Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Fixed Gear Cyclist I am Not, and Yet I Like It Quite a Lot!

Mercian, Horsing Around
Successfully smuggled and equine neighbour-approved, my Mercian fixed gear has now made it over to the Emerald Isle, making my Roadbike Trinity (paved, dirt, fixed) complete again. I have been riding it around for the past 3 days, and it's been so utterly weird, that honestly I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

So what exactly is so funny/sad? Oh nothing. It's just that... How can I put this? Right. I can't actually ride a fixed gear bicycle!

Even in my early days of unbridled fixed gear enthusiasm, I never harboured illusions of being any good at it. As I've freely admitted here before, my fixed gear style was not so much cycling, as toodling: Short rides on flat, gentle roads at comfortable speeds, tame and sheltered, punctuated by theatrically quirky stops and starts. And for the first year or so that was enough, that was lovely. Ineptly and awkwardly, I rode my fixed gear bike up and down the same gentle roads and enjoyed the heck out of it.

Then, little by little, as my overall cycling competence grew, I began to want more out of the experience. And more just wasn't happening. My handling skills on my geared roadbike improved, but my fixed gear skills stagnated. I had a hard time with every aspect of it - from transitioning to clipless pedals, to managing hills (both up and down), to attaining a decent level of handling proficiency in tricky and unexpected situations.

But it was only after cycling with the likes of Pamela Blalock and Emily O'Brien that I realised just how great the divide was between myself and "real" fixed gear cyclists. These ladies nonchalantly used their fixed gear bicycles to do exactly the same rides as they would on geared bikes - 14% gradients and all. One time I remember being on a club ride with Pamela where everyone was on a geared bike and she was on fixed. Cycling behind her on a long descent, I watched her pedal so fast that her legs became a blurry circle of motion, like in one of those animation flip-books. All I could do was try and keep my jaw from hitting the ground! So when Emily and Pamela began inviting me on fixed gear rides, I had to laugh. "Oh no, you don't understand. I can't actually ride fixed in the same way as you can."

At this point, the realist in me began to re-evaluate the fixed gear situation. If I am not improving, and if I no longer find "toodling" satisfying, what is the next step? Do I really need a fixed gear bike? My move to Ireland made this question all the more pressing. But whenever I considered selling the Mercian, something in me resisted. I just had an intuition that, despite my slump, this bicycle was a keeper. So I hung on to it, putting it in storage after my move - until a year later an opportunity arose to bring it over.

Untitled
Once the bike was in my possession again I immediately made several changes to it. To improve my position (I wanted to be lower and closer), I replaced the long-reach handlebars with compact modern bars, then "slammed" the stem. To improve braking power I replaced the Campagnolo Veloces with Tektro mid-reach calipers.

Clement Strada LGG with Gumwalls!
And to avoid flats, I fit the bike with the same Clement Strada LGG tires I've had on my Seven roadbike for the past year, except the gumwall version.

Once all this was done, I immediately took the bike out on its post-hybernation maiden voyage: a 14 mile ride to the nearest town and back. Despite this being the tamest possible route I could choose in the area I now live, I had not felt so much adrenaline on a bike in some time. Unfortunately - or fortunately - it is not really possible to "toodle" around these parts. It was more like a baptism by fire!

Untitled
Not giving myself time to indulge in the clipless pedal fears that had plagued earlier fixed gear forays, I simply clipped in as I would on a geared roadbike and pushed off. Then, on an open stretch of road, I gingerly tested what it was like to unclip while the drivetrain was in motion. And - wonder of wonders! - it was no more difficult or time consuming than unclipping while coasting. Soon I forgot this was ever an issue.

After a year's absence, the fixed derivetrain felt both delightfully new and familiar. That sensation of the pedals "pushing themselves" once you accelerate, so that the bike almost feels as if it's equipped with a motor - wow, how I've missed that!

It helps that my gearing (49/19t) feels just right here, be it on flats, uphills or downhills. This is interesting, because in Boston this same gearing felt not quite right anywhere and I was dreading having to figure out what to change it to. Happily, now it looks like I won't have to. Uphill stretches at gradients below 8% or so feel only marginally more strenuous than flats - easier than on a freewheel bike for sure. Even on sustained hills, the bike really does feel as if it's propelling itself and I am just along for the ride. In this manner, I can relax and allow myself to arrive to the top of the hill. Or, I can put in effort and get to the top faster.

Downhills in the same gear are also manageable. I can go 20mph at only slightly above my ideal natural cadence, and 30mph at a cadence that initially feels scary but once I relax becomes manageable. But it's that "once I relax" part that's been giving me adrenaline rushes so strong I can feel them in my throat and fingertips. The hills here, with their sudden dramatic flicks, have a way of making me feel as if the floor has given out beneath me. Even on routes I consider "flat," this happens more than can be fully appreciated on a freewheel bike. But on a fixed gear, my legs feel every bit of the sudden, wild acceleration, and the sheer panic that initially sets in from the sensation of my legs spinning uncontrollably is hard to articulate. On that first ride, I used my brake a lot to shave off speed. But the next day, I didn't.

Mercian, Horsing Around
So what's the deal here, I ask myself with brutal honesty: Can I ride this bike beyond horsing around, or not? Well, here are the facts: There is a huge discrepancy between the sort of cycling I can do on this bike compared to a geared roadbike. But unlike earlier, I sense that at this stage I am at least capable of making progress.

And then of course, there is the simple fact that I enjoy it. Even if I am remarkably, laughably bad at riding fixed gear, I cannot help but love the sensations of it. And is being bad at something you love a valid reason to stop doing it?

My Mercian Vincitore is an interesting bike, in that it's designed for a fixed drivetrain but with "Sportive" (slightly relaxed) road geometry. It is ridiculously comfortable, and even more so on Irish roads than on American ones, I must say. Though it takes a 28mm tire, I am riding it with 25mm, which feels cushy and fast and overall perfect. And I'm in the process of ordering mudguards/fenders, though not yet sure which ones. It is going to be a long, crappy winter - and, I have a feeling, the rekindling of a beautiful friendship.

79 comments:

  1. I've been wanting to try fixed for years, but haven't gotten around to acquiring one yet. I don't feel any particular need to "get good" at it, I just want to toodle - as you say - and get that different experience on a bicycle I haven't had yet. I think becoming proficient at toodling fixed is a laudable goal :)

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  2. With those gears and tires, 30 mph gives a cadence about 150, which is a bit above the "toodling" range. Fixed is fun, and connects you with something basic and essential about cycling in ways that are not always easily put into words but which muscles seem to understand very well.

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    1. 150rpm seems about right, going by feel (I know the speed because I'd attached a computer on the 2nd ride, but can only guess the cadence as this bike is not equipped with a sensor.) And I've spun faster than that on my geared bikes before, so I know I can do it without exploding if I just don't panic. It's all in the mind really.

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  3. Hi, I am so glad that you now have the Mercian, would love to know your thoughts at some point regarding the quality and feel of the ride compared to your Seven.

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    1. As far as ride quality, the Mercian feels more similar to my DIY 650B bike than either do to the Seven. The latter is just in a different category; like apples and oranges.

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    2. Speaking of apples, do you carry spares for the horses? Definitely worth the small weight penalty.

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  4. Would it be heresy to suggest you fit it with a freewheel? Then you could go downhill as quickly as you like.

    Chip V.

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    1. Done that already, just to feel how the bike rides non-fixed. It's nice, but I don't need a single speed roadbike. The fixed drivetrain is the thing I enjoy the most about the setup.

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  5. I loved riding my commute fixed.

    I top out at about 34mph with a wild spin (42X16) and don't have to climb much steeper than 10-11% at a mash. I love the immediacy and the handling, I love not wearing out my rims on rainy commutes, and I love the control I have over my speeds and stops in traffic. I rarely skid-stop, but I also rarely have to touch my brakes. Perhaps the best thing is that I can ride the bike day in and day out with very little maintenance or fiddling.

    I never expected to be a fixie rider in my late 30's, but that's what happened. (And I love taking it out for dirt-road tours on bigger hills on the weekend when I get the chance).

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  6. Just convert it to a freewheel singlespeed and forget all that fixie ludicrosity. I honestly can't think of a single advantage of a fixed gear bike over a simple singlespeed outside a velodrome track.

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    1. For me, the advantages of riding fixed gear include strength training, developing a smoother pedaling technique, and getting a more intense workout in a shorter time (useful for when time to ride is limited). Aside from that, like I said - it simply feels good.

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    2. The smoother pedaling thing is an urban myth. Your feet get thrown over the top and has nothing to do with riding a geared bike.

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    3. It's not a myth if you climbed off the K-Mart bike you rode with the seat 5inches too low and your instep over the pedal axle before you arrived at Art school and bought a fixie with your Pell Grant. A fixie will fix some habits like that after you get thrashed around awhile like a ragdoll in the maw of a Labrador. They are called "Fixies" after all...

      Anyway, who are you to De-Bunk all our cherished Myths, Urban or otherwise? Huh? HUH? I personally want my Myths well Bunked. Guy's like you will have us living in a world without Bigfoot, D.B. Cooper living in quiet retirement on the beach in Sarasota or clean Pro Cyclists. Who wants that? I personally want to leave my children a world where every trip to KFC is an opportunity to find an extra crispy human thumb in the bottom of the bucket, a world where every dream is worth following, even if it's stupid! Why do you hate FREEDOM JIM?!

      Spin"I believe in miracles"dizzy

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    4. Well, one is a BOAT ANCHOR child's toy and the other is a bike.

      Thing is, if you use it periodically throughout the riding season it can help with muscle memory, ime. If you come at it from, "I need it do help my cycling skills but don't ever ride it" then it's a bauble.

      Here's what I did: pedal my geared bike while braking. Wow, a fixed gear feel with 20 options!

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    5. If it's an urban myth it's a darn durable myth. I first heard it 50 years ago. The man who told it to me was Othon Ochsner. Let me tell you just a little of who he was: Pursuit Champion of Switzerland, 1919. In that race his 4000m split was 5:04. I say split because pursuit was then an event contested over 10,000m. So it was a tactical battle and not a modern TT. No TT start, just a rolloff. Obviously no finishing kick at 4000 because there's still 6000 to go. And this is on a 1919 bicycle. Gearing at 24x9. The cyclists pharmacopaiea was not much back then. Othon never once led me wrong.

      You've never been in a pack of senior gentlemen who'd all spent a lifetime on fixed. There are only a few of us left who were privileged to enjoy that. None shall walk in that river again. The fixed style is different. I think it's better. That the pedalling is just different is more like an objective fact than an opinion.

      V, get a stack of cogs. Get a 20, a 21, a 22, a 23. Try them all. As a smallish person you'll benefit from utilizing and training agility as much from working on strength. Yes, agility can substitute for strength. Good on you for changing bars. Don't leave your bikes in a static setup too long. Changeup is good. If the change is a plain mistake, undo it. And there's nothing wrong with 6cm stems. There are half a dozen in this house, three in use and three in the drawer. Useful for all sorts of stuff. Stems at 5cm and less are usually mutts, 6cm stems are available in all the standard brands and dimensions.

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    6. Hi Anonymous 6:50,

      Sound advice and definitely has the ring of truth.

      G.R. Jim, for all the grief we give him is one of the wise old owls here, but this goes to prove there are other wise birds in the woods. I hope to hear more from both of ya'll.

      Spindizzy

      P.S. I wonder what Othon did with all the money I spent on Campy stuff from him in the 80s...

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    7. The thing about strength training is also necessarily about silo thinking. I mean, just jam your geared bike into a little cog. Ride your bike if you like however you like, but these reasons are just misguided intellectual justification for something you like doing. Why are people always doing that?

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  7. Hey! Nice bike!

    I've always admired that bike and am glad to hear that you and it have taken things to the next level.

    The whole fixie thing sometimes gets portrayed as this dumb Zen phenomenon that transcends the laws of nature, physics and common sense but there are some real neat things about riding fixed, ESPECIALLY on a sweet whip like that!(sweet whip, that's cool fixie talk).

    If you were asking for advice(and you weren't), I'd say, Put you some nice long fenders on it and the next time you need tires see if you can squeeze a 28 in there and you'll have the fixed gear I wish I had(and who wouldn't want that?). I even like the color now and I certainly didn't when you first got it. Next time I discover a medium sized roll of bills on the sidewalk I'm getting me a Mercian to build up fixed and give the old Nishiki I've been riding to some passing hipster...

    Spindizzy

    P.S. If you want to make the brakes work even better ditch the pads that came with them and try some Kool-Stop Salmon inserts. I know lot's of people using that brake and everyone who tries the Pink Wonder Pad think they're fantastic(just like they are on every other road brake).

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    1. Oh I already know the bike can fit 28mm tires, but I prefer the 25mms on the road. It's nice to have the option though, in case I want to go wider when I'm old and (even more) achy.

      I use Kool Stops on most of my bikes, but they are not readily available here and I didn't bring extras. It will have to be an update at a later stage.

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    2. V, Chain Reaction stock a (smallish) selection of Kool Stops on their website. We buy online from them all the time, but -- news to me -- they also have two stores, one in Belfast, the other in Ballyclare.

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    3. Bet you could abuse your celebrity (Hahhaaa) status and have someone send you a set or two. Maybe in exchange for an obscure headbadge or something...

      Spindizzy

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    4. http://www.koolstop.eu/en/distributors.html (four dealers carry Kool Stops in UK)

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    5. Thanks all, I do know the online sources; I meant available in a B&M shop. I plan to special order them from my local bike shop soon.

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  8. Woohoo. So psyched to see that you got out for more than a toodle on fixed. Knowing you, I suspect that it won't be long before there is a post about some 200km on fixed ;-) BTW, the pink bike is still unaltered, so you've got a fixie to ride next time you are back in Boston.

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    1. Shoot. Now you're going to, like, expect me to ride to the Fruitlands on that thing, aren't you. Via the dirt roads route...

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  9. You changed bars, tires, but kept the saddle….Do you enjoy the Brooks on this bike? I would have thought it could feel a bit bouncy when spinning but then again I've never ridden a fixed gear so am not sure why I think this….It looks much better in this state :)

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    1. Generally, I find the B17 model too wide for a roadbike position. However, this particular saddle, while labeled B17, is narrower than typical; perhaps it is mislabeled. Whatever it is, it is still too wide, though not unbearably so for short distances. In the future I will probably end up changing it, but not sure to what.

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    2. I rode only B17s for years. Fairly recently I bought, with much trepidation, a Swallow. I was so delighted that I bought three more. Maybe its the ageing anatomy.

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    3. The Ti Swallow would be my ideal Brooks model for a roadbike. But the cost/rS (rapid sag) ratio makes them an impractical purchase for me.

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    4. +1 on the rapid sag thing. Shocking! And the final nail in the coffin of my relationship with Brooks England. I've sold all my Brooks saddles off now, bar the black Swallow that was on the Puch mixte. I got that off Ebay - don't know how old it is but so far it's been remarkably sag resistant so I may hang onto it for a bit longer. Until it does the inevitable and the disillusionment is complete.

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    5. I know this isn't a post about Brooks saddles but I can't resist(well, I could but obviously 'aint) whining a bit myself. The last 2 saddles Brooks saddles I've purchased both had some issues that shouldn't happen with a product that costs as much as they do and trade on a reputation for Top Drawer Quality. One, a B17 Special Copper has a weird twist to the nose that annoys me everytime I look at it even though I can't feel anything wrong while riding it, the other is a Brooks Professional with the big rivits, not sure what the model name is for that, but it's only got 3,000 miles on it and it's settling unevenly and is probably just about at the end of it's usefull life. I have a circa 1979 Brooks Pro which is my favorite saddle ever, that has been working hard for a living off and on for most of the last 35 years and is only now starting to look like an old half used up saddle.

      I've heard speculation that the reason for so many disappointing stories about their saddles comes from the fact that they don't make 25 cheaper saddles for every top model anymore now that cheap bikes never come with leather saddles, so they couldn't afford to reserve the best part of the hides for the best saddles and use the rest for less performance oriented saddles. I hope that's the case and that Brooks' current push to market every imaginable handbag, toolroll and eyeglass case will allow them to use up the lesser parts of the hides and leave the best for us. I'm going to give them another chance and hope for another Great Saddle like the old ones I've had. The 2 less than perfect ones I have were both ones I bought at less than cost when a shop was closing and were made around 2009 which seems to be when they were at their lowest point. We'll see.

      Spindizzy

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    6. Rev Spin, I've heard much noise to the effect that EU regulations concerning UK cows mean that older, tougher hides are only available abroad. The premium series Brooks was marketing for a while had leather from some other clime- Australia if I recall correctly.
      I hear you on the wear; I have three Brooks saddles; a 1979 B-72 that is in really pretty fine shape, a 1976 big-rivet Pro from an older friend who bought it new and rode it on four bikes until last year,and the 1966 Pro that tops the beloved Raleigh Competition.
      Neither Professional is worn out yet, though the cantle on the '66 has started to squeak.

      Or maybe that's *my* 1966 rear end in need of conditioning.

      This post has me thinking about following Justine's example and setting up an old Peugeot UO-8 as a fixed gear to try it.

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    7. Eep! I managed to cut and mis-paste my point There is also a 2009 Brooks apple-green B-67S here, bought on closeout from online in the UK. It sagged quite a bit within 6 months, but responded well to nose bolt adjustment and has kept its form reasonably well ever since. Of all the saddles here, that one has the most daily ride time, being on my wife's workhorse commute bike. Other saddles from that same run were trashed within a year, I'm told.

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  10. I tried fixed in 2005 just to shut up the local aficionados who were hounding me about how great it is. I now have put about 50,000 miles on fixed-gear bikes all over Los Angeles, including into its hills (eg, Mulholland drive), and ride my two-speed Brompton only on train trips or when pulling the trailer. Sometimes I ride fast; sometimes I toodle.

    And my current fixie sports fenders, dyno lighting, and a rack. Old Italian frame, set up British style! Confuses all the hipsters. but I love it.

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  11. Love that bike's color, and it's nice to see you're riding it. But the question remains: Did you part ways with the other sweet rides in the U.S. fleet?

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    1. I've sold or given away a good portion of my bikes. But the thing is, at any given point I have bikes that from the start aren't meant to be permanent. So paring down just meant getting rid of those and keeping the ones that were, well, keepers.

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  12. Finally got rid of the long-reach bars too I see. The more you ride, the more your bikes look like everyone else's.

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    1. What I like about the classic long-reach handlebars is the extra room behind the hoods. But because I'm comparatively small, they make it impossible to achieve the fit I want, without resorting to a super-short top tube &stem combo.

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    2. Do you mean the extra 25mm you got back with your bar change can be compensated for by a shorter stem, which, by dint of having your hands in an almost identical position, will have no effect at all on handling if you are not doing a push up on the bars, rather supporting your weight via your legs or core? I see.

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    3. More or less. It would have to be a 6cm stem though.

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    4. Perhaps a stupid question, but what exactly is a "long-reach" bar??

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    5. And that would be bad because...

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    6. A long reach bar is a standard reach bar, the ramps being longer. We now call the compact bar a standard b/c everyone has them on modern bikes.

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    7. Furthermore...what you're doing with this bike is mandating no tco and changing everything wrt where you put your hands, which are well back of the front axle, but you have long chain stays so your center of mass is still between the wheels.

      These are are happy accidents. Had your stays been short you would have been in for a rude surprise. Again this is a balance question and has nothing to do with a 6cm being undesirable for aesthetic reasons. Which is strange b/c I have no idea how you brake with the levers pointed forward like that.

      Anyway riding on the ramps in the city is a recipe for disaster.

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    8. Leisurist - Reach is the distance to the hoods. Here is a diagram that shows this pretty clearly. Vintage handlebars (and modern remakes thereof) typically have 20mm+ more reach than modern ("compact") handlebars, as well as deeper drops than modern handlebars.

      Jim - If memory serves me right, this Mercian's front end is fairly typical of their sportive geo, rather than a result of my no-TCO request.

      Re the 6mm stem: With my hands on the hoods there is of course no difference between long reach + short stem vs short reach + long stem. But with my hands on the ramps or tops, the handling doesn't feel quite right with a super short stem.

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    9. My first thought when looking at this bike is: the hoods are too far back of the axle. Riding ramps or tops only exacerbates this. i.e. I'm not a fan of old-school geo on fast bikes.

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    10. People with comparatively long femurs may find their knees brushing the bar tops when climbing out of the saddle if they compensate a long-reach bar with a shorter stem.

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    11. This is true for me, Francisco. Does not appear to be an issue with our hostess.

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  13. Why does a fixed gear bike need brakes?

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    1. Imagine if your chain were to break or derail, then you've got no means of stopping safely if you don't have brakes. The other reason for brakes is to save the knees. Braking purely with the legs puts massive strain on the joints. I, for one, use the brakes not just to stop, but to temper speed on steep descents.

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    2. I've been riding fix for 30 years, and only use a front brake. I tried using a rear brake ONCE, I found out when I used the rear brake my legs relaxed when braking,(much like on a geared bike) and when I released the brake the momentum of the wheel took over again and my legs got jolted into action. I was thrown off the seat on to the top tube, while still in my toe clips. Needless to say the end result was very painfull. I will always use a front brake to help control stopping or speed, but I find if my legs are always engaged I fell safer on it.

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  14. great post. makes me think about rekindling my early 30's Malvern Star fixed gear road/path. I just need to replace the cotter pins on the crank arms, and could use a newer saddle, and shorter stem/bar combo. that Mercian looks great!

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  15. For those who question why fixed versus single speed. The advantage of fixed versus single speed is the PUSH. When your feet go around the wheel goes around - and - when the wheel goes around your feet get pushed around. Believe it or not, you really do get a little aid from momentum and the wheel, that you won't get from a freewheel. I've often joked the reason for riding fixed up Mt Washington is that I get pushed up the mountain by the wheels. But Shhhh. Don't tell anyone. It's our little secret - just between Lovely Bicycle's 10,000 readers and me!

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    1. I am equal parts fascinated, impressed and horrified that you choose to race most hill climbs on fixed.

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    2. Fixie Pixie is a freaking VIKING! Faster, Faster, KILL, KILL!!!

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    3. Not *most* hillclimbs, just the ones with a (mostly) constant gradient. Mt. Greylock, for instance, is definitely not suited to being raced on fixed, as it's gradient fluctuates frequently and repeatedly. The first half of Burke Mountain is practically flat compared to the second part, so it would probably take me an hour of mad spinning just to do the first 2 miles - if using a gear that would get me up the second half. For the Mt Washington I used an almost 1:1 gear (28.4 inch), where for most riding around here, it's closer to 67 inches. But don't forget I still have the hillclimb setup for the pink bike, so you too could race fixed up a mountain, when you are back visiting. The good news is that you don't have to (get to) ride down.

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    4. "don't forget I still have the hillclimb setup for the pink bike, so you too could race fixed up a mountain, when you are back visiting. "

      Phew. That is reassuring.

      "...for most riding around here, it's closer to 67 inches"

      Interesting. So mine is 68" which on Irish roads probably feels a bit higher than the same gear would back in Boston. At the moment it doesn't feel like I could go lower and still stay sane on descents. But since uphill is surprisingly okay so far, this might just be the magic number for me.

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    5. Gearing of 49 x 19 gives 69.6 gear inches, not 68.

      That 49 x 19 is an ideal gear is an hypothesis. Hypotheses are made so they can be tested. Ride some other gears.

      Running out of rpm on descents happens. So what? Anyway you are only beginning to uncover your potential as a pedaller. I am twice your age, 50% heavier, ride a 60cm frame. I am not small and nimble. I am large, old, and creaky. I have 200rpm on tap. On the rollers 240rpm is possible. I can make 150rpm on flat rubber pedals while wearing hiking boots.

      A better example that wasn't me-- Once I had the enormous privilege of going for a short ride with a 13 year old boy who had muscular dystrophy. I get no credit for this one, I just happened to be at the bike shop. Coach was getting word that the scheduled outing was becoming a 3-ring circus. Coach wanted me along as reinforcements. Previously the boy had been riding on the circular driveway in front of his family's house. Max speed thus far had been 8mph and that was an enormous accomplishment. This was to be the first time the boy got to ride on the street.

      The boy slipped his minders. He knew where that hill was. He knew what the micro-incline on his driveway was good for and he wanted that hill. He was on an old Raleigh Sports fitted with fixed gear at 39 x 23. I saw him telegraph his turn and went with him. I think Coach saw the telegraph too, but he gave the boy his head and decoyed the follow caravan. My computer said our top speed was 20mph. The boy's computer read 19mph. With that gear on a 26" wheel somewhere north of 150rpm.

      At the bottom of the hill I put my hand on the boy's hip. Not to steady him, which he didn't need, but to reassure our now totally frantic pursuers. I leaned towards him and said "You're a bike rider. No one can say you're not." My Christmas message to V the same.

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  16. So, I'm assuming this bike was custom built for you. Did you decide on the tube measurements, angles, etc. assuming the long-reach handlebars and current stem? I kinda figured one of the first measurements taken would be the proper distance from saddle to hoods when in a comfortable/efficient riding position and then the frame would be designed around that thought. Or did you design the frame without considering which bars and stem would ultimately be used on it? Just wondering.

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    1. The frame was built to order, but is not a custom design or even a made to measure size. Geometry is standard Mercian "Sportive." Size is what they referred to as 54cm, which measures 52x54cm. I selected tubing out of available options, and asked for no toe overlap. Otherwise they made the decisions.

      As far as fit: I ordered this frame 3.5 years ago and my preferred position on the bike was different then. Originally I intended a setup with the saddle and bars level, so the long reach bars made sense. In my current position, with the bars considerably lower, this no longer works.

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  17. I can really appreciate what you are feeling with the fixed. I have a '57 Maclean and I'm in the process of having a Mercian Vigorelli built. Somehow the fixed is telling me, "this is how a real bike supposed to feel". I'm not a good fixed cyclist either but I enjoy the feedback the the bike gives. I mean, what the heck does a 75 year old man living in the S.F. Bay area need with a fixed gear bike? The terrain ain't too flat here you know but I feel the bike pushing me up inclines. Somehow I can do inclines better, to a certain degree, on the fixed than on the derailleur bike. Yes, It's hard to put into words.

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  18. Don't worry about your proficiency as a fixed-gar cyclist. If you enjoy it, or feel that it improves your bike-handling skills--or if you just like the way it looks in the light of the Irish countryside--ride your fixie!

    As for inclines--I find, as Don and others have, that sometimes it's easier to do them on fixed gear bikes if you have some momentum and are already pedaling at a decent cadence. You don't want to start pedaling--or try to develop a good rhythm and cadence--at the base of a hill if you're on a fixed-gear bike.

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    1. Thanks for that encouragement, justine. It helps.

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  19. Let's get over the self deprecating tease. If you own a fixed gear bike and you enjoy riding it, you're a fixed gear cyclist. Good for you.

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  20. Which compact bars are you using? There aren't many non-oversized ones out there. I've been thinking about trying them for the same reasons as you, shorter reach, but I'm worried about losing the ramps position.

    Matt

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  21. "And is being bad at something you love a valid reason to stop doing it?" Best line! The bike looks good and it's even better because you enjoyed riding it even when you think you ride badly. Lol. It's what matters. Great post! :)

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  22. Hi !
    Beautiful machine!! Great color, nice accents. I think it would look great with a set of Bluemels white plastic or Bluemels Airweight 'luminuminum... fenders - polished to a mirror shine.

    A shout out to Mr. Matt Stonich who's cotter tool has made me unafraid of dealing with old beautiful steel cranks, a clavettes, with the impossible skinny and gorgeous crank arms.

    vsk / NYC

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  23. I just got back from 17 windy, rolling, and (last 5 miles from the grocery store) loaded errand miles on one of my Rivendell custom fixed gears, and it was nice to check your blog and find my own prejudices affirmed. More or less. I've been riding fixed since 1997 after someone gave me a fixed conversion to convince me it wasn't all a conceit. Most of my riding is now fixed and when I ride one of my geared bikes I find myself leaving it largely in one gear; or using just 2 or 3 close ratios. Since the last 5 miles were the most hilly, I debated putting the chain onto the 19 cog (17/19 Dingle, 70" and 63") but as usual didn't bother and, as usual, had to walk only for 2/10 mile of the steepest part of the steepest hill.

    I don't particularly "feel more at one with the bike" when I ride a fixed gear, and I am not even convinced that the fixed drivetrain carries the cranks around -- I get more feeling of "momentum" on my derailleur road bike with heavier, taller 700C wheels than on the lighter and shorter 559 or 571 wheels of the fixed gears. But what I love is doing more with less; I love standing to climb, for example, rather than sitting and down-shifting, and being force to pace myself for a hill, both to conserve my energy on the approach and moderating my pace when I climb standing. I'm a lot slower at almost-60 than as a young 40-something, but so far my ability to climb hills and manage loads hasn't suffered too badly.

    Combine the above with the inimitable fit and feel of a well designed Rivendell road bike ... Priceless.

    Re: rear brake: upon hard braking my rear wheel skips just from the natural reaction of ceasing to pedal, so I run just a front.

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  24. You now have four road bikes with you? Seven, Honey, Mercian, and DIY….A bike for all occasions.

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    1. Three. The Honey is on perma-loan to someone else now.

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  25. The best practical reasons (for me) to ride fixed are ease of maintenance and low cost per mile. The best aesthetic/subjective reasons are that I value simplicity, and enjoy having my pedaling translated directly into motion; it's like running a road or trail (minus impact) vs. running on a treadmill.

    With gears, I feel like I'm on a hamster wheel, spinning away and shifting constantly. It's frustrating to ride hills with groups, who tend to start downshifting as soon as the road tilts up and rapidly lose momentum.

    When it comes right down to it, the main reason gravitate toward fixed gear is that I dislike riding bikes with derailleurs; the disconnect between the pedaling and the road takes away a big component of the joy of riding that's possible on a fixed gear.

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  26. I love riding fixed gear. If you ask me why, I offer to let you ride mine.

    I have nothing philosophical to add to this. No zen, no technical explanations. No BS.

    Just this. Building your own fixie ads to the joy.

    I love this blog. Thanks.

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  27. Back at the dawn of cycling (40 years ago) when I was young, the fixed gear was for springtime freshening, for getting your legs, for finding your cadence. Well, that may be, but watching the bicycle messenger in Chicago explode out of a melee of taxicabs on Michigan Avenue and rocket two and three blocks out of sight inspires wishful thinking. But, we are not bicycle messengers. We do not defy the gods daily, or hourly. This is not what the fixie is all about for you and me, which is why Velouria's comments are en pointe. The fixie was basically the track bicycle that the road racer took to the velodrome in March as soon as conditions permitted to get some miles into his or her legs and especially to get the advantage of what we interval training.

    When i was in Seattle several years ago, of an early Sunday morning, I witnessed a very strong-looking lady in a track suit bring her fixie to a stop in front of a [coffee shop] on a steep downhill in maybe a 50-foot skid. When I suggested that the geometry of her bicycle would wear out her rear tire predictably, depending on her gear ratio, suggesting a possible catastrophic blowout, she dismissed me with a raised eyebrow, probably appropriate to me being a 64-year old wineskin and herself a 23 year-old goddess. Notwithstanding, fixes are not for everybody and mostly for them who knows. Sez me. PJT

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  28. Been riding fixed gear since 1982. There is nothing quite like it. I always use a front brake, not only for emergency and for scrubbing off excess speed downhill, but also I find it helps a lot with getting started and clipped in (it's a real pain to lift up the rear wheel and rotate the cranks around to where you want them).

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  29. Riding fixed definitely requires adjustments in technique which I think are generally beneficial for riding with gears, as well. Once you get comfortable, there is something quite fun about one gear, no freewheel. And I do love the sound that the thicker chain makes.

    Don't be afraid to run a shorter gear (maybe invest in a 48 front) to avoid staying in a low cadence all the time. Spinning aside, riding fixed can definitely be more of a muscular workout, so ease into it. Particularly if you slow down with your legs, you'll put extra stress on quads and knees. And be really careful with your fingers around the cog and chainring. Fixed drivetrains are really unforgiving to fingers.

    About half my riding is fixed, more so in the winter when I'll spin with the track bike on rollers.

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