Why Fixed Gear Touring?

So I guess it’s question many people are asking. Well the simple answer is Why Not? To most the idea of taking cycle touring, something which isn’t exactly a walk in the park then getting rid of your gears and freewheel well that just seems silly. To be honest, come to think of it, it is silly and a bit hard and that’s  probably exactly why I wanted to give it a go.

Flying along on my loaded fixie

Flying along on my loaded fixie

I commute and use my fixie most of the time instead of a car (I have never actually had my own car on the road). When back home I used to regularly ride 12 miles to meet mates in the pub then ride back again at 1am through the eerie country lanes. Whilst at university me and Andy (a  friend from the cycling club) were always busy with work/lectures and found it hard to find time to go out on the Wednesday afternoon club rides. The solution was night riding. The roads in the winter were pretty crappy, riding a nice road bike on them at night would be less than sensible so we decided we would use our fixies for a laugh. Its actually a pretty practical solution as there is much less to go wrong minimising possible brake downs. We had one puncture I remember where is was so cold we had take it in turns mending whilst the other ran up and down to keep the blood pumping.   Also you don’t really have to worry about cleaning a fixie, it will keep on going regardless of how much crap you get on it.

Fixie Touring

Fixie Touring

Luckily the terrain in Cheshire is pretty damn flat so often we were able to do a 50 mile ride with an average speed only slightly lower than a normal club run. It’s funny how night riding on a cold winter night focused on a narrow beam of light causes you to tap out a really good pace (probably also due to the eagerness to get back to civilization). There is nothing like the feeling of riding back in to the city at midnight, with the temperature below freezing watching all the students stumbling home from the bars. You can’t help but smile and think to yourself if they only knew the adventure we had just been on. I remember rides with snow, windchill so cold our bottles would start to freeze and even crashing in to an ice cold puddle as it had started to ice over.

Fixed gear touring set-ups for first tour

Fixed gear touring set-ups for first tour

Whilst riding we always used to ponder about touring on a fixie (among other things). We both decided that one day we would give it a go. Eventually a year or so later after I arrived back from cycling round Europe, the weather was nice and that day came.  We set off from Manchester on the very same Cheshire roads we used to night ride for our first 3 day fixie tour. We didn’t go too far, about 300 undulating kilometres, we were carrying full camping gear and had a really great time. The fixed gear bikes added some extra challenge to make the flat roads more interesting but we were both surprised with the ease at which we chewed through the miles.

You don't often see shadows like this in the UK

You don’t often see shadows like this in the UK

During this tour we pondered once again amount lots of stupid things but among them was how cool it would be to do a fixie tour on the continent. There are lots of ideal countries like Belgium and The Netherlands, countries which we laugh at (in the UK) for being so flat.  However when fixie touring is concerned they are perfect especially as they have amazing networks of bike paths. So that was why last Easter I found myself on a train clutching my bike heading towards Dover ferry port to begin our trans-national fixie tour. We road from Calais in France to the Netherlands through Belgium then back again. The distance was about 400 kms which we covered in 4 days (actually slightly less as we had to make sure we were back for the boat). The trip was a great success even though the weather was a bit variable. There’s nothing like crossing an international border knowing that you only used one gear to get there. Almost as good was seeing the look on the local cyclists faces as I cruised past on a pink a blue fixie loaded up with gear.

Border crossings mean more with only 1 gear

Border crossings mean more with only 1 gear

So a couple of tours down and I can’t imagine not doing another, I can see it becoming a yearly tradition. Using a fixed geared bikes adds an extra dimension and also adds some limitations which in a strange way makes it easier to narrow down possible routes and makes the whole trip more of an adventure. You can only go so fast and so far which forces you to relax a bit, sit up and make the most of your surroundings.  Its perfect if you only have short time or you don’t want to stray far from home….. though there’s is nothing stopping you going further afield. I can’t see a better way to get your touring fix on a nice sunny weekend with nothing to do. Who knows when or where our next tour will be, I’ve never been to Luxembourg come to think of it I have never done Lands End to John O’Groats…………

7 responses to “Why Fixed Gear Touring?

  1. Alexander Sokolow

    My friend and I are planning to cycle from London to Barcelona via Nice fixed gear next summer. We’d like to average around 100 miles a day however we are both fairly young inexperienced riders. Are we mad?

    • Not totally mad but that is a pretty long route and likely to have some decent hills/mountains. Is the 100 miles a day based on a planned flat route? I would say that 100 miles a day is probably a bit of a stretch if you are not used to it that would be a decent average on a geared touring bike. Something like 70 miles is probably a more reasonable estimate. It would also depend how much gear you plan on carrying? You would definitely want to have the option of a few different gearings as there would likely be some pretty hilly days.

  2. What gear ratio you guys run?

    • It’s very personal based on the route and rider. If i’m loaded touring in tend to use 44 x 18 which his pretty easy but the extra weight really puts strain on your knees when your getting started so much more and you might start to get knee pain.

  3. Do the fixies your riding have specific attachment point sfor panniers are you using a clip on rack. I’d like to run some panniers for grocery shopping etc on my fixie that i commute on but am having a hard time finding a quality panier system I can use, my bike does not have any special attachment points.

    • My fixie (On-One Pompino) has rear rack mount which makes it ideal because you get a strong attachment. However if you don’t have mounts never fear, you can use the small metal clamps, this is what Andy used on his Bianchi for our first tour. The only this is you need to check that you frame is up to it and make sure you don’t put on too much weight as there will be a lot of stress on the clamps and you don’t want them to give way mid ride. I believe there are systems available with more substantial clips that bolt on, I would look at these as you tend to move the bike from side to side more when your riding a fixie so there is more stress put on the attachments. Hope this helps.

  4. Pretty sweet blog post. I meant to post here in the later summer but I finished a fixed gear ride around Lake Michigan (~1100 miles) and i used this URL as proof people have done it. The only pain i got was chafing related. I’m really glad i stumbled across this cause it, among other stuff i read, gave me the hope I needed haha.

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