At first, I thought of calling this essay “Why I should NOT have a Fixie” simply because, living and riding in Portland, where fixed-gear riding is such a badge of coolness, I don’t want to be accused of falling for the latest bike-hipster fad. Besides, there’s nothing worse than when some old guy like me (I’m 47) attempts to be cool. I don’t smoke, I have no tattoos and I don’t much like PBR (unless it’s really hot and there’s nothing else), so what makes me think I can sport a fixie?
But the fact is, I’m a cycling evangelist. I practically live on my bike. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you my passion for 2-wheel travel frequently surpasses my love for sushi, the Raiders (don’t go there), microbrews, and (this is painful), sometimes even my wife and kids. I just get a rush from riding – any riding – and even a soggy pre-dawn commute usually puts a goofy smile on my face. When I’m not riding I’m usually talking about riding – even if my audience is less than enthused (I still don’t get how anyone could not want to ride everyday.) So for instance, when I stand before my 7th grade students and say “ that reminds me of the time I was riding in…” and they groan and drop their heads to their desks with a collective thunk, I’m just more inspired to keep preaching the bikey gospel looking for one more convert.
Equaling my passion for bikes is my drive for simplicity, and what could be more purely simple than riding a fixie? To illustrate: I recently rescued a couple of used 80’s Japanese touring bikes for my wife and I, and spent months in the basement rebuilding, tuning, and polishing them. I went back to shellacked cloth tape, cork grips, and old leather saddles. In the process I gained a renewed appreciation for 5-speed freewheels and friction shifting, for loose bearings and cups, for the old-school, adjust-by-feel, repair-on-the-road simplicity of those bikes. The ‘86 Nishiki is now my 20-miles-daily commuter. But I want more. Or, more precisely, less. I want that experience of just riding; of having a bike that is a dynamic extension of my body, a perfect tool connecting my legs to the road. I want to ride without a thought for shifting or the mechanics of the bike, but just for the pure freedom of riding. I want the essential nothing between motion and me that a fixed gear bike provides.
In exchange, I promise to honor the bike and the ride, to lay down the miles, to disregard any thought for how cool I may or may not be, and to become a better, purer rider.