Kung Fu Biking
by Kevin Calzia
The student has trained in this courtyard for the last six months. He eyes the slightly misaligned brick in the wall. Just the other day, his master was able to push off this small edge and loop through the air like a hawk, landing firmly on his feet behind the intruder. With one swift chop he brought the intruder to his knees. The encounter ended. The student's moment of reflection is interrupted as his master calls him back to the center of the courtyard. It is now time to practice balancing a teacup on his feet while he does one-armed handstands. This is all part of mastering the snake fist style of kung fu.
I am lying in a pile of leaves at the side of the trail looking back at my bike. The bike is standing nice and tall, propped against a stout sapling. I saw the impact coming from twenty feet away. I tried to get my left pedal into position. I failed. My pedal caught the trunk just at the top of its revolution, stopping all of the bike's forward momentum and throwing all of mine down the trail. At least the tree was kind enough to drop most of its leaves in a pile for me to land in. Next time I come barreling down this section of trail I have to remember to hop the rear wheel and get in a half pedal stroke so that my left foot can slide around this obstacle. This is all part of mastering the fixed gear style of offroad cycling.
Kung fu biking. The words seem to flow together. They make sense to me. I see a relationship between kung fu films and fixed gear offroading. Just as I like to take my fix on the technical trails of New England, a student of martial arts thrives off executing a series of perfect kicks. In a kung fu movie, every battle gives the hero a sense of increased abilities and enhanced self-confidence. Every ride gives me the feeling that I have learned something new, got deeper in touch with my skills.
In the older movies, the hero spends months and even years learning the subtleties of technique needed to perfect his fighting style. His nemesis, of course, has a distinctive style which he must understand and overcome. Overpowering the enemy is not enough. The two styles must balance each other out. Any weakness must be exploited in order to defeat it. In 'Game of Death', Bruce Lee is much faster than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but Kareem's character is stronger than Lee's. Lee triumphs when he realizes that his opponent is sensitive to light. If the weakness had been Lee's, he would have been the loser.
In a kung fu movie, there is respect for the opponent. The hero bows to his enemy and, if he makes a mistake during the battle, he often acknowledges it with a smile and a poorly-translated sarcastic remark. To me, the trail and the mountain are my opponents. I respect them. I don't try to overpower the mountain by brute force. I respond to the trail and the obstacles it presents. If a turn is especially sweet or a fallen branch too big to hop over, I just smile to myself.
I believe that fixed gear riding is closer to the spirit of kung fu than other types of cycling. Assaulting the trail with a six-inch travel wonderbike takes away from some of the finesse of riding. It's like Jesse 'The Body' Ventura mowing down the forest with his air-powered cannon in 'Predator'. Point and shoot. By contrast, a fixer experiences true connection with the trail. There is no margin for error, for misjudgment, for inattention. Each single pedal stroke must be considered, sure, and appropriate.
In the kung fu movies, the simplest of features and objects become the greatest resources. A tiny edge on a misaligned brick is a starting block for the master to launch off and overleap the intruder. A bamboo shoot becomes a pivot, a shield, a weapon that sweeps the enemy's feet out from under him. In 'Kill Bill' Uma Thurman takes on an entire room of trained killers with a single, finely-crafted piece of steel. A fixer takes on an entire mountain with a finely-welded piece of steel and a single fixed gear.
The heroes of the kung fu movies know their limits and would never dare to challenge another warrior to a battle that was beyond their ability. It is only after much learning that they realize where the next level is and when it can be obtained. They never fight for glory, but for profound emotional reasons. I will not claim that such a status for fixed gear riding, but somehow it does touch the soul at a deeper level than other forms. Heading into the woods for a 50 mile ride on a fix is a big commitment. A novice fixer would surely be defeated if they took on this task, much like the young student attempting to defeat his nemesis before his training was complete.
There are a lot of movies to see. Everyone can find a genre they like, something that fits their style, that they can keep coming back to. Riding fixed is the kind of movie I like.