Tuesday, August 11, 2009

First on Fixie - I Didn't Die

When I did the single-speed conversion on the Schwinn Le Tour II, I was left with a rear hub that has mysterious threads on the non-drive side. "So this is a flip-flop hub," I thought.

Curiosity got the best of me today when I went to the bike shop and got a Surly 17 tooth track cog and lock ring. Let's try fixie!

Fixie, or fixed gear, is when there is no freewheel or freehub allowing the rear wheel to coast when not pedaling. If the wheel is turning, so is the chain, and so are the cranks, and so are your feet. A flip-flop hub allows a regular freewheel cog on one side and a fixed cog on the other. By taking off the wheel and flipping it around, one is able to ride either single-speed (with coasting) or fixed gear (with no coasting).

Mike at the Re-Cycle bike shop was kind enough to let me use his work stand and tools to put it on. The cog was too thick for the multi-speed chain I was using, so I also had to throw on a beefy, silver single-speed chain.

Having never even sat on a fixed gear bike, I didn't dare try to ride home in this configuration. So I flippity-flopped the wheel back to single-speed and rode home normally.

Once home, I grabbed the wrench and flipped around the wheel and tightened up the chain and took it for a spin. Actually, the bike took me for a spin. I had trouble just getting out of the driveway. I live at the top of a pretty steep hill. I was riding both brakes at a slow crawl all the way down the hill.

My plan was to ride down to a nearby parking lot and just get the hang of the track bike style pedaling. The first parking was being resurfaced, so I rode neighborhood streets to a shopping center and practiced a while there. What pitiful track standing I had learned to do on my single-speed didn't seem to help much on the fixie. No longer able to ratchet the cranks to keep my best foot forward, I was all over the place, backward and forward, and thowing a foot out constantly. At one point I fell over when I couldn't get my foot out quick enough. Embarrasing, but expected. Standing for only a few seconds was the best I could do. Maybe some practice will help.

Finally I felt comfortable enough to try some back streets. I rode around a couple of blocks, ascending and descending hills. I was completely unaware of how the whole back-pressure on the pedals would feel. Once or twice I went to wipe sweat or shift in the saddle and forgot that I couldn't brace myself on one leg for a moment. Gotta keep pedaling!

Want to stop? Gotta keep pedaling!

Want to slow down? Back pressure, but keep pedaling! I felt no shame applying both front and rear brakes.

The 17t cog was a little steeper than the 18t that I've been riding, but it felt kind of aggressive and snappy. I zipped up the hill to my house a little more quickly.

I doubt I will try this configuration when riding the streets on my commute. It just makes me too nervous. The real fun will begin when I get to a trail or lonely road, flip the wheel around, and see what happens on a nice, long flat.

Even if I don't ride the fixed cog often, the thick silver chain looks a little sharper than the previous chain I had on.


Steve said...

Pretty sweet Mr. Redd. The secret to a good fixed track stand is to get comfortable moving the bike backwards about a quarter of a pedal rotation. Also, as you noticed, going up hills might be the best part of fixed gear riding since those always-moving crank arms pull right through the dead spots in the pedaling. Anyway, I hope you enjoy your future experiments on that nice red bike.

brady said...

Look at that gnarly chain. Grrrrrr!

Man, you've come a long way in one year. I'd bet you didn't imagine owning a fixed gear bicycle so soon (if ever?) when you walked into the Trek Store last July.


Scott Redd said...

Thanks, Steve. I will need to practice some more, that's for sure. Yeah, again, today, I'm totally amazed at how well it gets up hills. Going downhills? Still scares me. :)

Brady: You might not want to park Old Yeller so close to the Schwinn. My chain might try to take a chunk out of your frame. Grrr!

When Mike brought out the single speed chain, necessary because the multi-speed chain simply wouldn't fit over the track cog, I literally said, "That looks like a motorcycle chain!"

I still don't fancy myself a fixie aficionado, but the investment to try it out was minimal. I can't say I'd commute like that, but on the trail, it's a totally different kind of ride. I'll post on that later.