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
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
Miyata, the Voodoo pictured to the left, and even this
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
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
- 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
- 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.
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