After a day off due to having jarred my hands, I nervously got on my bike with plans to ride a modest 12 miles to Holy Island from Berwick, and take public transport from that point onwards if it proved too painful. I’d had my handlebars double taped for extra cushioning, and changed the bike back to its Fixed Gear setting so I could brake with my feet and give my hands a rest
Finally I’d found an advantage to riding Fixed Gear! My hands were so damaged that using the hand-brakes was hard, and I have to say that I probably wouldn’t have been able to ride that day if I hadn’t been on a Fixed Gear bike that allowed me to brake with my feet instead. Furthermore, I started to wonder if I might never have sustained ulnar nerve damage if I’d not ridden with the freewheel for a the whole of the day before. Riding SS not FG had forced me to clamp my hands tightly around the brakes for all of the bumpy downhill bits, which was probably when most of the jarring took place.
Thankfully the rest of the journey passed beautifully and without any further disasters. I was able to cycle to Holy Island, enjoy the wonderful fairytale scenery and then managed to make it another 30miles to Seahouses without a problem. I met a German family who were cycling around looking for a campsite. It seems they had expected England to be rather more like Europe – where campsites were everywhere and there was no need to book. I was pleased to be able to use my smartphone to look up the nearest campsite and book them into it, persuading the staff to take pity on them and stay open a bit longer to let them in. I felt glad that I could at least help someone at last, but also relieved to know that other people were having as many disasters as I did when travelling.
Feeling relaxed, I cycled through the late evening sunshine and watched the sky change as I headed towards Alnmouth to camp… then I got a puncture… and then my bike pump broke.
Sitting on the side of the road I wondered what to do. I had managed to get the tyre to about 60psi with the defective pump – hard enough to ride, but soft enough that it would probably pinch puncture soon if I rode it. Looking behind me I saw a gate, which turned out to lead to the most idyllic wildcamping spot I had ever seen. An inviting willow tree surrounded by lush greenery, and the backdrop of the sun setting over a gorgeous cornfield, welcomed me. There was no need to pitch a tent. My shelter had already been provided.
The following day I reluctantly packed up camp and prepared to leave this little haven. I thought I’d been smart in leaving my padded shorts (which I wore every day) out to air overnight, inside out. I discovered in the morning that slugs think of the chamois as an excellent place to sleep! I cleaned off the silvers as best I could and made my slimy way towards the nearest bike shop to get a new pump (the ride seemed strangely more comfortable than usual).
My final day passed peacefully as I steadily made my way to Newcastle to finish the tour. I’d got the hang of when to eat chocolate, but still suffered a couple of blood sugar dips. These generally happened because I didn’t think to eat when I didn’t feel hungry, but upset and defeated. Then I’d eat something sweet and be feeling cheerful again in under a minute. That’s the sort of thing that could lead to a serious comfort eating habit! No wonder a lot of athletes balloon when they retire in their 30s.
This last leg from Seahouses to Newcastle was 76miles and I was surprised to be able to make it at all. I celebrated by making passers by take pictures of me and my bike by the Tyne River.
Initially I’d intended to do 300miles in 8 days riding, but in the end it turned out I’d done 320miles in 6 days, having missed one day due to bad weather, and one due to injury. About 60miles were done Single Speed and the rest Fixed Gear.
Here are some of the comments I’ve received when people have learned that I’m touring on a Fixed Gear bike.
“You’re either mad or very fit, or both” – fellow tourer
“Are you riding Fixed Gear with panniers?” – incredulous coastal bike shop, whilst looking in vain for my derailleur.
“Er.. WHY?!” – fellow tourer
“I wouldn’t do that, you’ll wreck your knees” – unnamed bike shop.
“Well… it’ll make it more of an adventure” – The Bike Shed Exeter (big up The Bike Shed!)
On the last day of my cycletour I’d written to Harriet Fell (widow of the late Fixed Gear guru, Sheldon Brown, and equally experienced and accomplished) to ask for some encouragement to get me through. She very kindly responded to my out-of-the-blue email by writing to tell me how she herself had come to Fixed Gear bikes for racing and touring for 30 years without looking back. Most charmingly, she told me that when she met her husband ‘My first words to him were, “You’re riding fixed gear, aren’t you?”’ They were obviously a match made in a heaven without derailleurs.
So this is my answer to the question: Why tour Fixed Gear? – BECAUSE YOU CAN
When training on a Fixed Gear bike, you can’t help but get fit. And whilst you’re doing it, you can enjoy the increased control and lack of distractions that cycling without gears provides. When it comes to touring, ok it’s physically harder to tour FG, but after all that training you’re probably fit enough to do with one gear. So the question becomes, why tour on a multispeed bike and give up all the advantages of FG cycling?
The fact is, that riding a Fixed Gear bike feels lovely, even more so that Single Speed. I can get completely into the zone, totally forget that I’m riding a bike, and just pretend I’m a wheeled creature, because each pedal stroke feels like a stride. I know how fast I’m going or how steep a hill is just by the rhythm of my legs. Maneuvering is easy and so precise that it almost feels like I’m walking. It simply feels like magic. It’s as though I’ve suddenly gained the ability to run at speeds of 25mph+.
On a multispeed bike, every gear change reminds me that I’m operating a machine and breaks that illusion. The strange business of accelerating with the pedals and breaking with the hands seems clumsy and out of control. Ok, so there will be some tougher hill climbs without gears, but what are a few tough climbs compared to the peace and joy of riding a Fixed Gear bike? Daily mileage on a Fixed Gear tour might be lower than on a multispeed bike tour, but who cares when every mile feels so fantastic?
I part way through the tour I had been wondering whether I would upgrade to a multispeed bike at the end of the year to celebrate my first year as a full time cyclist. In the end… I’ll probably just get a better Fixed Gear bike.
PS: If the Olympics or this weblog has inspired you to get yourself a bike and start riding, then I’d recommend http://magicbikemike.co.uk/ https://www.facebook.com/pages/Magic-Bike-Mike/137663262939401 an excellent maker, mainly FG and SS. His bikes are beautifully finished too.