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September 17, 2004

Fixed-Gear Bikes Good on Long Rides?

The last time I rode a bicycle with less than 2 speeds I was in Elementary School.

Over the last couple of years, though, I've noticed adults, and teens, riding such bikes, especially on the beach, and river trails.

Others have noticed as well.

Up in the North Bay area, around the San Francisco region, on the website of Metro Active, there is an interesting article on the subject that begins with the authors encounter with one such rider on a 35 mile ride around Sonoma County.

In case you forgot, or don't know, writer Gabe Meline enlightens:

A fixed-gear bike has only one speed and no freewheel. Essentially, this means two things: you cannot change gears and you can never stop pedaling. The chain is linked directly around a single rear-wheel cog, tight and immovable, so that when the bike is in motion, the pedals are in motion and your legs are in motion.

What to do with all this motion when you suddenly need to come to a stop? Remember the opening segment of The Flintstones where Fred and Barney stop their cars with their feet? It's pretty much the same thing with a fixed-gear bike. A large number of fixed-gear riders remove all the brakes from their bikes, relying solely on their own legs to slow down and quickly pedaling backward in order to skid to a stop.

It doesn't make any sense, I know.


Damn Straight! :-)

I like Fred, and Barney, as much as the next guy, but I want my 24 speeds, and the freakin' Brakes! :-)

Anyway, Gabe writes:

With as few moving parts as possible, it offers its riders utmost simplicity with no frills--a return to cycling's roots in an age of spiraling technological advances.

A surging young demographic has curiously latched on to fixed-gear bikes in the last few years. Out in the garage, instead of souping up a hot rod for maximum power, kids fresh out of high school are minimizing by ripping apart Dad's old 10-speed and removing all but the most necessary moving parts. Give me that old-time manpower, the defiant de-creationist says, it's good enough for me.

"Give me that old-time manpower it's good enough for me" sounds like the chorus of a song, if only can find the time to think it through. :-)

It's hard to imagine the Tour de France made up entirely of such bikes but it used to be that way, and it used to be that such bikes were all there was, period.

Advances in technology, beginning in the 30's, brought us the 3, 10, 15, 20, and 24 speed road bike, and the multi-speed Mountain Bike.

Some folks just aren't into speed it seems, and so there is this new interest in an old style bike.

It seems we have Bike Messengers to partially thank for this resurgence of "Back to the 30's" nostalgia:

Some 70 years later, bicycle messengers in San Francisco and Manhattan started riding fixed-gear bikes for deliveries, and in no time at all, a fixed gear became not only de rigueur for messengers coast to coast, but an instant accessory to the modern lifestyle. Like making graffiti art or getting tattooed, riding a fixed gear succeeds to confuse most normal people, and thus achieves hipster status.

The first half of the story ends with a description of the end of the bike ride, where the group has just climed a difficult grade, and then reaped the reward of a thrilling downhill.

And the guy on the fixed-gear took it all in stride. :-)

The next part of the story is a visit with the rider of this contraption, 19 year old Buck Olen, and it is an interesting tale indeed.

The story continues with a visit with employees of 2 bike shops, including one who isn't too crazy about such bikes.

The piece ends with the author taking a beautifully scenic, and long, ride on a fixed-gear bicycle.

His conclusion?

I'm honestly amazed that I made it, and looking at my stripped-down bike, I reflect on what an amazingly simple invention it is. Wheels, pedals, a chain and a frame. Just add a strong dash of determination, and a few hours later you're shooting pinball at the Tides, the seals in the bay behind cheering you on.

If there's one thing I've learned, it's that, all social trappings aside, riding a fixed-gear bike is pretty much the same as riding a regular bike. I could have taken my 10-speed along the hills of Coleman Valley Road and it would have felt the same. I'd still feel triumphant, it would've still been beautiful and man-oh-man, I'd still be sore for days afterward.


Read the full, long, story here:

PEDAL TO THE METTLE:
Down from the dizzying heights of titanium rides comes the newest must-have item: the fixed-gear bike. Like it ever left.

September 17, 2004 in The Well Read Cyclist | Permalink

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Comments

Well, don't forget that fixed-gears are used on the track, without brakes. The last thing that you need in a track event is to have people braking or fumbling with gears at such high speeds/tight formations. Climbing an 8% grade on a fixed-gear has to be brutal though, descending it even more so.

Posted by: Chris | Sep 19, 2004 3:24:21 PM

True.

LOL!

Not being into racing, except when the TOUR comes around, I'd forgotten about those folks who chase each other around a track. :-)

Posted by: Kiril | Sep 19, 2004 3:36:46 PM

Fixed gear is a fad, just like singlespeeds...so I've been told...

Posted by: DT | Nov 2, 2004 10:13:07 PM

there are many types of bikes
different types of bikes to suit different lifestyles and different needs

there are also many types of cars...

the track bike does not make much sense to me in the application that most people opt to use it for....

but then again....
the large SUV does not make much sense to me either

we live in a world of many choices....
the thought that Baskin and Robins has 31 Flavors shows that Vanilla and Chocolate are not enough for all the personalities in this world

Posted by: gwadzilla | Nov 4, 2004 10:43:32 AM

The cycling industry loves when they can create a new product group. Mountain bikes came out and manufacturers jumped to build them. Comfort-bikes, hybrid, cyclocross, singlespeed, fixed gears, track, downhill, BMX, touring, freeride, retro, 29'ers, etc, etc. The magazines love it too. There's *new* stuff to write about. New products to review. More ad space. More marketing. More time spent thinking about what the new trend will be.If the industry can convience people that they need multiple bikes, for multiple uses, then they will increase sales. And sales is what drives the industry. Anytime there's a growing trend of some fringe type of cycling, the industry jumps in and trys to milk it for all it's worth. Then when sales fall off for a particular trend manufacturers stop production and support of that type of riding. Fixed gears and single speeds will last only a couple of more years if even that. Then only the hard core companies will carry the torch.

Posted by: gundog99 | Nov 17, 2004 4:03:00 PM

The cycling industry loves when they can create a new product group. Mountain bikes came out and manufacturers jumped to build them. Comfort-bikes, hybrid, cyclocross, singlespeed, fixed gears, track, downhill, BMX, touring, freeride, retro, 29'ers, etc, etc. The magazines love it too. There's *new* stuff to write about. New products to review. More ad space. More marketing. More time spent thinking about what the new trend will be.If the industry can convience people that they need multiple bikes, for multiple uses, then they will increase sales. And sales is what drives the industry. Anytime there's a growing trend of some fringe type of cycling, the industry jumps in and trys to milk it for all it's worth. Then when sales fall off for a particular trend manufacturers stop production and support of that type of riding. Fixed gears and single speeds will last only a couple of more years if even that. Then only the hard core companies will carry the torch.

Posted by: gundog99 | Nov 17, 2004 4:03:00 PM

I just back from 42 miles down to Dad's place, over a 700' hill range. Did it on my fixie (46x16) and was absolutely fine. Sure the hills seemed a bit steep at times, but you just grind them out. Makes you think really,,,

Posted by: Matthew Plummer | May 31, 2005 6:59:42 PM

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