Mar. 12, 2014
Much has been written about the experience of riding a fixed-gear bicycle, and most of it is lyrical stuff waxing about how it’s the purest method of bike riding, fluid and smooth. There’s not much about crashing, or falling over at red lights. But those as integral to the fixed-gear ride as the flying free part. And it’s good to get them out of the way early.
Learning to ride a fixed gear in the city isn’t really that much worse than learning anywhere else, but there are several unique challenges. And what the heck, might as well learn how to ride where it’s most difficult. Just be careful out there. So, get the bike out and Learn to Ride Your Fixie in the City Without Dying.
Ride late at night or early in the morning.
This is from personal experience. The very last thing you want to contend with when re-learning how to ride a bike (which is basically what riding fixed is) is rush-hour traffic. Late night can be iffy sometimes—definitely do NOT take this to mean 1 a.m. on a Friday—but pre-rush in the morning is good. Think sunrise.
Leave the headphones at home.
It’s true that New York city streets are cacophonous already, and headphones likely won’t make that much of a difference one way or another. But in the beginning, stick to listening to the sounds of the street. Not only is it safer, but it’s actually more interesting than hearing that same album again. Also, getting one’s headphone cord tangled in one’s front wheel is never fun.
Wear a helmet.
This goes for anyone. Yes, it’s possible to get injured (or even killed) when wearing a helmet. But better safe than sorry, at least until you know what you’re doing. Also, no one wants to get a posthumous scolding in the first paragraph of their NY Post obit.
Stick to roads with bike lanes at first.
Enclosed bike lanes, which have the cars park on the outside, are even better. There will still be obstacles, but there should be less of them. And please don’t ride against traffic, no matter how tempting it might be.
Avoid buses and delivery trucks.
The bigger the vehicle, the more it wants to kill you. This is not always entirely true, but it’s a good rule of thumb to follow. (And yes, it’s actually the driver of said vehicle, but that’s neither here nor there when it’s running you over.) Bus lanes might look kind of like bike lanes, and are often free of other traffic, but stay out of them at all costs.
Have brakes and use them.
Yes, yes, a real track bike doesn’t have brakes. Does First Avenue look like a velodrome? (Whoops, you probably have no idea what a velodrome looks like. Hint: The answer is NO.) There’s no need to have two brakes on a fixed gear, but a front brake will help massively, unless your calves are the size of Ray Allen’s.
Toeclips are there for a reason.
Clips and straps add a degree of difficulty to getting on or off the bike, but they also play a key role in pedalling (or slowing) a fixed gear. When used properly, clips and straps make pedal strokes more efficient, stopping more in control, and basically keeps feet where they’re supposed to be. Don’t tighten them too much at first, unless falling over at the first red light is something that intrigues you.
Don’t stand and pedal.
Standing up and pedalling on a fixed gear is a good way to forget one is on a fixed gear, and thus a great way to get bucked right off. Stay on the damn seat. And while coasting is impossible on a fixed, it is possible to relax your legs and just let them spin. Just don’t get going too fast or else it’s going to be hell to stop, brakes or no brakes.
Go slowly—but not too slowly.
There is nothing more fun than going fast on a bike. And there is nothing scarier than going fast on a bike and realizing one does not know how to stop. There will be plenty of time to go fast—spend the first week at walking speed, more or less. Learn to read traffic first-and realize that there will still be surprises no matter what. Safety first.
Learn how to fall.
This is a tough one. No one wants to fall, but everyone is going to. The sooner one faces this, the better off one will be. Obviously falling on grass or something else yielding is preferable, but sometimes it’s not feasible to practice like that. If nothing else, going down the first time makes you realize it’s not that bad. Well, unless you break your collarbone. Which sucks.
For more Fixed Gear Bikes tips by Russ Bengtson, visit Complex.