Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fixed-gears need brakes

So I was riding my fixed-gear bike to work the other day. While going over the new horrible series of bumps on Crescent St. as you approach the bridge, my chain came off. It’s never happened before. And it wasn’t a big deal, because I have a hand brake on my fixed-gear bike. So I stopped and put it back on. Chains on one-speeds aren’t supposed to come off. They can’t come off if you’re paying attention and make sure it’s not too loose. But mine was too loose (how often do you check your chain tension?). There’s a belief that true fixed-gears don’t need hand brakes because your feet do it all. 999 times out of 1,000, that’s fine. But that’s not good enough. All I’m saying is don’t ride a bike without a back-up brake.


TM said...

I tried this recently in London, and although it looks cool it wasn't. I've never worried about cycling so much in my life, it took all the fun out of it!

Tony, UK

Lawrence, Astoria NY said...

Sage words...

PCM said...

Did you try a fixed-gear or a fixed gear without brakes? Sounds like the latter.

For those who are thinking about trying any fixed-gear bike, you should. Fixed-gears do have purpose in the biking world. I wrote about them in this post. For instance, nothing beats a fixed-gear for maneuvering around cars as you approach a red light. Two caveats: you can’t ride a fixed gear with flat peddles and street shoes. And don’t ride a fixed-gear because you think it’s cool. If any more people do that, it won’t be cool any more!

It’s true you actually have to learn a little bit how to ride a bike again. It does take a few days to get used to. But if you stick with it, it is kind of fun, and you learn to be a better and safer bike rider overall.

I think the best thing fixed-gears have done for urban biking is promote the use of fast and light (non-fixed-gear) one-speed bikes in the city. I have a bit of a confession: I’m thinking of building a new wheel for my fixed-gear bike around a standard one-speed free-wheel hub. I hate the idea of de-converting a custom built fixed gear (I’ve had this bike for almost 10 years). But I feel this urge to have a fast light one-speed bike. Of course, without the fixed gear, the bike would be *less* safe unless I put in a rear hand brake.

With two rear-wheels, the bike will at least be fixed-gear ready. I’m curious to learn if the advantage of a fixed gear is the fixed gear, or just in having a light one-speed bike. Will it be harder to go uphill if I can coast? I don’t know. I’d like to. But mostly, when I ride the fixed-gear, I miss the joy of coasting downhill on the Queensburo Bridge.

John Allison said...

I came across your fine blog while looking for info about chain guards (I second your thoughts on chain guards and fenders and I am puzzled that many bikes marketed as "commuter bikes" do not have them but pleased that more are getting them). Anyway -- I am an editor at a newspaper in Pittsburgh, and my section just published a splendid essay, "The Limberness of the Fixed-Gear Mind" by Jeff Guerrero of Urban Velo magazine -- you may find it on; search on Jeff's name. Best, John Allison,

Alex said...

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