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Fixed Gear. No idea.

   Words by Aaron Scott

   on 29/08/2013 18:22:00

Looking hip with a fixie

I wasn’t really sure how to start this blog so I typed the words ‘fixed gear’ into Google and hit the ‘image button’. What followed was a wall of images comprising bikes, people looking hip, risqué pictures of ladies on bikes, people looking hip, one picture of some track cyclists, and some people looking hip.

The fact that there was only one picture of track cycling surprised me as this is the root of all fixed gear riding and it was this that lead to me buying my fixed gear bike. For those that don’t know a fixed gear bike has no derailleur and no freewheel. Meaning you only have one gear and you NEVER stop pedalling.

My first experience of riding a ‘fixie’ was during a track day at the Manchester Velodrome. Being sat on a bike with no brakes and no freewheel looking at the steep wooden banks (they are steeper than they look in any photo) was a little disconcerting. But once the permission to ride was given and the speed to propel you up the boards was reached it felt like the most natural way to ride a bike. The lack of brakes and freewheel play an important safety role on the track as once you slow you begin to slide down the incline. A sudden stop could be disastrous unless you are a master of the trackstand. The morning of the day after I sat up in bed and winced in anticipation of the dull aching pain in my legs from the previous days track day. There was nothing. Not a twinge. My legs were fine and felt like they had done nothing more than a normal days work. Then I stood up and felt the two muscles that had done most of the work on the bike. My quadriceps were screaming, something they had never done before. If you’re wondering where your quadriceps are, just look at a picture of Sir Chris Hoy’s legs.

It didn’t take long for the idea of riding a fixed gear bike for training purposes to take hold in my mind. Those thunderous quads would eat hills and sprints. I browsed through the fixed gear and track bikes on offer. The Specialized Langster, the Moda Finale and the felt TK were the ones that caught my eye. The Langster became the bike of choice as it was the only one capable of running brakes. No

The Specialized Langster

brakes are great on the track but not such a good idea on the road. Fixie riders will sometimes run no brakes stopping by locking their hips against the handlebars to lock the back wheel but if I needed to stop I wanted to stop quickly. At the same time of becoming obsessed with the idea of a fixie I was also looking for a bike to ride across town for transport and social purposes. I had got tired of having to put on Lycra every time I wanted a pedal and recently riding to a friend’s house to be invited to the pub meant declining as I wasn’t prepared to stand at the bar looking like, as my friend put it, like “a giant sperm”. Then by chance along came a bike that solved the training and practicality problem in one. A bike called the ‘Grinder’ by Charge. It was a flat bar, olive green bike with a rear hub that gave the option of running with a fixed wheel or a free wheel depending on which way you put the rear wheel in. It was completed with some ODI grips, Knog frog lights for night time visibility and a Knog saddle bag. The Specialized S-Works helmet was put aside for the more urban Fox Transition. I could now ride it across town sans Lycra and ride it for training too. But maybe more importantly: I could look hip.

Another hipster fixie.

Lycra is functional, aerodynamic and stealthy. It is not sexy. Messenger chic is named after those pinnacles of sartorial cycling, the cycle courier and is all about looking good on a bike. Not looking like you’ve just ridden a ten mile time trial in record time. Fashion labels are cropping up all over the place specifically designing items for stylish cycling. Helping to ensure that your intended recipient of a cheeky wink at the traffic lights responds with a phone number rather than an angry request to stop spraying them with sweat.

I would ride with my jeans rolled up and my sneakers on. I was also going to need a bag for all my cross town trips. It couldn’t just be any bag. Ohhhh no. It had to be a messenger bag. If you’re going to do messenger chic you need a messenger bag. I needed to look like I was carrying important business plans to glass walled skyscrapers (“they’re for Archer & Harris on fifth”) when I would actually be carrying tins of beans and a copy of Heat. Again there are a bewildering number of options. The Knog Pigdog, the Evoc messenger bag (which I opted for) and the Jack Wolfskin Jungle bag to name a few. I had the bike and I looked amazing. Now I just needed to ride it.

My Evoc messenger bag.

When you’ve spent a long time riding bikes with a free wheel a fixed wheel feels weird and you ride constantly reminding yourself that the pedals will not stop as long as the bike is rolling. But at some point comes the dreadful moment when you forget. This moment for me came approaching a junction. I stopped pedalling to coast up to the white lines only to be thrown forward by the rear pedal lifting. My chest hit the bars and the cross bar connected where it shouldn’t and it hurt. No amount of trendy clothing, hipster bag or tight jeans could make me look good at that moment. A doubled up, gasping broken man crying at the side of the road. Fortunately the girl I would normally wink to at this particular junction was not present. Less fortunate was that a young family with child on his Christmas present bike were. “Keep pedalling past the man Toby” said the father as he eyed me mockingly.

I later wondered if the child could have been a future star of track cycling who would never realise his potential due to the horror his young eyes witnessed on his first bicycle ride. Still, you only forget once and when I had got accustomed to pedalling it properly it became an enjoyable ride. The fixed gear begins to instil a ‘no wimping out’ riding ethos. Hills simply have to be climbed in the gear that you have. No dropping to an easy gear, just push harder and descents will improve cadence no end. You simply have no option but to take what the road throws at you. After a while of riding the Grinder a colleague and I went on a sixty mile ride on our road bikes. All but one of the punchy hills were tackled out of the saddle, the flats and down hills I just span my legs faster to keep up. I found myself still pedalling when I was braking. I now try to get one decent twenty mile ride in a week with some decent hills. It’s tackling the hills on a fixie that will make you stronger on a bike. The real reason I went for a fixie was the hope that it would improve my cycling and it has. I just wished I’d bought one sooner. I wouldn’t say I have quadriceps like Sir Chris Hoy’s just yet. But that’s ok. They’d only stop me getting into my skinny jeans.

Mark is based at the Grafham store and his courier handle is ‘The Joker’

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