Thursday, 31 December 2009


When snow arrives the schoolboy cheers and grabs his sleigh, the cyclist on the other hand cries 'no' and rages against the gods. Snow, you see, is the ultimate enemy. You can get out on the bike in the wind, just grit your teeth and bare it; there are even those who love a bit of mucky weather - they are usually Belgian and ride bikes specially designed to get rid of mud easily. But snow, no. Snow means being 'stuck indoors'. There are are a number of ways to deal with this impasse - go snowballing with the kids, laugh it off and try to stay away from the treacherous pavements; book a ski-ing holiday in the Alps and throw yourself entirely into the snow theme or get the turbo out.

The turbo, for those uninitiated in such things, is a device for turning a bike into a stationary bike. In effect you turn your front room into a gym, but without the buffed up babes and nice showers. A turbo is cycling without the fun - a machine designed to make you sweat and leave nasty stains on the front room carpet. It is noisy, hard work and very little fun. I usually position it in front of the telly and watch old Tour De France videos in an attempt to feel like I am cycling against the greats - it works for about a minute!

Of course a truly dedicated turbo rider has a state of the art machine which is set up to replicate stages of legendary races, the resistance on the back making it feel like you are actually climbing Ventoux in your living room/garage/one room flat, it is linked to a pc spouting data like crazy - power in watts, heart rate, cadence but it's still a turbo.

And then there are those that hook up their turbos to the world wide web and race people from all over the globe. I am sure that there are pleasures to be gained from beating a bloke from Iceland at 3 am while all around are in their jamas but it's not for me.

When the snow finally cleared enough to ride I took the fixed out for a spin. You may wonder why I would take a bike without 'proper brakes' out on roads that still had wedges of ice still upon them but the answer is pretty simple - the fixed is fun to ride, providing a pretty constant response at all times with very little reason to get out of your seat and thus the bum stays planted and weight is kept over the back wheel, making it as stable as anything. And did I mention it's fun?

When i chat to older blokes about owning a fixed their eyes often mist up and they start to tell me about their teenage days when riding a fixed was standard for just about every lad on the block. They chat about chain inches - just how big their front cog was, how tiny their back cog was, the times they nearly killed themselves coming down hills - how they rode with neither back nor front brakes. My dad, in fact told me that he used to wait for a bus at a stop and then follow in its slipstream all the way over to Stevenage to meet his future wife (and my future mum) on his fixed. He rode a couple of inches from the back of the speeding vehicle with the conductor gesticulating wildly for him to back off as they approached a stop. He claimed a ridiculous 58x11 - a gear Chris Hoy would have been proud to use and something an ordinary cyclist would find hard to even get started, you'd need thighs that could crack walnuts - maybe age has amplified that gearing?

It's no wonder the fixed works so well in an urban environment, a low maintenance machine that is light and nippy enough to negotiate the traffic. It's faster than public transport - a twenty minute tube journey is cut to five on the bike and you see so much more - zipping back from Tokyo Fixed's new store (nice!!!) to 14 Bike Co over at Truman's Brewery would be a good 40 mins on bus/tube/walk but under 15 on the fixed (ok there was a wrong way down a one way street and a couple of gentle rolls through reds but generally in a relatively flat city like London it's surely the only way to travel)- we went past the cruisers on Old Compton Street, the shoppers on Oxford Street, the distracted academes by the BM, round past the truly batty and beautiful John Soanes Museum, straight past the pap of St Paul's and into the Gherkin heart of the City before scooting to a stop just past Huguenot weaver's houses on the edge of Brick Lane. The feeling of exhilaration from that kind of ride is a difficult buzz to beat. And they look supernice as well.

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