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why ride fixed?

August 1, 2016

There's this moment that happens on a fixed gear bike. You're motoring along at pace and suddenly you feel it. It's subtle, at first, and you're unsure of what it is, but It's there, deep in your legs, in your bones and muscles, winding its way to the pit of your stomach. 

Until you've experienced it, it's only natural and perfectly understadable to ask, "Why ride fixed?"

My involvement with bikes is less of a hobby and more of a love affair with the fabricated history of a sport born from suffering and words. When I first decided to start riding a bike in my adult life, I purchased a Bobbin Birdie because they looked great, had 3 speeds and rode fantastically. Like the majority of people who make the change, I soon found myself zipping around town to wherever I needed to go on my two new hot wheels. I got more interested in biking and purchased a carbon road bike to start riding in my spare time a bit more seriously. And then it happened. I'm still not sure how, but I started reading about the history of the bicycle, the history of cycling, the different personalities, the different feuds. I became hooked.

I, someone for whom sports has never even been in the periphery for the entirety of my life, became hooked because this sport was something altogether different: for the rider, cycling is suffering, learning how to handle pain, learning how to endure. It is a test of will, of mental ferociousness, of absolute, unwavering dedication to fight against the limits of the body and to sustain yourself purely through drive. But there's another side to cycling, one which attracted me just as much as the first: it is a sport that was born and lived on paper and fading ink. Despite the audiences that gathered for the first bike races and those that followed, cycling caught the imagination of the people as they read about it in various newspapers or trade magazines. Places where reporters given to flowery descriptions and purple prose wrote about the races and the riders in such a way they they metamorphosed into legends, mythical creatures battling mythical foes and vanquishing and being vanquished. There was a sense that these riders, many of whom had come from poor beginnings, had transcended their origin and become heroes. Imagine being a farmer reading about René Pottier, the first rider to climb the Ballon d'Alsace, the first mountain introduced in the 1905 Tour de France, without dismounting. These were the feats that engulfed the imagination of ordinary people with passion, tension, admiration, rivalry and drama as captivating as that on a stage bloodied by Shakespearian hand.  Here's an excerpt from Henri Desgrange, the first organizer of the Tour de France, describing the riders of the Paris-Brest-Paris:

"There are four of them. Their legs, like giant levers, will power onwards for sixty hours, their muscles will grind up the kilometres, their broad chests will heave with the effort of the struggle, their hands will cling on to their handlebars; with their eyes they will observe each other ferociously; their backs will bend forward in unison for barbaric breakaways; their stomachs will fight against hunger, their brains against sleep. And at night a peasant waiting for them by a deserted road will see four demons passing by, and the noise of their desperate panting will freeze his heart and fill it with terror."

You could say I love the history of cycling because of some misguided sense of romantic nostalgia, but, truthfully, romanticism is part of the DNA of cycling, just as important as the bicycles, the routes and the riders themselves. 

And so I decided to pay homage to that history by building a fixed gear bicycle. It was an odd sensation, at first, riding a fixed gear bike, but I came to enjoy it more and more. As the indecisive weather abruptly warmed, I went on longer and longer rides and then, one day, halfway between Toronto and St. Catherines, I felt it.

That moment.

Your legs, like giant levers, push and pull on the pedals and they, in turn, as if they were a date with whom conversation flows like French wine, respond, lifting and pushing you forward, complementing and completing the efforts your muscles make. You feel the hubs of the wheels turning at the perfect speed as if they wanted to carry you forward, as if they they were a living thing whose only desire was to keep rolling and not stop. You breathe in time with the turning of the pedals, the scenery passing by becoming a hypnotic rhythm, like the drum beaten by a galley slave to vulcanize a hundred oarsmen's efforts into synchronicity. Your stomach contracts and expands with each breath and you can feel the suppleness in your arms holding the handlebars like you were holding a lover's hands, gently guiding them to the left or right on a stroll to avoid puddles or potholes. The frame is not merely a perch from which to make the efforts of the day: it becomes part of your senses, giving you information about the road below you, connecting you, by way of the direct drive, to the pavement in a way that bicycles that coast cannot. You push the bike as much as it is pushing you. In that moment, you are no longer a bike rider on a bike. In that moment.....

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