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The Alure of the Fixie

by on September 23, 2011

My children think I’m crazy.  My spouse just shakes her head slowly from side to side.  Most of the people at work don’t know and wouldn’t understand.  And I’m enamored.  It is all about the fixie.

This is a single gear bike with no coasting.  If the bike is moving, so are the pedals.  Since I lock my feet into the pedals through a cleat system, as long as the bike is moving, so are my legs … sometimes very fast (as in downhill), and sometimes exceedingly slow (as in uphill).  I have both rear and front brakes (although some fixie riders don’t).  I am by no means an expert.  I’ve logged 157 miles on the bike in about 10 hours, so I’m still pretty much a novice at it.

But I love it.

  1. I have a different feel on the bike.  I feel more connected.  I have fewer choices.  Sometimes I can tell the bike where to go and how fast to get there, and other times the bike is in control.  We have an ongoing dialogue.  Gradually, I’m getting the upper hand.  I’m told that this connection is especially valuable in wet and snowy weather.  I’ve ridden wet.  Bring on the snow.
  2. I have an entirely different approach to hills that impacts my other riding.  I need to anticipate hills when on the fixie.  The hill climb begins before there is any increase in elevation.  I accelerate before the hill arrives and I continue to apply power all the way up the hill.  To do otherwise is not only too much effort, but risks me having to climb off and walk up the hill.  I have a bike so I don’t have to walk.  The gear I’m in is the only gear I have, so the legs have to do the work to pull me up.
  3. I’m now learning to slow down without the brakes.  This doesn’t translate to the other bike, but it is a nice accomplishment.  I can’t describe the way I am slowing yet, because it feels odd and I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing, but it works.  That means also that my legs are providing the deceleration, which requires effort, which results in leg strength.
  4. Riding the fixie should improve my pedaling circle.  As the cadence increases, the only chance for “rest” is to have an efficient pedal stroke.  There is immediate feedback especially at higher speeds.  When I start bouncing in the saddle, it is because I’m no longer spinning circles.
  5. Riding the fixie should improve my bike handling skills.  Coasting covers all sorts of flaws and behaviors.  When I can coast, I coast over bumps, changes in road conditions, turns, while drinking, while looking over my shoulder for traffic, when coming to a stop, when I reach the top of a hill, when I anticipate a hill climb, and I soft pedal when shifting gears.  Now, doing all these things with the pedals moving adds a complexity that seems innocent enough at first, but is surprisingly difficult in actuality.  When turning with a lean, I have to be careful because I can get a pedal strike if I lean too much or an overlap between my shoe and the front tire if I turn the tire sharply.  Putting the water bottle in the holder is trickier when the legs are moving.  Blowing my nose while the pedals are moving is a bit more tricky.  You get the idea.
  6. I anticipate greater leg strength.  I don’t know how much I coast on a geared bike, but I’m sure it is a significant percentage.  With a fixie, that’s out the window.
  7. I’ll be encouraged to learn to do a track stand (remaining clipped into the pedals while stopped on the bike balancing it without putting a foot down.)
  8. When I do my first 100 mile ride or 200k on a fixie, I get bragging rights and looks of awe from regular riders.
  9. I provide entertainment for those who are behind me as I fly down a hill at 30 mph, legs spinning nearly out of control.
  10. I’m aware when riding the fixie that the vast majority of people simply see a bicycle being ridden.  They have no idea that I can’t coast.  It is like riding with a secret.

Maybe the fun will wear off.  I hope not.

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One Comment
  1. Ain’t that the truth!

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