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Fixed-gear experiment

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

When I got my singlespeed, I indicated on my blog that I had an interest in trying fixed-gear cycling. Wil generously offered to send me his old fixed-gear wheel, which he didn’t need any longer. Thanks, Wil!

Even though the wheel arrived some time ago, I just hadn’t had time to install it. I finally did, and it still took a week or more for me to actually try it. Saturday I finally had some time and tried the singlespeed in its new fixed-gear configuration. I only had time for a brief spin around the neighborhood of about two miles.

I have to say, it was a very weird experience. I found that while I was rolling, it didn’t really feel much different. But, any time I would try to stop, or slow down, it just felt odd. I tried to put back-pressure on the pedals to slow down, and it sort of worked, but it felt awkward and I wasn’t really sure what I was doing.  I didn’t quite get the hang of it.

I’m definitely going to keep trying. In the meantime, if anyone has any fixed-gear riding tips, especially relating to slowing down/stopping, I would love to hear them.

8 Responses to “Fixed-gear experiment”

  1. Fonk Says:

    I’m not a big fixie rider (have done so a handful of times – not really my thing), so take my advice for what it’s worth, but I’ve never understood why the hardcore fixie riders eschew brakes, at least on the rear. As far as I’m concerned, it still makes perfect sense to have both front and rear hand brakes, as it will stop you faster and save you stress on your knees. It may not be as trendy, but will give you more stopping power and save your precious joints.

  2. Chris Says:

    I have brakes on my fixed gear bike, but I like to use the back-pressure technique to “modulate” speed. I often will slow to a stop without using brakes by simply starting a little earlier than I would with brakes. Is it better than brakes? Nah. I just enjoy the simple and direct feeling with the machine.

    Here’s one idea. Go to a relatively flat and spacious parking lot, pedal around slowly, and gradually change speeds with cranks only. Feel the bike respond. Try a track stand. Just play around. If it doesn’t do anything for you, well, now you know. For some of us, it ceases to feel weird and becomes delightful.

    How about a report back on how things go?

  3. David Crowell Says:

    I only ran my single-speed fixed for a brief period, but here’s a warning:

    When pulling up next to a curb, don’t let the pedal hit it! I almost went down due to that.

  4. wil Says:

    Glad you got a chance to check it out. I hope you get to use it more. I think you will love it around campus. Keep your brakes on the bike and give it a chance. You will soon find that it is a nice option, especially since you have a dedicated bike for it.

    Have fun, Wil

  5. Apertome Says:

    I definitely intend to keep both brakes. I want to have both fixed and free options, and even if that weren’t the case, not having brakes seems dangerous to me.

    I can only assume that this is something that takes some adjustment.

    Wil: I do think it’d be good around campus, in theory, but in practice I carry a lot of weight some days and I would just have to ride with my backpack on that bike. It’s pretty uncomfortable having all that weight on my back. Not a problem for quick rides around campus, but getting to and from wouldn’t be very pleasant, I think. We’ll see.

  6. Jon Grinder Says:

    Dang, Wil beat me to the punch. I have a fixed wheelset I was going to let you have, but I wanted to surprise you with it on the trip. Oh, well.

    Definitely keep the brakes. Despite what the cool kids say, they are a useful system for stopping in a hurry. On longer rides, your legs will be tired enough without adding back-pressure braking effort into the mix.

    Personally, I would avoid campus and other places crowded with pedestrians and such, and take a few longish rides out in the boonies, where you can roll for a while without having to stop a lot. Use the natural resistance of your legs to modulate speed. You don’t necessarily have to push backward on the pedals to slow dow. Just let your legs relax, and see how fast you scrub off speed.

    I really enjoy fixed gear riding, partly because it is physically harder over the course of a certain ride than the same route will be on a freewheel bike. You don’t realize how much coasting you do, until you can’t.

    But, I also like the simplicicty of it. Need to go faster: pedal faster. Steep uphill: pedal harder (learn when to stand, when to not). Downhill: keep pedaling, use your brakes to modulate speed if needed. There’s no shame in it. It’s a fixed-gear road bike, not a track bike!

    Mostly though, look at it as what it is: a different style of riding. Just as mountain biking is fun, but in a different way than road riding, fixed riding is fun but in a different way than freewheeling.

    Next, I’ll get you on a fixed gear mountain bike. There’s some BIG fun to be had. on that!

  7. John Romeo Alpha Says:

    Keep practicing the back-pressure and eventually it will start to feel natural. Definitely keep the brakes, but concentrate on the front one, which does most of the work anyway.

  8. RANTWICK Says:

    My knees can’t handle much in the backward pressure department, but I sometimes coast to a stop with a little bit of it. When I want to slow down, rather than thinking about resisting, I just “stop helping” the pedals and let my legs get carried around by the momentum alone. That causes me to lose speed in a pleasant, gradual way that I like when there is sufficient time for it. Otherwise, I rely heavily on the brake.

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