Saturday, July 26, 2008

To fix or not to fix? (and then some)


What gives with the fixed gear obsession?It seems (to me) to be part of a multi-front attempts to make something that is already dangerous enough (city riding) even more so. I sort of think of it as the stiletto heels of biking. I tried to ride my friend's "fixie" for a block last year and nearly killed myself immediately. I KNOW, I KNOW, you just have to learn how to do it and get used to it, etc. etc. But WHY?! Why would I want to make sure I could never stop pedaling, even in an emergency, or going around a sharp corner or over multiple potholes or any other normal city riding situation. Then, to top it off, NO BRAKES! Yowza, great idea, sign me up. What if car drivers decided brakes were unnecessary and just counted on downshifting to come to a stop. I bet that would go over well, you just have to get used to it and become experienced, you can always ditch into a building if you can't stop in time! It also seems as if a lot of people who have not biked in a very long time are getting back into it with a fixed gear bike. I bet they didn't remember it was so difficult riding a bike! My friend got a freewheel cog put on after riding around with me and watching me enjoy a good coast every so often.

Then there are also the small bars, like barely wide enough for grips. Surprise, I don't get this either! Maybe pretty soon there could just be a knob in the middle of the fork. This type of dangerous stuff plus a good dose of anti-car self-righteousness is, I think, just the perfect recipe for some very unnecessary injuries/deaths.

Here are some pics of what I'm talking 'bout, including what I think are the shortest bars ever.

In the second pic above, I think only about half that grip even has handlebars under it, hence the really unorthodox brake lever placement.

HOWEVER, for unorthodox, nothing I've seen beats this specimen. Spied recently on the streets of NYC, I do have to give props for sheer hilariousness. I think the bars are off of a tricycle! Seriously! Can you see where the single lever is mounted? It's on the stem! What the?!!? Press in case of emergency.

I'm not a person who bikes around in fear of cars, but there are plenty of good reasons to be. I do realize that it's (not likely but) possible that any number of mishaps could cripple or kill me, and I very much value whatever measures of control I can get from an option to coast, 2 good solid brakes and some decent sized handlebars. You should too (in my most humble opinion, of course). Hardcore fixed gear/short handlebars peeps, FLAME AWAY!


diplomaticbob said...

OK....i like the blog jason, but why the fixed gear hating!? I know we just spoke about this.

I, like you, rode geared bikes, for many umpteen years. I believe you are two to four years older than I, but it is tantamount to the same amount of learned behavior, including the joy of coasting. I didn't sell all of my geared bikes, but they definitely have seen NO action at all since I got the fixed gear bike.

It is more fun. It is hard to describe, but it notched up my interest in riding. Since the spring, i have tried to get at least 200 miles in a week, and have fairly consistently done so, but riding fixed gear, i am probably adding another 50 to 100 miles per week, simply because i think the process is more fun for me. I know this doesn't put me in the hard-core category by any means, but I really like to bike, and i really like it more now since the fixed gear.

i planned the last tour, and this next one too, entirely on the fixed gear, and the ease at which I can start, stop, stay on, or dismount is fabulous for the tours, where i am always stopping for photos, to take notes, etc.

The control and stability is better. The speed and acceleration are particularly great. Because you have tension on both sides, it is easier to ride really slow, or stay still at a light, stop sign, etc.

For me the biggest myth to overcome was that it is harder to stop. It is not! Honestly, I can come to a stop QUICKER and SAFER than I can on any bike with hand brakes exclusively to stop. The combination of just standing up on the pedals and leg resistance is enough to stop me just as quick or quicker than hand brakes. I do have a front hand brake, but I rarely touch it, and I face the same traffic and potholes you do.

Here's a quote from the great Sheldon Brown, and it would be worth checking out some of the writings he has on the subject.

I don't think you should let one scary experience trying something knew act as a verification that you were right all along about fixed gear. I can say, i resisted the temptation because i did think it was a bit too hipster-cool, but man oh man is it fun....and safe!

Now the handlebars, we can agree on.

diplomaticbob said...'s the quote:

It is worth going through this learning experience, however, because once you do so, you will discover a new joy in cycling. When you ride a fixed gear, you feel a closer communion with your bike and with the road. There is a purity and simplicity to the fixed-gear bicycle that can be quite seductive. Somehow, once you get past the unfamiliarity, it is just more fun than riding a bike with gears and a freewheel!