I have been ragging a bit as of late on Fixie Fever. To be honest, as long as you have a working front brake on your fixie and use it, I guess I can't get too negative. Riding a bike of any variety is way better than trying to wipe out your enemy on Halo 3.
This past weekend I did observe one notable benefit to Fixie Fever. It occurred on a bike ride in the San Francisco Bay Area. Compared to the rest of the country we have really mild weather in Northern California. You can pretty much cycle here year round which is why a lot of pros live and train here. But, every once and a while the weather does turn cold. Those of you living in the northeast, don't get out your violins just yet, if the weather is in the 40'sF we consider it downright frigid.
So, my friend Lindsay and I were headed out for a longer ride (90 miles for me) on Saturday when we hooked up with three-time Olympian and current Bissell Professional Cycling Team director Eric Wohlberg. Our mutual friend Yukie tagged along as well. The fifth member of our group was Vincent Juarez, who is a senior at Piedmont Hills High School.
Vincent is finishing up his first year as a bike racer. He won a bronze medal at the US National Track Championships and was top three in a number of road races in the always competitive NorCal cycling scene. Vince will the the first to tell you that he is not considered a climber. Well, not yet. His best performances this year were in flatter races and he really enjoys riding on the track.
Vince hung tough on a cold, NorCal day that included a lot of ups and downs for a total of 6000' of elevation gain. I never once heard him complain even though he was clearly out of his element. And better yet, he seemed really excited to be racing his bike. That's a very encouraging sign.
So, what does this all have to do with Fixie Fever. Well, it appears that Vincent was first attracted to riding a bicycle by getting a fixie to knock around the neighborhood. The fixie riding on the road led to riding a fixed gear bike on the track and ultimately to riding a geared bike on the road. Hopefully, this is a path that more young male and female riders will follow in the future. I was going to say every cloud has a silver lining, but I didn't.
Fixie Fever has descended on an urban center near you. In places like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boulder fixed gear bikes are all the rage and the latest craze for all those who are trying to be non-conforming.
For those either into simplicity or with poor mechanical skills, I can understand the lure of a bike with only one gear and no shifters or derailleurs. The single speed craze descended on the mountain bike scene about eight years ago and was met with a similar response.
There is something to be said for not having to bother with making decisions when you are out riding your bike. Unfortunately, as a cyclist in a world full of 3000 pound cars, tuning out is a very dodgy proposition. So, even if you are riding a fixie, please don't tune out the world around you. That is a very quick way to get hurt.
And speaking of safety, one of the "trendy" (read "peer pressure") aspects of fixie riding is to ride without brakes. Yeah, you can skid to a stop if you are very skilled and the terrain is amenable, but for most fixie riders and the terrain where they live, at least a front rim brake is a very good idea.
If you look back a bit in the history of fixed gear riding, it was popularized by bike racers during the off season as they looked to improve their pedaling motion. Yes, the best bike racers in the world were the first fixie riders and they always rode with at least a front rim brake. Why then, has it become so "trendy" (read "peer pressure") for fixie riders to ride without brakes?
I don't really know, but what I do know is the increasing number of reports from my biking friends in urban areas of near misses by cars of fixie riders who were unable to stop their bikes effectively and came close to being hit by cars who had the right of way, most notably at intersections.
Yeah, it might be perceived by some to be cool to ride a fixie, but please do it responsibly. The life you save may be your own.