthy and the Carney brothers before the Atlanta Olympics.

I was smart enough to know my limits. Didn’t dare attempt a whirl around the banked turns of a velodrome. Rolled it safely to a stop, much to the relief of the officials watching as they held their breath. People get nervous when they lend a $10K bike to someone without a USCF license.

Earlier this year, we got a rather famous fixed gear tikit back from one of our highly acclaimed clients. It arrived just in time. I needed to take a tikit down to the Bay Area.

The question was, do I dare venture forth on a fixed gear?

When the orange one-way tikit arrived from service, all tuned up, at my desk, I had no choice but to bolt outside and see what’s up.

Even though I had a meeting in 20 minutes.

Hey, that’s why I work for a bike company, right?

I’ve heard a lot about fixies. The whole bike messenger craze.

It’s the “in” thing in the city.

But I’ve never heard anyone really come out and say, definitively and simplistically: Whoa, this is why I ride a fixie when I’m not chasing Olympic medals around the velodrome.

At least not with any argument that made sense to me.

I’ve just been left with my imagination to figure it out. Without much time on one, it’s been more than a difficult task.

So I hit the Fern Ridge Bike Path out back.

Interesting feel.

Solid, more than anything, describes the sense I get riding it.

Then again, I’m tooling alongside a creek. What about climbing? There will be climbing in San Francisco.

I headed up Bailey Hill Road. Not the most extreme hill in these parts, but a hill, and close.

[I should note here that I didn't ride up Bailey Hill proper, which is a serious test. With just a few minutes to steal for myself, I just rode up the road called Bailey Hill Road.]

This is where life on a fixie departs from cycling as we know it. It’s when you understand the true derivation of the phrase “track stand.”

It’s when you wonder, since you barely can perform a track stand and look coolio at the stop light, if there’s any chance you can do that whenever gravity forces you to surrender your ascent. Which should happen pretty soon.

On occasion, I’ll try to crank it up a hill in a gear like this. When no one’s watching. When I can cry in peace and solitude.

I remember a key change in Lance Armstrong’s arsenal a few years back early in his Tour de France run, when he focused on staying in the saddle on climbs as long as possible. It’s a great tactic for a time like this. Don’t get ahead of myself.

As the momentum slows and the muscles burn, the question becomes if, not when, to stand on those pedals.

Luckily, the grade eased. I made it up seated, still rolling straight — the only wobble coming from my shaking leg muscles, not the the balance of the bike.

Simple. That was the sensation.

So, I thought, that’s what fixies are like on a hill. Not all that much of a revelation.

Then, I turned around.

At that point you understand that you cannot coast at any time or any cost on a descent.

I don’t know about most people, but for me, the thought of taking my feet off the pedals for the descent conjures up the image of pedals and cranks becoming industrial strength meat grinders. And bone grinders.

That’s when I learn that the shaking leg muscles are only halfway into their full fixie form of expression. My head begins to spin at the same cadence as my legs. Strange. Very strange.

By the time I got back for my meeting the sensation of conquest took total control of my mind. I’m not sure what this is all about. I’m just sure that, in a bizarre way, I like it.

The fixie earned a commute home. Stay tuned.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. bikefridaywalter  |  June 13, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Just to set the record straight, a unicycle is a direct drive.

    Regarding hills, Bailey Hill is a wee beastly. Last time I did it fixed I was second up with the Bike Friday lunch ride.

    Gimpl Hill, on the other hand: always first.

    I always feel faster on the flats, too, assuming an appropriate gear & cadence. There’s a simple reason: the wheel wants to keep turning forward despite gravity’s pull downward. A standard wheel just coasts.

    I think the appropriate term is conservation of momentum.

    Bottom line: there’s a lot more logic to fixed gears than people assume.

    Reply
    • 2. Raz  |  June 13, 2011 at 11:58 am

      OK, direct drive. My bad. I’m just the marketing guy.

      But people, do you see the knowledge our Bike Consultants wield? I learn something new every time I listen to them. It’s worthwhile to call.

      Reply
  • 3. S Lee  |  July 16, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    I haven’t ridden fixie in over two years ago now, but this series of posts has got me itching for it again.

    I don’t have a Tikit (yet), so I’m curious what happens when the bike is folded and rolled around? Actually, looking again at a photo, the bike is rolled on its front wheel, huh?

    Reply
    • 4. Raz  |  July 16, 2011 at 6:55 pm

      It rolls on the front wheel, and rather easily. Simple, just like a fixie.

      Reply

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