Thursday, September 22, 2005

Cult of the Fixed Gear

I’ve written about fixed gears before now, and I won’t go into the process of converting a road bike to a fixie. Sheldon Brown covers it much better than I can. Converting an old bike to a fixed gear is a fine way to keep it on the road. Replacing all the drivetrain components can be uneconomical and a fixed gear conversion can save that bike from the scrap heap.

I like fixed gear bikes for winter riding, particularly with a small gear that makes me spin a lot. Since my speed is lower, wind chill isn’t a big factor. And winter is definitely coming. Why, here in Oklahoma, it’s already dropped into the 60s at night! Brrr.

My first fixie was a Paris Sport track bike. It was a cheap bike and looked it. But the geometry was pure track. The bike had razor-sharp handling, and it was a joy to ride. That is, it was a joy to ride for relatively short distances because the ride was harsh. Every little seam in the pavement was transmitted up through that stiff frame into my hands and butt. I felt every pebble and every pothole. Still, it was fun.

Since then, I’ve had several road conversions and I much prefer them to track bikes, especially for commuting. The ride is more forgiving and I really do value my comfort!

But why ride a fixed gear? What advantage does it have?

From a pure maintenance standpoint, fixed gears are easier to maintain since there are fewer parts. The drive train is simple, and chains last a long time. Another strong point is the rear wheel. Since it doesn’t have to be dished to accommodate a gear cluster, the spokes are evenly tensioned side-to-side, making the wheel stronger and enabling it to stay true longer.

Those mechanical benefits pale in comparison to the benefits a fixed gear rider receives. Common sense would seem to indicate that having only one gear for all conditions would put the rider at a serious disadvantage, particularly uphill or into the wind. Also, since the rider couldn’t coast, he’d never get a chance to rest.

Common sense is often wrong.

Fixed gear riders talk about feeling connected to the road, and there’s something to be said for that, particularly when riding a track bike. Every bit of effort put into pedaling is immediately felt powering the bike down the road. And there are some truly magical moments when a tailwind makes it feel like you’re running effortlessly on the pedals. The bike almost moves by itself.

Climbing is easier on a fixed gear because there are no ‘dead spots’ at top-dead-center and bottom-dead-center of each crank revolution. Momentum carries you through those spots, and it’s a pleasant surprise to find you can climb in a much higher gear than you would otherwise.

Your pedaling motion will be smoother as you learn to pedal in circles rather than squares. Most cyclists pedal by pushing down and pulling up on the pedals, but a fixed gear trains a rider to apply power much more smoothly. In particular, it allows a rider to feel the speed increase as he learns to pedal more efficiently.

An odd thing happens as you ride a fixed gear. Crank RPMs can increase slightly as you get tired. I think tired muscles become more flexible, more supple, and better capable of following the pedal movement. In order to go faster downhill, you have to learn to consciously relax. This brings one of the best benefits of riding fixed – a very relaxed, ‘loose’ feeling in the muscles that are so often tight and sore after a hard ride on a geared bike.

I can’t help it. I’m an endorphin junkie.

Still not convinced? Here are some other fixed gear resources:

Old Skool Track
Fixed Gear Fever
Medium gear time trailing
Fixed Gear Gallery

4 Comments:

Blogger Fritz said...

Fixies are fun! Woo hoo.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Mikhail Capone said...

A friend of mine has recently converted his bike to fixed gear. I plan on giving it a try as soon as I can.

1:08 PM  
Blogger John said...

Does converting a road bike to a single speed (with freewheel) count as halfway to fixed gear? That's as far as I've been brave enough to go. I'm a little afraid of fixed gear because I've had some knee problems.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Gene Michael said...

I started riding a fixie about 6 months ago, I have always had knee problems and since riding my fixie they have all but gone... Not saying this is the magic potion for new knees but it has helped ten fold in my case.. As you ride a fixed gear you learn to stop using your legs only, and since you are pedaling all the time you do find that relaxed state mentioned above. I still ride with a front break and use it when needed, but I have started commuting to work every day have lost over 20 pounds and feel better than I have in years... The only way to understand the joy of a fixed gear bike is to ride one, and I would suggest that you go out early in the morning or late at night where it's quiet and enjoy the sound of just your tires on the road and the sound of the wind...

5:39 PM  

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