Over a hundred posts into this here blog that I hoped would feature the voices of the many people who cycled in Lichfield. But really they have no need to speak about what they do, they simply get on and do it. So I guess the posts are more and more about my point of view. I got a bike a few years ago because I wanted to ride with my kids, because I thought it was something they needed to do. A cheap second hand mountain bike did me fine for a couple of years and earlier this year I started to want to do more cycling as I saw the benefits it brought to me and my family. I’ve retired my mountain bike for the time being (maybe to re-emerge as a bike polo steed) and got myself a modern town bike with plenty of gears, bigger wheels and capacity to carry more stuff. I have never owned a car and next year all the kids should be capable of riding together around town and our horizons should expand further and further.
I’ve never pretended to be a bike nerd or particularly knowledgeable about the mechanics of a bike. But over the last few months I’ve picked up so many things from observing and watching other people and just having a go. I’ve done many hundreds of miles this summer with friends, family and by myself. I picked up a ‘vintage’ eighties racer to go on the Major Nichols memorial ride so I wouldn’t look too much out of place, though I’ve not felt the need to ride it since. While on that ride I had a long chat over lunch with Amarjit who was there on his fixie. I admit at first I didn’t know just what fixie meant but he explained to me his passionate belief in the power of the fixed wheel. He told me how he gets up early in the morning to cycle on the roads while they are quiet. How he has developed a technique where he pedals forward with his legs, takes his hands off the handle bars and cycles them in a backwards motion above his head. He says riding a fixie is the ultimate exercise for the body, how energy isn’t wasted with the squeeze of a brake. To me he became the Fixie Philisopher. He offered me a go on his bike around the car park, only to be told afterwards that he normally never lets anybody ride his bikes. From that day on I have kept an eye out for a fixed wheel bike of my own.
A couple of weeks ago I saw a fixie on ebay that was badly listed and I thought I would put in a lowish bid that I could afford, and it went green with every penny of that last second bid. I had a long chat with Kevin the seller who told me how reluctant he was to part with it, having commuted daily from Rugeley to Burton on it. He told me how he struggled with it on fixed at first but persevered and was rewarded with some of the most fun cycling he has ever known. This from a man who had done Lejog (Lands End to John O’Groats) three times and was putting the money towards a tricycle tandem to do it one more time with his 77 year old father. His advice was to start on the freewheel to get used to the bike before flip flopping to the fixed wheel. The first time I took it for a spin was across town to show a friend and by the time I got there I was puffing a bit.
When I started doing more miles by bike earlier in the year I thought that it would help me get fitter and stronger. What happened is that I used that as an excuse for an extra portion or two and consequently my weight and fitness are probably the same now as when I started. I’ve not been able to cycle as much the last couple of months for various reasons so I have tried to go out on little journeys on it this week to start building up again. Next challenge is a little spin down the lane to Fradley this weekend, to see if I can manage the series of little hills in single speed. All the time I have been riding free wheel I have been thinking about the different skills I will need to master to be a confident fixed wheel cyclist. Practice looking over your shoulder while pedalling. Those moments when you freewheel over a pothole or little kerb with your bum just off the seat. Fixed you gotta keep pedalling. I thought I was a conscientious, alert cyclist then I realised just how much I rely on my brakes to stop me at short notice. Now I need to learn how to control my speed using my pedals and using my brakes that are only just good enough for slowing me down. I came down Beacon Street yesterday and realised if it were fixed I would need to be in control from the top of the hill and not just start thinking about it half way down.
But that fun is all to come. First a bit more practice on the free wheel and a trip to the junction. I hope that I get as much fun as the bikes last owner had and this time next year have better fitness and stamina. I was challenged, in jest I think, to ride up or down Pipe Hill on it. Who knows, maybe one day.