Friday, June 4, 2010

Single Gear City Riding

This is a bit off topic, but it was discussed with an engineer at Google IO so it fits on the tangent of Google Technology. I started riding around the city on a old road bike with a dérailleur and found that I was only using only one or two gears. So, I gave into the fad and bought a track bike with fixed gear.

The appeal of riding a track bike on the street escaped me. Since the bottom bracket is lower, I had to used 170mm cranks instead of 175mm, which makes my stroke feel weird. Unless I used the shorter cranks, I would strike the pavement when taking corners.

Then the there is the issue of stopping. I had a front brake, but even so quick stops require you to apply reverse pressure on the pedals or lock up the back wheel by placing one knee against the handlebars. Either option takes a toll on your knees and can be really scary when that three year old bounds off the sidewalk, against the light, and then freezes in your path. This is acerbated by height; I'm 6' 4"". This is a lot of mass to stop once it gets moving.

Obviously, many people have adapted and enjoy it. Every time I ride through Williamsburg, I'm struck by the number of fixed gear riders with their pant legs rolled up. About half can do track stands at the light which is pretty impressive.

Then I bought an old Peugot road bike frame from the period before dropouts became totally vertical and Peugot was still manufactured in France. The difference in the frame geometry made it much more stable on a city street and made cornering, at my size, a breeze. I had Sheldon Brown (R.I.P) build me back wheel with a flip-flop hub: one side freewheel and one side fixed so I could use both.

This setup works really well, and the bike has the advantage of not looking like something that some one would want to steal. Aesthetically, all the bosses for the cabling are a bit ugly, but it is a very efficient bike.

What I really wanted was a road bike geometry frame with track forks. I found a couple like the Burley Steamroller, but they all seemed to stop at 59cm.

Then Brett Slatkin (Sr. Software Engineer on the Google App Engine) mentioned Mission Bicycles They have a 62cm frame just as I had envisioned. Their prices are extremely reasonable, and the bikes are beautiful. Before the purchase I really need to sell the other two bikes--I live in a New York City apartment.

I'll post pictures later, but if any tall track/fixed gear riders are looking:

64cm Fuji Professional Frame
Phil Woods hubs and bottom bracket
Mavic Open Pro rims
Shimano 600 170mm cranks

Drop me a line.

1 comment:

  1. Do you have pictures? I'm currently without bike :(

    Also, I'm a bit curious because real track frames are designed to have a higher bottom bracket than road bikes so they don't bottom out on the steep banking of the track.