Time to close…

This weblog was originally created to chronicle my 2012 challenge to travel everywhere by fixed gear bike. Feel free to read through the archives and see how I fared.

Two years later in 2014, my fixed gear journey has led me through all sorts of lifestyle twists and turns, bike and non-bike related. My alternative lifestyle has broadened beyond purely bikes. Therefore, I have merged my music and lifestyle blogs at http://symphonyforhappiness.wordpress.com

Click here for its first post

Happy cycling and feel free to keep commenting here. I’ll still be checking and responding.

-Full Time Fixie / Kimwei

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Single Speed Century ( to train for a Fixed Gear Century ) might have gone too far

Ever since I heard about the idea cycling 100 miles (known as a century) I’d wanted to try it. I only have a Fixed Gear/Single Speed bike, and would love to do it Fixed, but thought it best to do one Single Speed first. Had I been told that a Century bike ride on multi-speed bike was thought to be the equivalent of running a marathon, I probably would have given up before I started. A marathon isn’t something I thought I could ever achieve.

None the less, on Tuesday the 28th of August I accidentally cycled 130miles from Swindon to Exeter, Single Speed. Well, it wasn’t quite accidentally, but not quite on purpose either.1236983_637499169628316_261054895_n


Having visited family in Oxford with my girlfriend that weekend I had intended to cycle the 160miles home to Exeter over 2 or 3 days, whilst she drove straight home in the van. But one thing led to another and I ended up leaving at 7pm in the evening on the first day, only riding 30miles before bedtime. My girlfriend decided to stay in Oxford for the evening and meet me near Swindon that night so we could sleep in the van together. She wanted to make sure I got at least 1 good night’s sleep on my journey.

The following day, with 130miles to go, I realised that if I left my camping stuff in the van, I could attempt a Single Speed Century be home the same day, negating the need for any luggage. Taunton train station was roughly 100miles from Swindon and it would be a £10 train ride back to Exeter from that point. So how did I end up riding 130miles instead?

I was aware that over the summer my weekly mileage had dropped to 20-40miles. Not a good state of fitness to be in for the challenge, but my bike had been greatly upgraded since last year, which would help. It’s over a kilo lighter than the last time I cycled long distances and fits me much better. It’s also smoother to ride so I’d have less risk of injury. Previously the furthest I’d ridden was 80miles, Fixed Gear, with 20kg of luggage on the bike. I’d often wondered if that in itself was equivalent to a Fixed Gear Century, but none the less I wanted to try a REAL century.

Despite my lack of preparation, I felt encouraged to try for 100miles, because I knew that I could give up and take the train at any point. The route I had chosen had plenty of train stations along the way. Ironically, it was probably this safety net which made feel able to ride all the way home to Exeter. I did it because I didn’t get tired enough to feel like taking the train.

Ok, that’s not exactly true… by the time I got to Tiverton, I was shattered, but the trains had been cancelled, so I had to keep going for those last 12miles.

So I’ll start by saying that it goes without saying that it was a fantastic ride, and I felt totally freed by it. I saw some amazing places, towns, villages, views, animals, skies, sunset and more and more and more. Needless to say, I love being on my bike and I love what happens to my mind and body during and after a whole day of riding. Some people find it’s an adrenaline thrill, but instead I tend to become very calm, peaceful and elated. Even when it’s tough going, I never think to myself ‘Oh woe! When will this be over!?’ If I was thinking like that, why on earth would I keep going for 14hrs?

People often say that endurance exercise is about mental strength. I’d rather say that it’s about mental AWARENESS. It takes strength to push through pain, but pain might be a sign of damage being done. With the right awareness, I was able to enjoy every mile and take action to avoid pain before it started.

For those of you who enjoy cycling as much as I do and would like to try a century ride, here’s what made it work for me:

Food and drink – Powder is worth it.

When I first did a 50mile ride I didn’t know about the need to eat carbohydrate and had a horrible experience of cycling on empty.  The wisdom is that simple, low fat carbs and sweet things are best. Sugar will work as fuel but isn’t the best, although many long distance riders end up eating chocolate anyway just because it’s always available to buy on the journey. A couple of months ago, I tried out powered sports drinks and bars and to my surprise I found them to be MUCH better!  The drinks often contain caffeine and sweeteners, both of which I think of as unhealthy. So in the end I went for Torque powder because it’s natural and doesn’t contain any crap. It looks and smells a bit like sherbet. I carry 2 water bottles and the powder and make up fresh bottles of the formula as I refill the bottles along the way.

Advantages include fast and effective rehydration, meaning I drink less overall (which is great because drinking too much water used to make me feel sick) and a constant supply of energy with no highs and troughs.

On my 130mile ride I got through 8x 500ml bottles of the Torque formula. And because it was tough going, I brought confectionary to supplement the drinks. 1 big bag of M&Ms to snack on the bike, 2 scoops of ice cream for lunch and a milkshake for dinner.

When I got home, I was aware that I had 30mins to replace the glycogen I’d lost during the day by eating or drinking the right amount of pure carbohydrate. However, I normally do this with fruitjuice, and didn’t have any. So I improvised with honey on toast and an extra extra sweet hot chocolate. I was worried because I’d got back too late to be able to eat supper too. However, I woke up hungry at 4am and had to get up and make myself a meal.

Amazingly, my muscles were a little jellylike, but NOT painful the following day, which must have meant I’d got my endurance nutrition just right.

Technique – Vary it.

When I first did an 80mile ride I jarred my hands and they took 3 months to recover fully. As well as getting a better bike, and double taping the handlebars, I learned to avoid this problem by changing my hand position on the bars every few minutes to vary the wear, and to keep the weight off the outer sides of my hands by resting on the thumb side instead. I wish someone had told me this in the first place. Jarring can also be diminished by avoiding drains and bumps in the road where possible and being strict with unweighting the bars and saddle as you ride over any bumps that can’t be avoided.

Using 1 gear and a speedometer helps me to pick the right pedal technique for the speed I’m riding at. I like the gear I’ve chosen (68 inch) because it gives me optimum cadence (around 90rpm) at 16-20mph, which is what I usually do on the flat. Up hills, I like to stay over 10mph, but if it drops to 8mph I might have to get out of the saddle. At 6mph I definitely have to stand up.

Down hills I’m comfortable up to 26mph, which I’ll accelerate to and then freewheel, getting down on my drops and staying low to pick up the maximum speed possible, and then watching the speedo so I can start pedalling again when it drops to 26mph to make the most of the acceleration gained in that downhill.  A lot can be said for being brave and not touching the brakes on a downhill section if it’s straight and safe to do so.

Never mind what these figures are, the point is, I KNOW them. I know how fast I can pedal, what I should be doing on the flat if it’s not windy, what speed to climb in the saddle and what speed to get out of it and swing the bike. These figures help me psychologically and they help me last longer. I’ll put in the extra effort to stay above 10mph and stay in the saddle on a hill because I know that standing up on the pedals tires people quicker. I’ll know if it’s windy or slightly uphill if I can’t make it to 16mph on a seemingly flat road.

How to stay in the saddle on a hill: When I first cycled with one gear, I thought hill climbing was about being able to stay out of the saddle for long periods. I had 2 methods of riding – pushing the pedals around happily on the flat, and slogging it out on hills, standing up and swinging the bike.

Now my rides are about staying in the saddle much as possible, which means developing different techniques. The bike may only have one setting, but the rider can have several as shown below.

  1. Pedalling around evenly
  2. Pedalling around focusing on the downstroke
  3. Pedalling around focusing on the upstroke
  4. Pedalling whilst consciously tensing the core
  5. Pedalling whilst locking the arms by pressing them down on the bars (this automatically tenses the core and gives a bit extra too. It’s good for short bursts of power)
  6. Pedalling whilst bobbing the body from side to side.
  7. Pedalling whilst swinging the bike, but staying in the saddle.
  8. Finally getting out of the saddle and swinging the bike.

On a hill, I’ll only stand up as a last resort if I’ve tried all these methods. Leaning back on the saddle can provide extra power too as it’s a slightly more favorable angle. I might rotate a few of the in-the-saddle techniques on a long slow hill to vary the muscle groups used so it takes me longer to get tired.

Mindset and awareness – Stay in the present

The biggest thing I learned during this journey was to take every mile as it comes. It may sound like a cliché, but there were literally ups and downs. Thinking about all the hills that were to come, I felt like giving up. But keeping focused and riding every mile as if it were the only mile was the only way to get through it. I realized that I didn’t need enough energy for the future now I just needed enough energy now. Being totally in the moment and putting all my focus on the current pedal stroke, I was able to enjoy each and every one.

For the record, there were 121,130 of em.

Happy cycling to you.


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Freewheeling? The Single Speed vs Fixed Gear debate

A few weeks ago I took part in a roadrace group training session. They wouldn’t let me ride fixed gear so I turned my back wheel over to put my bike on its freewheel setting (most fixies come with this Single Speed option).


My custom bike “Umlaut” in single-speed mode. Want one? Visit the builder’s website at http://www.magicmikebike.co.uk


I have a confession to make: I’ve left it on the freewheel setting ever since.

Why is this a confession? Because like many I believe in the word: Fixed = Zen. Freewheel = No zen. I have been riding my bike on it’s zen-free setting, and liking it.

2012 was my Fixed Gear year and during that time I didn’t really consider the option of using the bike’s freewheel setting, since it was outside the terms of my quest. I used it only twice – on my first 50mile ride because I wasn’t sure if I would make it, and during my first 80mile ride, for the same reason.

Now that it’s 2013 I’ve actually used the freewheel setting quite a lot. There are a lot of Fixed Gear vs Single Speed debates out there so here’s my contribution.

In riding SS (Single Speed), I did immediately feel that I was giving up a portion of the freedom that FG (Fixed Gear) allows. As soon as I freewheeled I felt out of contact with the road. I was just being carried along by the bike, I was no longer part-of-it. This is the zen-factor, or lack of it. However, part of the feeling of connection to the road does come from the single gear, so all is not lost.

In some respects maneuvering feels a little less controlled SS, as does speed. I have a front and back brake on my bike and when riding FG I use those for harsh braking. But if I want to control my speed or gently slow down then I push back on the pedals. This method of speed control felt intuitive and automatic and I miss it when I ride SS.

Having said this… there is one thing for certain about SS – it’s faster and it’s easier.

This is something that I wanted to deny at first, but test after test showed me that it’s true, especially in the following situations:

•    Downhill – I peak at about 26mph riding FG. I can get up to 34 for short bursts, but if it’s a long hill I’ll stick to the mid 20s in case I run out of stamina. Riding SS I can still pedal like crazy if I want to, but I can bail out and freewheel at any time. I can let go at 30mph and freewheel down the hill easily in the mid 30s, picking up pedal cadence again when the speed drops to the mid 20s.
•    Uphill – Technically, uphills will be the same. But, often uphills are proceeded by downhills, in which case extra speed provided by the freewheel on downhills gives you a head start, as well as having had a little rest during the descent so you’re fresher for the climb.
•    Stop starting – Around town, freewheeling towards an approaching red light is easier than braking with the legs as I would on a Fixed, giving me more energy to pull out quickly when the lights turn green.
•    Corners – As a FG rider, I can pedal round most corners, but let’s face it, there are plenty of corners that I can take faster when I’m freewheeling.
•    Rest – When I’m tired on a SS bike, I can take a few seconds rest at almost any time. This means I can stay on the bike for longer.
•    Avoiding Freewheeling – I don’t much like freewheeling so I find myself pedalling even faster than I would on a Fixed sometimes, just so I don’t have to freewheel. I often use a higher pedal cadence for longer too, knowing I can bail out and freewheel if it gets too much… then I don’t freewheel.

All of these points show that SS adds up to a longer or faster ride for a less energy

Now… which is better, FG or SS?

It’s still impossible to say. Just because SS is less effort per mile doesn’t make it better. Just because FG is more maneuverable and connected doesn’t make it better either.

I would say that it would be wise to commute on a Fixed Gear and use it for training, and use SS for longer rides. I have a 20min commute each way, so I can gain some strength around town, and enjoy the safety FG provides when negotiating traffic, and then use SS for long rides where I might want to get the maximum distance out of my current fitness level.

I’ve always said that the advantage of FG is the same as its disadvantage: Its harder to ride.

Or to put it another way

pro: coasting
con: coasting

pro: no coasting
con: no coasting

Of course the advantages of SS over multispeed bikes is much in the same vein. A multispeed bike would allow me to go faster and further for the same effort. Riding a SS bike would automatically keep me fitter. A FG bike would keep me even fitter. But at the same time, there are plenty of people who ride multispeed bikes who are much fitter than me. They must be more disciplined than me if they can push themselves hard on their training rides without being forced to by the nature of the bike.

Having said FG makes you train harder, there’s no reason not to train hard on a SS or a geared bike for that matter.

My FG year in 2012 was excellent training, since I’m now in good cycling habits which in theory would allow me to train effectively on any bike if I had the discipline. I can pedal around most corners, and I don’t freewheel unless I have to on downhill stretches. I’m comfortable at a variety of cadences and I don’t mash my gear (I don’t think). Provided I don’t get lazy with those elements on a SS there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be almost as good for training as a FG.

In many ways, I think I am lazy and couldn’t stay fit without a FG bike. But in some respects I would love a multispeed bike right now, because there are plenty of long rides that I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years, and I’m just beginning to accept that I’m never going to be fit enough to do them on a SS/FG bike unless I make cycling the centre of my life and train all the time (which I don’t want to do). I could probably do 100miles on geared bike. I could also ride through Dartmoor in low gears.

Right, that’s my confession over. I think I’ll go outside and flip my back wheel now. It’s time to get back to Fixed Gear and get training.


Sept 2016 Update – now, nearly 4 years after my fixed gear year ended, I’ve settled into Fixed Gear for city cycling and Single Speed for touring or distance riding. See this fun video to watch me ride a 5 mile hill Single Speed:

Kimwei / FullTimeFixie

www.magicmikebike.co.uk – Fixed Gear Bike Maker, Exeter

Also check out my new alternative lifestyle blog: Symphony For Happines Blog

Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:


Hear my original music @:




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Calling all female cyclists in Exeter – Women’s Road Ride this Saturday!

I’m posting to sing the praises of the women’s Road Rides in Exeter organised by, Nik Rorke. Do you live in the Exeter area? Are you female and wanting to get into cycling? If so, you might be intimidated by joining a men’s ride for any reason, least of which being the faster speed. If this is the case, The Bike Shed women’s road rides are for you.

Facebook Event TOMORROW : https://www.facebook.com/events/525362734176041/

Facebook Group:https://www.facebook.com/groups/ExeterWomenCyclists/


They are certainly my favourite group in the Exeter area, and I do hope that it grows and grows. It’s great that Exeter has a regular ride specifically for female cyclists, and Nik does a fantastic job planning and leading the events, which happen roughly once a month. There are several things I really like about these rides.

  • They are friendly, and no-body gets dropped.
  • Beginners are welcome (provided they’ve got a road bike).
  • It’s a manageable distance (generally 20-30miles) and speed (14mph – if everyone’s up for it).
  • They aren’t competitive.

I’d love if more people were up and cycling in Exeter and the Southwest. It would be great for the planet, the general health of the nation, and it’s fun and satisfying to ride a bike. More cyclists cycling well on the roads would get motor traffic used to us too, and hopefully encourage the building of more cyclepaths. I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about taking up cycling to go ahead and do it.


One of the many reasons that I write this blog is to get people cycling, both because it’s something I enjoy, and something I believe in. In 2012 I chose to go everywhere by fixed gear bike, for the health, cost, and environmental benefits. A year and a half later, it’s really paying off on all 3 accounts. See you at The Bike Shed Women’s Road Ride this Saturday (or for those of you further a field, get on your bike wherever you are).

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Finding Balance


Like all those who complete a 1 year lifestyle challenge, I had a choice at end of my Fixed Gear Year in January. I could either continue in the same way, travelling everywhere by Fixed Gear bike like I did in 2012, or I could return to my old ways from before.

In reality I’ve what I’ve done has been half way between the two. I felt like a bit of a traitor at first, moving from my hard earned ideals, but as it stands I have to confess the following.

I’m currently insured to drive my girlfriend’s van… this has allowed me to

a: Go places with her, since she doesn’t cycle

b: Take gigs which are impossible to do by public transport (which is 90% of them really).

I still cycle everywhere possible, and my Fixie is still my only bike.

Also, a big discovery that I made as a result of my Fixed Gear Year was that I wanted to live in a Yurt. So I bought and moved into a Yurt August, and moved out just before Christmas.

Another confession: I moved into a house.


I’ll be honest – it was buttocks-off freezing and below. In further honesty, it took me a couple of months to fully physically recover from the harsh conditions of living in a cold, damp yurt. Some people can do it. The

y must be hardcore.

Now, the Yurt has been re-pitched in a new location: my girlfriend’s garden. I also rent a room in the house where I can keep and use electrical stuff and musical instruments.

Some of you will be thinking that this is a good half way house – moving towards an environmentally aware future by cycling wherever possible, and at least in part practicing sustainable living through having an alternative dwelling…

Some of you will think me a traitor to begin driving a vehicle, and renting a room in a house… next I’ll be wearing a suit and buying Tesco’s shares.


Photographic evidence shows that the bike racks are empty on a Saturday night – the people of Exeter NEED me.

Ultimately I have to believe that there’s some contribution I can make by  living and writing about my not-so alternative lifestyle and cycling exploits now that the 1 year challenge is over.


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Yurt Living – A Summary

I hereby pledge to post more often. Months ago I promised articles about my life in a Yurt and various other things, and none have materialised, so here is a summary of life so far.IMG_0483

Last August I moved into a Yurt. It all happened rather fast, and my dreams of sustainable living were coming true almost faster than my life could adapt to. Before I knew it, I’d bought a 2nd hand yurt on eBay, christened it “The Ornamental Hermitage” and found some ideal Gardenlords in my neighbours.


The Yurt before assembling

Yes, I moved into the next door neighbour’s garden, in the shortest and easiest move I have ever made, despite having to assemble my new dwelling as well as move into it. Goodness knows what my Gardenlord’s 8 year old daughter must have been telling people at school

“No really, there really is a woman living at the bottom of our garden”.

I had no electricity or running water, but some limited access to the kitchen and bathroom in the house I used to live in. The 12ft Yurt was single skinned (not really suitable for winter living) but soon I had a woodburning stove too and a little gas stove for cooking.

Managing a music teaching job, gigging and trying to live a fast paced life in a basic and slow paced dwelling was exactly the sort of borderline madness I much enjoy. I felt physically exhausted and spiritually fulfilled.


To add to the challenge, it was important for me to move towards sustainable living. I wanted to burn waste wood for heat, so after work skip diving and taking firewood home on my Fixie, became a daily ritual.

I didn’t want to contribute to the mass production of yet more petroleum candles, and couldn’t afford beeswax (£50 for a month’s candles), so weekend trips to the Carboot for 2nd hand candles was a must.

Not only that, but I pledged to make any furniture I needed from recycled materials, and did so. I also embarked on a flurry of knitting to supply me with a wardrobe of warm clothes, the likes of which those who live in even the most unheated of houses would never need.

You’ll notice I’m talking about all of these events in the past tense. That’s because I don’t live in The Ornamental Hermitage anymore…

Well… trying to fit all of these extra tasks around a regular job was proving too intense. I was trying to build my new life whilst living it (which of course, is the only way it can be), like trying to inflate the dingy after having jumped ship. After 4 months, after a particularly bad week in which my thermometer showed minus numbers every night, I made the decision to move inside.


A panoramic shot of the interior of The Ornamental Hermitage

I have to say that this felt like a huge cop out for me. I was determined to see my first winter through no matter how difficult. I would never have considered looking for somewhere to rent, and would never have moved inside if it hadn’t been for 3 important points.

1. A room in a house was actually offered to me.

2. It was only available for 2 months (i.e. for the winter) after which time I’d be exorcised back to the Ornamental Hermitage.

3. The room is in my girlfriend’s house.

As soon as I moved inside it became obvious how totally run down I had become by Yurt living. This was not because living in a Yurt is an unsustainable, tough way of life. It was simply because my Yurt was not well equipped enough to be comfortably habitable.


Morning light on the Yurt roof – my view from in bed. Who could pass this up for house-dwelling?

Without electricity and running water and using wood for heat, every aspect of living, from cooking to staying warm took more time and effort. Yet my life in the real world was busier than ever, with more teaching and gigging than I’d ever had. The two things just didn’t add up to something that was working. And yet I was happy in a way I’d never been before, because I truly love how alive it made me feel to live more like a human animal.


The Yurt, now with a rain cover on the door, signs and a woodpile

Now, my 2 months inside is nearly up. The Yurt still stands where it ever was. For the last 2 months I have been going there once a week and lighting a fire to keep the canvas from rotting. When I’m there I feel like I’m recharging – like a Yurt junkie getting their fix. I didn’t know if moving inside would just seem easy and make me give up the dream.  Actually, it’s only served to fuel my desire to eventually build my own home and live sustainably.

I want to get back in the Yurt some how. Houses are just too wall-ish. And yet, there needs to be some compromise this time, between slow and fast lifestyles, otherwise I’ll just end up in the same situation as before. Perhaps I’ll need to rent a room in a house as well, as office/study/studio space. Perhaps I’ll build an eco recording studio from scratch some day – a sturdy building made from recycled materials, where all of my instruments and electrics won’t be destroyed by damp.

Many people are put off alternative ways of living and travelling because they think it involves cutting themselves off from the rest of the 21st Century. Living in a basic dwelling for 4 months was in direct conflict with being part of a modern world that I don’t want shun completely. I’m just trying to remind myself that I don’t have to make this lifestyle change all in one go. 1 step at a time is enough, and I’ll let you know what the next step is as soon as I’ve thought of it.

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Ending my Fixed Gear Year with a crash

One woman, one gear, one year!

Last year, on December 27th my van died. By January 3rd it had been sold to a Mercedes Sprinter campervan collector as a project. I decided not to replace it, but to travel everywhere by Fixed Gear bicycle instead. Now, 1 year later, the challenge is completed.


My bike at the start of this weblog, 1 year ago

I ended the year with a crash. A few days ago I had a gig in Moretonhampsted, 16miles from where I’m living. I knew it would be a tough route but a few things conspired towards making cycling there the most feasible option. Boy was there a lot of uphill, and I was carrying a guitar on my back too. Fortunately, since getting a bike frame that fits me I can finally wear a helmet and a guitar at the same time – something about the angle I sit at with the new frame makes that possible.

Anyway, I was feeling quite proud to be fit enough to make it through the solid hour of climb that the short route presented. It was as though everything I’d been working towards in the past year had come together for this last big trip of the year – I was on my way to a gig that was inaccessible by public transport, and wasn’t daunted by a tough ride. It was the sort of trip that proved that I really could go anywhere by bike if I wanted to, and that was what I’d been aiming for all along.

It was all going well. I was fit and I had all the right kit. I was happy with my two sets of front lights that showed me the road sufficiently even under tree cover. My winter tires thought nothing of the rain, and my full set of lycra kept me warm and comfortable. I was really starting to think I’d done it, and was feeling rather smug as I hit the downhill into Moretonhampsted.

It was a long downhill and I took it slowly since it was wet, and was grateful for the fixed gear, which allowed me to brake with my feet so my hands didn’t get tired on the brake levers. It was lucky that I was going slow, because it was around about this time that I saw a huge pothole which encompassed the whole of my side of the road. It was so big that there was no way I could have seen it in time, and before I knew it I was lying in the road in front of my bike.

It happened so fast that I was shocked to find myself on the ground looking upwards at the sky, when I was so sure that just moments ago I was on a bicycle looking down at the ground. I checked that my arms and legs moved ok. I looked over and thankfully my guitar was lying beside me, not under me.

I got up and out of the road before any cars came by. I opened the guitar case before looking at the bike. Yes, the body was intact – I ran my hands all the way around it to make sure. Then I heard a knocking sound…what was it? Ah, the distinctive sound of the guitar’s headstock knocking against its neck as it hung dangling by it’s strings.


Guitar damage. The other half of the headstock is only being held on by the strings.

Ouch! The head of the guitar must have been the first thing to hit the ground instead of my head!

After that I didn’t want to look at the bike. I tried to flag down passing cars, convinced that if I looked I’d fine the front wheel buckled and the bike un-rideable. When nobody stopped I finally went over and picked it up, spun both wheels…miraculously they were fine. I got back on and shakily cycled the last mile to the venue, where they gave me ice and arnicare for my bruises, and ginger beer for my ongoing addiction to ginger beer. Someone lent me a guitar for the evening and the gig went fine.

I haven’t crashed a bike for 10 years and it felt odd. Fortunately I tend to feel elated after exercise, so the previous hour’s climb had somewhat cushioned the emotional effects of the accident. I only had minor injuries.

Elbow damage

Elbow damage

I tried to feel stupid, but the fact was there wasn’t anything to feel stupid about – I’d been doing everything right. I’d been going slowly and carefully, was well lit, and I’m a good bike handler. Some might say that I shouldn’t have been cycling around after dark, with a guitar that I could break, but that’s what it means to be a cyclist. My bike is my vehicle. What if someone said they wouldn’t drive their car after dark, or take their work stuff around by car in case they crashed the car? That would seem ridiculous.

I didn’t feel that shaken by the experience either, for some reason. Obviously I’ll keep cycling, and obviously I’ll do everything I can to avoid accidents, but there are always some accidents you can’t do anything to avoid, and for some reason I’m ok with that. It’s life.


My bike, at the venue, after the incident, seemingly unharmed.

I don’t know if I have the money to fix the guitar, which is something of a difficulty because it’s my only acoustic guitar and I use it all the time… but something will work out. I have been advised to contact the council to ask about compensation, because of the pothole nature of the accident, and I will.

So at the end of my Fixed Gear Year I find myself in an unexpected place. My main motivations for starting this challenge were to enjoy the health, environmental and financial benefits of cycling rather than driving. Now, all in all I don’t care as much about those 3 things as I thought I would.

As to health, yes I’m the fittest I’ve ever been as a result of riding a Fixie, but I’m no longer trying to get fitter (even though I probably could), because I just want to enjoy the ride. The environmental benefits probably stand, but I think of them less often than I did. As to the financial benefits, well I haven’t done the maths, because it’s probably something of a massive joke. At a guess, I imagine I’ve spent more than a couple of grand this year on the bike, locks, clothes, repairs, lights, luggage, upgrades and a cycle holiday (and now I’ve got to fix my guitar).  Of course, one could argue that the physical stuff I’ve bought will last me the next 5 years, so maybe there are still some financial benefits.


My bike as it is now

So if my 3 main motivating factors have gone somewhat out of the window, what have I got out of my Fixed Gear Year?

A philosophy and a way of being that now permeate the rest of my life: It’s about simplicity, focus and achievement. The thing is that riding fixed gear is such a simple form of cycling that it just locks me into a zone where I’m totally connected to my body. In this place, I gain the physical and mental strength to climb hills I never knew I could climb, and be stronger and more focused than I ever knew I could be. I feel aligned. Yes there’s only 1 gear, but I always feel “in gear”, right in the center of myself.

I’m at peace riding my bike, and I feel real. I find out who I am and what I can really achieve, and go to whole new levels of experience. Learning this on the bike, I’ve taken those ideas, and weaved them into my whole life. I’ve changed things, made life simpler, cutting down on unnecessary possessions and distractions and focusing on what’s really important to me. On a very practical level, Fixed Gear cycling has become part of my spirituality. We are taught that less means lack. What my fixed gear year has taught me is that less means clarity, and that having too much is a distraction from that clarity. Distraction is the worst kind of enemy because it robs us of happiness and contentment so quietly that we may not notice until it’s too late.

The funny thing is, I’m not saying everyone should go out and get a Fixed Gear bike. Yes, that’s been my route to understanding this principle in a very physical way, but it’s not the only way. It’s through my cycle tour that I made the decision to live in a Yurt, and that’s not something that’s going to be right for most people either.

I’m not even sure if I’ll continue to ride exclusively Fixed Gear, but I’ll take what I’ve learned from this year into my body permanently. It has and it will change my life.



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Why I haven’t posted for months:


So the last post I wrote was about living in a yurt. I said that I was going to tell you more about that. Then…silence.

The reason for this is simply that living in the yurt I didn’t have electricity. I had such limited computer use that I couldn’t post. Now, I have moved into a houseshare for a couple of months to get through the winter, so the backlog of posts I’ve been writing in biro can finally be put up, if slightly in the wrong order.

Yes, you’ll learn about how vaguely successfully I managed to live in an un-insulated yurt with no electricity or running water, a woodburner for heat, a tiny gas stove and only a bike for transport, whilst trying to hold down a music teaching job and play gigs too.

But first, to tell you about then end of my 1 year Fixed Gear challenge.

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Writing a post from my phone – a test

Sorry not to have posted for a while. Hermit life and limited computer use mean that I’ve been using all my battery hours for work’s paperwork. But I should be in contact more often since today I’ve found a way of posting from my phone. How’s it looking?

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I’m not so keen on brakeless Fixies, but I draw the line at brakeless Mountain Bikes

My week of breaking the Fixie Gear rules, by riding around on a rusty 2nd hand Mountain Bike:

At the start of 2012, I challenged myself to go car free for a year and travel by Fixed Gear bicycle instead. I’ve always had one bike at a time, and I’d think of having more than one as a bit over the top. Many people don’t think this way. In fact, I read a website that stated that the correct number of bikes to own is S minus 1 (where S stands for “single” and is equivalent to the number of bikes that would cause your spouse to throw you out).

But more and more I’ve been needing a spare bike for times when my main one has a puncture and I don’t have time to fix it, or it’s off being repaired etc.  Last week my main bike was off having it’s frame changed by Magic Mike, so I needed a spare bike.

BTW: this is not a post about my new bike frame. I’ll save that for later.

I thought to myself “Do I get a rubbish roadbike from gumtree, or a recycling center, or try to throw together another Fixie as cheaply as possible?” I certainly wouldn’t want a Mountain Bike. I’ve disliked them ever since I was 11 and went off to Halfords with my folks to get my first ever roadbike (it would also be my first ever brand new bike). Somehow, although we went in to get a roadbike, we came out with a MTB! How did this happen?

This was probably what I got. Looks quite nice. Probably rides ok until the cheap components start to break and I sell it to someone who leaves it outside for 6 months, who then sells it to you, by which time it rides like riding a camel riding a cactus.

I always regretted it, especially when I realised over the years that everything that sales assistant had said wasn’t true. I think my mother, more than anything else was taken in by the notion that I could use cyclepaths with it and wouldn’t have to use the road. What a lie – I could have used cyclepaths with a roadbike. It also isn’t true that straight handlebars with bullhorns are a substitute for drop handlebars, or that cheap front-fork suspension is a good idea. Honestly I don’t understand why I was sold an off-road bike when I mainly wanted to ride on roads, cyclepaths and occasionally pretty tame grass.Cheap, rusty mountain bikes are the plague of devon cycle paths. If someone’s got one, pity them, but don’t get too close or you might catch one yourself.

I’d never buy a MTB for road use ever again…




So anyway, last week I acquired (guess what) a rusty 2nd hand mountain bike!

My very own rusty MTB. Just in case reading this post makes you want to buy your own just the same as mine, they are apparently available from Walmart…

It was what I could get hold of at the Car Boot Sale for £20. When I first got the tires inflated and the chain oiled I thought to myself ‘this isn’t so bad’. The gears actually shift sometimes and it didn’t feel terrible when I rode it up the street and back.

Then I rode it to work, and remembered why I don’t ride cheap 2nd hand bikes anymore.

A while ago I wrote a post that contained a guide to getting up and cycling on a minimum budget. The idea was to show how it could be done; bike, helmet, waterproofs and all, for less than £100.

I take it back.

After last week, I really wouldn’t recommend the budget option. As a teenager I’d ride to school, then college on a cheap MTB that my dad and I picked up from the dump. I re-discovered how unpleasant it can be to scrape along on something all crunchy that doesn’t quite fit and that keeps going wrong. I’d forgotten how wet you can get without mudguards, even if it hasn’t rained for hours it it’s just that there’s still a thin film of water on the road. Then your bike becomes an upwards-rain-machine.

Ok, I was quite unlucky with my Car Boot Sale MTB. The front brakes didn’t work, and couldn’t be adjusted because they were too rusty. Likewise the saddle wouldn’t move, so it was too low and I had to ride like a frog (like a frog, riding a camel, riding a cactus). The back inner tube was punctured in several places. I’d got bored after I’d fixed 3 and decided that if it made it to work half inflated, I’d buy a new inner tube. I told The Bike Shed that I must have done something wrong in a previous life, and as a result I’ve got to ride this bike for a few days. I got the inner tube, changed it after work and then found out that my MTB-only hand pump didn’t actually pump at all.

Finally a helpful cycling stranger stopped and pumped up my tire. As I bid them farewell and set off home I pulled on the rear breaks and they locked shut, stopping the bike moving at all. Like the front brakes they were too rusty to be adjusted, so I unhooked them. Now I had no breaks. I’d just heard a story this week about a friend of a friend who tore his ear off on a wire fence in a crash which happened when the brakes on his bike failed (he subsequently also found out that his birthday was the same as that of Van Gogh). Fortunately I know how to push my shoe against the back tire to stop, and the journey home was fine.

So my point is this: every day people are having this horrible experience of riding a worn out, badly made mountain bike, and getting entirely put off cycling as a result. This is a great tragedy to me, because it’s putting people off a form of transport/leisure/fitness that’s they might otherwise enjoy and that’s good for the planet too.

My advice to everyone (whether you want it or not) is this: get a half decent bike if you want to start cycling, not the cheapest 2nd hand bike you can find. They are NOT enjoyable to ride and won’t make you feel motivated to keep on riding. Spending a bit more money if you have it will pay off in the end, as you feel more inclined to cycle instead of taking the bus/car. When I wake up in the morning, I look forward to riding my Fixie to work because I know it’s gonna feel like flying there, spending every minute of the journey thinking ‘hey, I’m floating on air!’


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