Reflections on a fixed SR.
My fixie is a bit of a pig bike. I rescued it from a Cash Convertors for less than £100. It was covered in black tape and even then the model was five years old, and that was five years ago now.
It’s a very plain bike made of good old 4130 tubing. It has frame rust. I can’t undo the bottom bracket so it’s not had a bearing change downstairs for five years. I have had to put a new set of wheels on it, the back a generic heavy Halo wheel and the front a heavy shimano hub dynamo wheel. It has a Brooks and a rack.
Really, it is not light.
Somewhere back in the safe depths of winter I had decided a fixed SR would be a good way to build some strength, and as this was my third round of the Essex SR, introduce a bit of an alternative challenge.
My previous best on fixed was a 200 late 2015 which I knocked off pretty smartly, giving me the feeling that I might be ready for this challenge.
The first 300 was a bit of a shock. Not the uphills, the downs. They caught me out big time and I also learnt a whole new vocabulary for sore bottoms. Prior to this ride I had never really had any significant issues down there but having to turn the cranks all the time without any relief was, errrr, challenging. The ‘problem’ on this ride was keeping up with the very experienced Tomsk on the downs. He was riding a slightly smaller gear but was so much more fluid that I was having to really push my cadence to keep up with him and consequently had some unpleasant spells of fatigue bought about by the continual need to pedal – no respite from turning the cranks means that you are always ‘on’.
The following 400 I was more able to keep my own pace and fared better. The hills at the end were a challenge (were always going to be) and I walked one, but aside from that I finished well with a nice time and felt strong. The secret was not trying to keep up with anyone going downhill!
The third ride, Hareward at 300, was again a strain but this was because I was trying to keep up with geared friends and kept having to push myself to keep up after a downhill – I was also over geared and not very well rested, so found this ride a bit of a trial, though the last couple of hours felt better.
The final 600 is detailed here. Overall this was a good ride but I really suffered from sitting down for such a long time. I recovered in the legs pretty quickly from this ride (2 days and I was bonny again) but my bum… ouch. Also the only ride ever that resulted in a small spell of ‘male problems’ (now thankfully resolved).
So overall what did I think of it? Well I wish I had a lighter bike, or lighter wheels at least. It’s a chore to push this bike along. When I jump onto my geared bike it really feels easy. Its hard to tell how much of this is the lighter bike and how much is extra form gained riding those long rides fixed.
I think this is because fixed riding is such a good workout. It’s not just the always peddling, it’s the fact that during a long ride you will inevitably do both overspeed and underspeed work. By that I mean very fast cadence, light load spinning downhill and then grinding up climbs in too high a gear. Both these are good strengthening workouts, but they also train you in specific ways. Overspeed helps with technique and the very fast RPMs help train you to utilise muscles in a broader range. Underspeed, the grinding, is an obvious way to build strength.
In terms of average speeds on the road my fixed rides were generally a little faster than my geared rides the year before, between half and one kph faster. That’s not enough of a difference to ascribe to the fixed, it may have simply been that I am fitter this year, but there is a kind of relentless pacing to a fixed – you have to ride it at a certain pace or it just hurts. On geared bikes you often slow down at the top of a hill, just a few seconds while you wait for gravity to give you a shove in the back. On fixed you are already 10, 20 or 50 yards down the road at that point – there is no easing off moment.
And what about the feeling of riding fixed all that way?
Riding fixed is always a nice experience but on the first ride it really pissed me off towards the end that I couldn’t rest and free wheel – I ached to free wheel, but it cannot happen. That feeling, where you feel like the hamster on a wheel, is unpleasant. But out of the 1500km of the SR I had that feeling for maybe 50k. All the rest of the time it was bloody marvellous.
One final thing, you never worry about what gear you are in.
Postscript. For the first time in my riding life I have knee problems late this year. Some people will say ‘duh’ but I suspect it was more about getting the seat height right on my new Datum than riding fixed, but fixed can’t of helped. Something to be aware of that’s for sure. If you’re thinking about fixed ride it everyday to work for a while and see how your knees are – for some people it’s just not going to work and you want to find that out well before you’re half way around a 400!