Fixed Fixation: The Experiment

Before tackling the busy streets of rush hour Manhattan, I needed to reacquaint myself to the fixed-gear mechanics on simple and comfortable terrain. Naturally in this case - I stayed locally in the neighborhood and I rode to my favorite Tuesday wings joint. 

Feeling the Difference. For anyone not familiar with the physics behind fixed-gear, you cannot coast and rely heavily on Newton’s First Law of Motion (in this case your feet) to slow down and come to a stop by pedaling backwards against the wave of motion. Plain and simply - there is no freewheel and your feet are always busy pedaling. From the moment I mounted the bike, placed one foot on the pedal, and pushed off -  it was immediately awkward to feel the crank arms moving with little to no applied force. Flashes of my Parisian experience played in my head. However, this time..I was on MY bike and I couldn’t have been in a more comfortable place than my own neighborhood. No excuses. 

Slow and Easy. The added responsibility of controlling my speed required my full attention.  A slow and steady pace was certainly ideal considering I really tried to refrain from using the handbrakes. It took a few blocks to finally get my feet accustomed. 

I Fuckin’ Hate It. Nope. Can’t say I was in love with it. Controlling my speed required a bit more focus than anticipated. It took away from the fun factor as I wasn’t able to reach my usual speeds without the fear of not braking confidently when necessary. I was committed to getting better at this, so there was no way I was going to drop out.

The big day. Time came to give it a go on how I’d manage on the commute to work into Manhattan taking the Queensboro Bridge.

Battle of the Bridge. There really wasn’t much of a problem crossing the QB bridge. Riding fixed actually helped me climb surprisingly. The crankset is already doing half the job for you. However, one can say the downhill was the real battle. Spinning without end on the descent was not something I was used to with on the bridge. I’m not going to lie. It freaked me out a bit. It became one of the first instances I had to use my handbrakes to slow down, especially when approaching the hairpin at the end. 

*Halfway through the bridge, I recognized and passed Felipe “The King of NYC.” Given the circumstances this wasn’t the day to introduce myself to him.

Anticipation. Once I arrive the island of Manhattan, it was focus focus focus. It was quite a task to conquer the streets while manipulating my speed and safety knowing any obstacle could abruptly come in my path. I failed to mention sooner that I was having the hardest time slipping my right foot into its respective toe clip. Having also raised my seat the night before, somewhere between trying to mount the saddle and the difficulty getting my foot into the damn cage - you can image how much of an ass I looked. Felipe sure did. He actually caught with me on the corner of 55th and 2nd avenue. When passing, he gave me a friendly smirk. Completely embarrassed of my technical difficulties, I couldn’t do anything else but give it in return. Felipe, then, vanished into the sea of pedestrians and traffic (as he does). 

The rest of the way I maintained a disciplined speed in order to anticipate any need for an immediate stop. It’s New York people! Shit happens. I have kept a clean streak so far. I didn’t need to cause an accident on my second day riding fixed.

Another day commuting between Queens and Manhattan.

Knee Pains and Soreness. People have told me before, “Riding fixed is terrible for your knees.”  While I don’t know how much truth there is to that, I can concur I felt a soreness and ache around my knee caps and thighs. The fact of the matter is you work muscles you probably didn’t know you had when riding fixed. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt aches like that. You are putting added stress on your knees and thighs with the constant pulls and pushes towards and against motion. Hey - just think of those sexy sculpted legs you’ll be getting in a few weeks time. 

Second Guesses. Today, it was the first timed I encountered (since Day One) a few situations where I had to second guess whether or not I was able to squeeze through. I was put into a situation of passing between two stalled cars was questionable. If I were on the freewheel, no doubt would’ve crossed my mind. I could maneuver and turn pretty easily and without much thought. With a fixed hub, not so much. Timing is crucial. 

Boosted Confidence. In the evening, I met with Cisco to grab a beer and some exchanging of ideas. I told him about my little fixed gear experiment. In response, he gave the me a boost in confidence by complimenting my ability so far. According to him, I was doing a better job at fixed than he did when he started. (Thanks Cisco). You bet I asked him for some tips on getting my toe clip dilemma resolved.

Commute to Manhattan

Improvement. On this day, I finally felt I was getting the hang of it. The handbrakes were used in just one or two situations, but otherwise I had it down. My speed, response time, and control were becoming more instinctive.

Commute to Manhattan

The Skid. Yes, the all mighty skid! The last time I did a skid was on my Magna bicycle at 11-years-old. I’ve drunk a lot of milk and grown hair in funny places since then. When looking at messengers and other fixed-gear riders, skidding seems like one of those things you have to know how to do. Not so much because it looks cool, but it’s really the only tool you have for that quick decease in speed if you’re riding brakeless. 

My toe clips weren’t exactly cutting it. I felt I needed a firmer grip and better foot retention for skidding with these pedals (whether it be with straps or clipless). Perhaps, it’s why I was struggling with it these past days or maybe I’m doing it wrong. Maybe I just suck. 

However on this day, while descending on the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan…I performed the slightest two-second skid.

It’s all about the little victories. 

(Stay Tuned for the Conclusion)