09.28.2005 | 9:07 pm

As I should have expected, less than 20 minutes after I put up yesterday’s tantrum of a post, I got a call from the bike shop. My Bianchi Pista had arrived, had been built, and was ready to ride.

I tell you, it’s not easy to keep working when you know you’ve got a new bike waiting for you.

After work (yeah, I finished the day), I suited up and biked over to Sammamish Valley Cycle. I figured I’d leave the road bike at the shop, and ride the track bike home.

(A quick aside to readers who don’t know what a track bike is: A track bike is a very minimalistic road bike, designed specifically for racing on a velodrome. It doesn’t have gears you can shift, it doesn’t have brakes, and you can’t coast.)

The bike shop had done a bang-up job on getting my bike ready. They had remembered what kind of pedals I wanted and had put them on. They had remembered that I wanted a front brake added so I could ride hills and city roads even before I got good at stopping via backpedaling. They had remembered that I wanted the lever on the left side.


First Rides

Let me be perfectly clear: to this point, I had never ridden a fixed gear bike in my life. So maybe biking home (about 10 miles, the first 3 or so through city traffic) as the first spin on my track bike wasn’t that brilliant of an idea.

That said, here are my initial observations on riding a fixed-gear bike:

  • Getting started: One thing I hadn’t thought about at all turned out to be probably the single biggest difference between fixed-gear and freehub riding: starting. You can’t spin the pedal back to your favorite click-in position (unless you lift the rear wheel). And if you click in at the bottom with your first foot, it’s tough to get any momentum off the line because that foot’s in a dead spot. I can see why learning to trackstand is going to stop being a "would like to know" and will become a "need to know."
  • No breaks: I had never realized how often I—without thinking—stop pedaling for a few seconds when on a ride. The fixed gear bike reminds you forcibly that you don’t get to do this anymore. If the rear wheel’s turning, so are the cranks.
  • No brakes: I thought that learning to use backward force with my legs to slow and stop would be awkward, but it came pretty naturally. Even after just a couple rides, I am using my brake only on steep downhills or when I come to an unexpected stop (a light changing).
  • Always in the drops: On a regular road bike, I keep my hands on the hoods about 75% of the time. On a track bike, riding in the drops seems to be the only comfortable position.
  • No urge to shift: On a regular road bike, I am shifting almost constantly. I was worried that I’d always be reaching to shift gears that aren’t there on the fixed gear bike. I don’t know why, but the habit hasn’t transferred.
  • Quiet: Without the cables, derailleurs, and varying line on the chain, this $500 bike is the quietest bike I’ve ever owned.
  • I am not a seat snob. I have gone out of my way to keep this bike inexpensive. I went with the cheapest version of Speedplay pedals you can get, and I didn’t upgrade anything else on the bike. But I nearly bought a different saddle, because I am so used to a certain saddle make and model, I didn’t think I could ride anything else. I resisted, though, and went with the saddle the bike came with. And you know what? It’s just fine. It makes me think I need to reconsider a bunch of my "knowledge" gained from my expensive bike snob days.
  • Hard climbs are harder: By the time I got to Inglewood Hill—a 12% grade climb—on my ride home from the bike shop—I was feeling comfortable. I had planned to skip that hill and go up one of the longer-but-less-steep routes, and turned onto Inglewood Hill. I had to stand up for the entire thing, and at one point thought I could no longer turn the cranks—I very nearly stalled. But I made it. It worked my quads, biceps and triceps in a way they haven’t been worked in years. I can tell that this bike is going to be good for me.
  • Flats are smoother: On a flat, wide-open road, the fixed gear bike enforces a smooth cadence. I got into the "biker’s rhythm"—and stayed there—more easily than usual.
  • Track bikes are good on the track: On the way in to work, I stopped by the Velodrome (I can’t get over how cool it is that I have a public-access velodrome that is literally on the way to work) and did a few laps. I can tell that I’m very slow right now, and felt like I had my heart rate pegged well before I had the cranks spun out. The "I must be going slow" feeling was reinforced by the way I didn’t really feel like I needed all the banking provided in the corners. I think I can look forward to a season of being beaten badly and consistently on the track next year. Still, the bike felt really good on the track.
  • My legs are cooked today: I rode the fixed gear bike to work today, too. As part of my commute, I go up a good-sized climb alongside the 520 freeway. Just before it, I ran into Eric, one of the two guys who beat me on the Zoo climb last Saturday. He said "Hi," and then flew on ahead of me. I don’t think I could have matched even on a road bike, but on the fixed gear, I didn’t have a prayer. After my commute today, as I climbed up the stairs that lead to my office, I noticed something I haven’t noticed in a long time: it was not easy to climb stairs. This fixed gear bike is punishing me, in just the way I need punishing.

Bianchi, all is forgiven. Just don’t let it happen again.


Today’s weight: 162.4 lbs.


PS: One last note with regards to yesterday’s post: As I’ve mentioned before, I have no gripe with bike shops. For that matter, I don’t have a problem with small bike and custom bike manufacturers when they take a long time—that’s to be expected, and should probably even be regarded as part of the boutique bike experience: you want a home cooked meal, not fast food. My complaint yesterday was simply directed at large corporate bike manufacturers and their apparent inability to forecast, maintain, track, or deliver inventory.


  1. Comment by Chris | 09.28.2005 | 9:52 pm

    Glad to hear you are enjoying the track bike.Your comments on what you have learned and observed on the track bike got me to thinking of a few things that I learned on the Zoo ride on Saturday- The sign near the bottom of the ride that says simply "ZOO" isn’t for directions. It is a warning!- I knew about the all important anaerobic threshold heartrate. I learned about the more important puke threshold heartrate. Don’t cross it!- No matter how hard you ride on the way up, no matter how much you insist you will take it easy on the way down, if you are riding with more than 3 people group dynamics takes over and you will sprint down at or near your max heartrate to prove that the climb was just a nice warm up.

  2. Comment by Eric | 09.28.2005 | 9:56 pm

    if i had noticed that you were riding your new track bike i would have followed you up the hill today just to admire your new ride. i’m hopeful that my fixie project will be done soon, and i am very jealous that you beat me to it.

  3. Comment by Daniel | 09.29.2005 | 1:31 am

    That’s very cool, Fatty. You have managed to stir a tiny worm of track-bike desire in me.With regards to the fixed gearing, about what speed do you find a normal-ish 90rpm or so on-the-flat pedalling cadence to equate to?I could go look up your bike’s specs and work it out, I suppose, but I’m lazy.

  4. Comment by Adam | 09.29.2005 | 3:50 am

    I also bought a Pista from our friends at SVCFew bottle cage solutions work well on that bike on the tubes. After many, the only one that seems to stay put is the minoura QB-90 and only on the seat tube.I suck at hills and will probably get the gearing changed :)

  5. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 09.29.2005 | 4:02 am

    chris – i have always maintained that there is no such thing as a group ride. at some point, it’s going to be a group race.eric – don’t worry, i’m sure you’ll have many a chance to clean my clock at other times.dan – it’s a 48 x 16. i don’t have a computer on it, but as i cruised by the radar detector speed limit thingy they’ve got set up on E. Lake Sammamish Pkwy (a flat section of road), it said I was going 22 mph. Which is +/-1 mph of what i usually go on that road.adam – i probably won’t do a water bottle cage on this bike — i’m going to leave it pretty much set up for track (front brake & lever goes on/comes off in under 2 minutes). if i ever go on a long enough ride that i NEED water, i’ll do a camelbak. BTW, i did inglewood hill on the fixie coming home from work again today and it just worked me. biceps, triceps, quads, all beat. can’t help but think that doing this on a daily basis is going to have a drastic effect on my climbing ability.

  6. Comment by Gustavo | 09.29.2005 | 5:53 am

    I can’t believe you did Inglewood hill on the fixie. What kind of gearing do you have ? I have a similar commute and that hill has kept me from getting a fixed gear for my rides back and forth. I’ll have to reconsider now or maybe you are just in better shape.

  7. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 09.29.2005 | 6:23 am

    gustavo – it’s a 48 x 16, and that climb just about kills me. I’ve done it two days in a row, though — bound to get easier soon, right? Right?

  8. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 09.29.2005 | 10:42 am

    Thanks for the pic of your sexy new ride.Please don’t ride a 48/16 on the daily commute. If you want to clean up your pedal stroke and save your knee cartilage, shop for a 19. Using 48/19 the magic 90rpm will give you 16mph. And if you can stay off the brakes on the downhill your pedal stoke will be smoother than caramel in time for thanksgiving.cheersBIG Mike

  9. Comment by Michael | 09.29.2005 | 11:23 am

    Nice bike! Hey wouldn’t some disc wheels be a good addition before track season. :)

  10. Comment by Unknown | 09.29.2005 | 1:01 pm

    I would agree with big mike. That gearing is fine for the track but probably a bit steep for street/hill riding. Maybe get a spare chain and cog. One for the track and one for street use.I run a 46/17 on my fix and it is great for street riding. Ans it sounds like it is a hell of alot hillier where you are than where I am. I can’t convert it into gear inches or a gain ratio for you becuase I am not that bright.

  11. Comment by Unknown | 09.29.2005 | 6:33 pm

    Whoohoo! Glad you’re enjoying your new bike already! I couldn’t handle no freewheeling though – weird! How do you coast to set up for bunnyhops or jumping off curbs? Hehe. It’s fun to freak out roadies on grouprides when I do mnt bike antics on my CF roadbike – LOL!p.s. Isn’t it weird how some extremes are getting increasingly popular e.g. Shimano 10speed vs fixed gear/single speeds, 5"-travel mtn bikes as normal vs hardtails, etc.

  12. Comment by Unknown | 09.29.2005 | 6:34 pm

    Forgot to ask… how much does it weigh??? I’m guessing 14-15lbs.

  13. Comment by Adam | 09.30.2005 | 4:22 am

    re: climbing with the fixie.Yes, but you already don’t suck climbing so that makes sense.The rest of us though still suck at climbing :)

  14. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 09.30.2005 | 5:02 am

    Take it easy Craig, you’ll confuse the author. 48/16 is a satisfactory gear for a 12 year old at a track meeting, but an adult will get spun off the back in a D grade race long before the hectic finish running 48/16. You should be thinking at least a 48/15 or even 14(power or torque, your call). Or better still get a 15 and 4 or 5 rings for micro adjustment. With chainrings running at $40 and sprockets at $10 you decide. Many trackies have 3-5 rings in the toolbox plus a range of sprockets.have funBIG Mike (skinny on the inside)

  15. Comment by Unknown | 09.30.2005 | 5:51 am

    Congrats on the fixie! I converted over about a year ago, and it’s wonderful. For lack of a better word, it’s the most pure ride I’ve ever had. You just go.Regarding track stands and stop lights: while a track stand is neat, and a decent skill at stop signs, trying to hold one for the two minutes that one sticky red light lasts (there’s always one) is silly. So how not to fumble around with the pedals? Simple – clip out of one pedal, and dismount straddling the top tube. Lock your front brake and take the weight off the back wheel by pushing forward on the handlebars a little. Using the leg that’s still clipped on, move the cranks to whatever position you like.Now you’re ready to sprint off when you get the green, provided you’re good at clipping in on the fly. ;-)A more important fixie tip is this, though: for anything longer than 15 minutes, be extra sure to stretch your quads well, both before and after. This will prevent your knees from hurting like hell, especially if they’re shattered bits of jerky like mine.And don’t worry about being slow – in time, you’ll get your cadence right, at which point you develop this weird momentum, and you tend to zip by the more complacent cyclists, partly because as a fixed gear rider you’re like a shark – stop moving and you’re dead; keep moving and you’re lethal.Happy riding!

  16. Comment by Unknown | 10.4.2005 | 7:29 am

    It’s great to hear you’ve added a fixie to your collection. Given your previous taunting of unicycles, hopefully now you can relate a little more to the extra workout you get riding both uphill AND down, and riding the uphill w/o the benefit of granny. I bet you’ll find now that when riding your geared bike, you’ll start picking a harder gear for climbs than you used to do. From there, the logical next step is to lose the training wheel and go full time "direct drive".Sorry I didn’t get a chance to say hi at the MS-150, but perhaps I’ll see you on the Inglewood climb one of these days. I saw in one of your write-ups that you were with Novell. We should probably know each other, as I served time there as well, 92-00.

  17. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 10.4.2005 | 3:47 pm

    tom – i’d say i was ‘teasing,’ not ‘taunting,’ given that any fun i poked at unicycles was in the context of saying that i wanted to learn to ride one. i’ve got a question for you, given that you’ve mentioned that your son rides a unicycle, and that you ride up inglewood hill: does your son sometimes ride a unicycle to get to inglewood jr. high? if so, i think i see him as i go in the opposite direction on my commute.

  18. Comment by Unknown | 10.4.2005 | 5:26 pm

    My son does ride a uni, but he hasn’t ridden it to school yet or in the Inglewood area. Nice to know there’s another uni rider on the plateau…perhaps I’ll run into him. I’m not big on Inglewood because of the traffic, but it’s a great climb. When I’m just looking for hill workout, sometimes I’ll go back and forth on the "Big Dip" on SE 8th just east of 228th in Sammamish. It’s good for uni climbs because there’s a separate sidewalk. I also discovered the "Klahanie to Fall City and Back" route. Gotta go scope out the Zoo climb (by car) this weekend. I might not have the stuff for that…


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