Friday 1 May 2020

Fixed. A new experience. (AKA a 'suicidal response to urban conditioning').

If I had £1 for every time someone said 'it's strange times we live in', I'd have enough cash to buy a large kebab and chips. Alas, I didn't get £1 for every time someone said 'it's strange times we live in'. I didn't buy a large kebab and chips. I did, however, buy a relatively cheap fixed gear bike (aka a 'fixie') with cash I had saved for my Trans Alba race which got postponed due to the strange times we live in.
My new machine is a Dolan FXE. I really wanted a single speed bike ever since I sold my last one (or four) and was also tempted to try 'fixed'. Single speed bikes are fitted with a free-wheel, whereas fixed gear bikes are not. On a fixie the rear cog is joined with the rear hub, so when the wheel turns, the cog will turn too. My machine has a 'flip-flop' hub (aka 'double sided hub') which is a rear bicycle hub that is threaded to accept fixed cogs and/or free-wheels on both sides. This flip-flop hub essentially allows me to alternate between fixed and free-wheel styles by simply flipping the rear wheel around.

Since acquiring my bike (which I have affectionately named 'PiXiE the FXE), I have only cycled her fixed. This is the first time I have ever cycled a fixed gear bike. Riding fixed is a very strange experience to me being a newbie and all. At time of writing this blog, I have only cycled fixed for 3 consecutive days.

My first ride was just a short 6k jaunt and it was terrifying. I found I had little control and could not slow down or stop easily at all. Standing on the pedals was not possible and when descending it was as if the bike was forcing my legs to rotate. The dead flat roads were great, the down-hill scary and up-hill was kinda fine but I was not able to stand.

Day 2 was much improved. Still felt quite alien riding fixed and going around corners with your legs still rotating would surely take some time to get used to. I cycled further, about 20k, along some almost ghost-like bus lanes (great there was no traffic). I found that I could stand on the pedals going up-hill and had more (although limited) of a knack for slowing down (legs act as a rear brake and using the front brake really helps too). I read that by standing on the pedals, leaning forward and lifting the rear wheel helps to slow, stop and/or skid the bike. Hmm, continued to find standing on the pedals really difficult (unless going up hill). At one point though, a car pulled out in front of me and something strange happened. I'm not really sure what I did, but I swerved, the bike skidded and I stopped dramatically. Bizarrely, this gave me a bit of confidence. I started cycling a little faster down the down-hills (which were really just slight descents) and found that if I cycled faster then I was in more control and my legs would turn the cranks. When the bike got really fast, it's then that I felt out of control and the cranks would force my legs to spin, controlling me. Should I cycle faster still or try and slow the bike, I dunno?!

Day 3 and I felt much less fearful. Cycled a little further but sticking to mostly flat roads again. Much better at slowing the bike, though still not sure how to actually stop with any skill. My plan is to persevere and hopefully cycle more ascent and descent learning how to control my bike. I feel more focussed cycling fixed and as weird as it sounds, have more respect for this fixed gear bike. It's like this bike was controlling me (and still is to a degree) and it's my job to tame this beast.

The folk that 'know' say that riding fixed provides a great work out because your legs never stop and sure enough I'd agree with that. Furthermore, they say that riding fixed is a bonus as there are way fewer parts on the bike and as a result that equates to less maintenance, less costs, less weight and I'd agree with that too. What they also say, is that the bike can be cycled backwards (what?!), speed can be controlled by the tempo of your pedaling and the bike can be stopped by jamming the pedals. Whoa, my bike struggles with those last few things but who knows what the future might hold?!

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