click on any image
First some pictures of the bike. The drive train detail pictures are by Chad Hill, the rest are by me.

The rest of these pictures are of the local trails, mostly so you get an idea of what sort of terrain is rideable on a fixed gear bike.

These two pictures (above and below) are of my favorite little tiny piece of the Nipmuck trail.

I can hop over these logs:

But not these:

Watch out for the icy stream crossing.

Sometimes we have to walk across them. (Picture by Chad Hill.)

Here's the steepest climb I have on any ride: the stairway to my apartment.

  Riding a Fixed Wheel Offroad
by Jesse Ratzkin

I have a story to tell, so sit down in a comfortable chair with something good to drink. This is the story of how I started riding a fixed wheel on singletrack, why I still do it, and maybe even why you should too.

IN THE BEGINNING....

I'm not going to go back to the beginnning of the bicylce. Of course, we all know that the first bikes were fixed, and were certainly ridden offroad. And that all the racers in the early Tour de France races road fixed over goat paths. Please, let poor old Henri Desgrange rest. No, I'm going to be self-centered and give you the history of ME riding a fixed wheel offroad. I started riding trails fixed by accident. That seems a little silly, people don't typically bring a fixed gear bike to a trail ride when they mean to bring something else. So what happened? At the time, my only mountain bike was this Alpina, which had a fixed/free rear hub (16t fixed and 18t free). I would typically flip the wheel over to the freewheel side just before hitting the trail. One day, in the middle of the Nipmuck trail, the chain snapped (most likely due to operator error when I installed it), and I had to cut a link off. However, that would move the wheel too far forward in the dropouts to be safe.... unless I flipped the wheel over to the fixed side, with the smaller cog. Thinking "well, it beats walking," that's exactly what I did, figuring I'd take it easy and at least get home. So I rode. Pedal pedal pedal, look a log! panic, pedal, hop, pedal pedal pedal pedal. After a minute or two I stopped panicking and started having fun. So, instead of going straight home, I turned around to complete the rest of the out-and-back trail. Since then, about half my offroad time has been fixed.

WHY AND WHEREFORE

The reason I still ride a fixed wheel offroad is that it's fun. Bouncing over rocks and logs, and through steams, is fun. Doing it fixed is even more fun. There's really nothing complicated about it. And this is why you should try it, because I want you to have fun. Yes, you, sitting there in front of that computer moniter, you deserve to have some fun. So go out there and get dirty. Of course, you might still have questions, and I've tried to anticipate some of them:
  • What kind of bike should I use?
    There's a huge range.I've used the Alpina linked above, this Miyata, the Voodoo pictured to the left, and even this IRO for the odd cross race (throw a smaller chain ring and some knobby 32's on, and she's good to go). If you can find an old mountain bike from the 80's with horizontal dropouts, that's a good place to start. Really, tho, I think you can use nearly any bike you want if you just want to goof around for a bit on the trails, or ride fire roads.
  • What kinds of trails do you ride?
    Pretty much all kinds. Everything from fire roads and rails trails to somewhat technical singletrack. I can't do anything super-steep, or crazy technical slickrock fixed, but I can ride fixed most (more than 3/4) of what I can ride on a fully geared mountain bike.
  • Were you some expert mountain biker when you started this?
    No, actually I'm so clumsy on singletrack it's scandalous.
  • What's a good gear?
    That depends a little bit on how steep and hard packed your trails are, but I think 55" is a good starting point. You can (and probably will) change it after a couple of rides.
  • Do you have to walk up steep uphills?
    Some of them, yes, but fewer of them than you'd think. It's really not that big a deal if you have to walk a few things, so don't worry about it.
  • What about steep downhills?
    You'll be running a small gear, so it's easier to backpedal, or even (rarely) skid. Learn how to ride the front brake some and hang your butt off the back of your saddle (takes some practice).
  • What about pedal strike?
    Um, what about it?
  • I mean, don't you sometimes hit your pedals against rocks and logs?
    Sure, but I'm going slow enough that it's not a problem. The bike hops a little, and my foot might come unclipped if I hit it hard, but I don't fall over.
  • Can you hop over obstacles?
    Small ones, yes. I can hop over a log that's maybe a foot high. Like I said, I'm clumsy. I haven't seen a much difference between what I can hop free and what I can hop fixed.
  • What about suspension?
    Well, I suppose a suspension fork would work fine. I'm not a big fan of boingy bits anyhow, so I'll pass thanks. But if that's what you want then try it.
  • So what if I try riding my fixed gear bike on trails and hate it?
    Then you can stop.

PARTS LIST

This is the full list of parts for the Voodoo pictured to the left.
  • Voodoo Dambala 18" frame
  • Surly Karate Monkey fork
  • WTB momentum headset
  • Midge handlebars and Tektro brake levers
  • front wheel: 32 spoke Deore disc hub laced 3x to a Mavic Open Sport rim, 14 gauge spokes
  • rear wheel: 36 spoke Nashbar SS disc hub (the freewheel side isn't threaded, but has a freehub) laced 3x to a Mavic open sport rim, 14 gauge spokes
  • brakes: Avid BB7 mechanical discs for road levers
  • Dimension cyclocross cranks w/ 34t Salsa ring
  • Boone ti cog, either 16t or 18t (depending)
  • SRAM chain of some kind, PC-48 I think
  • sometimes Time ATAC pedals, sometimes MKS sylvan pedals with clips and straps
  • IRD micro-adjust seat post, Vetta saddle
  • IRC Notos tires, 29x2.1"

There's a 19t cog on the cassette side of the hub, and when I flip the wheel around I take the Boone cog off and bolt a disc rotor on. Doesn't usually happen mid-ride.

Questions? Comments? Drop me a line:
jesse _ ratzkin [at] earthlink [dot] net