Those that know me know that I’m more than a little obsessed with cycling. Now, when most people hear that they’re usually assaulted with visuals of men in their mid-forties in lycra riding circles around Regent’s park on bikes worth more than most of our rents for half a year. What I do is a little bit different. My vehicle of choice is a track bike. What that means, essentially is that it only has one gear, and whenever the rear wheel is spinning the pedals are too - you can’t coast. Brakes also become redundant. Aside from their use in the velodrome and various tacky promotional campaigns for startups, fixed gears also happen to be popular amongst bicycle messengers for their comparatively low cost, ease of maintenance and nimble nature - riding through a city on a fixed gear is a completely different ballgame from doing the same thing on a regular bike. Instead of managing your speed through gearing, braking and pedalling, you switch over into a mode where the primary focus is on momentum. Slowing down takes more effort than speeding up, making every upcoming amber light a tricky decision between sprinting to get through and straining to stop. To a lot of people this might sound very uncomfortable, not to mention unsafe (and depending on where you’re located, potentially illegal - England, for instance, mandates that a bicycle needs to have two independent braking systems, which a track bike doesn’t), but ask anybody that’s been riding fixed gear for a while and they’ll tell you there’s nothing else quite like it.
My book, Life Behind Bars, opens with a quote from a writer that goes by “The Human Cyclist”, which sums up the experience rather beautifully:
“Fixed gear. You and the bike are one, brain gives way to cog,
crank arms are mere extensions of your legs and vice-versa. You
are a cycling cyborg, part human, part machine, unsure where
the steel ends and the flesh begins. Only the smile on your face
reveals the human. Riding a fixed gear bike is special. This much
you’ll discover the first time you ride fixed and stop pedalling.
The best things in life are the simplest. Extravagance is an
absurdity best left to those vainly searching for happiness at
the bottom of their wallet. Silence. Starlight. Sunrise. The sea.
The touch of a loved one. The smile of a stranger. A Bob Dylan
lyric. A cup of coffee. Bubble wrap. A shed. Single speed bikes.
One cog, one gear, many cadences.
Riding a fixed gear bike is cycling in its purest, simplest form.
Reducing life to its essential elements reminds you what it
is to be human. Cooking with fire. Being naked. Although not
necessarily at the same time. The less we have, the less we
stand to lose and the less we can be distracted. Riding fixed,
dérailleurs cannot break and gears cannot slip.”
You can find out more about the book here, and my “quarantine comet”, pictured below:
Please feel invited to reach out to me on any of my channels and give me some feedback or let me know if you’d be interested to read more on the subject (or more in general). I’m once again considering starting a blog to satisfy my occasional writing cravings and figured this would be a good bite-sized post to kick off with. In future, you can expect musings on photography, hopefully an exhibition review or two once those start happening again, coffee talk, maybe some stuff on game design, who knows!
Anyways, thanks for taking the time to consume my words, I’m always grateful for it!