Tuesday, December 30, 2008

One Gear, No Coasting

I'm finally getting the hang of bicycle commuting around Los Angeles and the solution was to get an old bike and "fix" it. This particular bicycle was a high school graduation for my little brother, nearly 30 years ago. He was cleaning out his apartment and when he decided to get rid of it I snapped it up.

Former life as a 10 speed.

The next part of this project was to clean it up and "fix" it. It wasn't really broken, it's just that the current trend in city bicycles is fixed gear, aka fixie. A fixed gear bicycle as defined on Wikipedia is:
fixed-gear bicycle or fixed wheel bicycle, is a bicycle without the ability to coast. The sprocket is screwed directly on to the hub and there is no freewheel mechanism. A reverse-thread lockring is usually fitted to prevent the sprocket from unscrewing.[1] Whenever the rear wheel is turning, the pedals turn in the same direction.[2] By resisting the rotation of the pedals, a rider can slow the bike to a stop, without the aid of a brake.[1] A fixed gear bicycle can even be ridden in reverse.
 At first this may seem like handicapping the bike, going from 10 gears to one, but riding a fixie is a whole different experience. Maintaining a fixed gear is ultra simple because there are no derailleurs to oil and adjust.

Many fixies have just one front brake or even no brakes at all, applying back pressure on the pedals is all you really need. However, it takes quite a bit of well developed leg strength to make an emergency stop so I opted to keep both front and rear brakes and I'm glad I did, especially going down hills. Remember, there's no coasting so the faster you go, the faster you need to pedal and if your feet slip out of the clips--you're in deep trouble!

My biggest surprise riding a fixed gear was going uphill. You'd think that it would be a weak point but my bike is geared fairly low, 39 tooth chain ring and 16 tooth cog, so that combined with the absence of extra gears, cables and levers makes for a very lightweight climbing machine.

Perhaps the popularity of fixed gear bicycles is an anti hi-tech statement, maybe it is just a fad. It isn't for everyone. I wasn't sure it was for me but since I had a perfect bike to experiment with and lots of inspiration from the posts on fixedgeargallery.com I thought I'd give it a try. As it turned out, it fits perfectly on an MTA bus rack, is easy to carry up and down stairs at the train station and I've been able to conquer every hill I attempted. In fact for the past several months, this bike has been my primary means of transportation to and from work.