It’s probably a few years since I bought my Mango bike.
It’s an incredibly simple bike – no gears… just a front sprocket and a rear sprocket.
The most complicated thing about it is that, at the rear, it can be set up as either a single-speed or a fixed-gear bike – depending on which way ‘round the back wheel is.
For the uninitiated;
A single-speed bike is, as the name suggests, a bike with just one gear. Crucially, though, and thanks to the fact that the rear sprocket is mounted to the back wheel via a freehub, you can “freewheel”… meaning you can stop pedaling and just coast along with no drama.
A fixed-gear bike is, again, a bike with just one gear.
But… and it’s a big “but”… the rear sprocket is effectively welded to the back wheel… and we all know that welded things don’t move.
That’s the point of welding.
And on a fixed-gear bike, that lack of movement means you can’t freewheel.
If the back wheel is rotating… so are the pedals… and so are your legs.
If you’re not concentrating… and you try to freewheel, the bike will try to spit you off… or tear your legs out of their sockets.
It’s really that simple
For the vast majority of its life, my Mango bike has been in single-speed mode. I’ve never fancied having my legs ripped away from the rest of me, oddly enough.
It’s been mainly used for errands and school runs (that’s the reason I bought it)… although I have been known to take it out for the odd 20 miler… just for the sake of a bike ride… and I did do a 200km on it around 18 months ago… just to prove I could.
I remember chatting with Russ (the chap I did said 200km ride with… and who was also on a single speed that day) about the growing number of people doing long rides on fixed-gear bikes (can I call them “fixies” for the rest of this blog? That’s how us cool cats refer to them).
I remember concluding, with Russ, that 200km on a single-speed was as much “mad” as I wanted in my life – and that anyone who rides 200km on a fixie must be unhinged.
So it goes without saying that, on Saturday, that’s exactly what Russ (yep.. the same Russ) and I set out to do (along with Ajayi on his far more sensible road-bike… freehub and all!).
I switched my bike to “fixie mode” a month or two ago and have ridden a handful of short rides on it, just for some experience… but I can’t say I was particularly “au-fait” with it before deciding to throw myself in at the deep end for Saturday’s ride.
Russ, on the other hand, embraced his inner madness some time ago – he’s been riding in fixie mode for a little while and even did his first fixie-200km last month.
So, for me, it was going to be a “can I do this?” kind of day… and, for Russ, it was going to be a “put the learning gained on the first ride into effect and achieve a better result” kind of day.
Now, as always with reviews of 200km rides, I have a choice between either giving you a blow-by-blow account of the day… or an overview of the main things to come from it.
I think I’ll do the latter – but not before I post a link to the video of the ride (and don’t be put off watching the video by that ugly thumbnail… it’s not my best side… mainly because I don’t have a “best side”):
To start with, I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single moment in the whole 200km/124 miles when I accidentally tried to stop pedaling.
Whether that’s because I was concentrating heavily on not doing so (it didn’t feel like I was) or whether it’s just because I dialed into the notion of a fixie quite quickly, I don’t know… but suffice to say that there were no inadvertent attempts to separate my legs from my body.
Which is positive.
And then there were the four things I learned about fixies during the ride:
- Leg braking. My bike (unlike some fixies) is fitted with two well functioning brakes – just like any “regular” bike – so a pull on the levers scrubs off speed pretty quickly. But I quickly realised the braking power that can be had by using your legs to forcefully stop the pedals turning. It’s surprisingly efficient in the right circumstances! I’m not sure what my hip surgeon would think about using my legs to brake by resisting the pedal rotation but I won’t tell him if you don’t, right!?!?
- Track-standing. (Being entirely stationary on the bike without putting a foot down) Without wanting to appear too bullish, this is something I’m pretty good at on a “normal” bike. I can happily balance at traffic lights for ages without drama. Technically, this should be easier on a fixie but my first attempt, a few weeks ago, was less than successful and I couldn’t work out why! (I didn’t fall off, incidentally – but I certainly couldn’t do it, that’s for sure). But on Saturday’s ride, something clicked and I nailed it.
- Resting the legs. On any regular bike, of course, if you fancy a rest, you stop pedaling and coast. We know that’s not an option on a fixie so I had set off on Saturday with the reasonable assumption that my legs were only going to get a rest at the cafe stops. It turns out, though, that you can rest them whilst in motion! It took a bit to get used to but, by “switching off” the power your legs are supplying completely, the pedals just drag your feet ‘round and you are in a kind of resting state. It’s not total rest, granted… but it’s the next best thing. And that comes in handy over 200km, I can tell you that!
- Cadence. (That’s how fast your legs are rotating, to those who don’t know) I learned that I probably need to do a bit of work on upping my cadence. Russ and I were running similar gearing by the time you take all factors (tyre circumference included) into account and yet he seemed more “at home” than I was at higher speeds, when our legs were spinning quite quickly. I wasn’t getting out of breath or anything – but my legs simply didn’t like spinning wildly. Of course, for the next time, I could change my gearing to slow my legs down – but then hills become harder so there’s a balance to be struck. In reality, my conclusion from Saturday was that the gear ratio I was using was just about perfect fit for the route – so my comfort at high cadence is the thing to work on.
Outside of those learning points, there was, I confess, an significant error on my part during the ride.
I’m not counting it as a learning point, per se, because I rarely make this particular error… but when I do, it bites me on the backside pretty hard… which is bad enough when I’m on a regular bike, but when you’re on a fixie (where there is nowhere to hide), it’s doubly bad news.
I got my nutrition wrong – pure and simple.
I didn’t take in either solids or fluids at the same intervals as I normally would. I have a well honed understanding of how frequently to reach for the jelly babies in my top-tube bag or my water bottle between my legs which, for some reason, went out of the window on Saturday.
I also know how much to eat, of what kind of food, when we hit cafe stops. But that, also, went out of the window on Saturday, oddly.
I think I was just complacent… but the result was quite pronounced.
I flaked quite badly over the final 30 miles and, whilst I never doubted my ability to finish the ride, I had did doubt my ability to maintain Russ and Ajayi’s pace so I had a few moments where I seriously considered telling them to go on without me… the ultimate self-sacrifice when you are out with mates.
I was feeling like a burden rather than someone who was “adding” to their experience.
I didn’t quite get to that point – but I was close.
I don’t think it helped that, actually, our average speed over the day wasn’t that far adrift from what I would expect if we had done the ride on regular bikes… so we were significantly faster than I’d been expecting – and, given the extra effort required on a fixie, it goes without saying that my nutrition should have been better than normal… not worse!
As I say, though, it’s not a learning point any more than it would be if I accidentally wrote the equation “1 + 1 + 3”… I know that’s wrong – that’s not a knowledge issue… it’s just a typo.
I’ve finished this review on a negative, there, which isn’t ideal because I don’t want to paint anything other than a hugely positive picture of the day.
Was it physically hard work?
Was it mentally tough?
Definitely (mainly because I’d spent so little time on a fixie prior to Saturday)
Was it rewarding?
Am I happy with the average speed?
Very much so – and surprised, too… it was quite a bit faster than when we did a similar route on the same bikes in “single speed” mode and, as I say, not “that much” slower than we’d be on our regular bikes.
Would I do it again?
Well I went into the day knowing that I’d either end it feeling happy to have “ticked the box” by riding 200km on a fixie, but not wanting to do it again…
I’d really fancy doing more long fixie rides.
Now I’m not about to become a regular long-distance fixie rider (like some I know) but, yes, definitely, I’d do more… without a doubt.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable, challenging and rewarding day – and days like that are pretty special.