Fixed

As I should have expected, less than 20 minutes after I put up yesterday’s tantrum of a post, I got a call from the bike shop. My Bianchi Pista had arrived, had been built, and was ready to ride.

I tell you, it’s not easy to keep working when you know you’ve got a new bike waiting for you.

After work (yeah, I finished the day), I suited up and biked over to Sammamish Valley Cycle. I figured I’d leave the road bike at the shop, and ride the track bike home.

(A quick aside to readers who don’t know what a track bike is: A track bike is a very minimalistic road bike, designed specifically for racing on a velodrome. It doesn’t have gears you can shift, it doesn’t have brakes, and you can’t coast.)

The bike shop had done a bang-up job on getting my bike ready. They had remembered what kind of pedals I wanted and had put them on. They had remembered that I wanted a front brake added so I could ride hills and city roads even before I got good at stopping via backpedaling. They had remembered that I wanted the lever on the left side.

 

First Rides

Let me be perfectly clear: to this point, I had never ridden a fixed gear bike in my life. So maybe biking home (about 10 miles, the first 3 or so through city traffic) as the first spin on my track bike wasn’t that brilliant of an idea.

That said, here are my initial observations on riding a fixed-gear bike:

  • Getting started: One thing I hadn’t thought about at all turned out to be probably the single biggest difference between fixed-gear and freehub riding: starting. You can’t spin the pedal back to your favorite click-in position (unless you lift the rear wheel). And if you click in at the bottom with your first foot, it’s tough to get any momentum off the line because that foot’s in a dead spot. I can see why learning to trackstand is going to stop being a “would like to know” and will become a “need to know.”
  • No breaks: I had never realized how often I—without thinking—stop pedaling for a few seconds when on a ride. The fixed gear bike reminds you forcibly that you don’t get to do this anymore. If the rear wheel’s turning, so are the cranks.
  • No brakes: I thought that learning to use backward force with my legs to slow and stop would be awkward, but it came pretty naturally. Even after just a couple rides, I am using my brake only on steep downhills or when I come to an unexpected stop (a light changing).
  • Always in the drops: On a regular road bike, I keep my hands on the hoods about 75% of the time. On a track bike, riding in the drops seems to be the only comfortable position.
  • No urge to shift: On a regular road bike, I am shifting almost constantly. I was worried that I’d always be reaching to shift gears that aren’t there on the fixed gear bike. I don’t know why, but the habit hasn’t transferred.
  • Quiet: Without the cables, derailleurs, and varying line on the chain, this $500 bike is the quietest bike I’ve ever owned.
  • I am not a seat snob. I have gone out of my way to keep this bike inexpensive. I went with the cheapest version of Speedplay pedals you can get, and I didn’t upgrade anything else on the bike. But I nearly bought a different saddle, because I am so used to a certain saddle make and model, I didn’t think I could ride anything else. I resisted, though, and went with the saddle the bike came with. And you know what? It’s just fine. It makes me think I need to reconsider a bunch of my “knowledge” gained from my expensive bike snob days.
  • Hard climbs are harder: By the time I got to Inglewood Hill—a 12% grade climb—on my ride home from the bike shop—I was feeling comfortable. I had planned to skip that hill and go up one of the longer-but-less-steep routes, and turned onto Inglewood Hill. I had to stand up for the entire thing, and at one point thought I could no longer turn the cranks—I very nearly stalled. But I made it. It worked my quads, biceps and triceps in a way they haven’t been worked in years. I can tell that this bike is going to be good for me.
  • Flats are smoother: On a flat, wide-open road, the fixed gear bike enforces a smooth cadence. I got into the “biker’s rhythm”—and stayed there—more easily than usual.
  • Track bikes are good on the track: On the way in to work, I stopped by the Velodrome (I can’t get over how cool it is that I have a public-access velodrome that is literally on the way to work) and did a few laps. I can tell that I’m very slow right now, and felt like I had my heart rate pegged well before I had the cranks spun out. The “I must be going slow” feeling was reinforced by the way I didn’t really feel like I needed all the banking provided in the corners. I think I can look forward to a season of being beaten badly and consistently on the track next year. Still, the bike felt really good on the track.
  • My legs are cooked today: I rode the fixed gear bike to work today, too. As part of my commute, I go up a good-sized climb alongside the 520 freeway. Just before it, I ran into Eric, one of the two guys who beat me on the Zoo climb last Saturday. He said “Hi,” and then flew on ahead of me. I don’t think I could have matched even on a road bike, but on the fixed gear, I didn’t have a prayer. After my commute today, as I climbed up the stairs that lead to my office, I noticed something I haven’t noticed in a long time: it was not easy to climb stairs. This fixed gear bike is punishing me, in just the way I need punishing.

Bianchi, all is forgiven. Just don’t let it happen again.

 

Today’s weight: 162.4 lbs.

 

PS: One last note with regards to yesterday’s post: As I’ve mentioned before, I have no gripe with bike shops. For that matter, I don’t have a problem with small bike and custom bike manufacturers when they take a long time—that’s to be expected, and should probably even be regarded as part of the boutique bike experience: you want a home cooked meal, not fast food. My complaint yesterday was simply directed at large corporate bike manufacturers and their apparent inability to forecast, maintain, track, or deliver inventory.

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