Saturday, 10 October 2009

Fixed Wheeling around Jeziorki

My garage special was taken for a spin locally today. It is a singlespeed; this bike runs fixed wheel (Polish: ostre koło). There's no freewheel - if the bike's moving, your legs are turning with the wheels. You cannot coast*. Quite something. I lowered the saddle and let Eddie have a go. He was scared by the experience - it's unsettling at first.

Not a bike to take into heavy traffic without experience; it requires a long shake-down to get used to what you can - and can't do on it. It is light (9.5kg - no gear mechs or shifters, no rear brakes) therefore responsive. Once it gets going, the momentum propels you along. You become as one with the bike; to slow your cadence, you need to work against the wheel's motion. A front brake helps (riding brakeless is for the truly hardcore section of the fixie cycling community!). It's also a bike for these times, a counter-blast to the capitalist consumption model.

Fixed-wheel is cycling at its purest. It is addictive; after one ride, I had to go for another, and another, ignoring my expensive and well-featured Cannondale Caffeine. Man and machine in harmony with nature, rushing onwards with the wind. But as the road gently inclined, and the headwind strengthened, my right thumb instinctively reached for the shifter; it was not there. I simply had to pedal harder.

The simplicity of fixed-wheel is attractive in this age of 'features', 'convenience' and 'novelties' - all of which come at a price. (This bike was put together from bits lying around in the garage.) Since building it, I've been reading more, much more, about fixed-wheel cycling. From Beijing via Amsterdam to San Francisco (yes!), it's becoming a craze, a counter-culture hipster fad. Trendy bike manufacturers are cashing in, building bikes like this costing upwards of $1,000 that lack gears. BUT THIS IS NOT THE POINT. The point is making it yourself, making it from the clutter left over from a passed era of consumerist excess.

If you think about what a bicycle is, you marvel. If it's not moving, it falls over (unless it's propped up). A bicycle needs forward momentum to fulfil its destiny, without motion, it's lying on the floor. It was made to move. Without movement, it collapses. Unlike a car. (Hence, philosophically, a kickstand denies a bicycle its essential bicycleness.)

*You cannot coast. A useful metaphor for life.

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