Fixin' for the complete klutz
by Mike D. Barker
I've been a fixer for a couple of years. I've never been a track racer or a messenger. All I do is climb on my bike and pedal to work. If you want to hear about skidding, hopping or track standing, you're reading the wrong article. You can forget offroad too. My idea of offroad is my driveway.
So why are the 63xc.com crew wasting good webspace on me? It's because I remember all the little hassles that you have to deal with at the beginning. I'm not here for the future Keirin rider. I'm here for all the people who have heard about how great riding fixed can be but haven't a clue about getting started. Think of me as the guy across the garden fence. You can ask me the dumb questions that you wouldn't dare to ask a club rider.
Okay, let's start with the bike. Golden rule: don't make it hard on yourself. Stick with what you know.
Keep them! Yeah, I know they destroy the look of the bike. Live with it. Better to have 'em and not need 'em than need 'em and not have 'em. If you're planning to ride through the winter, keep the back brake as well as the front. Braking on slippery surfaces is always dicey, but a front wheel skid on ice will have your friends admiring your cast in no time at all.
If you are a self-hating masochist you can skip this part and go straight to the 'knee surgery' section. Otherwise, listen up. This is important.
Let's say that you ride a geared bike. You cruise briskly and happily on a 70 inch gear. That's going to be the gear of choice for your fix, right? Wrong!
If you're a city rider, you're going to hit a stop light every few blocks. You downshift as you coast to a stop. (In the country, you'll hit a hill or a cow or something.) When the light changes, you pull away in a low gear, then shift up again when you're at cruising speed.
On a fix, you can't downshift. The gear you choose isn't just for cruising--it's the one you have to start the bike in. You want it at least five inches smaller than cruising gear on your 21spd, smaller still if you have hills to deal with, or if you often have to sprint from a standing start. My advice is to begin in the low 60s. You can always work your way up as you get stronger.
Ok, so you've chosen your gear. What sort of cogs do you buy? Two words: think big. Cogs with lots of teeth don't throw chains as easily as 11t jobs. They also spread the wear, making chainstretch less of a problem.
I love fixed, but I hate getting the chain tight. Chain tugs go on the axle and allow you to adjust the tension by turning a few screws. Sure, they look ugly. Believe me, after a roadside session wrangling a recalcitrant tire, they'll seem to give off a beautiful glow.
Tires? What kind of stupid newbie do I take you for? You know tires and no bozo from Michigan is going to tell you any different, right?
Well, I may have nothing to say about tires, but I sure know about bunnyhopping. You won't be doing any. Hopping a fix is nothing like hopping a gearie. On your first rides, you won't be able to hop an ant's shadow. This means that you will, in all likelihood, end up slamming your precious wheels a few times. Get tires with some air in them and spare yourself pinch flats and bent rims.
Relax. I'm on your side. Whatever lights your jets is what should be on your feet. People will argue about the merits of clipped or clipless but all that really matters is that you feel comfortable.
Whatever you choose to wear, make sure you tuck those shoestrings. A fix doesn't forgive foolishness. If it grabs a shoe string in the chain, you are headed for the pavement.
Is it a bike?
What's that? I sound like I'm talking about something alive? Maybe you're right. I've come to think of my fix as a living creature. It will do a bunch of things that a derailed bike won't, but you have to treat it with respect. Come at it like some gearie lump of steel and you've got a fight on your hands.
Walking the bike
No, I don't think you're an idiot. But I'm worried that you'll forget the way those pedals turn all the time. Remember to keep the bike a little ways out from your body, otherwise they're gonna smack you in the calf.
The get go
Okay, so you climb on and realize that the pedal is at a bad angle for starting off. You can't backpedal it into position--if you try, the bike will move away. Did you keep your brakes like I suggested? Good! Here's another place they come in handy.
Slide forward off the saddle, squeeze the front brake, and shove the bike forwards against the stopped front wheel. The back wheel comes off the ground. Rotate the pedal with your foot 'till it feels right, then drop the back wheel, sit yourself down, and slack off the brake.
So there you are, sitting comfortably, one foot on the pedal, all ready to actually go somewhere. You're going to have to get the other foot in after the bike is in motion. If you ride clipped or clipless, that will take a little more care than usual. Take it easy and start slow, with gentle pressure from your leading foot rather than a sharp push-off. (This is one more reason to gear on the low side!) With practice, you'll be able to hold the bike almost motionless during startup, making clipping in the other foot a snap.
So, you're headed down the road. No big deal until you look over at something and feel the bike jerk under you. You have tried to stop pedaling. Most gearie riders have gotten in the habit of slowing their legs when they hit the brakes or look away from the road. Expect the bike to slap you a couple of times on your first rides together. Even I get a gentle reminder once in a while.
You can't coast. So what? Work for a few minutes and then let the bike take a turn. Relax your legs and allow the pedals to go. Inclines are best: all you have to do is sit there and enjoy the ride. Over time, you get a fast spin without having to work on it.
Hop or not
You're cruising along, up ahead you see an obstacle and you want to hop the bike. Don't! Go around it if you can, or better yet keep pedaling--like you've got a choice--and raise yourself off the seat. This works for a lot of situations, especially if you took my advice and put some good sized tires on the bike.
You can still hop, of course. It takes practice and you have to get in the habit of keeping those feet moving. Over time, you will start to take on the obstacles by hopping over them, but I'm certainly not the one to ask.
For something like that, you need to ask someone who's Goode. Meanwhile, enjoy your new fix, and let's be careful out there!