Having decided to start using a push-bike as my only form of transport, I first needed to get a better bike. Some would say that this step was unnessary, but for me it seemed important, since I didn’t think the one I had was up to the job. I read around for guides to bike choosing, so now here’s mine.
The first question: hybrid or roadbike? Hybrids are the ones with the thicker tyres and can handle gravel and bumps. Roadbikes are the ones with the thin tyres, and are only suitable for tarmac, but are much faster. First I had to find out if roadbikes are really faster? I tried one. They ARE. Definitely. With a roadbike you can put in the same amount of effort and go faster than you can on a hybrid bike, even if the two bikes weigh the same.
The only problem was that a decent roadbikes start at £500, which was out of my budget. Then, my dad (who’s always been very into cycling) put me onto the idea of getting a fixed gear bike (Fixie). A Fixie has only one gear, and no freewheel – basically if the wheels are turning the pedals turn too. I remember my dad used to have one for track racing, as well as a geared bike for long distance riding. It sounded like a mad idea to begin with, but once I learned more about Fixies it started to make more sense to get one.
It may sound strange to try and ride a bike with only one gear around hilly-hilly Devon, but there are many advantages to this sort of bike.
- Price: A handbuilt fixed gear bike, can cost less than half the price of a geared roadbike of the same quality. Why? Because all the extra materials and work that go into making a geared system work smoothly, costs a lot.
- Reliability: The first thing to go wrong with any of the bikes I’ve owned is the gears. With a Fixie, this isn’t an issue. Also, it will run smoother for longer, and be easier for me to maintain myself because it’s a simpler machine.
- Safety: Since there is no freewheel, you can backpedal to break. With a front and back break too, this essentially gives the bike 3 ways of breaking – much safer in wet weather. It also makes it easier and safer to manoeuvre, since you can control the speed of the bike with more precision.
- Fitness: When cyclists “train” to get better, they work on two things: Low cadence, and high cadence. This means they practice pedalling slow in a high gear to improve strength, and they practice spinning fast in a low gear to help improve speed/stamina. It goes without saying that they try not to lose speed by freewheeling during training. With a Fixie, you are forced to train like this automatically, pedalling slow and hard up hills, and extra fast on the flat. Sounds gruelling to begin with, but as your fitness shoots up as a result, cycling quickly becomes easy. Also, having only one gear forces you to get out of the saddle more frequently, involving your arms and back in the process and getting a fuller workout.
- Tricks: I haven’t tried it and mine isn’t, but lots of brake-less Fixies are set up for tricks. Observe here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAyyaVnoMdc&feature=related
The final question for me was, can I ride a fixed gear bike? It’s a more skilled ride, but ultimately a better one, but do I have the skill? One day I tried a test. I rode to work on my usual hybrid, in one gear, without freewheeling. I got there faster! I was sold. People don’t realise I suppose how much time is lost on short journeys in freewheeling and changing gear. I went to try a Fixie and found someone in Exeter who makes them (http://magicbikemike.co.uk ). I found it more natural than I’d thought. I sold my hybrid that week and bought a Fixie that I have named “Umlaut”.
- For a time, it was all rosy and I found that there were no disadvantages to my fixed gear bike. Every journey was quicker, easier and more fun than riding my previous geared bike. However, I was still only doing short, reasonably flat journeys, under 6miles. On longer, hillier journeys, it bike was harder to manage. Why?
- Hard work: Can you lift a big heavy box? If the answer is yes, how many times can you lift it? If you can lift it 5 times, I bet it would be easier to lift a box half as heavy 10 times. With Fixie, every hill is like a big heavy weight to lift. That’s fine on a short journey with 2 hills to climb, but on longer journeys with 5 hills to climb, it’s really hard work. With a geared bike, you could drop to a low gear on a hill, thus making it less like a heavy weight and more like a light weight. A Fixie forces the rider to use more strength than stamina to get up hills. Answer – I could either get a geared bike instead, or just get fitter. I think I’ll just get fitter. I can already climb hills that were impossible for me when I first started.
- Choice of 1 gear: The 1 gear was just proving too inflexible, but there was an easy solution that would give me a choice of 2 gears. I just have to use them one at a time. On my bike you can put a sprocket on either side of the back wheel. One has a freewheel, and the other is fixed (flip flop hub). You can choose which one you want to use, but removing the back wheel, flipping it over, and putting it back on. Originally they were both the same gear, and I never used the freewheel. So lately I’ve had the fixed side changed so that it’s a higher gear. So by flipping the back wheel, I can now have a choice of 2 gears, but have to choose which one I want before beginning the journey. The easier gear has a freewheel to, so I can use it for longer journeys where stamina is a problem, and having a freewheel would help endurance (feels weird though).
- This has never happened to me personally, but apparently it’s possible to accidentally clip the pedals on the tarmac when going around corners too quickly.
I had no idea what gear to ask for when I bought my Fixie, so for reference here is what I’ve found out.
- 26” is the lowest gear on a mountain bike
- 64” is the lowest gear on a standard racing bike
- 72” is the gear most Fixies come with
- 76” is the gear on Lance Armstrong’s training Fixie
- 88” is the gear on my dad’s track bike, suitable for racing on the flat
- 110” can be the highest gear on a geared racing bike
The only other problem with the Fixie has been that I’ve been getting so much fitter, and able to put so much more effort into each journey to work, that very quickly, I’m becoming the member of staff who smells a bit. More on the solution to that problem in the future posts. Stay tuned for: Poncy clothes (what’s essential and why?) Getting used to a fixed gear (How NOT to end up on your rear) and a bit more about my first. experiences of cycling (The SPANNER DISASTER)