Adventure by Default

09.24.2007 | 7:02 am

I wouldn’t call the number of bikes I have in my garage “stupid.” I prefer to call it “plentiful.” And maybe “plentiful” is too strong a term. I mean, it’s not like I have a bike for every occasion. I don’t have a BMX bike, for example. Nor do I have a cross bike. Nor a full-suspension mountain bike.

When you think about it, I’m a pauper, bikewise. But I’m getting away from the point I want to make. Which is: my paucity of bikes notwithstanding, generally I have a bike or two ready to roll for any biking occasion.

Last Saturday, however, very nearly turned out to be an exception.

First off, mountain bikes were out of the question, since I messed up my right shoulder again last Friday (I had picked a bad line and rolled off a narrow ladder bridge into a ravine, cleverly stopping my fall by putting out my right hand).

That’s OK, though. It had been a while since I had been out on the road bike. So I started topping off the tires, when I noticed a bulge in the rear tire. There was a big tear in it, and I didn’t have a replacement. Bike shops wouldn’t be open for a couple hours.

Briefly, I was flummoxed. I was all dressed up, with no way to go.

And then I saw the track bike.

Ah yes, the fixie. It had been a long time since I had ridden the fixie. I’ve hardly been out on it at all since moving from Washington to Utah, in fact. The roads are just too hilly.

But you know, I’ve wondered a few times what it would be like to try to climb the Alpine Loop on my track bike.

Well, now seems like as good a time as any to find out.

Spurious Saddle
It is natural, of course, for me to assume that your life revolves around my adventures and exploits. Even so, I don’t expect you to immediately know / remember what climbing the Alpine Loop on my fixed-gear bike implies. So let me help you:

  • The Alpine Loop is a road climb I can do right from my house. It is a ten mile climb, ascending nonstop from 5000 to 8200 feet. In short, it is a ten-mile, 3200 foot climb.
  • The Bianchi Pista is a very inexpensive — but still surprisingly cool-looking track bike. “Fixed gear” means that it doesn’t have a freewheel, which means you cannot coast. If the wheels are turning, you must be pedaling. The gear ratio on my Pista is 48 x 16, which is about the same as if you are in your big ring up front and in the middle sprocket of your cassette in the back.

In short, I had given myself quite a challenge.

I put a water bottle in my jersey pocket (track bikes don’t usually have water bottle cages), swung a leg over and began the ride. I was surprised at how quickly I became reaccustomed to not being able to coast; the fixie style of riding came back to me right away.

I was not surprised at how hard this ride was. There were very few moments where the pitch of the road eased up enough that I was able to sit down.

Please Notice Me
The sky was overcast and threatening as I climbed, which meant the temperature was nice and cool. I was disappointed, though, to find that the threat of rain had evidently scared away all cyclists.

Why was I disappointed to not either pass or be passed? Simple. I desperately wanted to casually point out to someone — anyone – that I was climbing the Alpine Loop on a 48 x 16 – geared track bike.

No luck. I had to suffer slowly up the mountain without the benefit of being able to have the conversation I had mapped out in my head:

Me: How’s it going?

Other rider: Not bad. I can’t believe you’re passing me. I’m a semi-pro, you know, and am going full-tilt.

Me: (modestly) Well, I can’t really control my speed. Just gotta turn the cranks over at the speed they turn over, you know.

Other rider: Holy smokes. I just noticed — you’re riding a fixie! Up the Alpine Loop! What kind of gearing is that?

Me: Yeah, my regular road bike had a mechanical. Didn’t want to miss out on a ride. The gearing’s 48 x 16, or something like that.

Other rider: Hey, that’s a really nice jersey. Are you the one they call the Fat Cyclist?

Me: Yeah, that’s me.

Other rider: Can I have your autograph?

Me: Sure. I keep a permanent felt-tip marker with me at all times for just this sort of occasion.

Entertaining myself with these kinds of thoughts, I made it — slowly, painfully, to the summit. Unheralded.

I rode around the parking lot at the summit a few times, hoping someone would get to the top and notice me. In this I was disappointed.

Oh, I Guess I’m Not Done Yet
As a testament to exactly how far into the future I was thinking when I began this ride, it was only when I was actually at the top of the Loop that I considered what a total lack of fun it was going to be to do the downhill portion of this ride. I do have a front brake fitted on the bike, but I still had to pedal the whole way down, and so would not be able to go the usual 40+mph all the way down.

Oh, also it started raining. Hard.

So, cold and wet, I simultaneously braked and pedaled down the slick, wet road. The track-style handlebars aren’t made for resting your hands on the top of the bars — there are no hoods. This, combined with the very close, steep geometry of the track bike meant that a lot of my weight was on my arms, so my hands went numb, which was just as well, because that way I didn’t notice how cold they were anymore.

It probably goes without saying that I no longer was much interested in having a conversation about how I was riding the Alpine Loop on a fixie, since I now just felt like a fool.


  1. Comment by Boz | 09.24.2007 | 7:13 am

    I gotta say, you got guts. Or some thing else taht makes you do dumb stuff. I bet those track tires are great in the rain. Your adventures are my lessons not learned the hard way by me, but by you. Thankyou, Fat Cyclist.

  2. Comment by dug | 09.24.2007 | 7:36 am

    now that sounds cool. how come you didn’t call? i would have told you how cool you were the whole way up. for the first mile or two before you dropped me. of course, i would have left you on the way down. i would have waited for you at the fee station, though.

    but hey, lucky thing for you is, you have this other outlet where you can tell people how cool you are. there must be at least 50 people who read this blog, and now they all know, and they can spread the word.

  3. Comment by Rob S | 09.24.2007 | 7:37 am

    1. This conversation would have never played out like this…

    “Other rider: Hey, that’s a really nice jersey. Are you the one they call the Fat Cyclist?”

    Because you were in fact wearing a Racers Cycle Jersey.

    2. You were noticed on the climb (by me coming down) and I commented to someone how hard you seemed to going at it. I now stand even further impressed that you did on a 48×16.


  4. Comment by chtrich | 09.24.2007 | 7:37 am

    No one ever notices me either. Anytime I’m suffering and have some good story to share about it, there’s no one around to share it with.

  5. Comment by Blue | 09.24.2007 | 7:38 am

    Maybe you should get that Mountain Goat PrimalWear Jersey! That’s one way to get more from your workout, when the down is usually a time for rest and the adrenaline of speed, endurance and accomplishment. You know, if you ever want to take this to the next level, I know a guy with a recumbent that you could probably barrow ;)

    Honestly, the fact that you could pull that off is pretty cool. I know I’m not there yet.

  6. Comment by buckythedonkey | 09.24.2007 | 7:46 am

    I know it’s bad form to post a reply to a previous entry, but I have to tell you that a mate of mine spotted Tyler Hamilton in London doing laps of Regents Park in a few months ago. He’s 100% certain and is (most often) of sound mind.

  7. Comment by mark | 09.24.2007 | 7:58 am

    Why didn’t you just borrow one of the tires off your track bike and put it on your road bike? I guess you couldn’t write a blog post about swapping a tire, but still.

  8. Comment by Kris | 09.24.2007 | 8:06 am

    Fatty, you’re nuts! In other words, my kinda cyclist!

    mark: way to point out the obvious. Fatty, I think your subconscious wants you to suffer because it seems so able to hide less difficult, more sensible options from you.

  9. Comment by Charlie Brown | 09.24.2007 | 8:06 am

    Not to change the subject… but…

    Speaking of “being noticed”… Steve Madden, editor of Bicycling wrote you up on his editor’s page: “The Cause on My Back”…


  10. Comment by Rick S. | 09.24.2007 | 8:26 am

    Do you know what would have been more impressive? Trying to keep up with Brad on the mtb ride on Sat.

  11. Comment by fatty | 09.24.2007 | 8:35 am

    mark – believe it or not, i have a good reason for not swapping a tire from my track to my road bike: my track bike has Armadillo tires on them. i put those on my track bike because they’re essentially puncture-proof and i don’t want to have to carry the wrenches necessary to change a flat when i’m on my fixie. the downside to the armadillos is they take a team of four burly men to put on a rim, and even then everyone involved is going to have bloody knuckles by the time they finish. it was definitely preferable — and probably less effort — to leave the tires where they were and ride the fixie.

    rob s – in my fantasy, i was wearing my fat cyclist jersey. in reality, that jersey was in the hamper. if you recognized me, though, you should have swung around and given me a push. i needed one.

    dug – it was one of those rides where a window opens up, and you know it won’t stay open long. you would have had time for a meal and a nap by the time i got to the fee station.

  12. Comment by monkeywebb | 09.24.2007 | 8:36 am

    I want one! Like you, I’m not so much into it for the challenge or the ‘purity’ of riding with 90 year old technology, but to impress the impressionable.

    My conversations about how cool I am wouldn’t take place on a massive hill, however, but in my garage, or possibly while I was lovingly washing it in the front yard. Because there’s no way I could get that thing up a hill unless it was in the back of my car.

  13. Comment by axel | 09.24.2007 | 8:41 am

    how to get noticed without anyone there to see you?
    call it a mountain time trial
    take your time
    email your time and your equipment to your friends (without trying to sound proud of it).
    a certain percentage of people (99% of triathletes, 97% of road riders, 12% of MTB’ers, 1% of unicyclists) will immediately try to beat that time. Their ultracompetetive character cannot let someone elses time stand without giving it a try on their own.
    You will have been noticed.

  14. Comment by fatty | 09.24.2007 | 8:45 am

    axel – you are absolutely right. i didn’t time it, but really wish i would have. not just for throwing-down-the-gauntlet reasons, either. i’m genuinely curious how long it took me to climb the Loop that way. much longer? not as long? about the same? it’s hard to say, because perceived time’s really subjective when you’re climbing.

  15. Comment by Dave Nice | 09.24.2007 | 9:13 am

    Take if off road next time that well get you noticed! ;)

    Nice work with that gearing!

  16. Comment by | 09.24.2007 | 9:15 am

    Heh heh heh… I have to admit, about a third of the way into this story (3200 foot climb to be exact) I thought ‘Oh crap! If its 3200 up, how is he… no… he can’t possibly ENJOY coming down that on a fixie?!’ SO by the time I got to you at the summit realizing this I was pretty much waiting for it. I have to admit, that is quite an impressive feet! I can also say I will never ride a fixie. Yours are truly bigger than mine my friend! Keep up the good work!

  17. Comment by Fish | 09.24.2007 | 9:49 am

    I saw you going up the loop. I was one of the cars with MTB’s on top coming down while you were heading up. I gave you a courtesy honk and a wave. I noticed you weren’t on the Ibis, but instead were rolling on a silver bike. I’d forgotten about the fixie and assumed you must have bought a new bike. I’ll remember that next time (if there is one) and I’ll be sure to swing around and give you some props.

  18. Comment by Fish | 09.24.2007 | 9:49 am

    I saw you going up the loop. I was one of the cars with MTB’s on top coming down while you were heading up. I gave you a courtesy honk and a wave. I noticed you weren’t on the Ibis, but instead were rolling on a silver bike. I’d forgotten about the fixie and assumed you must have bought a new bike. I’ll remember that next time (if there is one) and I’ll be sure to swing around and give you some props.

  19. Comment by GenghisKhan | 09.24.2007 | 9:51 am

    Fatty, Ummm, what about just switching wheels instead of tires? Adjust the brake a bit and you should be good to go, right?

  20. Comment by Michael S | 09.24.2007 | 9:55 am

    Why didn’t you just take your feet off the pedals and “freewheel” down?

  21. Comment by hades | 09.24.2007 | 9:58 am

    I’ll be impressed when you ride a fixed, rigid MTB. I mean c’mon, it’s the next logical step. You own a fixie, you own a single speed rigid MTB – just combine the two.

    I was riding my rigid SS 29er at the 24 hours of old Pueblo keeping up with a guy in front of me who was pedaling hard. I was thinking about how cool and skilled and tough I was because we were in a section where I could pump off of all the rollers and I could keep up with this guy who was pedaling the whole time – then I realized he was riding fixed.

    I don’t remember what my point was, except perhaps that there’s always someone who’s done it more burly than you have – like on a unicycle. backwards. With a prosthetic. At night. In the snow. Towing a trailer (is it still a unicycle then?)

  22. Comment by cheapie | 09.24.2007 | 10:14 am

    that’s pretty impre…..HEY WAIT!!! you don’t own a FS mtn bike???

    ok. you seriously need to just bite the bullet and get one. i think the reason you don’t is that you can always say, “yeah. i wasn’t the fastest. but hey, i was riding a SS, a tricycle, a bike with wooden wheels, a HT w/o a front shock, a bike made out of bamboo, etc. so i can’t be expected to be as fast as you.”

    getting a FS would render your excuses null and void since you’d be riding something that was actually designed to be ridden on the type of terrain you have out there!

    heh. just kidding. kind of. =)

  23. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 09.24.2007 | 10:16 am

    Rick S. thanks for the invite to the mt bike ride. Sorry I couldn’t make it. I had very interesting and important things to do.

    Fatty, please see above.

    dug, I’ve been riding in the skate park every day in training for Fall Moab in St. George 2007. You should come down and visit amonst the “low people” and sample our quaint entertainment.

    Fatty, that 48 x 14 must have been really hard to pedal. You’re superhumazing.

    Mark, the real reason is that Fatty refuses to do any sort of work/maintenance on his bike. He has underlings for that. The real question is why were one of said underlings not available.

  24. Comment by Clydesteve | 09.24.2007 | 10:34 am

    I think Michael S. has suggested the most courage-requiring (or would that be foolish?) technique. But I would not want to watch. Well, maybe, in the same way I don’t want to look at a train wreck.

    Donation deadline to honor Susan by supporting my LIVESTRONG ride is this Thursday, the 27th.

  25. Comment by Al Maviva | 09.24.2007 | 10:34 am

    Fatty, great call on the fixed 48:16 for climbing a mountain. When you’re laid up in the hospital recuperating after your shoulder operation, the consult for double knee replacement surgery will give you something to look forward to.

  26. Comment by sans auto | 09.24.2007 | 10:43 am

    I too had wondered if I could do the Alpine loop on my fixie. Every time I really got thinking about doing it I would talk myself out of it because I would think of the descent.

  27. Comment by AMG in Texas | 09.24.2007 | 11:21 am

    Nicely done Fatty! The last time I rode a fixie was my 20″ schwinn with a coaster brake 35 years ago. I even had a banana seat with extension handlebars for that chopper look! It even had color coordinated fenders.

    Did I mention the streamers out of the ends of the handlebars? For attention, I usually put cards in the spokes held there by closeline pins. I always got attention… especially from all the loose dogs in the neighborhood.

  28. Comment by Bill W | 09.24.2007 | 11:23 am

    Which direction did you climb the loop? Provo Canyon (id so, you really are a horse) or American Fork?

  29. Comment by KP | 09.24.2007 | 11:27 am

    Hey Sans, what about uphill cycling? As an alternative to the downhill crowd (I just can’t keep it that real), how about cycling up and shuttling down? you can ride the fixy up, grab a car back down or for mountain biking catch the lift back down and enjoy the scenery from 50 feet up. just thinkin’ outloud here…

    Botched, hope you are going to ride Gooseberry, it just doesn’t get any better than that, and you don’t get the Moab crowds! Heard a local rumor that the guys that built Gooseberry are building another one in the same area.

    FC, had I known that was your plan I would have driven as a chase vehicle, nice job!

  30. Comment by Kris | 09.24.2007 | 11:32 am

    GenghisKhan said:

    Fatty, Ummm, what about just switching wheels instead of tires? Adjust the brake a bit and you should be good to go, right?

    I’ll bet Fatty confirms it was the rear tire/wheel.

  31. Comment by GenghisKhan | 09.24.2007 | 11:46 am

    Kris–oh, good call, though in that case, perhaps just turn the bike around and you can uh, umm, er–still switch wheels?! ;o)

  32. Comment by mark | 09.24.2007 | 11:54 am

    Cheapie–for the record, I have a full suspension mtn bike that basically just hangs in my garage. I built up a 29er hardtail this spring and simply haven’t had the desire to ride the squishy bike. I believe that Botched, Fatty, Dug, and most of that crowd had similar experiences and have since foregone even the front suspension (I on the other hand am too cheap to spend more money on a rigid fork than I spent on my Marzocchi).

    For Sale: 2004 Specialized Enduro Expert. It’s been hanging in the garage long enough.

  33. Comment by Marrock | 09.24.2007 | 12:45 pm

    Just out of curiosity… how much for the 2004 Specialized Enduro Expert?

    Not that I want it or anything, I’m just curious… yeah, that’s it.

  34. Comment by mark | 09.24.2007 | 1:09 pm

    I was thinking $1100, including delivery in Idaho or Utah. I replaced the stock Fox Talas fork, which bottomed out entirely too much for my taste, with a Marzocchi All Mountain 1 (130-150mm travel). Choice of blackspire plastic bash ring or stock 44T chainring. Everything else is pretty much stock. I bought the bike from a local shop where it had been used for 6 or 7 test rides in June 2005. Rode it for 2005 and 2006 seasons, but have barely ridden it this year. email markajunk (at) gmail dot com if you’d like to discuss further.

  35. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 09.24.2007 | 1:17 pm

    I was going to suggest a tyre transplant but it’s been done.

    Then I thought about the need for a knee transplant but it’s been done.

    Personally, my fixie runs a 42×17 (on the advice of a wise old englishman). I would have greatly enjoyed the climb. But descending 10 miles would have damaged me for life.

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  37. Comment by MonsieurM | 09.24.2007 | 1:49 pm

    For those of us not so familiar with Utah geography, where exactly is Alpine Loop? I’ve heard a lot about it, and I’m kind of curious to place it on a map…

  38. Comment by Marrock | 09.24.2007 | 2:58 pm

    Thanks mark but that’s a bit beyond my means at the moment… besides, I don’t think you’d want to ship it to New Jersey even with me paying for shipping and all.

  39. Comment by LanterneRouge | 09.24.2007 | 3:02 pm

    Why don’t you post your weight any more, Fatty? Random number generator on the blink?

  40. Comment by sans auto | 09.24.2007 | 3:05 pm

    Marrock– Alpine loop connects American Fork Canyon with Provo Canyon. It passes Sundance.

  41. Comment by MonsieurM | 09.24.2007 | 4:30 pm

    Ok, I think I see it on Google Maps… this is a little north of Provo, right?

  42. Comment by Gordon in Melbourne | 09.24.2007 | 4:49 pm

    I hate to disagree with Axel and Fatty but timing and comparing bikes can lead to tears. Last week I compared my extended commute to ride on my 22 year old road bike that I have converted to a flat bar commuter to my new road bike.
    The old steel frame with 14 speed and various old parts was 33 seconds slower than my flash new Opera with nice new glistening expensive bits on it. Conditions were very similar.

    What did I learn….that I seem to have wasted about $4,500 on an Italian bike.

    I dare not try it on my mountain bike or unicycle.

  43. Comment by Gordon in Melbourne | 09.24.2007 | 4:56 pm

    Oops ….that 2nd sentence should read “extended commute to work”

  44. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 09.24.2007 | 5:16 pm


  45. Comment by Walter | 09.24.2007 | 6:09 pm

    Fatty — nice going. You organizing any complex expeditions anytime soon? ;-)

    On a different topic, I happened to pick up the October issue of Road magazine this weekend — they have a nice blurb about the Team Fatty jersey. Let me know if you haven’t seen it, and I’ll get you a copy…

  46. Comment by Kris | 09.24.2007 | 7:17 pm

    Here’s some info on the Alpine Loop:

  47. Comment by Paul | 09.24.2007 | 8:12 pm

    How are you going to put that winter bulk on if you keep doing stuff like this? I think you better try for a Krispy Kreme sponsorship and re-focus.

  48. Comment by Ian Hopper | 09.24.2007 | 9:34 pm

    Wait a minute Paul… FC has got his new Nutella sponsorship… the folks at Krispy Kreme might not like that too much… and yeah, where’s the weigh-in Elden? Aren’t you due?

  49. Comment by TimGauth | 09.24.2007 | 10:00 pm


    Your exploits are depressing me…again. Bulk up!

  50. Pingback by Car News » Adventure by Default | 09.26.2007 | 2:14 pm

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  55. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » Can’t Explain | 10.10.2007 | 5:28 am

    [...] A couple weeks ago, I talked about how I sort of stumbled into a climb up the Alpine Loop — 10 miles, 3200 feet of climbing — on my track bike. [...]

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  61. Comment by Ed | 10.21.2008 | 1:02 pm

    Good ride man, you might try out for the pogoing record: something I heard about a world record for riding a track bike without a seat. If it were me, and it weren’t raining, I would’ve just popped off the chain for the downhill. Whee!


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