Adventure by Default

I wouldn’t call the number of bikes I have in my garage “stupid.” I prefer to call it “plentiful.” And maybe “plentiful” is too strong a term. I mean, it’s not like I have a bike for every occasion. I don’t have a BMX bike, for example. Nor do I have a cross bike. Nor a full-suspension mountain bike.

When you think about it, I’m a pauper, bikewise. But I’m getting away from the point I want to make. Which is: my paucity of bikes notwithstanding, generally I have a bike or two ready to roll for any biking occasion.

Last Saturday, however, very nearly turned out to be an exception.

First off, mountain bikes were out of the question, since I messed up my right shoulder again last Friday (I had picked a bad line and rolled off a narrow ladder bridge into a ravine, cleverly stopping my fall by putting out my right hand).

That’s OK, though. It had been a while since I had been out on the road bike. So I started topping off the tires, when I noticed a bulge in the rear tire. There was a big tear in it, and I didn’t have a replacement. Bike shops wouldn’t be open for a couple hours.

Briefly, I was flummoxed. I was all dressed up, with no way to go.

And then I saw the track bike.

Ah yes, the fixie. It had been a long time since I had ridden the fixie. I’ve hardly been out on it at all since moving from Washington to Utah, in fact. The roads are just too hilly.

But you know, I’ve wondered a few times what it would be like to try to climb the Alpine Loop on my track bike.

Well, now seems like as good a time as any to find out.

Spurious Saddle
It is natural, of course, for me to assume that your life revolves around my adventures and exploits. Even so, I don’t expect you to immediately know / remember what climbing the Alpine Loop on my fixed-gear bike implies. So let me help you:

  • The Alpine Loop is a road climb I can do right from my house. It is a ten mile climb, ascending nonstop from 5000 to 8200 feet. In short, it is a ten-mile, 3200 foot climb.
  • The Bianchi Pista is a very inexpensive — but still surprisingly cool-looking track bike. “Fixed gear” means that it doesn’t have a freewheel, which means you cannot coast. If the wheels are turning, you must be pedaling. The gear ratio on my Pista is 48 x 16, which is about the same as if you are in your big ring up front and in the middle sprocket of your cassette in the back.

In short, I had given myself quite a challenge.

I put a water bottle in my jersey pocket (track bikes don’t usually have water bottle cages), swung a leg over and began the ride. I was surprised at how quickly I became reaccustomed to not being able to coast; the fixie style of riding came back to me right away.

I was not surprised at how hard this ride was. There were very few moments where the pitch of the road eased up enough that I was able to sit down.

Please Notice Me
The sky was overcast and threatening as I climbed, which meant the temperature was nice and cool. I was disappointed, though, to find that the threat of rain had evidently scared away all cyclists.

Why was I disappointed to not either pass or be passed? Simple. I desperately wanted to casually point out to someone — anyone — that I was climbing the Alpine Loop on a 48 x 16 – geared track bike.

No luck. I had to suffer slowly up the mountain without the benefit of being able to have the conversation I had mapped out in my head:

Me: How’s it going?

Other rider: Not bad. I can’t believe you’re passing me. I’m a semi-pro, you know, and am going full-tilt.

Me: (modestly) Well, I can’t really control my speed. Just gotta turn the cranks over at the speed they turn over, you know.

Other rider: Holy smokes. I just noticed — you’re riding a fixie! Up the Alpine Loop! What kind of gearing is that?

Me: Yeah, my regular road bike had a mechanical. Didn’t want to miss out on a ride. The gearing’s 48 x 16, or something like that.

Other rider: Hey, that’s a really nice jersey. Are you the one they call the Fat Cyclist?

Me: Yeah, that’s me.

Other rider: Can I have your autograph?

Me: Sure. I keep a permanent felt-tip marker with me at all times for just this sort of occasion.

Entertaining myself with these kinds of thoughts, I made it — slowly, painfully, to the summit. Unheralded.

I rode around the parking lot at the summit a few times, hoping someone would get to the top and notice me. In this I was disappointed.

Oh, I Guess I’m Not Done Yet
As a testament to exactly how far into the future I was thinking when I began this ride, it was only when I was actually at the top of the Loop that I considered what a total lack of fun it was going to be to do the downhill portion of this ride. I do have a front brake fitted on the bike, but I still had to pedal the whole way down, and so would not be able to go the usual 40+mph all the way down.

Oh, also it started raining. Hard.

So, cold and wet, I simultaneously braked and pedaled down the slick, wet road. The track-style handlebars aren’t made for resting your hands on the top of the bars — there are no hoods. This, combined with the very close, steep geometry of the track bike meant that a lot of my weight was on my arms, so my hands went numb, which was just as well, because that way I didn’t notice how cold they were anymore.

It probably goes without saying that I no longer was much interested in having a conversation about how I was riding the Alpine Loop on a fixie, since I now just felt like a fool.

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