Sunday
Jul122009

« Fixed Gear Fever »

It has been a solid six months since I bought my new bike. Loyal readers of this blog have no doubt seen the drastic reduction in my vehicular mileage (only at about 675 miles this year, as I write). I don't really know how many miles I have ridden the bike, but I am finding more courage to use it for longer rides, even as the routes are more urban and hilly—the stuff I tended to avoid in most of my prior biking experience. I've felt good with the effort I've made, and I seem to be drawn to do more. But I haven't hit bedrock yet.

I've been prowling websites and bike shops to prepare for my eventual next purchase. I don't yet know what will do the trick but it is bound to be a fixed gear type. Yes, they are enjoying a resurgence of popularity, but I am far too unhip to get one so I can hang out with the horn rimmed glasses wearing, torn jean and flannel attired, tattooed and pierced hipster set. But ever since I began to pay attention to the fixed gear bike, I've been intrigued by the riding mechanics of it, and how that might help me keep fit. The business of really using leg power to its fullest is alluring. The present bike has done a lot (in conjunction with working like I do) to firm up my legs a lot, but there is still a general downward motion that does the work to build some muscles, while others get toned from the circular repetition. In spite of that, the fixed gear bike with clips or cleats helps build muscles that work in the full circle, with some more benefit coming from the upstrokes, and of course, opposite efforts in resisting for braking. I keep reading and hearing that fixed gear is good for training and keeping supple.

My knees have never been exceedingly great. They bitched at me back in middle school when it was time to jog for P.E. class. Maybe it was the cheap shoes I was given to wear. I didn't like it better in high school, so certainly after that, I never ran for much of anything. While on stages as a tech, I'd sometimes get a pinched nerve or something that would damn near put me down for a while. I don't get that much anymore, but I have some knee grief on the right, and may soon get that checked out after some years of letting it slide. Between work and biking, they do hurt more now, but the muscles around them are far stronger now. So I hope the fixed gear idea will work to keep everything in better condition. I hear it both ways: the added stress of braking resistance is cause for complaint for some while the overall development is praised by others.

So, I've been studying up on bike geometries, gear inches, steel-versus-aluminum, and a host of other considerations. Been trying out any models I can find in my size, give or take some to get a feel for how that affects things. Been talking a lot of shop with a few stores. I'm batting around the pros and cons of the various off-the-shelf bikes that fill this bill, and pondering if I should just buy a cheaper used bike and modify it as needed while actually gaining fixed gear fitness. The consensus is that none of the stock bikes are excellent. The feeling I get is that conversions and custom builds are a lot nicer, but the problem is, you don't get to ride them in the showroom too often. So the homework continues—pedaling this to see how I feel about steel and classic track geometry and drop bars, or another with aluminum frame and more modern lines with straight bars.

I am drawn to the fixie because it is so damned mechanically simple and clean. Things that don't need to be there, aren't. I have not ridden my own ten speed type frame since I don't know when (1990?) so I have some reacquainting to do with that design type, but I am all for a bike with ridiculously little to go wrong that I can't fix. Even my Globe bike, fun as it has been to ride and push myself into deeper territory, has been a bit of a problem to adjust and get settled. The disk brakes have been a challenge to dial in, and I still make good use of the store's free adjustment offer. Well, a fixed gear with just one caliper brake won't be so much to fuss with, would it? I would need that brake for a while. I took a track style bike out for a ride. It had no brakes, as per the track standard, and I went for a bit of a hill, and got a bit frightened and chickened out before a few cars. I guess I need that chance to build the legs' resistance. Less mechanism, more me has been my motto lately, but I do not yet function as a set of brakes!

It is interesting to see how my consumer interests have shifted. I am plenty aware that bikes are my new money drain. But unlike the various instruments and studio gear, and of course, the computers, the bike is one that does something to make me more active and fit, and I've needed that. But it also is the outdoor activity that doesn't come from recording and emailing, and there has been a small trend toward it being a social activity too. These days, I find myself all about the websites to learn how to do biking more fully, and am basically blowing off my impending "need" to get a new computer and software. I am bucking that, and it is bucking back by having bits of software support erode here and there. Yet, I am just not into spending a couple thousand more to get a computer so that I might sit at it more, when for even half the price, I could get a new bike (again) and go out and enjoy things like a kid again, before I ever knew what a computer was, or before I ever let email rule my life. Far from searching out tomorrow's computer technology, I am happy with trying to get into century-old technology in bikes, with a few modern twists perhaps. It is the bedrock of the biking experience I want to reach for.

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