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Mini-Tour on a Fixed Gear Bike

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Mini-Tour on a Fixed Gear Bike

Old 06-15-15, 05:43 PM
  #1  
habilis
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Mini-Tour on a Fixed Gear Bike

For those who wonder what fixed gear touring is like, I recently completed a 20 mile ride around New Jersey's Great Swamp on my FG bike. Certainly not an epic journey in terms of distance or hills, but long enough to give an impression of the sport.

The bike: In its present state, it's only two weeks old. I built it using an old frame and crank set plus new wheels. All bearings and races are either new or replaced, so the bike is mechanically "new." It has a 51T chain ring and 21T track cog, yielding about 64 gear-inches. The wheels are 700 x 23c with 110psi tires. It has only a front brake, which has proved more than adequate, even on a fairly steep descent.

The rider: I'm a 66 y.o. male, 5'10", 155 lbs., and ride about 20 miles per week, usually on a multi-geared bike. Since building the fixie, I've ridden it daily on a 4-mile commute. That has been my only FG experience until last Sunday.

The route and conditions: I carried nothing but a wallet, so I know nothing about loaded FG touring. The weather was spectacular - 70 degrees and sunny. The route may be familiar to some of you. It's a popular cycling venue described in several books about biking in NJ. I traveled the circuit counter-clockwise. The terrain is mostly flat with a few sections of rolling hills. The only steep stretch is a half-mile leading from Fairmount Avenue west along Southern Boulevard in Chatham Township. On this trip, I experienced it only as a descent. Some day I'll see if I can climb it without getting off the bike. (Climbing it on a multi-gear is tough for me but doable.)

Ride Impression: FG is definitely a little slower than geared, at least for me. Spinning isn't as fast on ascents, and you can't just let go and speed downhill. My average speed was 12-13 mph vs. 14-15 on a multi-gear, but I certainly wasn't trying for a "personal best." On flat terrain, the bike is as fast or faster than my geared bike, since the fixie is a bit lighter and has no drag from a derailler and pulleys. Most braking was with back-pressure on the pedals The only time I needed the front brake was the one serious downhill. (I do NOT advocate brakeless riding, even if you are a flat-lander!)

FG riding is very aerobic, but my knees/heart/lungs never felt over-taxed. Spinning on descents is actually relaxing and does allow you to recover from climbs. Some call it "pseudo-coasting."

Overall experience: Very pleasurable; I felt very unified with the bike. I've ridden a century and some half-centuries on geared bikes, and I would consider trying such rides on my fixie. I just wouldn't expect to finish as soon. I've never done loaded touring and don't know if I'd want to. I greatly admire those who do it - more so those who do it FG.

Recommendations: Get hold of a fixie and try it. Better yet, build one - it's not hard. My bike and I are still on our honeymoon, and maybe the novelty and enjoyment will wear off, but FG is way different from freewheeling. Everyone should at least experience it before making any assumptions pro or con.
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Old 06-15-15, 06:39 PM
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Having a fixed gear is fun but I wouldn't really want to do loaded touring unless maybe I could somehow rig up a Rohloff or Alfine 11 hub fixed (or some multi geared fixed hub that is not made by SunRace/Stumey Archer)

I would gladly do some light touring maybe more in the summer when I can carry less and might do some in the future.

20 miles isn't a whole lot but it is cool that you did it and hopefully you might take it farther. There are some folks in the FG/SS forum who regularly do 40+ miles and a few who have done some centuries. I am generally a shorter distance rider on my fixed but mainly because the ride isn't as nice as on my steel bikes and currently I am awaiting a new headset.

Downhill can be a bit scary especially the first few times but if you have good foot retention (I prefer clipless SPD pedals) and have decent legs and a good set of brakes (and pads), you can have a ton of fun going quite fast. You start getting more confident once your body and mind gets used to the whole thing.

Riding without brakes should be reserved only for an actual velodrome anywhere else it is stupid and will wear out knees, ankles and tires. As I have said before if you wouldn't skid your undies why would you skid your bike. However in minor disagreement I would suggest also having a rear brake especially touring and just general city riding. I like to slow down with my rear and then brake with the front.
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Old 06-15-15, 06:56 PM
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So you went 20 miles with no load? That's a ride, not a "mini tour."
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Old 06-15-15, 08:38 PM
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Originally Posted by seat_boy View Post
So you went 20 miles with no load? That's a ride, not a "mini tour."
Thanks for clarifying. How about "micro-mini"?
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Old 06-15-15, 09:26 PM
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Im 40 and rode fixed for longer than I should have. My knees are really messed up as a result. I would do 25 miles a day just commuting. I build a road bike about 3 years ago, and although Fixed gives you a great feeling of being connected to your bike, you can keep the outright panic when a chain breaks or when someone walks out in front of you and you have to decide (do I hurt this person or dump my bike and hurt myself). To each their own I guess. I have friends that ride 29er fixed with a Rohloff, but they also ride a disc front. Whoever said going downhill can be scary is totally right. Lose a pedal strap and have your pedals whip out of you feet and I promise you that you will reconsider your life at over 20 MPH.
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Old 06-15-15, 09:32 PM
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I get tired of say this, but I'm currently building up a touring bike (from a 90's TREK MTB). This is a tight-budget build, but will have good parts (I shop wisely).

Anyways, to buy time (as I save up for the gearing components) and to get it rolling sooner, I'm first converting it to a singlespeed (32Tx18T=same as my 29er).

I wanna try a few weekend tours with this setup. A lot of places I can ride to (in So Cal).
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Old 06-15-15, 09:50 PM
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Thats how mine started until I could save money for a groupset
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Old 06-16-15, 06:00 AM
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Originally Posted by apolloturner View Post
Im 40 and rode fixed for longer than I should have. My knees are really messed up as a result. I would do 25 miles a day just commuting. I build a road bike about 3 years ago, and although Fixed gives you a great feeling of being connected to your bike, you can keep the outright panic when a chain breaks or when someone walks out in front of you and you have to decide (do I hurt this person or dump my bike and hurt myself). To each their own I guess. I have friends that ride 29er fixed with a Rohloff, but they also ride a disc front. Whoever said going downhill can be scary is totally right. Lose a pedal strap and have your pedals whip out of you feet and I promise you that you will reconsider your life at over 20 MPH.
You obviously have far more FG experience than I have, but how is a descent on FG less controlled than on a geared bike, provided both have front AND rear brakes? (Your post has convinced me I should add a rear brake.) While commuting, I did have two minor "spin-outs" at sub-20 mph, which were indeed scary, but I attribute them to a lack of experience. They taught me to keep a lid on my downhill speed and concentrate on staying on the pedals at all costs.
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Old 06-16-15, 06:35 AM
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As mentioned, "tour" implies a series of day-long rides, usually with camping. But never mind the semantics... there's a forum for fixed gear bikes, but also plenty of discussion of fixed gear riding in the other forums, whether C&V, commuting, long distance riding, etc.

There are plenty of older guys riding fixed gear bikes long distances. On 200km, 300km and longer randonees, you will often see one or two guys on fixed gear. The longest rides I've done on fixed gear were not much over 100 miles. When I ride my fixed gear bike, my average speed is usually a bit faster than on a geared bike, just because I can't take it easy going up the hill. Gotta keep the speed up.
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Old 06-16-15, 06:45 AM
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Originally Posted by habilis View Post
taught me to keep a lid on my downhill speed and concentrate on staying on the pedals at all costs.
Riding FG on the road requires physical and mental adaption as well as a commitment to technique and proper/safe equipment, like a track style rear hub.
A rear as well as a front brake and proper foot retention are a must for any distance riding and avoiding hamster-in-wheel syndrome on descents.

Club riders have been doing distance on FG machines for over a century (no pun intended), take some cues from traditional British machine set-up for self supported rides to equip yours.


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Old 06-16-15, 08:20 AM
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@habilis, I've had my fixed gear bike for several years, but only started riding it regularly in the last two years when I started riding with an old friend riding a track bike he built in the 70's. I learned a great deal from watching his technique. Are you riding alone? If so, I'd strongly encourage finding someone else who rides a fixed gear bike, and see if you can tag along.
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Old 06-16-15, 09:35 AM
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Have a nice trip , ride what you like, carry your stuff somehow..

Personally, I like to coast down hills rather than have to keep up with my pedals racing ahead of me..

But people toured the globe on High wheel 'Ordinary' /'penny farthing' bikes in the 18th century.
then on the newfangled 'Safety bike' with 2 wheels of the same size.

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Old 06-16-15, 09:36 AM
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Originally Posted by apolloturner View Post
Thats how mine started until I could save money for a groupset
Nice bike. What brand/model/year?
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Old 06-16-15, 09:55 AM
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1989 Specialized Rock Combo. Stripped and powdercoated Blue. New Disc Tab fork and Avid disc front. All Sram X4 Groupset now save the front D and crankset. Crank is oval Biopace and Front D is a newer Shimano Claris (clamp fit my seat tube diameter better than a SRAM). It now has Trekking bars, Minoura Front rack, and ORtlieb City panniers.
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Old 06-16-15, 10:37 AM
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Originally Posted by habilis View Post
You obviously have far more FG experience than I have, but how is a descent on FG less controlled than on a geared bike, provided both have front AND rear brakes? (Your post has convinced me I should add a rear brake.) While commuting, I did have two minor "spin-outs" at sub-20 mph, which were indeed scary, but I attribute them to a lack of experience. They taught me to keep a lid on my downhill speed and concentrate on staying on the pedals at all costs.

I suggest 46/16 gear ratio and spend a LOT of money on some good pedals and straps. I ran mountain pedals and BMX straps. 165 crank length, and Get yourself a good chainwhip and lockring tool. I had to retighten my lockring and cog once a week at least. If you dont, you will strip the hub and have to buy a new wheel or hub and have it re-laced.
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Old 06-16-15, 10:48 AM
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I told my son when he started cyclocross racing on a single speed, " riding a single speed is like doing 18 holes of golf with only a 9 iron; you might have a chance of having the right club at least once during the day."

However, not being a golfer and not riding a single speed since I was 11 years old, what the heck do I know
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Old 06-16-15, 10:58 AM
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The Great Swamp. Headwaters of the Passaic River. Lord Sterling Park. Raptor sanctuary. 650 year old oak tree in Basking Ridge. Ride through it every year during a New Hope, PA to Brooklyn, NY ride.
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Old 06-16-15, 11:05 AM
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Originally Posted by rhm View Post
As mentioned, "tour" implies a series of day-long rides, usually with camping. But never mind the semantics... there's a forum for fixed gear bikes, but also plenty of discussion of fixed gear riding in the other forums, whether C&V, commuting, long distance riding, etc.
Now I REALLY feel like a noob! When I originally scanned down the list of forums, I looked for fixed gear in alphabetical order and, of course didn't find it. Now I see the SS/FG forum and a non-alphabetically listed FG forum. My bad, and I apologize for the misplaced thread. Nevertheless, I've benefited from everyone's responses and helpful information. Thank you, and thanks for your patience! -Habilis
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Old 06-16-15, 06:16 PM
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I rode 21 consecutive 100+ miles days earlier this year fixed gear, 52x17. Does that qualify. Last year I rode a 5200 miles bike trip single speed 53x19 and was going to do this year trip that I'm about to leave for...fixed gear. I ended up getting a new bike, rather unplanned on and I was going to build another vertical dropout to track end dropout for the bike but I've run out of time and I'm interested in trying out several different concepts so I' just going to stick with the 9 speed. It's going to be strange traveling with a multigear bike this time around. Each of the three yearly trips thus far has been pretty much single speed. Nothing wrong with riding fixed gear, even on a bike tour. Just learn to choose your gear wisely, both cog gear and camping gear. Keep the weight low and make sure you have chosen a decent gear for the terrain you are going to be riding.
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Old 06-17-15, 04:48 AM
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I thought of building a fixie a few times. If I lived in town I'd do it.
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