I Want to Ride My Bicycle
Mark Sanders

It's Friday and I just learned something new. With summer in the air and the weekend just teasing me from the horizon, this knowledge could prove useful or at very least recreational. You see, there is a type of bicycle out there that I never knew existed.

Although hardly a cycling enthusiast (outside of a recent vacation I haven't ridden a bike in 10 years), I still remember my first two-wheeler. It was a powder-blue cherry with a banana seat and the word Schwinn screen printed on the frame. From kick brakes and a single gear, I graduated to a green 10-speed (a hand me down from a brother) after a couple of years. As a teenager, I got a 16-speed mountain bike (also powder blue) from REI. I rode that bike through college and finally bid it farewell in a basement in Clemson, SC after graduation.

Since I am a sucker for sub-cultures, I immediately read an article in today's New York Times titled Bike Messengers Take the Street to the Track. In it, a new velodrome racing series putting messenger against messenger is introduced. In the second paragraph there preferred bike is describes as having a single gear and no brakes. So how do you stop? Simply apply some backwards pressure on the pedals.


Does this make these speed machines of choice direct descendants of my first powder-blue honey? Well, not really. In truth, these bikes have more in common with my other first vehicular love; the big wheel.

As any 3-year old big wheel enthusiast can tell you, there are two genuine thrills to be had. The first is going down a hill, taking your feet of the pedals and watching them spin around and around at perilous speeds. The other is riding full clip on a flat surface and forcefully stopping the pedals from turning; causing the front tire to skid which lays down shards of plastic on cement or asphalt.

As I now understand, a fixed-gear bike shares almost the same principles. A single geared sprocket is attached directly to the back wheel. A flywheel with pedals is connected to the back sprocket via a chain. Turning the pedals turns the back wheel just like a regular bicycle.

Since the geared sprocket is directly connected, whenever the back wheel is spinning so are the pedals (remember a chain connects them). Unlike other bikes, there is no coasting. To stop you have to apply some reverse pressure on the pedals. Apply too much and the back tire locks up and skids. And if you take your feet off the pedals they will keep spinning wildly in time with the back tire.

Does this change my life? Probably not. Even though an out of town wedding prevents me from further investigation this weekend, I'm fairly certain the rest of the summer will stay bikeless. And even if I'm tempted, riding a bike in New York City is just too great a risk to be fun. But big wheels, that's another story.