Sunday, July 13, 2014

To Fixie or not to Fixie?


On today's episode of the Bog Dogs Secret Stash I shall endeavor to answer the eternal question that all bike riders must face - to fixie or not to fixie? Let's begin.

About a year ago my local bike shop, Real Bikes Englewood, announced that they were selling a brand called Pure Fix. This company makes a series of singlespeed bikes with a flip/flop hub that allows anyone to turn the rear wheel around to enjoy the unique experience of riding a fixie. On that day I pedaled one around just to try it out and later wrote a short article about their announcement and my first impressions. You can read the original story here.

The shop had success selling the bikes for the obvious reasons: they were inexpensive, solidly built and proved to be good for training. The owner, Gary, continued to remind me that I still hadn't really tried one. A mere spin around the parking lot is hardly a proper test. To see what a bike can do you have take it somewhere that you have never been before. You have to use the bike as a tool to break out of your comfort zone. That is what I decided to do.


I agreed to take a Pure Fix on one of the shop's Saturday morning group rides. A few hours later Gary sent me a message stating, "You might want to practice first." His caution was valid for two reasons. After five years of riding/racing MTB and BMX, I had only recently started riding a slightly more civilized CX bike. In other words, I still shred like a teenager. I jump every curb, tear through the grass and sometimes ignore the rules of the road. You can't do that stuff on a fixie and you can't do that stuff on a group ride.

The second reason was that I had never been on an organized ride. Not on the road anyway. There is a certain etiquette required for the safety of the group and that is especially important when your pedals cannot coast. I agreed to show up the next day for a practice.


Gary chose a Pure Fix "The Uniform" bike. It was a yellow track inspired frame with black deep dish wheels. The tires were 700 by 28cm. Then he set it up specifically for my height and skill level. In other words he lowered the gearing and raised the seat. He made it so I could maintain a moderate speed high enough for a group ride but low enough so I wouldn't go anaerobic. Then he attached a Timex Cycle Trainer so I could track my distance and speed both top and average.

After explaining how fast they pedal during the Saturday rides I got the hint that he was testing my ability to keep up. By looking at the digital results of today's practice we'd get an idea where I stood in terms of stamina. Riding the fixie was a big enough challenge but I had to prove that I had legs. I also had to remember how to start the computer. Um?


Time to tame the beast! I cruised up the street like a proper roadie, staying in the bike lane and obeying all traffic signs and lights. When I had a little more room, I let loose a mad dash envisioning Mark Cavendish (Before his crash). I got up to 23mph going into a slight headwind, not bad. I also kept my cadence up to maintain an average of 17mph through the whole 10 mile ride. A higher speed was unlikely because I needed to work on using the fixed gear to slow me down at stop signs. I also needed to avoid hopping curbs and remember to keep pedaling through corners.

If all of this sounds a bit daunting, it's really not. After one ride my legs, instincts and expectations had adjusted. When we started my lovely wife Terri was listening to all the talk and wanted to know what was the big deal. How hard could it be to ride a fixed gear? So she tried it.


The next morning I met up with the riding group in front of the bike shop. There were about 15 cyclists who broke up into 2 speed groups. I was comfortable from the start but stayed in the B group. It was best to keep my energy in reserve especially when I had no idea exactly how long the ride would be. I was happy to find that most of route traveled through roads I was familiar with so no fear of getting lost if I fell behind.

We rode in peloton formation with normal road rules. We pointed to potential road hazards, signaled when we would turn or drop back and spoke up when we intended to move forward. My fixie was easy to control at any speed. We maintained a rhythm between 18 and 20mph and as it turned out, I was not the slowest rider after all. However, I might have been the most uncomfortable. Being unable to move around on the seat or stand up, my butt hurt far more than normal.


The riding was fast and fun even including a designated sprint point where I managed to reach 28.83mph. I've got to admit, that made me feel pretty good. In all we completed just over 27 miles in about 90 minutes. It was a fantastic workout that I will certainly be adding to my weekly routine. Since it passes two blocks from my home, I can ride right out my bike garage. Sweet!

While I might have wore a smile, it was not easy by any measure. There were times I was worried about lagging behind and my mind started to drift. Whenever I thought about how far there was to go I would redirect my focus to think only of this moment. There were also times my legs started to yell at me so like Pro Cyclist Jens Voigt, I told them to "Shut Up!"


As for the eternal question - to fixie or not to fixie? I am a big fan of the Pure Fix bike but not of the fixed gear. All through the ride I had to remember to keep pedaling so I wouldn't get bucked off which almost happened twice. Riding this way severely limits your mobility and while its momentum does enhance your speed, it's just not worth the risk. There are enough things to worry about on streets, from pot holes to bad drivers to inclement weather. Why add one more distraction?

Do fixies give a better cardiovascular workout? Sure but that effect is lessened on the flat roads of Florida where it is easy to spin continuously. Are they simple? Sure but no more than a freewheel singlespeed. Are they hip and trendy? Sure but I could care less, at heart I'm a Mountain Biker and nothing is cooler than MTB.


The Pure Fix bike is fantastic, especially considering a cost of only $325. so buy one but keep it freewheel and you'll live longer. Swing by Real Bikes Englewood to get your very own Pure Fix bike. Check out the Pure Fix website to see which models or colors you might like.


Amendment: After posting this story I learned that Fixies have a small but very passionate following who informed me that jumping curbs and other skills can be achieved with further practice. I have only recently fallen in love with singlespeeds and while Fixies are one step too far for me, each person should give it a try for themselves.