My Fixed-Gear Experience

A few days ago I decided to take the plunge and try fixed-gear riding.

My daughter gave me a book for Christmas on improving your brain power; they call it Neurobics, exercises for the brain.  New research indicates that doing new things, unfamiliar things, produces new connections between the neurons and synapses and refreshes the brain. Riding with the wheel flipped around to the fixed gear side was a totally new and disorienting experience, like the first time I put on skis.

Starting and stopping are the hard part–maybe you’ve seen a cyclist at a stop light trying to balance on the pedals without stopping completely–chances are it was a fixed-gear bike. Once one gets rolling, it’s easy.  The direct connection between the wheel and the pedals results in a flywheel effect; the wheels keep the pedals moving and the pedals keep your feet moving as much as your feet move the pedals.  This effect makes pushing the higher gear easier than I expected, and the whole experience was smooth–until I inadvertently tried to revert to the habit of coasting; then the pedals gave me ajolt to remind me that things had changed.

I rode three or four miles out of town on the Scenic Mill Creek Road toward Alta Vista, enjoying the rolling hills.  One hill was a fairly long climb and a bit steep.  That’s ok, I thought, it will be downhill on the way back. A few minutes later I had turned around and was enjoying going down the same hill, with the pedals moving my feet in rapid circles.  I was doing fine until I hit some rough spots in the road.

From mountain bike riding I have developed the habit of rising slightly and briefly coasting over bumps and obstacles–did I say coasting?

My grandson Elijah loves to ride his sister’s big-wheel tricycle down the hill in his backyard.  On a tricycle, you remember, the pedals are connected directly to the wheels, so–no coasting is possible.  When the wheels get to turning faster than his feet can move, he lifts his legs in the air. When I hit the bump in the road and unconsciously tried to stop pedaling (ever so briefly) the pedals didn’t cooperate.  They bumped my feet off the pedals and up in the air.

Then the problem was, how to get my feet back on the furiously spinning pedals?  The answer of course was to keep my legs splayed out until I passed the bottom of the hill and began rolling up the next one until gravity did its work and brought me to a stop.  The only problem was I had planned to use momentum to help me get up that hill.  I had to get off and push instead. But as strange as the whole experience was, it is growing on me.

On MLK day, I celebrated by revisiting the same road.  I actually went a bit farther this time, about seven and a half miles out, past the Sunny Slope School House before turning around.  When I reached the bumpy patches, this time I kept my feet on the pedals and made it up the other side of the hill without having to get off and walk.

3 Responses

  1. My first bike was fixed gear. I was happy to move into a bike where I could coast without keeping my legs up or in motion.

    On the topic of hills, I have had many a experience where I would bike on a road normally driven and think to myself “wow, I had no idea that there was a hill here!”

    Have fun and safe travels!

  2. I love the picture! Did Sonja take it? I forgot about the experience of pedals going faster your feet can handle…loved the descriptions. The fixed gear experience sounds way more fulfilling than a spinning class….

  3. Baiba, yes Sonja took the picture; I think she did a great job.
    Riding a bike really does change how you view the terrain and landscape. Kansas is not nearly so flat as many people think.

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