Loving the Commute: Fixed Gear Edition

Several months ago I decided to use some of the old bike parts in my garage to try to assemble my own fixed gear bike.  For those that don’t know, fixed gear bikes are not just for people with mustaches.  Fixed gear bikes actually started out as track bikes before slowly becoming the universal designation for bike messengers and hipsters.  Bike messengers adopted these bikes primarily because their inner-city travel didn’t require too much gear changing due to the stop and go nature of traveling in a traffic heavy area. As fixed gear bikes are simply composed of fewer parts, the bikes naturally require considerably less mechanical work and likewise, don’t have nearly the mechanical issues.

There is a big difference between a true fixed gear bike, and the more popular, commonly mislabeled, single speed bike.  Many manufacturers that sell pre-made “fixies” often really mean “single speed”.  A single speed bike typically has a freewheeling hub to allow for coasting, while a fixed gear has a fixed hub.  Meaning that on a fixed gear, when you pedal, the bike moves and when you stop pedaling the wheels stop turning… or at least they try to stop turning.  Some people are brave (read as crazy) enough to ride a fixed gear with no hand brakes, relying solely on their leg power to slow and stop the bike. Single speed bikes typically have to have a hand brake of sometime or you would never stop the bike.

If you look around online you can find a plethora of tutorials on a simple way to build a fixed gear bike from any old parts.  With only investing about $50 dollars, I have managed to recently complete my fixed gear using a frame from an old 1983 Schwinn Traveler.  I had never ridden a true fixed gear bike until I hopped on the saddle of this beast to give it a shot.  I decided a while ago that I needed to quit riding my nice bike to work, because the commute was just beating it up too much; my new fixed gear was the replacement plan.  I used some 700×37 sized hybrid tires (which fit perfectly thanks to the large frame) which made the whole thing look rather meaty.  Basically I decided I never wanted to be afraid of falling over on the unexpected patch of gravel again.

The one thing I didn’t do, primarily because I thought my now sculpted legs were hardcore enough to work fine for brakes, was apply a front or rear brake.  I hopped on the saddle and rode out of my driveway.  Now, any cyclist that has been riding fairly seriously for a while will likely be not be intimidated by the prospect of not being able to stop pedaling unless you actually wanted to stop.  Going to the gym and hopping on a trainer typically means a full hour of non-stop high cadence pedaling for me.  I assumed that this ride would be similar.  Of course, what you forget is that riding in the gym typically means you don’t need to randomly stop quickly.  I did a couple of laps around the block, and while it was a little strenuous due to the rather intense gear ratio I chose, I was confident that I could handle my 5-6 mile commute to work the next morning.  On the recommendation from an experienced track cyclist, I went ahead and also moved my clips to the fixed gear from my road bike because apparently you really do not want to slip off the pedals of a fixie whilst rolling at any kind of speed.  I was a little nervous, but excited.

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