Sunday, January 23, 2011

How Full My Head of Useless Thoughts

Fixed: elevated

Output from my 20 mile experimental fixed-gear ride today:

If a purpose or goal in my life is to establish or maintain fulfilling happiness, why don't I eliminate all factors from my life which work against that goal? And, conversely, install, amplify, nurture, grow, or enhance the factors which support happiness?

If a purpose or goal in riding my bicycle is to spin in silence for miles of motion-mediation at a medium to medium-high aerobic level in a relatively flat landscape, why don't I eliminate all factors from my ride which work against that goal? And, conversely, install, amplify, nurture, grow, or enhance the factors which would support it?

Lubricate everything that makes noise, and remove it if it is inherently and irremediably noisy. If it is unreliable, if it has no clear purpose, if it breaks easily, if there are simpler alternatives, chuck it. If it causes pain, if it slows me down, tear it off. If it's just for show it's got to go. A source of unrelieved worries? Gone. Something that doesn't work as planned, or doesn't live up to the words that were spoken of it when it was first obtained? Removed. Needlessly complex? Simplify by excision. Too high-maintenance? Disconnect and put into a box in a quiet, dark place where maintenance is not required. Something so costly that its value doesn't justify the expense? Craigslist, perhaps someone else with see value and cough up the expense.

I read and thought and worried about riding the fixed gear. For example, I was concerned about the pedals, should I go clipless, or platform? I opted for clipless, but worried that clipping in or out would be trouble, awkward, requiring some sort of mystical magical fixed gear technique to accomplish without slicing open an artery. Wrong, in my case, I am so comfortable and used to my clipless pedals that it was super-smooth to use them with a fixed-gear. The spinning wheel answered me: your head was full of useless thoughts about clipless pedals, rather than worrying so much, all you had to do was get up and go ride and your practiced feet would know what to do.

I read and thought and worried about the non-stop pedaling that would be required, the no coasting, the pedals that keep turning as long as the wheel is turning. The spinning wheel answered me: yes it is quite a change from riding with a freewheel, but most of what you thought about was wrong. What was right was biomechanics and muscle memory of millions of revolutions you've made before that mean that your legs know what to do with a fixed gear, too, as long as they don't forget too often that coasting without pedals turning ain't gonna happen, which they didn't always remember, but mostly did, and the turning wheel reminded them when they forgot.

I read and thought and worried about going up curbs and over bumps and through gravel and around corners with the pedals constantly turning, as if any one of these would result in instant and catastrophic wipe-out for the fixed-gear n00b. The turning wheel answered me: how full your head is of useless thoughts! Of worries with some tenuous basis but without import or magnitude in practice. 

I worried and thought that somehow riding a fixed-gear would cause my solid sense of balance to fail me, and result in a wipe-out, so I wore jeans with padded shorts underneath, a sweatshirt with a thin layer underneath, and gloves. The turning wheel answered me: how full your head of useless thoughts! It was 70F and I was floating along on a silent fixed-gear bicycle in the brilliant sunshine with a clearer mind than I have had in some time, and felt rather silly about the "vanishing sense of balance" concern.  I remained upright. I floated along.


The morning started off on a very good note. I knew that after putting on the cog and lockring, the first ride would tighten the cog even further, and it would be a good idea to tighten the lockring to take up the slack. So I first rode a couple miles, including putting some torque into it, went home, and put the spanner on the lockring again. As I did so, I had a feeling about how much the cog should have tightened, and how much the lockring should turn to match. As I put weight on the spanner, the lockring turned exactly that much. I may not have been one with the fixed-gear bike, with a head so full of useless thoughts, but I was one with the lockring, which felt like an auspicious start. 

At certain points during the ride, my brain radio did shut down, and I just rode. I'm not getting mystical about the fixed-gear, I'm getting pragmatic: it dawned on me that it is an effective and direct technique to remove everything from your ride which is not contributing to the achievement of your purpose or goal, and sometimes, that might mean ditching the freewheel. Other times, other settings, a freewheel might just make your day. How to know when? How full my head of useless thoughts! Get up. Go ride.


  1. You sir, have found cycling zen.
    Or something close to it.

  2. So, is the gear ratio right for canal riding?

  3. Just reading your post made me relax. Really enjoyed this.

  4. It sounds like a lot of fun, someday I hope to try riding a fixed-gear bicycle.

  5. limom, my goal is no gear whatsoever.

    Steve A, the 42-16 is good for me on the canal.

    JK, thanks, I found it relaxing to write it, too.

    Apertome, when the fixed gear calls, we must prepared with ears to listen, and legs to turn.

  6. Beautiful, beautiful post.

  7. Thanks Erica, very kind of you to say that!


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