Cycling has an abundance of subcultures, and one of them is brakeless riding. Also known as fixies, these bicycles are a lot of fun and come with a different experience of riding. However, there are a lot of misconceptions and a few things one should know before riding.
The Origin of Fixed Gear
Fixed gear bicycles are made for track racing. There has been a growing trend with these bikes, which seem to be influenced from the hipster and message courier community. Track racing is performed in a velodrome, which is a track with steeply banked oval tracks and two 180 degree turns. Think of it as a Nascar track, but for bikes.
People are attracted to these bikes because of their simplicity. There are no wires running along the bike frame, no derailleurs, no gears, nor are there any gear shifters. With it’s simple look, these bikes are sold at a lower cost compared to road bikes.
You Are The Breaks
Riding a fixed geared bike is about reading your body and the bike continuously during your ride. It is important to understand that the crankset will continue to rotate as long as the bike is in a forward or backward motion. The crankset is the component that allows you to pedal. If the rear wheel is rotating, your legs are in motion. If your legs are locked in, the wheel is locked in. This is why riders say that they feel like they are part of the bike or that the bike is a part of them.
There are multiple ways to stop on a fixie. You can reduce your speed by simply applying force or pedaling in the opposite direction. If you want to get fancy you can perform a skid stop or a hop stop. Keep in mind, if you do decide to go the fancy route, the more fancy skidding you use the more wear and tear your tire will have.
Breaking The Habit
After buying my new fixed geared bike I took it for a test ride. My legs were pumping the crankset, my grip was tight on the handle bar, and the street was clear of cars. At the end of my sprint my body naturally loosened up to rest. All of a sudden I am being kicked up in the air by the pedal as if my bike said “NO! Don’t stop!”.
On any other bike, you have the free will to stop pedaling and begin coasting. Coasting is the act of being able to move forward without continuous pedaling. If you have ridden a bike before, your brain is already wired to understand that you can relax at any time. Therefore, we rest without thinking about it. On a fixie, if you decide that you want to coast, you will be kicked up, or worse knocked off your bike. It takes practice and experience to rewire your brain and understand that you should never stop pedaling.
Hills Are Not Your Friend
Fixed Gear bikes are not meant for climbing hills. The steeper the climb the more force you need to apply to keep pedaling. Going down hill is no joke either, gravity will definitely help you gain momentum. With only your legs as your brakes you may find yourself skidding the entire descent and left with no rubber on your rear tire. Going down hill can be dangerous since you really don’t have much control. There are people that do climb with fixies and believe that it helps build strength and endurance. I would rather build the same strength and endurance on a road bike.
Personally, I suggest to have a front brake just in case. Although a rider can successfully avoid an accident by locking their legs, having a front brake can help you stop quicker and safer. It is important to keep in mind your current speed when you decided to hit that front brake. With enough speed and momentum, hitting the front brakes can send you flying off your bike.
Ride to Live
Biking in general is beneficial to both your mental and physical health. Riding a bike will ease your mind as it acts as meditation. If you do decide on getting a fixed gear bike, remember the following; don’t stop pedaling, think ahead, and be one with the bike.