I am often asked the question: why choose to ride a fixed gear bicycle – a bike with only one gear? Why ride a bike with no freewheel? And most people seem particularly alarmed at the idea of riding a bike that has no brakes!
Greame Obree (legendary track cyclist) once said,
If you decide to race on a fixed wheel, then that is commitment. You have chosen the size gear you are going to ride and you are committed.
Truth is, the motivation is unique for every rider: some ride a fixed-gear bike as a big “up yours” to the system, some ride it as a fashion statement, some use it as training for other cycling disciplines. There are those who say that they like living on the edge and others who say they feel more connected to the bike. In my opinion, every fixed gear rider has ridden for each of these reasons at some stage or at least a combination of these reasons. My answer to the question WHY is that I enjoy the simplicity of the ride. A fixed gear bike is as simple as a machine can be – two wheels, a frame, seat, handlebars, crank set and chain. No cables or derailleur that can break or malfunction, no suspension to maintain and no brakes that rub. If my chain is lubricated and my wheels are puncture-free, life is good.
There is the issue of an absence of gears to contend with – something you become acutely aware of when going up even the slightest incline. That said, there is something reassuring about always being in the right gear because it is the only gear (“right gear” being a relative term I guess, as going up Suikerbossie or trying your luck in the streets of Vredehoek often feels very, very wrong indeed).
With their origins on the track/Velodrome, fixed gear bikes have a very rich history and pedigree. At any urban cycling event or trendy coffee shop you’ll often hear someone telling the story of their specific frame, who it belonged to and why it is so special. This is especially true for the steel frame track beauties of yesteryear, and even though the cycling scene has made a big move toward carbon frames, there is something about a steel track bike that just remains painfully beautiful.
BREAKING THE MOLD
That brings us to the point of being unconventional and breaking the mold, something many Fixed Gear riders also do when it comes to attire. If you close your eyes for a second and think of what the standard cyclist looks like, I bet the image is of a large quantity of lycra, some sort of water bottle or hydration system, GU packs (for some energy, you know), expensive cycling shoes and a lightweight carbon fibre road or MTB bike. While this makes sense for anybody who is doing a race or a 150km training ride, is it really necessary when going for a 10km cruise under the moonlight? While imagining that standard cyclist it was very unlikely that skinny jeans, sneakers, a backpack and maybe a cap and some wayfarers made it into the picture. This is what we wear though, we fixed-gear cyclists, not because we are trying to be difficult or different, but simply because its more practical – and you just don’t always need all that kit. Now you might argue that we could never do the riding “real” cyclists do. But, the average fixed gear cyclist will easily keep up with the average roadie on a Sunday morning 50-80km training ride, despite being dressed casually, not ‘kitted-out’. Riding fixed makes you strong! Promise!
THE FREEDOM OF THE RIDE
The long and the short of it is that we are happy when we ride, when we cruise through traffic while others are stuck in their cars. We enjoy the thrill of looking ahead and anticipating what is going to happen at the next set of lights, never having to worry about paying for parking or how much the next service is going to cost. Yes, sometimes we go on long rides and get a kick out of passing a group of roadies up a hill, just to show we can also ride hard (even in casual clothes and without gears). Ultimately its all about doing what you enjoy and even though every cyclist is unique, we are all cycling and that should be enough to keep everybody smiling.
This video was filmed and edited by Michael Struwig and features Niel Rossouw and me (Charl Neethling) riding from Blouberg to Hout Bay and back one Saturday morning – showing that even though we spend most of our time flying through tight streets and traffic, a fixed gear bike can also do some distance!
Charl Neethling shares his experience of riding a fixed gear bicycle – proving that you don’t need gears, a freewheel or brakes to have fun and cycle some serious distance. Simple is Better.
“Track is back and it’s only going to get bigger”. Charl Neethling, reports on the exhilarating SA Track Cycling Champs held in March at the Bellville Velodrome, Cape Town.