Most people probably associate fixed gear bikes with either cycle couriers or hipsters, but they go back way further than that. I remember mentioning my brother’s Bob Jackson fixie to my grandfather, who said “well when I was a boy, every bike had a fixed wheel”. Freewheels were developed in the early 20th century, but were initially exclusive to dedicated cycle tourists. Fixed wheels are still used for racing on the track, and were traditionally used for winter training by road cyclists.
My Fixed winter trainer
In the new year, following a couple of months off, cyclists would get out their track frame or put a fixed wheel on a road bike, and start the season by training with a fixed gear. There are several claimed benefits. Spinning a lowish gear on the flat encourages a fast, smooth pedaling style. The fixed wheel ensures that power is applied through the full cycle of the stroke, engaging muscles that might not otherwise be engaged (and the opposing muscles when slowing down). The high cadence also means that the cardiovascular system is working hard without straining the leg muscles too much, and the body is kept warm by the constant movement. A final benefit is that the fixed wheel allows a degree of ‘traction control’, valuable on wet or icy roads. Coaches of the day suggested riding fixed wheel through January and into February, when gears were once again permitted.
‘Suicide’ freewheel hub conversion
I might be a few years behind the trend, but I thought I’d give fixed gear training a go. I’ve built my Townsend beater road frame up with an old 27″ wheel converted to fixed. Although the rear ends are conventional horizontal road ends, rather than track ends, this is in no way problematic. The hub is a conventional freewheel hub, with the track sprocket secured by a bottom bracket cup lockring. True fixed hubs have two threads, one for the sprocket, the other for a left handed thread lockring, which ensures that the cog does not unscrew when back pedaling. Using the bb lockring conversion, sometimes referred to as a ‘suicide hub’, there is a risk that the sprocket and lockring loosening (when stopping, for example!). To avoid this risk, I will be using both front and rear brakes, although it should be noted that the cog unscrewing is not the only potentially dangerous element of fixed riding (see Sheldon Brown’s section on fixed conversions for more information.)
Brooks Professional saddle
My fixed bike will also serve as a testbed of the handlebar, stem and saddle I’ve set aside for my vintage Coppi build. I want to make sure the Cinelli bar and stem, and Brooks saddle are right for me and correctly set up when I hopefully finish the project this summer. Because of the hilly area where I live, I’ve set the bike up with a very low 36×16 gear (these also happened to be the bits I had lying around).
Cinelli ’64’ Giro d’Italia and 1R stem
I took the bike out for a mid week shakedown, and I must admit it took a little getting used to. Rather than start on the road, I went to a local park to get the hang of things somewhere the worst thing I could do is fall off in front of a group of kids! I didn’t tumble, although I had a couple of hairy moments. After 20 minutes of so, including a quick stop home to make some adjustments, I was happy to go out on the open road. I started to enjoy it pretty quickly, getting into a good rhythm. Although it was a short ride, I can already see the potential benefits. It felt like more of a workout than if I had been on my road bike, and the next day I ached in some new places!