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Monday, April 27, 2009

Fixed Gear Bicycles - I'm Too Square to be Hip

When riding on snow and ice, I prefer a mountain bike with gears and studded knobby tires. The rest of the time, however, my commuter bike is a fixed gear. When some people think of fixed gear bikes, they think of the track bikes favoured by lots of young trendy people in big cities. Bikes like this:

or this

The thing is that track bikes look dead cool, but they aren't particularly practical for carrying anything with you or staying dry, and many track frames are not drilled to accept brakes. Because you can stop a fixed gear bike with your legs, some people ride them brakeless, just as they are ridden on the track. I have no interest in blowing out my knees or learning the skip/skid stops commonly used by urban brakeless riders. Just so you understand what it is I'm not inclined (or skilled enough) to do, here are some examples:

Skip Stop

Skid Stop:

I can stop faster braking than I could skidding, and skidding eats up your tires. I use my legs to slow my bike down sometimes, of course, but my knees can't take much of those hard "backward" forces without complaining. So, I have a brake.

After some trial and error with pre-built bikes and some clumsy but educational experiments with building a fixed gear using an old road frame, I built up my current bike from scratch, gathering new or almost new parts from all over the place and taking my time. Everybody is different when it comes to what bike will suit them best. For getting around in the city quickly while still being able to carry stuff and ride in the rain (i.e. commute), this is my ideal bike.

It's many beautiful but un-hip features have been highlighted for the benefit of anyone who may mistakenly think that it is cool.

Rantwick's Bike

Fenders: Not cool, but right. Unused cable stops and guides: so much for the much touted "clean lines" of the fixie ideal; I saw no reasons other than BS ones to remove them. Over-researched panniers: well, they are panniers. Automatic un-cool points. Cheesy graphics: to be honest, if they hadn't been under the clearcoat, they would be long gone. Since they are under the clearcoat, I see no reason other than excessive vanity to remove them. Wheels: those are good, solid wheels. They lack sufficient colour and/or non-rimbrakeableness to be cool. If that big hyphenated made-up word confused you, you are normal, if a little un-hip. Rear rack: rack. enough said. Cantilever Brake: it's a brake on a fixie. To be fair, many fixed gear riders use a brake, just not the very hippest ones. By the way, it's not a break, it's a brake; that particular mistake, and its frequency in bike-related Internet stuff, bothers me quite a lot. Mud Flap: It's home-made, from a rubber stair tread for god's sake! Don't I at least have enough self-respect to buy a leather one for $40? Will the nerdiness never end? Well no, not yet...

What's the most un-cool? Knowing a word like kludge? Using it? Alliterating those K's? Using an old bicycle tube in two, no, wait... three distinct ways? The fact that it looks WAY nerdier with the camera (it was in use somewhere else at the time, I forget where) mounted on it? It doesn't really matter, does it? Special weirdo measures taken in order to mount a camera on your bike (thank God it's not my head/helmet) boil down to GEEK, full stop.

Stay Hip,


P.S. During my final read-over of this post, it occurred to me that this whole thing looks like a thinly-veiled excuse to to say, "hey, look at the bike I built! I am so very proud of myself!" Self-awareness blows. Add one more tick to the geek meter...


ChipSeal said...

Cool and practical bike. And who will toot your horn if you don't?

I really enjoy your blog! Tailwinds!

Rantwick said...

Thanks very much, for liking the bike AND the blog! I'm off to read yours now...


cafiend said...

Fantastic bike. Way better than some hipster's accessory which will be shed when the fad fades.

Rantwick said...

Fantastic bike? Wow, thanks. I know you ride fixed (sometimes) and I know you work in cycling and would have an eye for such things... thanks again!

Dogfart said...

Awesome bike! Thanks for the education on the fixed gear contraption. Sounds dangerously exciting, but too exciting for me.
Your passion for cycling should be commended, be proud of this bike it sounds like a tonne of hours went into the creation.
Ride Hard

Rantwick said...

Thanks, Dogfart!

Could you please change your name? I have trouble thanking a Dogfart...

Philip Williamson said...

Awesome. The best part was looking at your bike and saying "ew," then getting into it. Fixed, rack, fenders, brake. I think we must be hip.
I like your camera kludge, especially the hose clamp.

Rantwick said...

If it ain't got a hose clamp, it ain't got nuthin'! Thanks for stopping in; anybody who knows the truth about the Tax N' Spend Republicans is my kind of fendered hipster.

Tony said...

Great bike! I have been riding for a long time and was raised in a cycling family. What I don't understand is the snobs that come along with riding a bicycle. While I ride a fixed gear most of the time I own many other bikes. To me the "hipster" kids who turn their noses and gears are the same as the guys who only ride in spandex with carbon bikes and turn their noses at anything less. Thanks for letting me rant haha. Once again great bike and it looks fun and practical to ride.

RANTWICK said...


Thanks very much, and agreed on all points. Sorry I took so long to apporve you comment... no time for the blog lately, I'm afraid.

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