by Erik B.
It's clear that more and more people are discovering just how much fun it is to ride a fixed-gear bike. But for most people, a fixie implies skinny tires on a track bike, or maybe a road conversion. Of course, this very site was spawned by folks who were actually nutty enough to ride fixies off-road. But I'd like to make the case for another category of fixed-gear bike: the fat-tired, fixed-gear urban cruiser.
I spent 15 years of Saturdays and summers in my dad's bike shop, from the early 70s until he closed it down in the late 80s. As a result, I have a lot of bike tools, and a predilection for using them. Every bike I own has been built up, taken apart, reconfigured, and built up again, over and over. Aside from getting my kicks this way, it's a process whereby I really refine the setup of each bike. No bike is ever done, but I'm so pleased with the latest version of this cruiser that I'm not sure how I'd make it better-suited for its intended uses.
I snatched up the frame on closeout a number of years ago. I had hopes of creating something reminiscent of the fantastically expensive and beautiful Merlin Newsboy, then recently introduced. I planned to make it a single-speed from the start, with a lot of trial and error fitting of parts since there were no chain tensioners, Surly, or SS-specific anythings back in those days. I bought reverse-dished Campy road hubs with extra-long after-market axles and lots of spacers. Bold experimentation with chainring/freewheel combinations was the order of the day.
Since then, the bike has evolved, and I have come to consider a fat-tired fixie cruiser to be the ultimate urban assault vehicle. I have traveled all over NYC with this bike, and it has proven itself through countless burrito runs, two centuries, the aftermath of 9-11, and the most recent big blackout.
Why does this bike work so well for cruising the gritty city? I'm glad you asked.
Fixed-gear + city riding = "fun as shit"
While the 7000-series aluminum frame is as stiff as a girder, the 2.1 slick Moby Bites and the B-72 saddle make the ride smooth. Make that very, very smooth. But firm smooth, not squishy smooth. And while the tires are fat, rolling resistance is completely unobjectionable with the slicks.
The BMX handlebars afford a high, upright position with excellent traffic visibility. Combined with the smooth ride, it feels like I am almost floating above the cars.
If you're one of those who've never ridden in an upright position, or have forgotten how it feels, I would highly recommend giving it a try. It's amazingly comfortable. And I dispute the idea that upright riding is only comfortable for short distance rides. This is by far the most comfortable century bike I have ridden.
I am presently running a 48:15 setup. In back, I have the most excellent White Industries ENO hub with eccentric axle. I was concerned about hub slippage, but a favorable review in Dirt Rag gave me enough confidence to give it a try. I have found the hub to be a great-performing, well-made piece of equipment. The city is relatively flat, and my gearing is relatively high, so I can really book when I want that wind-blown look or if I need to out-run a taxi.
I have nice MKS rubber block pedals on there, because I hate the idea of having to get dressed in special clothes to ride. Anyway, this is my city bike, so it needs to work with whatever I'm wearing in real life (sandals, mukluks, clown shoes, etc).
Locking up against nasty metal poles with a heavy chain is a scratchy affair. The paintjob is flat black Rustoleum primer, applied with a disposable brush. Touch-ups are a breeze.
I am inbetween baskets at the moment. I had a Paul Flatbed on there, but I am currently building my own, made of copper tubing, and dimensioned to my preferred size and quantity of take-out meal.
I think that using an ENO hub as a foundation, anyone could turn an old neglected mountain bike into an ass-kicking urban cruiser. I hope some of you will give it a try.