Why I ride fixed

“So you can’t coast on that?” The question comes up pretty often. My bike is usually out in front of my desk and folks catch on pretty quick that there’s something odd about it. No shifters, no corncob, no derailleurs. The question comes up after the explanation, and it almost always boils down to “why?”. I know it’s been said before many times, many ways – here’s my go…

I’m trying to be less of a man. I’ll admit it, I’m more of a man than I’d like to be. Twenty pounds less would be a good start. Commuting is part of my fitness regiment (something no *ov rider can say), and I ride fixed to make sure I get the most out of my commute. Cycling is a fantastic sport which creates incredible athletes, but for those of us schlubs who aren’t in it to win it there are just too many opportunities to coast. Even when I ride freewheel bikes I get all sweaty, so let’s just go whole hog and pedal the whole way to work, eh? One of the biggest jaw-droppers for folks is not the no-coasting thing but the single-gear thing. I’ll definitely loose out to the gal who’s can shift down to climb the tall ones (and I have). To my mind, mashing the pedals to get to the top is a special kind of locomotive resistance training. My only other option is to swallow my pride, climb off, and push it and that’s pretty good incentive even for me.

Fast I’m not sure what it is, exactly, but I’m fast on my fixed bikes. I’m not top-speed fast, and I’m certainly not race fast, but I can really move along on my bike and I almost never have to set my mind to it. Part of it is that I’m used to keeping the pressure on. On a fixie if you™re not keeping up with the bike you’re slowing it down and so the habit of at least keeping pace grows. I also have a very good feel for just how hard I’m pushing, and how much more I’ve got to give when the next hill comes along. I also think it’s just a lot less fucking around. I’m never waiting for the chain to re-engage on the right sprocket or shifting down, I’m not winding the cranks back around for a good start, etc.

Silent and Stylish This is probably my favorite part – there’s almost no noise from my bike. When my chain’s cleaned up the loudest noise coming from my ride is the sound of my tires on the road. Cycling’s often described as flying like a bird, and I just can’t imagine birds creaking and crunching through the sky like some of the bikes I hear.

There’s no doubt that the clean appearance of fixed bikes is a big draw for lots of folks, me too. But fixie style goes way past the clean appearance. I’d go so far to say that it’s an anti-gear aesthetic, although the fixie hipsters are putting a lot more attention into the gear on their bikes than a lot of my fellow commuters (check out those pink deep-v rims why don’t cha!). Something about winnowing your bike down to real core elements and using them well. I’m far from a fixie hipster, but I do hope a teeny tiny bit of fixie charm rubs off on me. I could use it.

Not all my rides are fixed, mind you. I can’t see any reason to punish myself with a cargo bike that can’t go up hills or coast down them. And a quick run around the South of Seatac mountain bike course was all it took to convince me of the wisdom of bringing gears and a freewheel. But, for my money, nothing’s quite as satisfying as flying home on my fixed bike.



Belt Drives

belt_drive.jpg Belt drives are like corduroy and Ska – they come in and out of fashion, like very 15 years or so, and this year belt-drives are back (maybe the Mighty Mighty Bosstones are planning a reunion or we can at least remember what it was like before No Doubt).

So here’s Bill Davidson holding a Delta CDrive for a project bike. He’s planning on building “a clean, oil-free bike that you can put together in a hotel room, or quickly break it down when the bike racks are full on a bus.”

A belt-drive single-speed will debut at Interbike, Ellsworth’s Signature Ride is belt-driven, and the Bicycle Design blog is pondering belt-driven design.

As belt-drives come and go, what do you think? For Urban Bikes, seems to make sense, unless it’s wet and they slip.



Bike Friendly SLUT in Seattle

Trolly.jpg Great news on the future of Seattle’s neighborhood transportation– you’ll be allowed to bring your bike on when you ride the SLUT (don’t worry, the link is work-safe). According to the Seattle DOT, bikes will be allowed in the center of the South Lake Union Trolleys Streetcars. The unfortunate acromyn for the new coaches wouldn’t be so bad if the coaches themselves were a bit more, erm, attractive. The photos on the SDOT site look faintly like a train of elongated orange daleks. I’m sure that’s not their final design though, right?



PBP - SLEEP? what is this sleeping you speak of?

When I got to Carhaix, the last checkpoint before Brest, I had been awake for 29 hours. I had never been awake that long before, much less ridden 300+ miles at the same time. In spite of latching onto a tandem I was still having a pretty miserable time. At that point I would have told anyone thinking of doing this ride to run screaming and never think of it again. Various scenarios were running through my head, and they all involved abandoning and catching a train back to Paris or cutting the ride short. Can I just turn around here? carry on to Brest and catch a TGV back to Paris from there?

I ate some food at the school cafeteria and decided to get some sleep. I’d figure out how to best bail out when I woke up.

Sleeping at PBP is really organized. As I have explained, the checkpoints are all at schools, and there are sleeping areas at most of the checkpoints. Either there are cots set up in the gym, or gym mats on the floor in classrooms. You follow the signs for “dormir” and come to a table staffed by a handful of locals. Though I speak very little french, it was obvious to me that there was an age requirement to be a Dormir staffer - you had to be at least 60 years old, preferably older. Anyways, you can rent a cot or mat and army surplus type wool blanket for 3 or 4 euro. You sign your name and frame number and tell the staff what time you want to be woken up. Then you grab your gear, take off your cleats (so as not to wake the other sleepers) and with a tiny flashlight one of the old guys leads you to a numbered spot where you can get a few hours shut eye.

At least that’s how it is supposed to work. At Carhaix I had a head full of ideas about how best to quit - not exactly soothing thoughts to drift off with. Pile on a neighbor who could stand on the podium in the volume contest at the snoring olympics, and it was impossible to sleep. I tried for an hour and a half, but it just wasn’t happening. After some food and rest everything looked better though, and I made up my mind to go on.

I got up, ate again, put on dry clothes and headed out for Brest. It was about 11pm when I left. Though the previous night had been dark, it was nothing compared to the second night. It was a pleasant night with a slight tailwind, and warmer than before, but it was cloudy, and I was pretty much alone. With the clouds it was pitch black. I quickly caught and passed two riders and then couldn’t see anyone. Periodically I would see headlights of other riders coming at me but there were long stretches where I just rode, hoping I was going the right way. I could tell that I was climbing steadily and had been for a long time, I was on something bigger than a hill but smaller than a mountain.

The climb turned out to be Roc Trezevel, a 1250 foot climb, and the last obstacle before Brest. I didn’t see many returning riders because the out and back sections of the course separate at this area. It keeps the roads a little less crowded during the day when there are many, many more riders, and traffic too. I only saw about 10 cars in the couple hours that it took to crest Trezevel. Eventually a group of three other riders caught me, led by (who else?) a strong Italian rider. With my new friend doing about 80% of the work for all of us we made it into Brest about 3:30 in the morning.

At Brest I ate again, had a delicious beer, and was finally able to get some sleep. After 35 hours awake and about 345 miles, I went out like the proverbial light bulb. When I was gently shaken awake at 8AM the sun was shining brightly - finally. I ate again (they had a great liver(?) pate, chock full-o-fat and salt) and took off. My legs were getting weary, but I was heading for home. Things were really looking up.



2007 Cyclocross Season starters

ad_scx_vert.jpg Now that the rain’s arrived in the pacific northwest I think it’s safe to say Cyclocross season’s officially underway. A couple of races went down last weekend. SeattleCyclocross.com has a good run down of local upcoming events on their schedule. Personally, I’m hoping to make it out to Starcrossed next weekend.



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