Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Country Ride in 49x16 Gearing...

Angie, Maiden Voyage
We've finally set up my fixed gear bike, and the build came out much spiffier than I initially planned. Concerned citizens saved me from putting cheap components on a nice frame and I was able to get good deals on a very nice crankset and wheelset. One tiny problem however: the crankset has a 49t chainring and the wheelset came with a 16t cog, so the bicycle is geared insanely high. I decided to keep the cog and replace the chainring, most likely with a 44t. But that has to be special ordered, and in the meantime I really wanted to ride! Opinions are split on whether it is wise to ride on the road in such a high gear, but the consensus is generally "no." Having tried it, I agree - though it wasn't nearly as bad as I anticipated.

Riding in traffic was fine: It was not difficult to start at intersections, and to stop I simply used the brakes. Braking with my legs would have been out of the question after accelerating, but with good brakes this isn't an issue. I then went on a 20 mile ride on the Minuteman Trail, which is pretty flat but with a sustained upward/downward incline depending on the direction of travel. The gearing was doable. I felt it in my leg muscles, but not in my knees, and was fine the next morning. But while doable, it wasn't much fun - in the sense that I prefer to cycle at a high cadence and most of the time that wasn't possible in this gearing.  It was exciting how fast the bike accelerated on flat stretches, but the upward inclines felt like walking up an endless staircase. It was neat to experience just as a way of physically understanding how different gear ratios work in fixed gear, but I would not want to ride that way on a regular basis.

On my previous bike the gearing was 48x18, which felt slightly too low toward the end. So I am thinking 44x16 on this one should feel just about right. The bike is great and I am looking forward to many country rides in an appropriate gear in the coming months. Don't know why, but it feels really good to ride fixed gear when it's cold outside!

57 comments:

  1. Is that a Simpleone with custom color?

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  2. Once you find the right combo its magic, for me it was 49x18 with 170 cranks and 23mm tires. I did a century that way and commuted for 4 years.

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  3. This is not meant to be an incendiary comment, but I don't understand the allure of riding fixed/single speed bikes. Maybe it's because I have little cartilage left in my knee and need to spin in order to avoid knee pain. Even without that issue though I think I would always like to have the option of several gears. If someone could gently enlighten me I'd really like to understand this. Otherwise I think it's a cool project and I look forward to hearing about your riding experience.

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  4. I find 46X16 to be the sweet spot, and have done multiple 100+ mile rides on my fixed gear at that gearing.

    I have also found that longer rides are at the same time harder and easier to do on a fixed gear...I also have no idea.

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  5. Although I don't have any fixed-gear bikes in my collection, I do find that 45x16 is about the perfect all-round gear for getting around on my 1x5 speed city bike.

    And c'mon, V, you know this entire blog post is nothing more than a teaser. Let's see some pics!!!

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  6. RickF, I haven't tried fixed gear yet, but the way it was best explained to me is that the sensation is of being "one with the bike" as opposed to riding the bike. Makes me think of the wheelers from Return to Oz. : )

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  7. Way too high. British medium gear was/is 48x18. Only the strongest or stiffest-upper-lip can use that gear day in and day out. The big boys used to "break the hour" in 48x18 - do a 25 mile time trial in under 60 minutes - before fitting higher gears for competition.

    The 44X16 you are proposing is 75 gear inches. Bigger than medium gear. A high gear. At 100rpm with those largish tires that's 22.5 mph. 18mph is 80rpm. How fast are you going day in day out?

    I used to ride a bit with John VandDeVelde. A big guy. 200 pounds and able to take on Merckx and Sercu on the 6-day track. When he would return from a season of 6day racing in a state of fitness past comprehension he might turn a gear as big as what you propose. Although if he did fit something as big as 44x16 you knew you would suffer to hold that wheel.

    The 49 chainring will look/proportion better. If you're riding fixed you need a chainwhip and lockring pliers and you need to know how to use them. While you have summer fitness 49x20 and just possibly 19 for very hard rides. 49x21 or 22 for winter/spring.

    More pictures please. Looks great.

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  8. Anon - No, but I was considering one. They did not make the Simpleone in my size.

    I will write about this bike soon. Don't mean to tease, but have to wait for some logistical matters to clear, and in the meantime still wanted to mention some aspects of the experience.

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  9. Some guys say a fix will improve your spin, which I suppose is true if you don't think about it on your geared bike, but when I road one I kinda felt like it was cheating by throwing the trailing leg over TDC.
    That changed when the hills came. As you say it's a slog. I'm in the camp of using the geared bike for resistance/interval training.
    Being over-geared is one way to develop power but fixed in winter seems like a natural, keep-warm choice.

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  10. 49 chain ring makes single tooth changes to the cog really jump a lot of gear inches, but I guess 49x18 would work (~72).

    44x16 would also be ~72, but has only 4 skid patches, which I think is fine if one doesn't do such things. I am not aware of other drawbacks except with skidding.

    45x16 would be ~75 with lots of patches, but slightly higher than you want.

    I think 72 would be a very nice gear, ~17mph @ 80 rpm, and a reasonable speed for the Minuteman.

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  11. I ride a 52-19 (with 170 cranks), which is just a touch under your proposed ratio (73.9 gear inches v. your 74.3). I love it, even in hilly Portland, Maine. Great for flats and moderate hills, though you have to fly on a good uphill. There's only one hill in town that I avoid because I get into knee-hurting territory.

    I think anything smaller and it would drive me crazy on the downhills.

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  12. RickF - There are many reasons to like fixed gear and it depends on whom you ask. Some find that it improves their bike handling skills and their "spin" as Jim says above, which has definitely been true for me. Only relevant if you're interested in road cycling of course. Fixed gear also packs more punch as a workout, because the cyclist is not able to coast, so in the months when it gets dark sooner and I have less time to ride it keeps me in shape despite shorter rides.

    There are also those who enjoy the maintenance-free aspect and find it great as a wet/cold season bike. Ditto with slippery conditions and traction feedback.

    I don't care for fixed gear as transportation, but I do love riding a fixed roadbike and have felt a lot of benefit from it. I also just really, really enjoy the sensation of continuous pedaling - It's fun!

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  13. MDI - Why are skid patches relevant to me if I don't, you know, skid? It shouldn't matter at all in my case. Or am I missing something?

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  14. I love my SingleSpeed. I've been riding a flip-flp 44x16/18, but I recently stripped one side (long story) and set the good side to 17T.
    That's just under 70 gear-inches.
    The amazing thing about Single-cog bikes is how less chain, perfectly aligned chainline, and no deraileurs makes a bike efficient. Less weight, sure, but quiet. No friction. Get the wheels/tires and bike fit correct too, and it isn't mystical but ergonomic. The bike becomes so responsive that you can sense when you've found a body position, or a spinning mode, or breathing pattern. I find that the power-band is much broader. I find 'gears' inside, in the way that I ride, I never would have known about otherwise.
    Fixed is great for urban riding because you control your speed perfectly. Personally, I like a smaller gear inch SS and coast the top end. Better for recovery, and my legs never get egg-beater-ed on the way down.

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  15. Thanks for the comments back. I'm a roadie myself and can appreciate a smooth cadence and have worked on that quite a bit myself over the years. I'll keep an open mind about fixed/single speeds and try one out if ever I get the chance.

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  16. Why are skid patches relevant to me if I don't, you know, skid?

    Even if you use the brakes to stop, you probably place the crank in the same place every time you launch from a stop. That alone could cause wear to the tire at the same patches over hundreds or thousands of starts. And it's just good design to make sure there aren't very few skid patches-- one of those "last 5%" details.

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  17. Phil - What do you mean "coast"? Like taking your feet off the pedals? With the 48x18 gearing, going downhill was a bit of a nightmare and I rode the brake a lot, which is one reason I'd like something just a tad higher.

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  18. Rick, the fixed thing isn't for everyone as it does strain your knees more from a connective tissue stand point, both from a start and "egg beating" down hills.
    Just an fyi, ymmv, lol, etc.

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  19. Need moar pix. And when is the truss bike going to be here?

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  20. Moar pix coming soon to my flickr account : )

    Mike F and I have gotten slightly side-tracked and there might be an interesting protoANT-testing project in the works before the truss frame. More on this soon.

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  21. It's supposed to be challenging going downhill on fixed.

    CONI-FIAC training manual, aka "blue Cinelli book" has racers start winter training in 47x22. In no case is it allowed to do road training in a gear greater than 48x18. This is a prescription for young athletes aspiring to a berth on the Italian Olympic team. Guys who have already demonstrated an ability to win races.

    Gears as high as everyone here favors build big oversize slow legs. You have to drag those big legs up the hills. And you'll have no jump in a sprint even if you thought you wanted those big legs.

    There's also a safety reason to gear down. Torque steer. Mostly you see torque-steer when Fred who thinks he can handle a 53x11 steers himself right into the ground. It happens at far lower gears on fixed. Gears as high as discussed here compromise the emergency handling capabilities of a fixed severely.Fixed is amazingly agile when you're spinning, hopelessly clumsy when slogging.

    I used to commute on a fixed 53x21. A few times on long commutes I upped to 53x19. And once completed a 17 mile commute with 30 pounds of tools in 43 minutes through heavy traffic. Boy was I young and dumb. Even then I knew that gear was too big, once only.

    I'm serious about the safety issue. Fixed is very popular here in Chicago. Thankfully, as riders get experience, you see the average gear coming down. You won't see but a few messengers messing with gears in the 70s anymore.

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  22. ^ Thanks, this is fascinating. As I wrote in the post, I have no intention of keeping the 49x16 gearing and merely wanted to experience what it felt like. Interestingly, when I had 48x18 on my old bike, I never saw anyone in Boston with lower gearing than mine. Will have to keep an eye out to see whether this changes over time. There are far fewer fixed gear bicycles on the streets this year than I remember in previous years though.

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  23. That's because gears are, you know, better. :)

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  24. somervillain - It's theoretically possible that you could have skid patches from starting to pedal, but for that to be the case, the relationship between the movement of the crank and the wheel would have to be precisely adjusted to allow that to happen. My guess is that even if this was the case, variations in tire pressure between refills (and with temperature variations) would be enough to eliminate such an effect.

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  25. MDI, your anti-fixist agenda is not welcome here! : )

    I guess I need to have a better understanding of the whole skid patches thing before I can meaningfully take part in any discussion about it. But based on my current understanding, it seems unwarranted to worry about it too much, given my riding stye. Is tire wear the worst case scenario, or is there more to it?

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  26. I probably would never have considered a fixed gear except that I kept having this weird muscle-memory sensation that I knew what it would feel like, and would probably enjoy it. Then my mom told me that the bike I learned to ride on was a fixed gear. Strange, I don't remember learning to ride a bike, and I don't remember the bike itself at all, but I remember quite distinctly the sensation of turning the cranks. And maybe also riding down the driveway with my feet off the pedals and the cranks spinning madly.

    I could definitely use some work on my cadence, so I might try a fixed gear someday. Right now I have plenty of other skills to work on. Maybe next year.

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  27. Still a lot of fixie kids here, but the econ keeps them in front of the glowing tube.

    Anon - I followed the progression of a co-worker as a fixed kid. Basically turning the big gear was like weight lifting. He, along with a lot of others, got tired of being beaten off the line by mothers riding cruisers.

    The CONI manual limitation of fixed gears for juniors is similar to the limitation placed on junior roadies but applies to a lot of racers: develop the leg speed and base, add power later, combine when it matters.

    Anecdotally, John Vande Velde is Christian's (ProTour rider w/Garmin) father, here as a Cinzano thug in Breaking Away: http://picasaweb.google.com/108112939684385339347/BreakingAwayCinzanoRoadRace?gsessionid=bsa-PQzaBBaTG6I_EYyWNw#5322764942685204546

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  28. wouldn't an 18t cog that you can get at your LBS easily, make more sense than a 44t chainring that you have to special order?

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  29. Once Babe VanDeVelde (that would be grandfather of the current pro) almost spanked me for showing up for a ride on 24x10. Of course he had a 23 in the house and put it on for me. The group waited while this was being done. It was serious business. It was safety. In the dead of winter a skinny kid did not have the muscle to manage 24x10.

    Classic sprint gear of world champions is 48x14. Sprinters who aren't kidding themselves mostly use 46x14. Start the season in 45. A small, agile rider could easily do a full career without ever going bigger than 44x14. 49x16 for a training ride is just weird. Boston is not a big town for track racing. Reinventing the wheel is always a popular pasttime.

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  30. "wouldn't an 18t cog that you can get at your LBS easily, make more sense than a 44t chainring that you have to special order?"

    Unfortunately no, and therein lies a drawback in getting "nice" components. The wheelset is fitted with a Phil Wood cog. Also special order since no one local carries them, and a hefty pricetag. And we don't have the (Phil Wood specific) tool, so would have to either buy that in addition or pay a bike shop to replace the cog. The chainring route is less hassle. Also, I would not mind having a smaller chainring for other reasons (weight, proportions, getting caught on stuff, etc.). A 49t seems excessive on a bike that is not performance oriented.

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  31. Somervillian, when I set up my fixed-wheel (so say the Brits...) I figured that my usual go-to gear on my commuter (63") would be perfect: For me, no! I went to 68" and found that to be perfect. It seems that the inertia experienced directly through the pedals is a powerful thing.

    The whole blather of "zen riding" and "being at one with the bike" is...true. It's a different, not a better, way of riding, imho. It really does increase my spin even when I ride a "normal" bike. And muscles in my legs I never knew I had come to life, screaming in pain.

    The possible downside as RickF points out: knee injury. I haven't a clue if the worries in this regard are anecdotal or real, but my dad had a knee replacement that went poorly (not related to riding fixed, I assure!). My fixed has been gathering dust for the last two years; the sight of him hobbling around in pain played a part in that.

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  32. Unless Phil has something very new his cog goes on and off like any other cog. Chainwhip. Cogs are fetching silly prices now because some will pay those prices. EAI cogs are highish, not Phil high, and as good as it gets.

    Alcyon-
    Riding fixed on too high a gear almost guarantees knee injury. Low gear not so bad. As always, pulling up rather than pushing down prevents injury.

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  33. i wouldn't pay too much attention to theories and opinions, just go with what feels right for you. personally i have ridden many miles on various ratios between 63" and 81" fixed on the road and i still have skinny legs and no skid patches, and i have no idea what torque steer is. for me somewhere in upper sixties lower seventies seems best for normal riding. in general bigger sprocks/crings are more efficient and wear better, but 16t is plenty big.

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  34. I don't feel like buying a whole bunch of fixie tools like chain whips in a variety of widths, lock ring removers of every make and pattern and other crap that makes single speed simplicity and zen possible. So if I ever need to mess with that end of the drivetrain, I'll have our favourite mechanic do it, thank you very much.

    Or just change rings to 44/45 and reduce the chain, which I can do myself.

    Lots of funny concepts flying around in the comments. :)

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  35. "and other crap that makes single speed simplicity and zen possible..."

    it's almost as if I am sensing a subtle degree of hostility here...

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  36. The tension!

    Fixie, edge of your seat stuff right here.

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  37. Phil Wood and Campy use a different threading on the lockring (33.5mmx24tpi vs 1.29"x24tpi on say a Dura Ace hub). The tool used to remove the lockring is the same for both ( I like the Hozan one but there are lots out there that will do the job). You should be able to use any cog on a Phil hub. A 1/8" chainwhip can be used for both 3/32 and 1/8 cogs. So you can get by with two tools for most anything you use. There are hubs out there that use proprietary splined cogs but this does not apply to you.

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  38. Umm, MDI. I have two chainwhips only because my roadbike has a Uniglide cassette which requires two to take off(which I didn't realize at first, and neither did the younger mechanic at the shop who had never encountered one; after the older guy came over and explained it, I bought both of the cassettes they had in the back for cheap). You can use the same whip on 1/8 and 3/32. Just buy a 1/8. I even have a track cog on the rear with a 3/32 ring up front, because I wanted to use Biopace on my fixed. Buy one tool and you'll be fine.

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  39. Ye venerable and ubiquitous Raleigh flatwrench, together with a small hammer, does lockrings fine. If no hammer, try a rock.
    For arcane pursuits such as disassembling threaded freewheel bodies, two chainwhips fitted with derailleur chain are required.
    If you have an inch-pitch track cog you will probably have to make your own chainwhip. If you have inch-pitch, you knew that.

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  40. very sweet Mercian, woweee!!

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  41. Oh my goodness, the Mercian's so beautiful!! Cannot wait to hear more about it. The lugs are magnificent, and the lilac and green is a great color combo as well :-). Lovely choice, V!

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  42. I'm running 49 x 18. When I bought the crankset it came with the 49 tooth chainring and my hub takes a standard lockring and cog. As a guide as to what cog to use I read Sheldon Brown's pages and observed what single gear on my cross bike served best on my normal rides then made a guess. It seemed to work out. Given that you're a stronger cyclist than I am the 44 x 16 should be fine.

    The 49 tooth ring with a larger cog would look faster though!

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  43. Please don't bother arguing re cog removal, MDI is just being provocative.

    Here is Mercy Anne.

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  44. I never said I was against cog removal. As I said in my earlier comment, 49 x 18 would work @ ~72.

    And the Phil Wood SLR 18T slotted 1/8" cog looks so money. There is a 16T picture here. I am all for that.

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  45. Veloria, I just took a look at the pics on flickr. I'll (probably) say no more about the esoterica of riding fixed, and say only: congratulations on a new and beautiful machine! Or is it a piece of art?

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  46. lovely pics on Flickr (but must confess, am not a fan of that bar tape color with the frame - which is soo soooo gorgeous!)

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  47. Whats the big deal having a couple chain whips? Actually you could make a chain whip.

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  48. It's only a big deal if you're anti-zen.

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  49. Apparently, I'm doing it wrong. The two gear combinations on my SimpleOne are 48/17 and 38/21. On my previous fixed-gear bike, I would spin out before I quite got to the speed I wanted on a decent road without much wind -- that was 42/15.

    Of course, as long as I don't ride that bike on a really windy day, the various objections to large gears don't much apply to me. I'm not training for anything, so I don't try to accelerate with all my might. And there aren't any hills longer than a hundred feet or so in Winnipeg that are as steep as the Minuteman Trail. The only times I have to push hard at all are when I'm facing into the wind.

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  50. Thanks for the picture link. Very nice. Looking forward to the full writeup.

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  51. I feel like you're trying to steal my thunder! I guess classy minds think alike...

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  52. What a beautiful bike! I'm sure Peppy is insanely jealous right now!

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  53. No. The gearing is too low for me. Maybe ok for Mt. Washington climb or other leisurely rides.

    I mean, I wouldn't say no, or anything. The saddle felt pretty comfy last night.

    Uh oh I said too much.

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  54. Peppy, the giveaway was that you bothered to clean all the shed fur off the saddle afterward, thus ensuring that V knew "the kids had a party".

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  55. @V: Sorry so long getting back to you.
    When I speak of SS, I mean a single-cog freewheel. So coasting, just means stop pedaling. Fixed is different. Single-cog bike embraces both.
    I prefer SS for most things, but I live where there are hills. If I lived where it's flat, I'd probably ride fixed, never mind the wind.

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  56. 44:16 sounds good, I found I could go higher in mid-summer and lower in winter with studded tires.

    I have found my low-speed bike-handling much improved after riding fixed for a while, my balance and turning with suboptimal foot positions, especially going over bumps and doing U-turns on access or similar tight turns ramps developed that ability.
    Trackstanding at stop signs and red lights helped too.

    So the fixed gear training has more to offer than road cycling benefits.

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  57. I'm surprised at some of the gear ratios that are being discussed here, some of them just seem insanely low to me. I ride a track bike aggressively in an urban environment on 46/15 (80.7 gear inches)and still don't feel like I am out of control of the bike and I don't have trouble stopping relatively quickly when I need to. which really isn't that often; riding brakeless on the street forces you to change your riding style and where you position yourself on the road in different situations so you don't end up having to stop quickly almost ever. Maybe it just comes down to different perspectives on riding fixed on the road/street; most of the talk here seems to be of fixed gear road bikes and cadence training during the offseason, while I come more from the school of riding track bikes intended for the velodrome on the street (and hopefully on the track as well, planning on trying my hand at track racing next season!). I'm unfamiliar with the culture/practices of fixed gear road cycling so this was an interesting post/thread to read.

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