I have written in the past about a Southern Illinois rider who rides exclusively fixed gear bikes. I knew he raced track bikes at the Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis but what I didn’t know is that he had recently taken up fixed gear off road riding as well. When I first heard this I was sure that his off road rides were probably the rail trail or something completely tame, I just couldn’t comprehend riding a bike on real trails and being unable to freewheel.
When mountain biking the ability to stop pedaling is very important, often times you need to set your cranks horizontally or stop pedaling for just a second to avoid pedal striking big rocks and obstacles on the trail. Technical or fast downhills require control and balance which is much easier with the pedals horizontal. I just didn’t see how it would be possible to ride real off road trails and never stop pedaling.
I’m always keen to meet new riders and I was extremely curious to see if this fixed gear rider was for real so I invited him on a group ride. I found out just how for real he was. First off his bike had no brakes, his only way to stop the bike was through his direct connection to the rear wheel. Secondly he had a 16 tooth rear cog. Most single speed riders around here are on 20 or 19 tooth. I couldn’t believe that he was going to survive, if he could manage to keep that thing moving he would end up in a tree or something because he couldn’t stop.
Mr. Fixed Gear hung a SLR camera on a wide strap around his neck as we were about to disembark. I was like, “No way man, that camera is definitely not going to survive.” I found out it was not digital but shot 35mm film. I should note that Mr. Fixed Gear is 16 years old so I was surprised that he knew what 35mm film was. He bought that camera super cheap at thrift store and didn’t mind if it got destroyed. I took a photo for him later in the ride, it was the first time I’ve used a film camera in over 10 years and hearing the electric motors whir and click to fire the shutter and advance the film was nostalgic.
I started off leading the ride and kept things moving at a decent pace through the first couple of miles which are all downhill. Every now and again I’d check to see if the fixed was still there and it always was. At the first regoup spot I moved to the rear and things really took off when the fixed gear took the front, after a fast and furious downhill section, we did some climbing and I found myself being dropped by Luke and Mr. Fixed Gear.
Later in the ride I followed him down a fast and somewhat technical downhill, he was bunny hopping obstacles and locking up the rear wheel to slide it around corners, it was an impressive bit of riding, it would have been impressive on any bike but on the fixed gear it was doubly so. The amount of work that he was doing was even more impressive, controlling the bike and keeping speed in check downhill had to take an enormous amount of leg power.
I learned a valuable lesson from this ride, first riding a fixed gear mountain bike on trails is possible, but more importantly I learned I shouldn’t be dismissive of something or someone just because they don’t follow the norm.