Why I’m riding fixed

Not all trendy things are worthy of scorn. Some things are hot because they’re simply good. Think microbrews, Arabica coffee and Amazon Prime.

Reading about fixies in cycling forums and contemptuous blog posts you may be tempted to disregard the phenomenon as a poser, hipster thing. You might even avoid owning one because people might think you’re trying too hard. After riding one for a few weeks, I say hogwash.

I bought a fixie (a Wabi Classic) as a backup bike to get me to work when my Surly Crosscheck is on the mechanic’s stand. I wanted something cheap(ish), different, but high quality, and the Wabi fit the bill. Turns out I now rarely ride my Surly (though I still appreciate it as a more utilitarian bike). I even got the Wabi with a flip-flop hub, which means there’s a freewheel on the (current) non-drive side of the wheel. However, I haven’t flipped the wheel once. I love fixed riding that much.

The clichés about fixed gear riding are true, at least for me. I do feel more of a connection to the road than I do on a geared bike. It feels like a manual transmission on a flowing country road, except unlike a manual, it’s fun even in traffic. Backpeddling to slow down instead of using the brakes adds to the feeling. You internalize each turn and each change in grade when you have a direct connection to the drive-train. I realized that it’s one of the reasons I’ve preferred unicycling to biking all these years.

The Wabi is way lighter and responsive than my Surly and because I didn’t pay for gearing, I got a higher quality frame and wheel-set for the money. That being said, not all fixed-gear bike models/makers are equal. There’s a lot of junk out there with flashy paint-jobs. Kind of like putting lipstick on a pig…

The Wabi is an exceptional machine without gimmicks. It’s a fixie for someone who appreciates quality and functionality over image. It’s simply the straightest tracking, best fitting, lightest, most responsive, fun bike I’ve ever ridden. Add to the package the exceptional customer-service Richard Snook, the owner, provides. His over-the-phone fitting was spot-on, and he spoke to me about the bike for as long as I wanted, providing after-the-sale advice and feedback that you’d never get without spending thousands more.

It’s also true, that I get a better workout than I do on my geared bike. Richard picked out the perfect gear ratio for Maryland’s terrain and my style of riding. From Richard in an email to me:

The default setup is a 46/18 combo. [This] yields a 69 gear inch (the same as a unicycle/kid’s trike having a wheel 69” in diameter). For each crank rev, the bike will travel 69 x pi inches.

This makes it reasonable to go up practically any hill while not spinning out of control on downhills. I find that I arrive to and from work about five to ten minutes faster than on my Surly. That has to do with both the lighter weight of the Wabi, and the fact that I’m forced to stand up and crank up hills, whereas on the Surly I rely on lower gears to get me up the hills. It’s quite a workout, but definitely reasonable for someone in decent shape. Remember, though, that I also commonly ride a 36” unicycle with 127mm cranks up those same hills, so I’m used to standing up and cranking in high gear.

The only thing I added to the bike was a pair of high quality platform/SPD Shimano pedals. I strongly advise riding clipless because when riding fixed a lot of your control comes from the connection between your legs and the cranks. You don’t want to lose that connection unless you intend to. I also added a clip-on rear fender which has worked out well.

If you’re a bit older like me (forty-two), you may worry about your knees riding in high gear up hills. I find that mine are not bothering me. That said, seat height can play a big role in knee comfort. I can’t explain it, but there is a peddling technique that I employ which seems to lessen knee-stress. I guess I’m used to mechanically micro-adjusting from unicycling and barefoot running.

If you’re looking for a new way to reinvigorate your cycling, you’re in pretty good shape, and you don’t mind being accused of posing as a hipster, I’d strongly suggest picking up a fixie. If you appreciate high quality machines sans gimmicks and you like dealing with businesses that actually care about their products and customers, I highly recommend a Wabi bicycle. I’m having fun again on two wheels.

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