Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why I Ride Fixed-Gear?

Fixed-Gear Drive Train

Why do I Ride a Fixed Gear Bicycle? by John Z.

It's hard to say exactly why I choose to ride a fixed gear bicycle. Part of it is just a
feeling you get from a bike or style that fits you just right. It may be that old road bike
from the eighties that still has a home in your garage or an English three speed that
feels so right on a quick trip to the coffee shop.

That perfect fit is hard to quantify. It can be just a matter of a few millimeters here or a
few degrees there. An old seat that is broken in just right, or maybe a set of really
comfortable fatty tires. It may be a bike that has just the right gear combinations or a
quick shift and brake action.

For me I find that fit in an old steel frame that has just the right millimeters and degrees
for me with nothing but the absolute minimum stripped from the bike (Although, through
experience I do have a full set of brakes on my bicycle). I crave simplicity in my life and
in my bicycle and that is what a fixed-gear gives me.

There is not much more simplicity then in a fixed-gear bicycle. Stripping a bike of the
derailleurs, gears and freewheel obviously makes a bike lighter, but lite weight is not the
only benefit. I think the true beauty of a fixed-gear bicycle is in its reliability, there is a lot
less that can go wrong. Derailleurs go out of alignment, jockey wheels need constant
cleanings, cables stretch and need replacing, parts wear out and become more difficult
to tune.

I have ridden many miles in my life, I have ridden over 38,000 miles on a favorite
Cannondale derailleur bike from the eighties alone (not counting all the other bicycles I
have owned), and have near that amount on fixed-gear bicycles. My bicycle seances
have become super sensitive to every small bit of feed back a bicycle gives me that
even the slightest bit of derailleur chatter, misalignment or soft shift action drives me
nuts. Is that my OCD coming through? The fixed-gear drive train gives my seances
wonderful silents.

The first bicycle to resemble today's bicycles was the Safety Bicycle around the late
1880's. It featured a chain, two wheels the same size and a fixed-gear cog. It was a
decade plus before the first freewheel became available. However the invention of a
freewheel did not spell the end of the fixed-gear bicycle.

Henri Desgranges, the creator of the Tour de France, stated in 1902 his feelings of
freewheels and derailleur bicycles, "I still feel that variable gears are only for people
over forty-five. Isn't it better to triumph by strength of your muscles than by artifice of a
derailleur? We are getting soft.." As a result, the Tour did adopt derailleurs until the

I love bicycle racing, I love watching the Tour, Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta de Espania. I
love the strategy, the races within the race and the competition, but I really would like to
see racing the way it once was. Racers unsupported, riding all hours of the day, no
stages, just the first one across the line. Racers with the support of only themselves, like I
have to ride.

Brevets are the closest thing today to the races of old, the oldest and most well known is
the Paris Brest Paris. In a brevet, the race starts at a given time and the racers
ride morning noon and night, or when they are capable of riding, until the racer crosses the finish line.  Most where multiple day events.  No stages, it's up to the racer to figure out when to stop and when to ride. There is a group that rides fixed-gear in these races, but they really are not races. They are basically individuals riding against the clock, beat the maximum time allowed and get a metal.  The last time Paris Brest Pairs was truly run as a race was 1951.

I hope I have conveyed my love for a fixed-gear bicycle, it's not easy to put into words.
It is my hope that all cyclists give a fixed-gear a try at least a couple of times in there
lifetime to experience what words can not describe. If you need help in converting or
building a fixed-gear, drop an email and I will do my best to help you.  It is also not my intention to put down any other forms of bicycles, as a friend resiliently told me, "Different spokes for different folks."

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