Taming the Fixey

Most days I commute to William & Mary on a bike.  I live 8.03 kilometers (4.99 miles) from campus and the one-way trip takes between 16 and 20 minutes.  Riding to work is a good thing because 1) parking a car on campus isn’t cheap (parking costs 8 times what it did when I joined the faculty!), 2) exercise frames both ends of my work day, and 3) pedaling to the College is a small step toward sustainable living.  This semester I began riding a fixed gear bike to work; it is my old steel frame road bike that’s been converted to a fixey (the hip name for this type of bike).

When the tires on a fixed gear bike roll the crank turns.  One cannot coast on a fixey.  Brakes are, in essence, optional equipment as one can push back on the pedals to slow down and stop.  If you are really good, you could ride a fixey backwards.  My gear ratio is 42/14- that’s 3 to 1- thus for every completed revolution of the crank the bike travels 6.46 meters on its 68.5 cm (27”) tires.  The one-way trip to work requires that I turn the crank over 1,243 times.  Because there is no coasting on a fixey the 8.03-kilometer journey always entails 1,243 revolutions of the crank- never more, never less.

For an inveterate road cyclist, pedaling a fixey is a challenge.  I’ve spent the semester trying to tame the fixey.  I’ve read that riding a fixey is an organic experience.  That may be, but other words that come to mind are wicked, whacked, and widowmaker.

I’ve invested in a lot of technology to learn about my little bike ride to work- some days I have a cycle computer, a heart rate monitor, and a GPS receiver all collecting data on my ride.  I burn between 275 and 300 calories on the ride and my maximum heart rate sometimes tops out over 175 beats a minute. The biggest hill I climb has a grand total of 16 meters (50 feet) of relief.  The route, when plotted with no vertical exaggeration, looks pretty flat (recall Williamsburg is not flat!), but vertically exaggerating the section by a factor of 50 is more in line with the way the ride feels.  Uphill on a fixey entails getting up out of the saddle and crushing the pedals to clear the grade; downhill on a fixey requires pedaling so fast that it is comic.

Topographic profile of my bike ride to work with no vertical exaggeration, 5x, and 50x vertical exaggeration. Riding the fixey makes the ride feel like the profile is 50x.

Although I have not really tamed the fixey, I am riding the bike with more poise and confidence than in August. I always ride with a bike helmet, because let’s face it: a cyclist is at the mercy of motorists. In fourteen years of cycling in Williamsburg I’ve been hit by cars and deer, had beer bottles thrown at me, and laid my bike on the asphalt out of pure negligence.  A bike helmet has saved my noggin many a time.

For William & Mary students a bike is an efficient and quick way to get around campus.  Unfortunately many W&M students ride like idiots (why sugar-coat it, I can’t think of a better word to describe it).  Cyclists going the wrong way down one-way roads, riding on the wrong side down two-way roads, rolling out into crosswalks without looking, and even text messaging while riding are common sights.  But as the rogue’s gallery below illustrates- nobody seems to wear a bike helmet.  That is very foolish.

Rogue’s gallery of bike riding foolishness on W&M campus (note the absence of a bike helmet).

‘Tis the season for giving and I’d encourage all W&M parents to get their daughters and sons a bike helmet as a gift.  To all W&M cyclists: take that newly acquired helmet and wear it while on your bike, even on the shortest ride across campus.  William & Mary students have a reputation for being smart and perhaps a tad geeky; what harm can donning a bike helmet do to that reputation?  Given the way most campus cyclists roll, bike helmets should be standard issue.  Good Luck and Godspeed!

Categories: Campus Life, Faculty & Staff Blogs, Other
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