Recently, I suggested
that life on a fixed gear is easier. I thought I might take an opportunity to explain myself. (but read the title: there's more than that contained within!)
The other day, a great wind picked up, hellbent on limiting my progress to work. I caught up to Monty who was riding his multispeed coastie. We discussed the difficulties of riding in this direction and I commented on the fact that at least he could change gears. At one point, intent on not submitting to the zephyr, I almost dropped him.
The next day, I rode the same route with roughly the same conditions on my own multispeed coastie. Admittedly, I was pulling an empty Burley trailer behind me, but still, it was noticibly different. My average was down and despite being in a lower gear, I was slugging it out still.
Thinking about why this is, it's not obvious. But in this world of carbon fiber, 10 speed cassettes and 14 speed internal hubs, it's not surprising that we have taken something very simple for granted. I lost some amount of energy to that blasted freehub. Yep, the very thing that supposedly makes cycling so much easier is actually making it less efficient.
But fixed gears take advantage of a free energy source called inertia. Sure, inertia (the tendency of a moving body to keep moving) is inherient to any wheel-propelled vehicle, but the inertia that can be found in the drivetrain through a fixed gear is lost entirely with a coastie.
This is most apparent when climbing. Getting out of the saddle and cranking away, one notices some of the energy used goes into pushing you onward but is also recycled to keep you going. If you were half way up a steep climb on a coastie and pushed hard on one pedal, inertia from the wheels would keep you going. If you did the same thing on a fixie, you'd also have the inertia from the crank which is directly connected to the wheels, thereby keeping you going more. This inertia actually carries you through the dead spots in the pedal stroke.
And if that's not enough to convince you, imagine all the other benefits. I mean there are other reasons I love my fixed gear other than inertia. This is especially true in winter.
Many moons ago, as a messenger in Cleveland, dismal weather had finally descended and my braking capacity was diminished and shifting quality poor if not malfunctional. Sure, I could have worked through the day and cleaned up the cable and housing, lubed the chain, and been on my way. But I was busy making money! I had no time for this! In between runs I got rid of every shift related mechanism and contrivance and got rid of the weaker brake, too (that's the rear). Eventually, that bike got fixed when I realized it would be nice to have a secondary stopping mechanism (read: backpedal) and when I felt the freewheel at the end of winter. It was in HORRIBLE shape.
On the other hand, my Bike Friday fixed gear has been alive and well since spring of 2003. In the time that has elapsed, I have ridden it nearly every day and done little more than lube the chain and replace tires and tubes.
It is for this reason that traditionally, racers pull out their fixies for keeping in shape during the winter. Ex-hour record champion Graeme Obree rode fixed often.. even in road rides! Of course, Graeme, the poor misunderstood soul that he is, also has a reputation for having built a bike out of a washing machine. But when USA Cycling Elite Coach Mike Kallal says "you need a fixie," people listen. Hopefully. Elsewhere, Steve Pells claims to have been "the fittest and fastest on the bike I had ever been in my life" after a fixed winter and explains how to make it part of your training.
And a fixed gear doesn't just give you more time for training by taking away time required for maintainence. It forces you to develop a smooth spin and punishes you if you don't, especially on steep descents. Furthermore, you'll have strength training going up the hills. And as long as you're not skipping or skidding to stop, your knees will be happier.
You'll hop on a coastie and be content to spin away in a low gear, which is more efficient anyways. Ever watch Lance climb the Pyrennes? Efficiency's not just for Lance, either. For the casual commuter, it means less energy spent trying desperately to get to the coffee shop.
You'll become intimate with your bike and it will know your every limitation and you will know its every limitation. You will be able to feel how much traction you have and what speed you're going at. The end result is not only better control, either.
Freed from the worries of maintainence and which gear to be in, riding will be boiled down to its very essence. Even at high cadence, it's an incredibly relaxing, Zen experience of not-doing. In other words, it's fun again. Pure, untrammeled human powered motion.
Want to experience bicycle Satori just in time for the soggy months? From now until November 28th, if you mention code number 1228 when ordering your very own tailored-fit Bike Friday folding fixed gear, I will provide you with an upgrade to a super-shiny Phil Wood fixed gear rear hub with silky-smooth sealed cartridge bearings at no extra charge.
And of course, for those not of the fold, think of the benefits of having a foldable fixie. Take your bike on business trips-- year round-- without having to worry about it or airline charges. If a miserable day at work ends in a flat in the rain, don't hesitate to pick up the cell and call for a ride. You can just fold it up and stick it in the trunk. Too cold in the morning? Take the bus-- even if the bike racks are full. Just fold it up into the TravelBag and be on your way. And if a fixed gear itself isn't a theft deterrent, fold up your fixie before you lock it and imagine the look of horror on the face of your local bike thief when he notices your pile of parts can't coast!