For the first time in years, I have more geared bikes than fixed gear bikes. The ratio swung quite recently from 1:3 to 4:3, not because I acquired three geared bikes, but rather, I acquired one, sold a fixed gear, and mothballed another (giving it “half a bike status”), giving me two geared bikes and one and a half track bikes – which, yes, are track bikes according to my terminological standards.
If you’ve ever spent a minute on Sheldon Brown‘s website, which provides an ABCs in bicycle education and is part of many neophyte fixed gear riders’ education, you may have come across the quote, “Isn’t it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailleur?”
That was spoken by Henri Desgrange, the nerd pictured above. The full quote is, “I applaud this test, but I still feel that variable gears are only for people over 45. Isn’t it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailleur? We are getting soft. Come on fellows. Let’s say that the test was a fine demonstration – for our grandparents! As for me, give me a fixed gear!” and Desgrange was responding to a “test” off derailleur bicycles, which pitted a rider on a fixed gear versus a rider on a three-speed derailleur-equipped bicycle, which the latter won.
Is Desgrange calling me a weenie? An old fart? Desgrange is just a jerk who, as the founder and manager of the Tour de France, just told other people what to do. Well, Henri, all I’ve got to say i, I’m not the guy with a mustache that looks like I toss around a medicine ball with some guy named Finneaus.
Filed under: cyclocross
Last week, Al and William and I set up a plank on some milkcrates on a lawn and practiced our dismounts, barriers, and re-mounts. What we lacked was barriers of appropriate height – our plank was much shorter than the standard 40cm cross barrier. The the plank that we had was still useful – it was still an obstacle and we had to hop off our bikes and hop on. A little bit of practice goes a long way – we got smoother as the evening wore on.
Of course, it helps a ton that his hips are probably at the height of my shoulders. Barriers that a 6’6″ person can stride over require a deliberate leap from somebody who is 5’5″.
Fortunately, us dynamite-in-a-small-package types (like Malaysian track sprinter Azizulhashi Awang) have advantages in other areas. Bigger guys with the heads screwed on properly probably don’t want to go elbow-to-elbow with somebody smaller – it’s too easy for a short person’s elbow to come up into the taller person’s arm, lift their arm, turn their bars, and send them to the pavement.
And I probably don’t have to mention how easy it is for me to stay under that climbers’ weight guideline of 2 pounds per inch of height.
Unfortunately these advantages don’t really apply in cyclocross, and I doubt that officials are going to have forks in ‘cross courses where you ride to barriers that are proportional to your height.
I guess I’ll just have to get faster everywhere else on the course.
Last year, I raced my first cyclocross race – Staten CX. I placed 4th in the B race on a singlespeed with knobby tires crammed in to it, in nasty freezing rain. Obviously, I was hooked, so when I started planning to move to Northampton, Massachusetts, I went about the process of building a cyclocross bike that could replace a fixed gear as an all-purpose bike – this time, with gears, and geared toward racing cyclocross.
Michael Catano, an awfully nice fellow from Chicago, agreed to build my bike, and recently, the custom process – from measuring me and my other bikes, talking about what I liked and what I wanted to change, talking about options and steels and fillet brazing, to ordering the steel and Michael building it in his workshop on his days off from his day job, to sending it out for paint – finally finished, and I received a lovely new frame bearing the logo Humble Frameworks. Michael’s craftmanship is lovely – smooth fillet brazed joints, small reinforcements here and there decorated with carved mustaches; and the whole thing is topped off by a glossy paint job, in British Racing Green, courtesy of Chester Cycles.
That meant that yesterday I could break it in by racing Westwood Velo’s cross race in Mahwah, New Jersey. It handled the grassy, muddy, wet, technical course really well – which is more than I can say for myself. I started too far back, tried to worm my way up through the dense, seething mass of heavy-breathing people clodding their way up a ski slope and down the switchbacks, and never saw the front (though I spent the race passing people in front of me, rather than getting passed).
I’m really psyched about this bike. It’s a lovely piece of equipment that can be used in lot of ways – cyclocross racing for now; winter training when there’s snow on the ground; and, now and ongoing, a comfortable geared bike for errands, around-town use, all-day casual riding, light touring, or just about any other purpose I can think of. And it can be with me for a long time – which is something I’ve intended since the start of this process.
Filed under: products
Tonight, weathering the storm at my parents’ house in New Jersey, a weather alert scrolled across the screen, interrupting a sentimental moment by George Clooney in The Perfect Storm. Flood alert, it said. I nodded, knowingly and wearily, because earlier in the evening I had ridden from Brooklyn to Northern New Jersey, with the rain going from a dreary drizzle (Williamsburg Bridge) to a steady rain (West Side Bike Path in the 30s) to a torrential downpour (90th street or so until I got to my destination).
In Bergen County, roads were flooded near where I went to middle school; the descent down Fort Lee Road was utterly terrifying as I gripped my brakes and squinted my eyes, trying to keep water out and my contact lenses in. And when I got to my destination, twenty minutes after I had started to shivver in my soaked pants and thin top layer, a defensive skunk blocked my path, raising its tail any time I tried to pass, keeping me in the rain a few more minutes while I waited for it to clear off.
When I shed my sodden layers in my parents’ basement, I realized to my relief that the book my sister had lent me was still dry in my Ortlieb messenger bag. Sure, it’s old and beaten up. I got it used, and there was a small tear near the bottom of the only compartment, a big bucket of a sack. The velcro is worn and weak, and I had assumed that the flap would roll open and water would get in in my twentyfive mile soaking wet slog through New York City.
Nope. Dry as a bone inside. I don’t often plug products but I felt that this was worth it. If you need a bag that’s waterproof, buy an Ortlieb.
I’ve been waiting to share this for a while, and though it’s finally time, I don’t have the time. More information will be forthcoming, but for now, I’d like to make it known that I have an amazing new toy.
In the interest of linguistic precision, I support a slightly anal retentive delineation between fixed gears and track bikes. It’s a squares-and-rectangles situation: all track bikes are fixed gears, but not all fixed gears are track bikes. However, I liberally salt the earth of this fertile metaphor with the point that some track bikes are not track bikes, but fixed gears.
Fixed gears have a long and glorious history that has little to do with velodromes – Dave Moulton writes about the days of British time trialling, with riders using fixed gears. And of course, an old European racer’s winter training routine was simple: ride 2000 kilometers in a fixed gear, geared between 60 and 70 inches.
What all of this means is that it’s okay to refer to your fixed gear commuter, your every day bike, as a fixed gear, not as a track bike. More importantly, it’s okay to build fixed gear bikes that are not track bikes. It’s okay to forego steep angles, tight tire clearances, brakelessness, and high gears in favor of road geometry, provisions for fenders, road handlebars with one or two brakes, and a sense that yes, fixed gears can be exciting and cool without pretending to be track bikes.
A few years ago, when riser bars became de rigeur, the fixed gear trend took another step away from track bike purism – a mistake if ever there was one – and inched toward practicality. That said, I’ve sold my every day fixed gear, basemented my track racing bike, and the only fixed gear that I’ve got is currently one of these track bike bastards, my lovely Pogliaghi, equipped with clips and straps for around-town riding.
Here’s something you don’t see too often – a 3Rensho-built Specialized Allez on eBay – in my size.
Yoshi Konno was a Japanese framebuilder who was known for masterful construction of road and keirin bikes, as well as a willingness to experiment and innovate. He built under the name 3Rensho, pronounced “San Rensho,” and his career includes a short time building a few Allez models for Specialized. You can tell it’s Konno-built from the extremely fine lugwork – long, pointed narrowing of the lugtips and careful thinning of the lugs almost make the joints look delicate.
That one for sale is a lovely little bike that makes me wish I had some more disposable money.