The first and most obvious point is the magic of the freehub. Unless you’re totally hard core fixed you probably have a freehub on the other side of your wheel. You should give it a go one day. It’s like free energy. Honestly, if you’re used to pedaling down every hill you have no idea how enjoyable it can be to coast down one. It’s akin to magic this experience of traveling without earning it. You just stop pedaling and…here’s the magic bit…the bike keeps gliding along. Compared to the experience of pedaling up and down every hill it’s on par with how birds must feel when the soar. (Except in my dreams where I soar with the birds before I always realize I’m not a bird and the magic of flying promptly deserts me. Queue Wile E Coyote style flailing of arms.) There’s no other form of transport that offers such freedom. Stop walking and the traveling stop. Skateboards can coast but they’re slow and bumpy compared with a bike. Your car has a petrol engine still bubbling away even when coasting down hill. The magic of a bicycle lies in its coasting, the ability to glide along as effortlessly as an eagle on a thermal.
If that’s all too poetic for you (and I sympathize, it was a bit saccharine) then think of a bicycle as an efficient battery. You charge it up by climbing a hill and it discharges when you roll down the other side. Returns can be as good as 100%. That is, if you ride back down the hill you just climbed you’ll get all the way to the bottom.
Maybe I’ve confused my battery theory. It’s probably the other way round. If you ride down a hill you charge the battery and it discharges and propels you up the other side. Returns on that can be as much as 80%, which I’m sure is pretty good for a battery also. The main problem with this bike as battery theory in is the bike reaches full charge pretty quickly. A 30second climb will likely get you most of the way up a similar sized hill. Whereas a 10 min hill climb will still only get you up a very small hill.
Okay, so it’s a bike and not a battery and it’s not a frigging bird. But there is still considerable magic getting about without the requirement for the constant flailing of legs.
|(Not a boxed collectors item ninja throwing star. Actually a freewheel for adding magic coasting power to your bike.)|
When I say that the magic of coasting was one of the first thing I noticed, it wasn’t actually the first thing I noticed. The first thing I noticed was the reassuring pressure from the fixed hub was missing from my ride. Whether I knew it or not I had grown accustomed to having the pedals always pushing round and was somehow dependant on it. When you’re feewheeling you have to find a balance point, pedals at 3pm and 9pm, but with a fixed bike the pedals are always there and if you stop pedaling they go round anyway. If you’ve always had a freehub you’re probably not even aware of this balance thing you do. It’s only when you’ve had a period fixed that it becomes evident. You don’t even realize you have this back pressure from the fixed hub to rely upon because it’s not something that registers until it’s gone. When it’s taken away it’s like the training wheels have been removed from your bike. And you didn’t know you had training wheels to begin with. My balance was lost and it felt like I was,well, freewheeling. It was a disconcerting feeling for the first…hmm…maybe five minutes. And then it felt natural again.
The other thing about that back pressure is the ability to lean back against it and adjust your pace. Being able to adjust your speed by adjusting the speed of the pedals gives you a degree of subtlety that is missing once you’re freewheeling again. Times I noticed this most were in tight maneuvers. Brakes are a bit jerky in an on-or-off kinda way compared with being fixed.
I never mastered stopping on a fixie, and to say that is something of an understatement. I might have used the fixed hub to adjust my speed in slow speed situations but once I got up to speed I was completely reliant on my brakes. Switching back to freewheeling didn’t present any challenges when it came to stopping proper.
If I lived in an urban setting I might consider staying fixed. In my city though we have this thing we call urban sprawl and really no city centre at all despite a population of over half a million people. I spent too much time pedaling furiously downhill while fixed. Keeping up with a bike at 40km/hr was beyond my limited abilities, at 50km/hr it got scary. I found myself mapping routes that didn’t have hills and riding out of my way as a result. It was fun for a while, to map new routes in my mind and enjoy this little challenge, but after a while it just became a pain in the arse.
I was enjoying being fixed but one day I was tired and wanted to relax on a commute to a job so I abruptly converted the bike back to freewheel and became single once again. And so far I haven’t looked back.