I decided to try out a fixed gear bike. I’d ridden a lot with fixed bikes on Audaxes (hi Phil) but I’d never tried it myself. I used to have a single speed bike with a freehub. I used this bike to commute in all weathers. I was quite happy with the single speed and this encouraged my thoughts that a fixed gear bike might be nice.
When you ask a fixed gear aficionado what is so great about their bikes they say, it’s simple, it’s light and it rides like no other type of bike. In what way is it special to ride? I would ask. And I have never had a coherent answer. But I know myself now. Anyway, that’s later.
Initially, I looked at getting a suitable frame and a wheel. Fixed gear bikes are pretty cheap to build up. Then Chris suggested I use a 135mm OLN fixed wheel on my Karate Monkey. This would mean that I wouldn’t even have to get a different frame. The Karate Monkey has suitable dropouts for a fixed wheel. Chris also supplied a cog (with 18 teeth) and a lockring (to stop the cog from falling off)
Once I had the wheel I quickly converted the Karate Monkey. The Karate Monkey will only use disk brakes and the new rear wheel doesn’t have a disk fitting. However, this doesn’t matter. Fixed gear bikes are road legal with only one brake, the rear fixed gear mechanism can stop the bike and so counts as a brake.
I left the front wheel as it was and fitted a Ultremo ZX 28mm on the rear. The gear I had set up was 65 gear inches. When I was riding single speed, I liked 70 inches so this was a bit on the low side.
My initial impression was that the bike was doing it’s best to control me rather than me controlling it. Launching off the first few times the bike tries to throw you off. Climbing hills was easy, I am used to doing this on an unsuitable gear due to years of single speeding. In fact it was quite fun. On the level it’s similar to a single speed also. I was wondering what the fuss was about. Apart from being difficult to start off it seemed very much like a single speed.
Until I went downhill
When I went downhill my idea of the fixed gear bike as a nice thing to try also went downhill. I was expecting to have to spin the pedals at a high cadence. I can do this and it’s not a problem. The trouble is if you have to alter direction or do something just a bit different the bike is ready to give you a hard time. Breaking hard for a milk tanker that suddenly appears around the corner on the country lanes? Steering is suddenly hard to do. Hit a large rock? You are thrown out of balance. Need to signal right and brake at the same time? No chance.
The special factor that fixed gear riders seem to like and enjoy is that it’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.
Some people relish this kind of multitasking. I think it sucks.
To me, bikes are all about a simple equation of energy and motion. I put a small amount of energy in and the bike moves. Other than that it is pretty relaxing. The fixed gear experience is the polar opposite to this. Energy (mostly nervous) has to be supplied continuously or else the bike does malevolent things. Maybe some people like this kind of sado masochistic relationship, it’s not for me though. Another way of looking at it is as a cybernetic relationship, the legs of the rider become part of the bike.
I thought maybe fitting a bigger gear would help a bit. So I fitted a 16 tooth sprocket instead of the 18 tooth one. It helped a bit but I still had the feeling that the bike was out to get me.
After a week or two of this I’d had enough. This morning I needed to go to the shop. The thought of taking the fixed gear bike out filled me with dread. I took a different bike. I’m going to the pub tonight. Shall I take the fixed gear bike? In the semi-darkness coming back from the pub up some lanes? No way. So I can only use this bike now for very short pointless test rides. And I am not getting any more relaxed about it. Quite the reverse.
I converted my bike back to how it was before. It’s good to try new things. It’s good to learn what you do like. I might build up a single speed again