by Matt Chester
It has been over three years since I penned some ruminations about the reasoning behind riding a fixed gear everywhere, including the dirt, and so much has changed in that time. The spectre of the fixed gear outside of the velodrome in general has risen like a phoenix from the netherworlds of obscurity populated by true career messengers and mellow lifer Cat. Two roadies who wheeled their trusty old lugged race bike onto snowy streets bedecked with a 63" fixed gear, a non-aero lever, and an "atom bomb" bottle of coffee and rum in the lone cage. The snowballing interest in fixed on the road has obviously trickled into the singlespeed mountain biking world, with some participants (myself included) completely ditching the freewheel and rear brake altogether.
So: "Why?" Inquiring minds want a justification. A reason. Arms are crossed, feet are tapping. Why would one suffer the scourge of smacking pedals on bits of Mother Earth? The endos brought on by an inability to sit snarkily behind the saddle down some wasted chute of a downhill? The ego deflation of being dropped by *anyone* with a freewheel on a long paved downhill while you comically twiddle your 50-something inch gear in a futile attempt to exceed school zone speeds?
Why? Why? Why?
The Western world always seems to demand clear, empirical reasoning for doing anything. It's all measured and analyzed for maximizing output from a given input. There's always a "point." A justification that involves growth, forward motion, gain, greater leisure, etc. This is quite ironic considering the dubious hamstringing logic that is prevalent in our First World existence. Overeating processed packaged food. Drug therapy at the drop of a hat. Excessive automobile use. Asphalt in lieu of flora and fauna. Planning communities with no concessions for bicyclists, pedestrians, or even playing children. Riding a bike is "crazy." The balance is very skewed toward an apathetic sense of entitlement and much of it is preprogrammed in all of us. We strive to streamline and ease our lives with every possible shortcut and convienence, yet many people are working longer hours, getting less "done," under greater stress, and are carrying a larger debt load than ever before.
This spiel is nothing new with all the head shaking and tongue clucking in the blogsphere. The "Well, acutally..." gallery is quite vociferous. So what does this have to with choosing to ride with a direct drive transmission on your bicycle?
It's bike riding.
You seek "connection?" Or "zen?" The "tao of fixed?" Then calm down, smile, check your cog and lockring (if applicable), and lip up.
Time doesn't necessarily squelch idealism. But, it does mellow the pretentious grandstanding. The flapping and crowing for recognition. The idea of a cult/sect/faction/whatever based on a few simple purchases and the eschewing of "technology." The "point." Time begets the evolution from parading around the start of a group ride to just being one of the group of cyclists looking to escape for a few hours. The puppy-like wagging for attention fades and the desire to just ride without the requisite game of 20 Questions ramps up. Stick with it and you'll see for yourself.
You've found quiet whether you have bits from Phil Wood and Jeff Jones bolted on or you've taken the path with nothing but a spoke wrench, a steel sprocket, a few axle spacers, and liberal dabs of Loctite 242. The questions are: Can you hurry slowly? Can you embrace the biomechanical process versus brute muscle? Can you calm down and smile no matter the arc you travel?
Do it because you want to. Ride your bike to ride your bike.