Fixed gear cycling part 3
Published: March 13, 2017
In my prior two columns, I introduced the idea of fixed gear cycling and then presented the benefits of this tried and true form of bike training. I’ll conclude the three-column series by discussing what to look for when you’re fixie shopping, and subsequently, how to safely and prudently learn to ride a fixed-gear machine.
Okay, from a penny-pinching standpoint the fixie is a flat out bargain, costing you a mere fraction of what’s typically spent on multi-geared bicycles. You can check out local bike shops, or hit the web and do your shopping online. Either way you’ll find numerous businesses who handle fixies, most of which sell for $200 to $400 each, with the high-end models selling for $600 plus. I always advise first-time fixie buyers to begin with entry level bikes, then only if they’ve “taken to the Kool-Aid” should they move to higher end models.
Make sure to buy a cyclocross-style fixie rather than the traditional and more common track-style fixie. This is critical. The cyclocross version has relaxed frame angles, and more importantly, allows for the installation of big 28-35c tires so you can bike on a variety of terrain surfaces in virtually all weather situations.
The “X-fixie,” as it’s nicknamed, will likely provide you with cantilever brakes, a braking system that offers premium stopping power. This feature is super important when you’re riding on irregular surfaces in rain, mud, ice and snow. And since you’ll be riding your fixed-gear bicycle on roads as well as trails, make sure the crank arm length is the same as your road bike. That helps to make for a smoother transition from road/tri bike riding to fixie riding and vice versa.
Also important is your consideration of the rear wheel. I’d advise purchasing a fixie with a reversible hub, where you have a single cog on each side, one fixed and the other free spinning. These are called “flip-flop” hubs. Make sure the cogs on each side are close in size so that chain length isn’t affected when you switch from one side to the other. And do not use quick release skewers as the fixie's rear wheel locking system. Due to the high torque which occurs in fixed-gear riding you’ll want to use beefy axel nuts which securely snug up to the rear dropouts.
And finally, one of the best things you can do when you buy a new fixed-gear bike is to install a gender specific anatomical saddle. If your new rig came with a cheapie saddle - and most entry level models do - I implore you to make this one upgrade. Your derrière will thank you a 1,000 times over. Indeed, a comfortable seat will save you from the butt-numbing discomfort you can encounter on longer rides, this because a fixie absolutely demands non-stop pedaling with nary a chance to coast and readjust your butt position.
Now I believe one of the most fundamental steps for learning how to ride a fixie safely is to start out on non-vehicular trafficked venues such as bike & hike and towpath trails, where you’ll leave yourself plenty of wiggle room for any potential operator-error mishaps. You’ll also have pancake flat terrain, so you can focus, relax, and get into the flow of how you and the bike must function as one. Only after you feel completely comfortable in non-traffic situations do you venture onto trafficked streets and thoroughfares.
You may want to try your first few fixie rides with old-fashioned platform pedals and tennis shoes rather than using clipless pedals and cycling shoes. That way, you’ll become proficient in getting the bike both moving and stopped without that panicky locked-in feeling. Lastly, during those initial fixie rides you must keep reminding yourself to pedal and not coast. It’s a mantra you’ll need to burn into your brain. But alas, this mind-bending task won’t last long because your neuromuscular system will soon turn that demand into an action that’s as automatic as breathing. And when that breakthrough moment arrives, ooh-la-la, for it’s then that you begin to develop your narrow range of cycling skills into a mastery of the sport.