Getting fixed

A single speed is a benevolent ride and will happily tolerate you whether you’re pedaling or not. The same bike, once fixed, is a contrary beast that has no use for free-riders and will try and eject you from the bike if you ever you stop pedaling.

These are things I’ve discovered this week after flip-flipping the rear hub and going fixed. You might think that it’s a bit late in the day for someone who maintains a blog about single-speeds and fixies to go fixed. I’d point out that the blog is called Single Speed Gold Coast and there is a perfectly good Gold Coast blog for the hardcore fixed. In most cases there is only a flip and a flop between a fixed bike and a single speed bike anyway.

Flip-flop hubs, great for flip-floppers like myself.

The bad weather is what made me flip-flop the flip-flop rear hub over to the fixed side. The freewheel, only months old, all but seized on me and was unrideable. The Knog rear flashy almost died too but has come good. But that’s another story.

My adaption to the fixed gear life has been a slow and painful one. I can’t remember not to forget to stop pedaling. And when I do forget, like cresting a hill and thinking I can coast down the other side, the bike gets a notion to throw me off the bike. The pedal that I’ve decided to rest my foot on continues in motion and propels that foot, and rider, skyward. Yesterday I half remembered but a little bit too late and one foot was left chasing the pedals round trying to get re-acquainted as the pedal built up speed.

I’m yet to remove any brakes from the machine and I can’t see any point in the near future when I will. I can’t for the life of me get the bike to skid and I’m lucky if I can get it to slow down much. Braking on a fixie is a strange and counter-intuitive thing. For years my muscles have been adapted to propelling the pedals forward and now they’re suddenly being asked to push backwards against revolving pedals. The  pedals have a certain momentum of their own (that is, all the momentum of the fat cyclist that sits upon the bike) and you only get a tiny fraction of a moment to press back against them, and then they’ve gone around another time and you’re trying in vane to make them stop this time round. You would think that the great big muscles of my legs (that’s in comparison to other muscles in my body…not in comparison to say Mark Cavendish) would be capable of doing what the little muscles of my hand do so easily but so far they’re not even getting close.

Cavendish plays paper-scissors-rock against himself while winning yet another sprint.

Fixie’s are ascribed all sorts of magic properties. Apparently on a fixie you can be at one with your bike Yoda-style and all this mastery of control over your bike is the reason why you don’t need brakes and shit. I can’t say yet whether I’m going to be a better ride as a result of getting fixed but I may end up being a fitter ride. There’s a simple reason for that. I can’t stop pedaling.

I’ve always thought of bikes as being an efficient battery. Riding up a hill is me charging the battery. Coasting back down the other side is me discharging the battery.  Until hover boards and perpetual motion devices are invented bikes will remain the single most efficient way of getting from A to B. Fixies defy that logic by making you pedal everywhere, up hill, down hill, on the flat…everywhere. It’ll make me a fitter rider for sure but I do wonder at the logic of it. Why have I chosen to do more pedaling? What’s the logic behind that? Often my feet are just following the pedals so the effort isn’t great, but on any other bike my legs wouldn’t be moving at all. So putting logic aside for the moment I can see how all this extra pedaling will make me fitter and stronger rider. Hopefully too while my legs are flailing away trying to keep up with pedals flying around in circles at about 160rpm I’ll learn to improve my cadence.

Yoda: Always in motion is the future.

I’m yet to find any grace on the fixed bike. Grace is one of the things that separates riders from everyone else, including people who ride bikes but only sometimes. Car drivers could not be less graceful. Sitting at a traffic light the car is a graceless hunk of metal, the car driver is sitting in an armchair will all the grace of Norm the Life Be In It guy watching the footy slouched in his chair. In motion a car almost never gets to show any real grace, and it’s doubtful the driver would even be capable if the situation arose. Stopped at lights, the cyclist track stands, poised and ready. He can be graceful even at rest. Ridden properly the bike is poetry in motion even while just doing a commute. I had a certain grace on a single speed but I make too many mistakes on a fixie to be mistaken for anything other than a newby. My track stands are okay and improving but everything else looks dodgy. My gutter jumping bunny hops were serviceable and are now non-existent. And then there is that ugly flailing of legs and pedals when I forget to keep pedaling…

I’ve had some dodgy moments while fixed. My moments on gravel have been the worst. I’m used to setting myself up and hitting these sections with the pedals at 3pm/9pm position. But now while I have to pedal straight through with all the momentum only a fixie can carry. Riding through a gravelly section pedaling furiously while the bike sloughs into a two wheel slide is fun but a little sketchy at times. I don’t feel like it’s something I’ve chosen to do or something I’m in control of. I’m just hanging on while the bike takes me for a ride.

I’ll persist with the fixed lifestyle for a while but I have to admit I’ve taken a notion at home to ride straight home and swap back to the freewheel even though it’s a bit screwed. I wont too see if I can get over the hump though and find something in the fixed wheel that elevates it in a way that so many people claim it does. Whether I get jedi-like bikes skills or give up in disgust, I’ll be sure to report back either way.

One Comment

  1. Daka

    I’m fighting the urge to go over to the dark side and ride fixed because at 46 I fear my diminished coordination and healing time will result in me looking like a lump of raw meat, marinated in gravel, with assorted bony bits sticking our for dramatic effect. That said, single speed doesn’t have the zen mystique, but it still allows for a little relative minimalist smugness. Pedal on! Thanks for the blog, with all its variety.

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