Posts Tagged ‘free wheel’

Free Falling

May 26, 2013

After a year and a half of riding fixed gear I am back to a free wheel cog.

I thought I was going to die tonight.


I realized two things rather quickly, the bicycle felt out of control underneath my legs, and indeed it was, my legs no longer were regulating my speed and two, I had to relearn how to rely on my hand brake.


I did not realize until I was barreling down 15th street from the top of Castro having left my darling friends to digest the great big delicious Thai dinner we had just eaten, just how much I have relied on my legs in the last year and a half.

What a difference a cog can make.

I took my bicycle in today to the shop to fix the flat and have them replace the Vittoria tire with a puncture resistant Randonneur.  I also said, as I filled out the tag, flip over the wheel, put it back to free wheel so I can coast and save my old lady knees from an early retirement.

I was slightly abashed but having had my fill of I am hipper than thou, who cares, I was ready to begin the return to coasting along.

“Why did you decide to ride in fixed gear?” My friend asked me.

“He was cute,” I replied, “and he gave me shit and I am vain.”

That sums up why I do things.

“Why did you take that acid?”

“He was cute.”

“How come you’ve gone vegan?”

“He’s cute.”

Good lord, do I do anything without the cute boy influence?

“You went to Paris for yourself,” my friend pointed out.

Yes, I did do that.

And said friend helped me to back up all my photos today!

All 4, 718 of them.

Hard to believe that I have taken that many photographs when once upon a time I took none at all, just the pictures in my brain.

That was my MO.

I am taking a memory.

I have  a great memory, but it is not photographic.

Having had a camera now, a good one, one that I can beat up and take to Burning Man and shove in a case and bump along on my back in my messenger bag and use every which way I turn, has been eye-opening for me.

I see things differently and I see things with a subconscious eye.

I do not always know until I go back and look at a photograph what it was that caused me to stop and take the shot.  There is always something.  I know when I see a frame I like, tree limbs, doorways, a line of lamp posts marching down the street.

But sometimes I am unaware of why I just found that certain something so appealing to look at.  I just took the shot.

“These are the last ones you took?”  He asked me as the cat watched sleepy and cozy in a red blanket across the way.

“Yeah, I stopped using my camera as much because I was afraid to down load any more shots to the computer, I did not want to bother with it,” I replied.   Realizing almost immediately that I have wasted three weeks of not taking photographs out of fear.

“Oh.  That’s not good,” he said.

He is a professional.

He is an amazing photographer.

He was encouraging me to not do that again.

“Did you guys get all the photography stuff figured out,” my friend asked as I was packing up my laptop and about to get onto my bicycle and go for the ride of my life.

“Yup.  All backed up.”  I said adjusting the bag on my shoulders.

“Thank God.” She said, relief coloring her words enough that I stopped and straightened.

“Have you not seen them,” I asked.

“Not enough, and I was so worried that something would happen to your computer when you were traveling and I would not get to see them.” She said, “I mean really worried.”

You were?

You were!

That coupled with a few comments that people have made to me over the last few weeks since my return have really hit me.

People were watching and reading and regarding.

My journey was not undocumented for any old reason.

Every time I took out my camera, every time I wondered what the hell was I doing out on a walk in the snow to capture the park bench at Square D’Anvers or the stairs around Sacre Couer, some one, some where was waiting and watching for them.

That is stupendous validation.

“Oh, you applied here!” She said to me today as I was meeting up with someone to discuss the importance of self-care.

“Amongst some other things, yes, I am currently working as a nanny and I have a friend I am going to help out with once a week, and the bike shop has asked for me back too, which is super flattering, but they have not made a money offer and I don’t think it’s the place for me right now.” I said as I smiled at her pretty face.

One of my friends who happen to be in Paris at the same time I was ran into the shop I was in and flagged me down with big French “Bonjour!” and cheek kisses.

“Oh my god!  And you should help them with their website, you have a presence and their page needs some work!”

“It does?”

(I do?)

“Ah yeah, and you have readers and followers and could help them out.” She continued, “and you’re done with the bike shop, move on.”

I smiled, “so good to see you!”

“Yes, coffee soon when we can sit down and really chat.”

I have no perspective on myself.

I really don’t.

Thank God I have friends who love me and are honest with me and help me.

My computer is happily backing up onto a “cloud” somewhere (you know, up in the clouds with magic computer gods astride rainbow unicorns) and all my photographs are safe.

Which is a good thing, I thought as I flew down the hill heading toward Market street because when I die going thirteen times faster on my bicycle then when I was riding fixed it will be good to know that my photographs are safe in the hands of said computer gods.

And since I made it home, Speedy Gonzalez like, I now make this vow.

I will get out my camera tomorrow and start documenting again.

I may feel like I am falling down the hill, but there is direction and purpose–the fall line is there for a reason–even if I can’t see it now.

I will be able to soon.

And you will see it before I do.

I promise.

Street Art

Operator, i would like to make a collect call


Fixed Gear Fan

April 14, 2012

Well, it happened.

Once again, a never say never sort of moment, I said once, “people who ride fixed gears are idiots, you can’t ride fixed gears in SF, do you want to die?”


“I will never ride fixed gear.”

Never say never.

You would think that I would have remembered this vital rule by now.  As I also embark upon another path (I am about to go Vegan, more on that later), and recall saying that there was no way in hell I ever would do that.

I took on the fixed gear challenge after meeting a guy who works at Marin Bikes in Sausalito and he gave me shit about having a flip-flop hub and not riding in fixed gear.

I may have just lost 2/3rds of my readership with that sentence.

Here’s the definition ala Wikipedia:

fixed-gear bicycle (or fixed-wheel bicycle, sometimes known as a fixie) is a bicycle that has no freewheel, meaning it cannot coast, as the pedals are always in motion when the bicycle is moving.


You are always in motion and if you are not used to always being in motion, ie, you have been riding a bike that coasts, most do, then you will get a little unpleasant surprise when your leg just naturally wants to coast as that’s what the muscle is used to doing.

It will kick.

Double huh?

The first time I tried to coast, muscle memory, I got kicked.  I felt like I was about to be launched out of my saddle.  It was a really unpleasant experience and I almost turned around and headed back to the mechanic who had flipped my hub to but it back.

A flip-flop is a cog on the rear wheel which can accommodate both a fixed gear ratio and coasting.  You can take off the back wheel and flip it over and it will have a cog, that thing in the center that the chain runs around, that will allow you to either ride in a fixed gear or in coast, ie free wheel.

Did I lose anyone?

Because, I tell you, I’ve been officially working at the bike shop for five months now and I am only now beginning to understand it.

I also got to witness how I compromised myself because I wanted to impress people with the fact that I rode fixed gear.  I also am vain.

Riding in fixed a works your legs more, as they are always in motion and you use your legs to brake rather than reaching for the brake lever.  I wanted more exercise, and you can tell what fixed gear legs look like and frankly, they are hella sexy.

I want to be hella sexy.


And yes, I do ride with a brake.  I don’t want to say I’ll never ride without  a brake, but I really don’t think I will ever ride without a break.  The popular misconception–one in which I shared–is that when you ride fixed gear you ride without a brake.

There are those who do.  It is possible to stop the bike completely without a brake, you can control how fast or slow you go by using your legs to slow down.  Or speed up.

In fact, one of the joys of riding fixed, yes I said joys, joy does figure into this, else I would not be doing it any longer, is that control.  I get to experience stopping without using a brake.  I am not proficient at it.  I rely heavily on my brake, but I can see myself getting a lot better.

And it’s fun.

At first, it was not fun.  It was disconcerting.  I fell over once.

In front of work.


I was really scared as well, I can admit it, now that it has passed, the first couple of times I went down 24th street from the top of Diamond.  I thought I was going to die.  I felt out of control and I relied a lot on my brake.

I was really, really, really slow.

I went really, really, really slow, until yesterday.

It feels like last week, but I realized when I was talking to a co-worker who had a customer out on his first fixed gear ride, that it was just yesterday.

Another popular misconception that I get to labor under, literally, is that all we sell are fixed geared bikes.


Carlos asked me to extol the virtues of being a recent convert to the fixed gear ride and why I made the decision.

I got to be totally honest with the customer and I let him know I was uncomfortable at first, that I almost went back to riding free, that I wanted to coast again.  Then the shift happened, it happened, oh no shocker here, yesterday when I was riding through Noe Valley and down 24th street to work after meeting with Carolyn.

Yes, the same day, I told that lovely lady to please use your turn signal, friend.

Noe Valley was busy with delivery trucks, nannies, shoppers, parallel parkers, and not one, but two fire engines.  The traffic was constantly stop and go.  I was constantly stop and go.  It wasn’t until I was already headed down the hill that I realized I wasn’t nervous and it was the most divine, exhilarating ride.

Yeah, I still used my brake, but I also used my legs to control my speed and when the lights were turning just so and I was in complete control of the bike, I did this absurdly delicate and fast left turn onto Valencia to go to work and for a moment I felt like a VeloDrome racer.

I don’t know how old I was, but I had seen track racing in a Velodrome when I was seven, or eight, maybe nine, on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

Remember, the ‘agony of defeat’.  I loved that show.

And there they were, this track racers on a velodrome and they were doing track stands and I was simply fascinated.

I said, I am going to grow up and do that!

I also said at one point I would grow up to be a nun, the president of the United States, and an Iron Man triathelete (there was that one movie, I saw about the same time as I saw the track race and the biking part just really fascinated me.  Running, not so much, thanks).

And look, here I am, a ‘grown up’ and I am riding one of those bikes.

Just another way of seeing that I have been taken care of, loved, and heard, despite my protestations to the contrary.  I get to do something I dreamed about doing as a child.

By the way, I just made that correlation.

My life rocks!

The joy, the pure, unadulterated joy of taking that turn, that was what finally sold me.

I am used to the fixed gear now and my legs appear to have lost the memory of the coasting free wheel, they just naturally do the movement without me thinking about it.     And now, I am getting to see some of the nuanced ways of riding.

I also notice really fast if someone is riding in fixed and I watch how they work their bodies.  It’s really quite cool.

And not hipster cool, rather in my own vernacular, it’s neat-o.

Then I rode my fixed gear home tonight from Church and Market and I got my thrilling ride down the 17th street corridor and took my turn onto Folsom with the spectacular timing of the lights, I hit the right hand turn and pedaled through it and onto Folsom.

Joy riding high in my chest as my body and bike were one mechanism.

I achieved flight.

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