by Todd Downs
I've been riding fixed gear bikes on the road for several years, but I'm not exactly sure I've cut my teeth sufficiently to count myself amongst the ranks of hardcore off-road fixers. Generally, I like to ride highly technical trails, the sort that are more than challenge enough on a freewheeling bike. Still, every once in a while, I need that fix!
Obvious pun, fully intended...
There are days when all I really want to do is get out for a nice, mellow ride on some well-known trails. There are other days when I just want to get out there and burn for a couple of hours. These are the days--for me, at least--that were made for the fixed cog.
Fixed days will usually start from my front door. On my trusty 34/18, I'll warm up over about three miles of urban paved roads through Cambridge and Somerville to the Middlesex Fells. Once I'm under cover of elm, oak, spruce, and pine, every workaday stress that has burned me for days seems to disappear. My fixations become the bike and the trees and the trail.
My legs remain in constant motion and the trail lays out before me like a sensuous brown ribbon. The ride takes on a Zen-like quality. I hear some of you calling me out. "Bullshit!" you yell. Okay. Maybe I'm not quite so focused. I bobble occasionally when the timing of my pedal stroke doesn't quite match the rhythm of the terrain. But even in these moments when grace is absent, there is nothing on my mind but the ride.
Occasionally another rider will notice the bike's lack of brakes and ask if I'm on some sort of self-destruct mission. I explain that the bike is fixed and only garner stranger looks. No one ever seems to understand.
I know there are more of you out there. Maybe some day we'll meet on the trail. Until that day, I guess I'll just keep riding with this stupid grin across my face, wondering when next I'll hear someone ask "Well, if you don't have any brakes, wouldn't that make it broken?"