Riding a Fixie

This past Christmas I received a gift card to my local bike shop, The Peddler. Seeing as I had just gotten some new tires and bar tape on my geared bike, it seemed like a great opportunity to start fixing up single speed.

My single speed is a steel frame Panasonic Sport 1000. It is a pretty typical inexpensive Japanese road frame. The fine folks at Freeze Thaw Cycles built it for me. They specialized in building bikes from scratch using used parts. It has always been a great bike. My only complaint was that the gear ratio was a little too easy at times.

With some disposable funds to spend, and knowing that my wheels needed a bit of work (some spokes had broken at one point and could probably used a bit of love replacing the bad ones), I decided I wanted to get some new wheels and a higher geared chain ring. They had a set of blue Retrospec deep v wheels that came with tires and a flip flop hub. Seeing as I’ve always thought the hipster fixie look striking, I thought this was perfect. As for the chain ring, I went from 39 to 46 teeth. They had to special order the chain ring and a lock nut for the fixie side of the wheel, so I was able to ride around on the new wheels as a single speed while waiting for them to come in.

My initial reaction was rather mixed. They were extremely smooth, but also a lot stiffer of a ride. My old tires were a bigger, so obviously it was going to take some adjustment. The brakes also were honking like no ones business. After reading up a bit from every cyclists friend, Sheldon Brown, my pads seemed toed in just fine, although they were off center. I centered things up and it helped with the squawking. The rims were also unmachined, so I’m sure the pads wearing off the paint had a lot to do with noise. On the positive side, the wheels were much faster. It was trivial to get going fast enough where my legs would start spinning due to the easy gear of my chain ring.

I had ridden out to the coffee shop next door to The Peddler, Flightpath Coffee, in anticipation of my new chain ring and lock nut. They put the parts on right away and I began my first fixie ride back to the house. Knowing it would take some getting used to, I took a back road part of the way and spent a minute or two trying to do a track stand. It was definitely harder than I expected. I’m sure once I get more familiar it shouldn’t be too difficult. Learning to get my feet in my pedal clips was also much more difficult than I expected.

Past the initial awkwardness, it was a ton of fun. The bike is silent and the new chain ring feels great. I still have my brakes in case I need to stop really quickly. Surprisingly, the brakes work really well. My impression was that brakes on a fixie didn’t really do much, but they were just as effective as before. Having always had a desire to try out a fixie, when I rode my single speed, I’d keep pedaling almost all the time. This ended up being great practice and helped a great deal in feeling comfortable.

I’m really excited to get out on the road. People say that riding a fixie allows you to make a strong connection with the bike. Your body is directly responsible for all aspects of starting, cruising and stopping. I didn’t really experience that just yet, but I’m hopeful that it is something I noticed as I get more experienced.