Tag Archives: Fixed Gear

I hope he will want to ride again

Sunday afternoons are generally spent with my wife’s parents. It typically isn’t spent on the bicycle. However, this Sunday the Beautiful Redhead’s parents were in Ohio and I decided to head out for a ride with Thing Two. Now I’m wondering if I’ll ever get him back on the bike again!

I thought that we would be a little better matched if I rode my fixed gear and he rode his Allez. While his gearing was much smaller than mine, if we did some climbing that would make it easier for him — and harder for me. The only way to find out was to get out on the road.

Most of the riding my son has done has been in the neighborhood or on the Swamp Rabbit Trail. On this beautiful afternoon it seemed like a good time to expand his experience. Obviously, we weren’t about to go riding over Paris Mountain, but I wanted to get him on some back roads with a little bit of climbing.

We started out by warming up on the SRT. As we enjoyed the smooth surface, I worked with him on riding next to another rider and following close on my wheel. I hoped to make him feel more comfortable.

I explained to him that the key to riding in a group is “holding your line.” It really is a matter of trust. If you hold your line and the people around you hold theirs, you can easily ride side-by-side with your bars nearly touching. We didn’t try that, but we continued to practice with him coming up beside me when the trail cleared and then him getting on my wheel as we needed to pass or get passed.

Often I would look back and find he had dropped off my wheel significantly. Was he fearful of following close? I really was trying to soft pedal, but you can only go so slow when you only have one gear. Was I going too fast?

My son is a lot like me. He doesn’t talk a whole lot. It is hard to tell exactly what is going on his mind. I kept looking at his face trying to see his eyes behind the shades. His face never changed. It wasn’t a smile. It wasn’t a frown. He should play poker!

We turned off the SRT after passing Furman and headed toward the base of Paris Mountain. We turned right on Old Buncombe Road so we wouldn’t end up on Altamont. I headed down the road in at what I thought was a leisurely pace. Before long a large gap had opened. Once again I was leaving him behind.

I waited for him as we turned onto the small roads that would lead us along the bottom of the mountain and over to Piney Mountain Road. I asked him if he was having any trouble and he replied that he just couldn’t keep up. Looking at his bike, I could see he was in his small ring. Basically, it was taking him two revolutions to match one of mine. I didn’t comment about moving to the “big” ring because I knew we were about to do some climbing.

The grade started almost immediately. This time I looked back and he had stopped. I went back to check on him and he told me his back was hurting. I massaged his lower back for a bit and then encouraged him to aim for the top of the hill that was marked by a speed sign.

Whew, I had forgotten how much climbing was along this route. There is nothing overly long, but there are some pretty steep sections. The farther we got into it the more I worried that I was going to ruin my son’s view of cycling.

Finally we reached the hardest climb of the day. There was a steady climb at around 6% with an 11% grade for the last 20 meters. I couldn’t ride with him to the top to cheer him on because I had to keep my momentum. Frankly, I struggled to get the track gearing to turn over. Had I not had clipless pedals and been able to pull up on the back stroke, I wouldn’t have made it.

I had told him I would wait for him in a shady spot on the other side and we would take a break. I got there and waited. And waited. And waited.

Fearing he was stopped on the side of the climb, I rode back up the hill I just came down so that I could reach the top of his climb and cheer him on. When I got there, I looked down the road and didn’t see him. I called several times and didn’t hear a response. Finally, I realized I was going to have to ride down to look for him.

Off of this road was a shady lane. I thought perhaps he had turned down it to take a break and cool off. I rode down it a bit calling his name. I didn’t hear anything. I was starting to get concerned.

What if he just got tired of me dragging him up these hills and decided to turn around and go back the way he came? Don’t put such a thought out of the capability of a twelve-year old! I started to sprint back along the undulating terrain. I kept hoping I would see him around the next turn. Nothing.

Finally, I realized that if he was this far along then he was a lot faster than I was giving him credit! My mind went back to that shady lane and I decided to turn and go revisit it. I also started feeling badly that I didn’t give him enough credit to do the smart thing.

As I rode back toward the spot I last saw him I came upon another cyclist. “Did you see a rider on a red Allez?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “he was wearing regular clothes and was on the other side of the hill on Dreamland.” “Ha!” I thought to myself, “he made it to the other side.” “Thanks,” I said out loud to the cyclist, “I hope I haven’t made it so he’ll never want to ride with me again!”

As I reached the bottom of the climb, I saw Thing Two coming down the grade toward me. “Well, now he is really going to hate me,” I thought. “I’m making him climb it again!” However, that thought was minimized by my relief in having found him.

We started the climb again and he took off up the climb like a rabbit. I struggled to pull the Draft over the top. Cresting the hill was the end of our trouble. From that point on we rode without incident. Thing Two stuck to my wheel for the rest of the way — including the climb over Piney Mountain and down Chick Springs.

I tried to be a positive as I could be. Still, his expression didn’t change. I did get the impression that he was glad to have made it home and I hoped that was a sign that he felt he had accomplished something.

I avoided talking too much about the ride. It wouldn’t be good to grill him about it. Still, I was dying to know what was going on in his head. How would he respond the next time I asked him to ride?

A positive sign is that he seemed very happy for the rest of the afternoon. Later in the evening, the Beautiful Redhead came to me and said, “I asked Jonathan if he had fun riding with you today.” I looked at her with a quizzical look. “He said, ‘Yes’ with a smile.”

Paris Mountain fixation

One of those times has come into life when I woke up on a Saturday morning and didn’t really want to get up and out on the bike. I’m not sure why, but the idea of getting up and taking a slower paced morning was appealing. Perhaps it was because the afternoon and evening was going to be busy. Still, I knew that I needed to get out and keep what fitness I have.

Once again I was heading out on the fixed gear. Perhaps that was also part of my problem. I would have preferred to go out with the Sunshine Cycle Shop Hour of Power ride, but I didn’t want to hold everyone up as I chased them around with one gear. I would be doing this ride alone.

About two hours was all that was allotted to me. I figured in that time I would have to go out and ride and then swing by Sunshine to get new rubber for the SE Bikes Draft. The rear tire was showing the threads beneath the worn rubber. Actually, I was taking a chance riding this way, but I couldn’t make the shop stop at the beginning of the ride because they weren’t open.

I meandered toward downtown to get on the Swamp Rabbit Trail. At least there wouldn’t be a lot of climbing there. What I did find was a pile of runners/walkers. It was an organized event, though I never figured out who was sponsoring it.

Thankfully, things cleared out before I got to the SRT Cafe and Grocery. I was able to settle into a nice cadence on the fixed gear and before long I was starting to enjoy the beautiful morning. My start must have many later than many because as I was riding out, I came upon a couple of larger groups coming back toward downtown.

The closer I got to Furman the more an insane thought began to creep into my mind. “Why don’t you ride the Draft up Paris Mountain?” My legs rebelled at the idea. My lungs asked, “Why do you think of things like this?”

I looked at the clock. 45 minutes had passed since I rolled out from home. Really, if I was wanting to make it to Sunshine Cycle Shop, get the tires and get them changed before going home, then going over the mountain was the fastest option. The temptation to make the climb was getting stronger.

Finally I committed to making the climb. I knew it was going to be tough pulling the 23 pound bike with a 48 teeth chain ring (and shorter crank arms) up the mountain. I had done it before back when I had the original chain ring which was smaller. Even that time, I had to stop and take a break on the climb.

I hit the base trying to keep my momentum as best as possible. When the grade got a bit steeper, I would stand to use my weight to help push the crank arms around. When the grade was less acute, I would sit and try to get my heart rate down a bit. Whether standing or sitting, I tried to use my back stroke as well as my forward stroke to get an even flow of power.

The top of the water tower segment came in about the same time as my geared attempts. The actual water tower segment was one of my fastest. However, I could tell it as I was starting to breathe much harder and I had to seek for recovery as best I could.

A fixed gear drives you. There is no letting up. There is no looking for an easier gear. When you think one leg is about the give out, the other one just pushes it around for another revolution. You can’t really slow down either. Slowing basically means you are going to come to a stop. You just have to gut it out.

I reached the half way point in about 6:15. Still, that wasn’t bad at all. However, I knew I was just borrowing from the road ahead.

Riders out for a Saturday climb were all along the road. I kept passing one and then another. It wasn’t that I was trying to get around them. It is just I had no choice but to keep my momentum. Several of them commented on the fact of the single gear. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do much but huff out a “Good morning.”

Then I reached “The Wall.” My intent was to finish what I had started. I had slowed considerably and reached the turn up to the wall in about 12:20. Who knows how much time I would burn over the next quarter mile. I stood, put my head down and started clawing my way up.

My legs were tired. My lungs were burning. However, it was my arms and shoulders that were screaming the loudest.

I really need to start doing some upper body work. Climbing with the fixed gear required me to really work the handle bars to shift my weight from side to side and get as much power as possible on the crank. My arms were yelling for me to relax my grip!

Finally, about 20 meters from the top — right as the road kicks into its steepest section — it happened. I got stuck between the down stroke of my right crank and the up stroke of my left. It was as though the bike wanted to start pedaling backward. By the way, that is entirely possible on a fixed gear!

At a standstill, I finally put my foot down. My arms were now yelling “Hallelujah!” and my lungs weren’t yelling anything. They were just pulling in oxygen.

I walked up about 10 meters and then remounted. I was able to ride across the KOM line and stop the clock at 14:22. Really, considering everything, I was quite happy with that.

Now I had to scare myself by descending the mountain on a fixed gear with clipless pedals. I would be riding the bull! Thankfully, I had brakes.

Ten minutes later I was at the bottom and heading over Piney Mountain to Sunshine where I was able to put some wire mesh rubber tires that should last me for a good amount of time in the future. Thankfully, I also had time to ice my knees (another disadvantage of climbing with a fixed gear) before heading over to my son’s baseball game.

If nothing else comes from this time on the Draft, I know it will make me appreciate the Giant TCR Advanced all the more!

Matching gear ratios on two different bikes

I have a fixed gear bike with a gear ratio of 48:16. I have a road bike with standard 53/39 front chain rings and a 11/28 rear cassette. My coach has given me some fixed gear workouts for my training, but I’m hesitant to put my fixed gear on the trainer. So, the challenge is to find out what combination of gearing I need to run on the road bike in order to simulate the gearing of the fixie.

“What’s the big deal,” you ask. “That is easy!” Well, that is easy for you to say. I am mathematically and mechanically challenged. I even had trouble counting the teeth on my cassette.


Wow! What is the gear ratio on that thing?!

Approaching this problem, I first thought I should count the total number of teeth from the different combination of rings. So, that would mean my fixed gear would have a total of 64 teeth. To match up my road bike, I would need to run a gear ratio of 39:25. Of course, that doesn’t take into account the laws of physics. My brain was telling me that was way too simple, and getting on the bike and spinning confirmed it.

There are several things to consider when you are measuring the gearing on your bike. 1) One obvious component is the gears, but it doesn’t end there. 2) You also need to take into account the wheels. 3) If you want to get really technical, you can throw in crank arm length. We need to know information about these three things — or at least two of them — to properly match up the bikes.

All normal road bikes have overdrive gearing. That means that the rear wheel always will turn more revolutions than the crank. The higher the gear ratio (say 53:11) the more times your wheel will spin around per pedal revolution. At my lowest gear ratio (39:28) the wheel will spin fewer times per revolution, but will still turn more times per crank.

The way this works is the rings on the cassette make the rear wheel seem bigger or smaller based on the number of teeth. Though the wheel remains consistent in circumference, the rings alter how large the wheel appears to the front crank. The laws of leverage make it so that turning a large gear connected to a small gear will make the smaller gear turn multiple times per each revolution of the larger gear.

That is why just counting teeth won’t work. A front ring of 32 teeth connected by a chain to a rear ring of 32 teeth will spin the rear wheel only once per pedal revolution. Take those 64 teeth and divide it 39 and 25 front to rear and suddenly you’re getting a lot more wheel turns per crank revolution. That means more speed, but also more power needed to turn it.

It then becomes a little complicated figuring out how to match up the gears since I don’t have a 48 front ring on my road bike. I would need to find the combination of gears using a 39 front ring and one of the rings on my rear cassette. So, I turned to the Internet and my local bicycle shop for answers.

I found calculators and such stuff on the Internet, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to use them. None of the charts and explanations dealt directly with trying to match up gearing between two bikes without common gear ratios. I was coming up with numbers, but not sure how to apply them.

Mike at Sunshine Cycle Shop helped me out. He pointed out that you have to take the wheel into consideration. For instance, if one wheel of a bike is smaller than the wheel of a second bike, even running identical gear ratios would not give equal speed or power readings.

1) Make sure your wheels are the same circumference. To be technical about it, you should make sure the tires are the same type.

Mike went on to explain that you must now consider the amount of times your wheel turns per pedal revolution. So, rather than concentrating on the number of teeth on or size of your rings, you should focus on the ground. That is what will allow you to measure all of the components — wheel, front ring, and rear ring.

2) Mark a spot on the floor. Put the valve stem of the front wheel of your fixed gear on that mark. Then make sure that your right crank arm is pointing straight up. Now you start rolling your bike backward or forward. Guide the bike in a straight line until the crank arm returns to the upright position. Mark the spot where your wheel stops.

What you will find is that your valve stem will make several revolutions before the pedal makes a full revolution. You will now find a distance between two points marked out on the floor. The measurement of this distance is called “gear inches.” It is the distance your bike travels using a particular gear ratio.

3) Using the same process, now get your road bike and experiment with the gear ratios that produce the closest number of  gear inches to those arrived at with the fixed gear.

For me that means the closest I can come to matching up my road bike with the fixed gear is to run a 39:13. This gets me verrrrry close to an even match. As a matter of fact, if you use Sheldon Brown’s Bicycle Gear Calculator, it gives you the same results (78.8) for 39:13 and 48:16.

So, if I want to use my road bike on the trainer to do my fixed gear workouts, I can just keep the gearing at 39:13. I’m looking forward to trying it tonight. I have another fixed gear workout then.

I did get my fixed gear on the trainer. I really had to extend the locking bar and I’m not sure I want to put the stress on it that would probably come if I tried to ride with much power. However, just for the fun of it, I do think I will see if I can figure out how to make the iBike power meter work on the trainer. Word is you should be able to do it. I might even try a workout as long as it is an endurance ride and not a power workout.

Anyway, if there is anyone out there trying to match up their fixie gearing with their road bike, I hope this will be a help. Do you have a simpler way? Lay it on us.

I’ve got only one gear

Even though I wasn’t riding my bike much over the last month, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t been thinking about bikes and playing around with them. Most of my focus in that regard has recently been centered around my SE Bikes Draft. It’s been a lot of fun getting it to its current setup.

SE Bikes Draft on the streets of Austin

SE Bikes Draft on the streets of Austin

I got the bike a couple years ago. It was an end of the year sale at Sunshine Cycle Shop. I had done some work for the shop and Mike let me roll it out the door for $75. At that time it was a single speed with a free hub. I used the bike to ride to work on nice days when I didn’t have meetings planned in town.

Out of the box, the bike looked just like the one you see in the above photo. I happened across the above bike while walking through Austin. However, I couldn’t just leave it alone! It just didn’t seem to have enough character. The first thing I did was to add a fixed gear to the rear hub so I could flip the wheel if I wanted a “fixie.”

What I really wanted to do was put drop bars on the front and switch out the pedals from the meat grinders that came with the bike to a set of clipless pedals. I quickly discovered that it wouldn’t be that easy. Replacing the bars would mean replacing the brakes. I also learned that the threads on the single piece crank were too small to accept the SpeedPlay pedals I wanted to put on it. So, for a year the bike pretty much hung up in the back of my basement.

Then I busted up the “Demon Bike” and had a bunch of high end spare parts — like a seat, a nice stem and bars. Just for fun, I put the seat on the Draft. I chuckled because I realized that the seat cost twice as much as I paid for the bike! Then I turned my attention to the bars.

Taking the straight bars off was simple enough. Even replacing it with the drop bars was fine. However, I’m not a hipster and the thought of riding that bike without brakes does not appeal to me. First I tried to find a way to mount the original brake levers on the drop bars. I ended up breaking the brakes in the attempt.

So, at Sunshine, I bought some 20 dollar brake levers (I just haven’t gotten into the eBay habit) and stuck them on there. That also lead me to order some more solid brakes. The original brake calipers had huge gaps between the pads and wheels and once I put some skinnier wheels on there it was even worse. The new brakes were more for safety than looks — though they look better as well!

Drop bars with brakes – done. Now it was time to move to the crank. This got complicated real fast. First I tried to just screw in some clipless pedals. The higher end pedals were too large to fit in the standard single piece crank set. So, I decided to have a machine shop widen the existing holes and tap in new threads. After finally getting hold of the proper taps, I had the new threads bored in and I now had clipless pedals!

SE Bikes original crank with clipless pedal

Clipless pedal on the right with platform pedal on the left

Then I took it for a ride. Hmmmm, this wasn’t going to work. It felt all wrong. First of all the crank worked okay for tooling easily around town or back to work, but actually taking it out at speed showed me 1) the pedals were not entirely straight, 2) the crank arms were not long enough for my comfort, and 3) I didn’t have confidence in the amount of mass left around the threads. I had been told of instances where people had done similar things with their cranks and had them snap.

So, now things were getting more complicated. I went searching online for a way to replace the single piece crank set with a three piece unit. I found one on the site by the late Sheldon Brown. I placed my order and soon received a bottom bracket adapter kit.

Crank converter by FSA

FSA single to three piece converter

At that point I busted the budget and sprung for a SRAM Omium track crank. You can see the bottom bracket caps screwed into the adapter in the picture above. Basically, the adapter is made of two caps that go in the hole left in the frame once the sealed single piece crank set is removed. Rods connect the two caps and once tightened create a standard style threaded bottom bracket.

New crank in adapter

New SRAM crank in the adapter

Then it was just a matter of sliding in the new track crank. Wow! What a difference. The bike was now a joy to ride. The biggest change to get used to was the gearing. The SRAM gear was larger than the original Draft front ring. I was now turning a 48 x 16. It allows me to get more speed, but when I took the 24 pound steel framed bike up Paris Mountain I ended up having to walk a couple times. I was able to climb all the way with the original gearing.

That isn’t a problem. It just gives me something to aim for — climbing Altamont all the way with the 48 x 16. The trade off of having more speed on the flats and not spinning out so quickly on the downhills is well worth it. Besides… doesn’t it look sweet?

SRAM Omnium crank

SRAM Omnium crank

Taking my SE Draft single speed from this…

SE Bikes Draft

SE Bikes Draft - Before

To this…

SE Bikes Draft with conversions

SE Bikes Draft - After

It has been a blast. I’m not done yet. Wait until you see what I’ve done to prove I’m not a hipster.

That will have to wait until another day.