An Amusement & Diversion for The Genteel Cyclist. Daily.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Great myths of urban cycling: the winter fixie

The Raleigh bike company has been doing some interesting things in the past couple of years. What was -- or at least seemed to be -- a moribund brand has got a shot of fresh blood somewhere amongst the beancounters and the mouse jockeys on the management team. Their recent efforts seem not so much about making money, as about re-establishing credibility.

That's the only explanation we have for something like the One Way, Raleigh's new singlespeed/fixie commuter. While we don't like the lines of the fork (that's a bit too much rake, compared to the gold standard), we're intrigued by any ungeared steel bike that comes stock with fenders. Anyway, what caught our eye this morning was a quick summary by Fritz over at Commute By Bike, who writes,

The reason I own a fixed gear bike now is that I’ve been a year-round bike commuter for over 20 years and I’ve lived in places with snow and ice in the winter. Ice is not compatible with derailleur equipped bikes — ice jams things up and salt destroys what it touches — hence the simple fixed gear bike is often considered the perfect bike for urban winter cycling.

The perfect bike for winter riding? A fixie? The question is really who, precisely, believes that silliness and why do they believe it? We get the whole ice/derailleur argument, just not the part about how riding without brakes and having to pedal through icey corners is "the perfect" winter ride. We prefer a singlespeed with a heavily greased freewheel and studded tires. Brakes and fenders, too.


Anonymous said...

Who said anything about riding around without brakes? Looks like that Raleigh has both front and back. Don't believe the hype: not all fixed gear riders go brakeless.

Ryan said...

i use brakes in the winter. i like skinny tires for snow and studded for ice. too bad you can't do both

Pinchie said...

true enough. But plenty of purists will tell you that brakes on a fixie are... well, they're like teats on a boar, to borrow a phrase from grampa's farm.

Pinchie said...

yeah, no kidding ryan. those studded tires are HEAVY, and they track funny on pavement, and they're loud like a bulldozer. But on ice, they are pure glory.

Anonymous said...

I would bet that the "purists" aren't the ones who make the argument that fixies are great in winter. I read it on Sheldon Brown's website - and he's huge advocate of riding fixed gear with brakes.

gwadzilla said...

I was going to throw out Sheldon Brown's name as well

most people on fixed gears should not be on fixed gears

I have a fixed gear
I know it is not my second nature
I like brakes
brakes are good
crashing bad

Ed W said...

Winter fixed gears offer a rider a couple of advantages. First, by gearing one low enough, speeds are kept relatively low while the rider maintains a fast cadence. This means lower wind chill and the rider stays warmer. Low gears also offer a larger mechanical advantage in slowing the rear wheel, so when the road is wet or icy, there's less chance of locking up a brake and skidding. It's a control issue.

Fixed gears offer mechanical simplicity and low maintenance. If the rear wheel is dished for a fixed wheel, the spokes are evenly tensioned side-to-side, meaning fewer problems with out-of-true rims - a definite plus for big guys like me!

Finally, a fixed gear conversion of an old road bike is yet another way to re-use and extend the life of a bike that may not be economical to upgrade to modern components.

Pinchie said...

Good points, Ed. Still, mostly arguable. Upgrading to fixie can actually be more expensive than converting to singlespeed (see cost of hub and/or wheel rebuilding).

And I would hazard to guess that feathering handbrakes is a titch safer on ice than being forced to pedal through a sketchy corner of any depth.

As others have said, brakes and fixies are not mutually exclusive, but then I think you're just being willfull about trying to make life harder than it needs to be. (But OK, I understand the appeal of learning fixie riding as a discipline.)

TO my jaundiced eye, riding fixie is about 86 percent style and 14 percent unique skillset. Not that there is ANYTHING wrong with style. I will never, ever, ever sell or giveaway my '82 Ciocc, cuz it's got more style than I have in my entire family tree.

Pinchie said...

Oh, and just for the record: I commute all winter in Minneapolis, have done it for years. A Surly singlespeed Cross-Check is my "work spouse."

Kent Peterson said...

Here's the one thing that a fixie does that a coastie doesn't. You know instantly if there is any bit of slip at the rear tire, you feel it through the pedals. And yeah my winter fixies have caliper brakes as well. And in the really, really cold stuff, you never have to worry about your freewheel pawls freezing 'cause there aren't any pawls. I grew up just outside Duluth MN and if I had to choose a winter bike, it'd be a fixed gear.

Fritz said...

On pure ice fixies aren't ideal -- you need studs for that -- but most city streets will be plowed, sanded and salted to some degree. Fixies are great for sketchy conditions for the reasons already listed.

Regarding brakes: I don't go brakeless. I only meant that if the rim brakes fail for whatever reason, you still have a backup.

I'm undecided on fenders and icy roads. Fenders are great for keeping the slush down, but it does tend to collect under the fenders.

I'm in California now so I probably won't have opportunity to use the One Way in snow and ice. The 700x35 treaded tires on that bike would be fantastic in the snow, I think. I may replace them with narrow slicks and give the CX tires away to somebody who can make better use of them.

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