Pictured above, posing with some street art, is my new bike. It’s a Masi fixed gear bicycle and I bought it about 4 weeks ago.
I’ve always loved riding two-wheeled vehicles, both bicycles and (more recently) motorcycles. Despite that, I had never given fixed-gear bikes much thought until I saw a picture of this bike on Facebook being sold second hand. It had only been ridden twice so was pretty much untouched and looked beautiful just sitting there in some guy’s apartment.
I had decided at the turn of the new year that 2013 would be a year where I try as many new things as I reasonably could and here was something I could give a go: learning how to ride a bicycle with pedals that never stop turning.
I’ve known about the perceived benefits and detriments to riding a bicycle with only one gear for a long time, but now actually experiencing those positives and negatives has been quite interesting.
First is the idea that fixed-gear bikes make you a better rider in the following ways: good for strength and fitness, a more efficient pedaling stroke and greater awareness while you’re riding. Having ridden for about a month now, I can say that these benefits held true for me. Your leg muscles get a serious workout when you have to constantly grind a big gear and you definitely feel it in your quads. Also the fact that you use your legs to slow down the bike makes a big difference too; there is literally no rest for them when on this type of bike. As for giving me a better pedal spin I can’t say for sure, but I feel like I pay more attention to getting a more rounded rotation of the pedals rather than just mashing down on them. And then of course there is the mental awareness side of riding a bike that’s hard to stop. I definitely plan much farther ahead when I’m riding now than I did before.
A second benefit of ‘fixies’ are that they are light, simple, and easy to maintain; lacking brakes, cables, derailleurs and what not. This is accurate too, as I’ve discovered that all you need is a wrench and a couple of Allen keys and you can pretty much adjust anything on the bike. I found it’s easier to keep it clean without all that extra stuff on it, too.
Now on the negative side of things there is the fact that it is much harder to stop a bike of this design and therefore they are dangerous to ride. This is a tricky one, but I would say that once you’ve actually ridden one you will discover that it’s really no different in terms of danger than a bike with rim or disc brakes. Again, it’s all about being an alert rider. If you’re a dumb rider and put yourself in bad positions then it doesn’t really matter what kind of bike you ride; you will get hurt, but if you are smart, keep your head up and ride within your ability then you will be safe (provided, as always, that some asshole in a Hyundai doesn’t run you down).
For me the biggest difficulty has been trying to get used to having my feet stuck to the pedals. I’ve never ridden with straps, clips, cages or cleats before, so getting on and off the bike and getting rolling has taken some getting used to and has resulted in one of those awkward, embarrassing falls where I slowly keeled over, not being able to get my foot out of the strap fast enough.
Something that caught me by surprise, is that I’m still not able to ride without an emergency front brake. When I bought the bike I assumed that learning how to skid, whip or skip stop would not be that difficult. I was, however, horribly wrong. It’s incredibly frustrating that while it takes a monumental effort on my part to get any sort of skid going there’s all sorts of people on YouTube who can lock up their rear tire on a whim no matter what speed they are riding. I suppose that it just takes time, effort and practice, but yeah, it’s harder than I expected.
That being said, this experiment with a new kind of bicycle has been more fun than frustration. It’s exhilarating to blast down the road on one of these light, quiet, fast bikes, your legs spinning as fast as they can; your heart pumping along with the rhythm. Your legs not being able to stop moving does make it feel like a melding of man and machine: the muscle tissue of your body and the steel of the bicycle working in unison to create locomotion. It feels good.
Trying something new is usually a rewarding experience and riding a fixed-gear bike is no exception. If you’re a cyclist and you want to change things up a little then try one. You probably won’t regret it.