Fixed – 30 Days of Biking: Day 12

It’s 12 months since I converted one of my bikes to fixed-gear:

A fixed-gear bike is one that has a drivetrain with no freewheel. Most modern bicycles have a freewheel as part of the rear sprocket (cog) so that you don’t need to constantly keep pedalling while the bike is in motion: that is, you can coast without pedalling.

A fixed-gear bike, or “fixie” has the rear cog bolted directly to the hub of the rear wheel so you can’t stop pedalling: when the rear wheel turns, the pedals turn in the same direction. Conversely this also means you can “brake” using your legs and body, by resisting the rotation of the cranks. (Adapted from Wikipedia)

The bike is a beautiful ride. It’s an old steel-framed Raleigh racing bike dating from the 1980s that I found on Gumtree in 2011. It’s since had new wheels and new drivetrain (both twice now in fact!), as well as new brakes, pedals, tyres and a complementary second-hand saddle. I’ve also added a classic looking bike light and a loud shiny bell that I picked up in Amsterdam.

I have to admit, I never expected that I would enjoy riding fixed. But it’s true that there is an added dimension of control and enjoyment that you get only from being directly connected to your bike’s motion: the bike becomes a part of you, and you become part of the bike.

I did use to think it was dangerous – what if you forgot, and stopped pedalling, or went down a hill really fast? And then there was the issue of brakes. The law says you need two brakes and, whilst a fixed-gear counts as one, a front brake makes sense to me. I like the control of a brake caliper and I’m just not into skidding to burn off speed – and rubber.

I think I finally decided to convert the bike for two reasons: one was that Jonnie had built a fixed-gear bike and become an advocate through the obvious joy he got from riding it. Many of my questions about how to ride a fixed-gear bike were answered too. Once you’ve had a bit of practice, it becomes second-nature. And those odd moments when you try to freewheel become much less frequent after you’ve been jolted almost out of your seat a few times!

The second reason to convert it was being inspired by a documentary. Böikzmöind follows the fixed gear riding community in Bristol and answers the question: why would you ride a bike with no gears in a city of hills?

This is definitely worth a watch and it’s now free on Vimeo:

Do you ride fixed? Why do you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below: